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Spiritual Democracy as Espoused in the Philosophy of Allama Iqbal

How do the Teachings of Hadrat Sultan Bahoo (Allah Bless His Soul) Contribute to the Achievement of a Spiritual Democracy as Espoused in the Philosophy of Allama Iqbal (Allah Bless His Soul)
Written By: Rana Amaar Faaruq

Iqbal deals with the idea of Islam as a social movement for the basis of a structure of State and social society in his sixth lecture in ‘The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’ titled ‘The Principle of Movement in the Structure of Islam’. 1 In order to understand fully this structure that Islam aims to create, it is pertinent to first understand how Iqbal views Islam as a movement in its essential nature. And what problems have been faced by Muslims in the past in being unable to achieve that with a view to those elements which would fulfil the said deficiencies. It is also important to bear in mind the fact that Iqbal does not wish to present an alternate view of Islam but only what he recognises as the practical manifestation of the true spirit of the Quran.

To begin with, Iqbal defines the cultural movement of Islam as ‘an emotional system of unification’ 2. Emotional here does not mean erratic and sentimental but signifies its classification as a system which deals primarily with the control of or access to deeper human faculties of cognition and comprehension beyond the physical senses. For Iqbal and Sultan Bahoo as we shall later see, the nexus of reason and emotion is a complementary pair not meant to be opposites challenging one another. This system is unifying by virtue of its recognition of the centrality of the Human Individual as its mode. This, in turn relies upon a ‘perception that all human life is spiritual in its origin’. 3 This is the conceptual phase of Iqbal’s ideology.

These two elements are central to the spiritual concept of the Quran and the teachings of  Sultan Bahoo (RA). As for the Human Individual the holy Prophet declared:

خلق اللہ آدم علی صورتہ
Allah created Adam in His own Image4

Sultan Bahoo adds to this by declaring, “Adam (AS) is the Human. He who reaches the stature of  Adam (AS) is Human. If someone asks if the children of Adam are capable of reaching his stature then it is possible as per the verse: 5

لقد کرمنا بنی آدم
And we have also honoured the children of Adam6

The second element deals with the understanding that all Human life is spiritual in its origin.  Sultan Bahoo’s explanation of the origin of Humanity in the World of the Spirit (Aalim-e-Lahoot) explains in detail how all souls were once in union before Allah, as the Quran reminds:

الست بربکم؟ قالو بلا شھدنا
Am I not your Lord? Verily, we testify! 7

This conception of the Human Self as the reflection of Allah is central to the understanding of the place of the individual in Islam and Sultan Bahoo guides his followers towards this very purpose i.e. the actualisation of the Human potential of perfection which is based upon the common spiritual origin of mankind. This is the concept upon which, as per Iqbal, Islam’s notion of unification entirely depends. As the Prophet (PBUH) said:

من علف نفسہ فقد عرف ربہ
He who recognises his Self, recognises his Lord.8

After having established the concept of Islam and its essential features, Iqbal goes on to analyse how to establish a living factor of this principle of the emotional and intellectual life of mankind. He identifies the principle of Tauhid (oneness) as the practical means of achieving this. Tauhid demands loyalty to Allah above all else. And because Allah is Himself the spiritual basis of all life, loyalty to Him amounts to Man’s loyalty to his own ideal, actualised nature. 9

The teachings of  Sultan Bahoo reveal the demands of Tauhid. It is a negation of everything but Allah whether in an understanding of existence, purpose, aim or desire. Throughout his writings he repeatedly makes reference to the phrase:اللہ بس ما سوی اللہ ھوس On a plane of concept and belief this is an expression of the idea of wahdat ul wajood, the unity of existence but in reference to Tauhid as a matter of practice, it establishes the concept of Wahdat ul Maqsood, or the unity of purpose.  Sultan Bahoo explains that Humans fulfil their purpose only when their aim or desire, talab طلبis of Allah. He regards all strife and pursuit of the pleasures of this world and the next, besides the desire to find Allah, to be vain. It must be established here that this is not a call to asceticism. He clarifies in his book Ainu ul Faqr that the Human self is like a boat floating on the waters of the world. That is how it is to travel, but to never allow the water to enter the boat itself. This is the achievement in practice of Tauhid as Iqbal sees it for the foundation of ‘world unity’ 10.

Iqbal also states that the expression of the spiritual basis of life reveals itself in variety and change. The mobility of these ultimate principles is achieved through Ijtihad an important source of Islamic law. 11 Before considering what this Ijtihad consists of, it is important to see why Iqbal believes that the Muslim world has suffered ‘the Immobility of Islam in the past 500 years’ 12. His first identification is the conflict that arose with a misunderstanding of Rationalism after the theological schisms of the Abbasid era. This led to the opposition to Rationalism to preserve the social integrity of Islam through making the structure of the legal system of the Sharia as rigorous as possible. 13 Iqbal sympathises that this misunderstanding caused the need at the time for doing so but does not present an alternate recourse to how this balance with Rationalism ought to be achieved.

Let us turn to the teachings of  Sultan Bahoo to find an answer to this first problem. He explains that human existence comprises of three forces. The first is lust (Havas) ھوس, the second reason (Aqal)عقلand the third Intellect (shaoor)شعور . This is what separates humans from animals who only possess the first two faculties and the Angels (Malaika) who possess the later two. Human ration in this way consists of two elements, reason and intellect. Reason is the consequence of the cognitive process of the human mind while Intellect has its source in the spirit and is inspired by its source, i.e. the Divine Self. Human rationality will only ever be perfect if it achieves this necessary combination of reason and intellect, a thought process motivated and guided by the spiritual truths of the Human Self. This will only be achieved when the Heart is spiritualised and the Human Self is in its state of Divine connection. We will come back to this later. Thus Human rationality in its actualised form can never produce a result in opposition to divine law, not merely in its letter but in its true spirit. An unrestrained reason which lacks spiritual intellect will thus continue to be restrained by the exigencies of a mechanised system of religious law. 14

The second cause of the immobility of Islam, as identified by Iqbal was ‘the rise and growth of ascetic Sufism’ 15. While Iqbal credits Sufism’s religious side with revolting against the verbal quibbles of earlier Doctors and its speculative side with being a form of free thought in alliance with rationalism, he criticises the emphasis laid by it on the distinction of Zahir (exoteric)and Batin (esoteric i.e. between Appearance and Reality. This he says ‘created an indifference to all that applies to Appearance and not to Reality’. This consequentially had two effects. Firstly, that it obscured men’s vision of social polity and secondly by offering the prospect of unrestrained thought on its speculative side, it absorbed the best minds of Islam. ‘The Muslim State was thus left in the hands of the intellectual mediocrities, and the unthinking masses of Islam.’ 16 Iqbal here does not negate the distinction between Zahir and Batin but he is merely noting the effect of the negation of one for another. Looked at from another perspective, the Doctors of Law would be equally blamed for negating the Batin for the Zahir alone.

While Sultan Bahoo maintains this distinction between the Zahir and Batin, he puts great emphasis on the need to create a balance between the two. According to his world view, perfection can only be achieved through a synthesis of the two, a tilt towards excessive inwardness would lead to asceticism and an excess of the outward aspects of religion would lead to its mechanisation and a distortion of its purpose, making it materialistic. He states: “The world of Zahir (Appearance) is a reflection of the Batin (Reality)... between them the standard for the recognition of truth is the knowledge of the word of Allah, the Quran... The Reality of some is based on falsehood (zindeeq) and their Appearance on Truth (Haq). The Reality of some is based on the Truth but their Appearance on falsehood. For some, the Reality and Appearance are all falsehoods. And for some, the Reality and Appearance are all based on the Truth.” 17 He further states in his Persian poetry: “He who meditates with his eyes shut is blind. And he who looks around is as an animal. The Human is he who sees clearly with the power of sight and such clarity is only possible with the knowledge of tariqat and marifat (path of spiritual enlightenment and recognition).” 18 He further states for his followers: “The Qadiri seeker-follower whose Reality and Appearance becomes one and who achieves the Truth of both does not ask of anyone.” At another point he goes on to explain in great detail many great spiritual stations, all of which are marked by the unification and harmony between the Appearance and Reality. He devotes an entire chapter to this in his work Noor ul Huda.

If we add another oft-cited criticism to that identified by Iqbal, it would be the rejection of the laws of Shariah by the aforementioned Sufis.  Sultan Bahoo, throughout his works, condemns this attitude in the strongest terms and guides his followers by stating:

ھر مراتب از شریعت یافتم
پیشواءے خود شریعت ساختم

I achieved all stations through Shariah when I made Shariah my guide.

He further states that “all paths which do not abide by the Shariah are based on falsehood (zindeeq).” 19

The third cause of stagnation that Iqbal identifies is false reverence of the past in a decaying society, manifested by over organisation. He suggests that ‘the only effective power that... counteracts the forces of decay in a people is a rearing of self-concentrated individuals.’ For, as he believes, ‘such individuals alone reveal the depth of life.’ 20 He does not explain how one becomes a self-concentrated individual. However, if we turn to the teachings of  Sultan Bahoo, his 140 works of prose in Persian and his poetic collections in Landhi (mixture of Punjabi and Saraiki) are all exegeses of the fulfilment of the Human Self through the attainment of perfection in the Self of God. In Iqbal’s own poetic work, the equivalent of this comes in the form of his theory of Khudi. The concept of Khudi and  Sultan Bahoo’s notions of the stages of the Human Nafs (Self) in its journey towards Allah in eternal Perfection is almost identical. However, this is not the same Nafs as found in works of other Sufis. For  Sultan Bahoo, the Nafs is not something that is to be fought and restrained but to be transformed and developed. This again is through the spiritualisation of the Heart and Soul, another common concept for Iqbal and  Sultan Bahoo that we will return to. The concept of social reformation through the perfection of the individual as the foundational block of society is another common element in the philosophy of Iqbal and the teachings of  Sultan Bahoo. 21

After having presented his analysis of the ‘immobility of Islam’ in the past, Iqbal establishes his idea of the Islamic State. While thinking of this it is important to keep in mind the basis we have considered above for the individual at the centre of any collection. Iqbal does not believe in the European concept of the separation of Church and State because he believes that it serves the needs to separate the spiritual from the temporal. He does not question the validity of Secularism and even admits that Islam as a socio-political system even allows such a view. 22 His view of an Islamic society dictates that actions are not dictated from a system of rules above but arise from within the structure of human unification we have discussed above. He states, ‘In Islam the spiritual and the temporal are not two distinct domains, and the nature of an act, however secular in its import, is determined by the attitude of mind with which the agent does it... An act is temporal or profane when it is done in a spirit of detachment from the infinite complexity of life behind it; it is spiritual if it is inspired by that complexity. In Islam it is the same reality which appears as the Church looked at it from one point of view and the State from another.’ 23

Employing the ideals as propounded in the teachings of Sultan Bahoo with regards to the practical manifestation of Tauhid in the unity of purpose and the balance between Reality and Appearance, Iqbal describes the resultant state: ‘The essence of Tauhid as a working idea is equality, solidarity and freedom. 24 The State, from an Islamic standpoint, is an endeavour to transform these ideal principles into space-time forces, an aspiration to realise them in a definite human organisation.’ 25

He continues to explain that “It is in this sense alone that the State in Islam is a theocracy, not in the sense that it is headed by a representative of God on earth who can always screen his despotic will behind his supposed infallibility... The ultimate Reality according to the Quran, is spiritual, and its life consists in its temporal activity. The spirit finds its opportunities in the natural, the material, the secular. All that is secular is, therefore, sacred in the roots of its being... The merely material has no substance until we discover it rooted in the spiritual. There is no such thing as a profane world. All this immensity of matter constitutes a scope for the self-realisation of spirit. All is holy ground. As the Prophet (PBUH) so beautifully puts it: ‘The whole world is a mosque’. The state according to Islam is only an effort to realise the spiritual in a human organisation.”

After making a very strong case for Ijtihad, Iqbal agrees with the Turkish Ijtihad of the Caliphate or Imamate being vested in an elected assembly of persons and declares that ‘the Republican form of government is... thoroughly consistent with the spirit of Islam.” He associates the concept of Ijma with such a body as well. A logical question follows which Iqbal himself realises: what if such a body consists of those untrained with the matters of the Muhammadan Law and make grave mistake in their interpretation of law? He considers one option, followed at the time in Iran, and currently in our country Pakistan, of a council of religious scholars but rejects it as a ‘dangerous arrangement’ which ‘may be tried only as a temporary measure’. 26 The only definitive answer he finds to this problem is in the form of education. We will further consider the nature of this education.

Iqbal asks another two questions, namely, what is the purpose of religion and secondly, of the Quran? The first, he answers by quoting the Turkish nationalist poet Ziya, ‘religion is positive science, the purpose of which is to spiritualise the Heart of man.’ 27 For the second he says, ‘The Quran... is not a legal code. Its main purpose is to awaken in man the higher consciousness of his relation to God and the universe.’ 28

Sultan Bahoo’s teachings guide in just that, the spiritualisation of the Human Heart through the remembrance of Allah through his Ism-e-Zaat (the Name of the Divine Self) and the perfection of the human self in Divine reflection. He reiterates the explanation of the Quranic Verse by the Sheikh  Abdul Qadir Jilani that the sole purpose of Man is the recognition of Allah in this world:

وما خلقت الجن والانس الا لیعبدون

Sultan Bahoo provides the seekers of Truth with the requisite instruments for the said spiritualisation. As he quotes a Hadith:

لکل شیء صقالة ومصقلة القلوب ذکر اللہ
Everything has a polisher and the polisher for the Heart is the Remembrance of Allah

He explain what this Heart is: “The Heart not what you have think to be the heart, for that is a piece of meat which consists of blood and muscles... the Heart is the Existence of Light for Love, Gnosis, and a testament of the Ascent (Miraj). The person with an awakened Heart stays immersed in watching the Holy Messenger (PBUH)... Whosoever studies the knowledge of the Heart stays enchanted till the Day of Judgement.” 29 He states in his Persian poetry, “The Heart is the Duldul and Burraq that takes on the Ascent. He who achieves the Heart becomes a person of Sight.” 30 And further that, “The Heart is a vast country. Every country is encompassed in the Heart but the Heart is so great that it cannot be encompassed within any country.” In his Landhi poetry he says:

دل دریا سمندروں ڈونگے کون دلاں دیاں جانے ھو
The River of the Heart is deeper than the oceans, who knows of the Hearts, Hoo

He says in another work, “Allah’s sight is on... the Perfect Human’s Heart... whose Hearts are immersed in the visualisation of Allah’s Self.” 31 In relation to such Hearts he quotes a Hadith:

القلب عرش اللہ الاعظم
The Heart is the Great Throne of Allah 32

In the same text, he writes a Persian verse which goes:

دل کہ از اسرار خدا غافل است
دل نتواں گفت کہ مشت گل است

The Heart that is unaware of the secrets of God
Is but a fist of dust and cannot be called a Heart 33

Sultan Bahoo’s teachings place a central function on the role of the Spiritual Guide, the Murshid. This fulfils the educational process envisaged by Iqbal for a social setup based on such individuals with spiritual realisation. He quotes a tradition as saying: “The sheikh is he who gives life to the Heart and Soul and the law of Shariah and gives death to the lower desires and lusts of the self.” He sets a very high burden for what a Perfect Spiritual Guide is and who can guide the seeker to Allah. At the same time he warns those who claim to guide others but are themselves not perfect. This is in light of the Hadith:

لا دین لمن لا شیخ لہ
There is no faith for him who doesn’t have a Guide

This hadith implies of course that one cannot find the true purpose of faith without a Guide, which as per  Sultan Bahoo and Iqbal is the spiritualisation of society based on spiritualised individuals. For those who are seekers he declares (as is engraved above the door to his shrine):

ھر کہ طالب حق بود من حاضرم
ز ابتداء تا انتھا یک دم برم
طالب بیا طالب بیا طالب بیا
تا رسانم روز اول باخدا

Every seeker of the Truth come for here I am
I will take you from the beginning to the end in one wink of eye
Come O Seeker, Come O Seeker, Come O Seeker
I will take you to God on the very first day

The teachings of Sultan Bahoo and the teachings of the Quran that they are reflective of must be viewed in totality. It is when they come together in their entirety that they lay down the necessary elements of the system that Iqbal envisages. As he states, these are factors working towards the same end. 34

Iqbal does not wish to further the divisions between humanity and his system is only a first step in the direction of universal humanism. “... a multiplicity of free independent units whose racial rivalries are adjusted and harmonised by the unifying bond of a common spiritual aspiration. It seems to me that God is slowly bringing home to us the truth that Islam is neither nationalism nor imperialism but a league of nations which recognises artificial boundaries and racial distinctions for facility or reference only, and not for restricting the social horizons of its members.” 35

And to that end, “Humanity needs three things today – a spiritual interpretation of the universe, spiritual emancipation of the individual, and basic principles of a universal import directing the evolution of human society on a spiritual basis... truth revealed through pure reason is incapable of bringing that fire of living conviction which personal revelation alone can bring.” 36

“The idealism of Europe never became a living factor in her life, and the result is a perverted ego seeking itself through mutually intolerant democracies whose sole function is to exploit the poor in the interest of the rich.” 37

“Let the Muslim of today appreciate his position, reconstruct his social life in the light of ultimate principles, and evolve out of the hitherto partially revealed purpose of Islam, that spiritual democracy which is the ultimate aim of Islam.”


1 Allama Muhammad Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (Lahore: Sang-e-Meel, 2004), p. 129.
2, 3, 10, 11, 16, 18, 32, 37 Ibid.
4 Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 8, #246.
5 Hazrat Sultan Bahu, Noor ul Huda (Lahore: Al-Arifeen Publications, 2009), p.522.
6 Quran, 17:70.
7 Quran, 7:172.
8 For a detailed explanation of this see: Hazrat Sultan Bahu, Mehak ul Faqr (Lahore: Al-Arifeen Publications, 2007), p.190.
9 Iqbal, p. 130.
12 Subject to incidental exception, of course.
13 Ibid., p.132.
14 A detailed discussion of Reason and Intellect can be found in: Martin Lings, Ancient Beliefs and Modern Superstitions (London: Archetype Publications, 2004).
15 Iqbal, p. 132.
17 Hazrat Sultan Bahu, Noor ul Huda, p.510.
19 Hazrat Sultan Bahu, Ain ul Faqr (Lahore: Al-Arifeen Publications, 1993).
20 Iqbal, p. 133.
21 There is a very interesting analysis of social revolution on the basis of the spiritualisation of the Heart by Sahabzada Sultan Ahmad Ali at
22 Iqbal, p. 135.
23 Ibid, p. 135-136.
24 An obvious reference to Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.
25 Iqbal, p. 136.
26 Ibid, p. 153.
27 Ibid, p. 141.
28 Ibid, p. 145.
29 Hazrat Sultan Bahu, Aql e Bedar (Lahore: Al-Arifeen Publications, 2008), p. 194-195.
30 Ibid, p. 195.
31 Hazrat Sultan Bahu, Mehak ul Faqr, p. 253.
33 Ibid, p. 255.
34 Iqbal, p. 149.
35 Ibid, p. 140.
36 Ibid, p. 156.

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