Iqbal’s Views on ‘Khudi’ and Freedom

The idea of Khudi (I-amness) is central to Iqbal’s system of thought. Self or Khudi, to Iqbal, is not reason but amr (direction). He defines khudi as directive energy – energy that is directed by God. Man is a part of the universe that is larger than the whole. As heaven is contained by the cornea in the eye so is khudi larger than the whole. Khudi is an ocean that is concentrated in a drop. All modern capitalist thinkers from Kant to Habermas hold that reason/rationality is self-interestedness. Iqbal renounces self-interested rationality. In his renunciation of self-interested rationality he does not renounce logicality.


For the strengthening of khudi Iqbal’s advice is: be hard. Coal and diamond are both made of carbon atoms. The difference is that coal is soft whereas diamond is hard. Therefore, coal is ruthlessly burnt and turned into ashes whereas diamond is highly valued and survives. Being hard does not imply callousness. It implies protecting oneself from the forces that disintegrate and destroy khudi. Individuals and nations that do not harden their khudi at the individual and collective levels fall easy victim to power hunger of others.

With the absence of khudi, life is merely biological existence – breathing, circulation of blood, reproduction and the such. Iqbal’s perfect man is not a biological product; it is the product of moral and spiritual forces. Life is not self-indulgence and pleasure seeking. There are no pain-giving and pleasure giving acts but only khudi-strengthening and khudi-weakening acts.

It is the forces of grief and fear that attack and tend to destroy and disintegrate khudi. One cannot protect one’s khudi from the shocks of grief and fear without surrendering oneself to the Divine Law. One needs to pass through three stages to strengthen one’s khudi and to protect it from disintegration. These stages are: complete surrender to Divine Law, self-control and vicegerency of God.

Iqbal’s three stages bear some superficial similarity with Nietzsche’s three metamorphoses: camel, lion and child. The idea of a perfect man was given by sufi saint Al-Jili long before Nietzsche conceived ‘overman’. Al-Jili’s overman passes through three stages as well. At the first stage one assimilates the names of God, at the second stage the attributes of God, and at the final stage the essence of God. Iqbal has not drawn the idea of khudi from Nietzsche. Iqbal holds that it is likely that Nietzsche took his idea of overman from eastern literature and degraded it by his materialism. Iqbal’s perfect man is a spiritual and moral force whereas Nietzsche’s overman is a biological product.

“Ethically the word “khudi” means self-reliance, self-respect, self-confidence, self-preservation, even self-assertion when such a thing is necessary, in the interests of life and the power to stick to the cause of truth and justice even in the face of death,” as Riffat Hassan says in her piece on Iqbal.

Iqbal holds that he drew his idea of khudi from the Holy Quran:

O ye who believe! Ye have charge of your own souls. He who erreth cannot injure you if ye are rightly guided. (Al-Ma’idah: 105). And be not ye as those who forgot Allah, therefore He caused them to forget their souls. Such are the evil-doers. (Al-Hashr: 19).

Khudi demands self-control. In other words, self-control precedes self-possession. Strengthening of khudi is not possible without restraining of animal passions and instincts. One should not seek maximisation of freedom but strengthening of I-amness.

It is perhaps here that we can distinguish between capitalist liberty and Iqbal’s spiritual liberty. For Iqbal, liberty is not negative or positive liberty as argued by Isaiah Berlin. Liberty or freedom is attained by discovering the laws of God in one’s self. This signifies the fusion of the will of God and that of man. A radical form of capitalist liberty is argued and supported by Deleuze, a twentieth-century postmodernist French philosopher.

From Aristotle to Darwin to Deleuze many western philosophers view man essentially as an animal. There is an interesting similarity as well as contrast between the views of Iqbal and Deleuze on freedom of expression. Deleuze suggests that man should seek to transform himself into what he originally is: animal.

According to Deleuze, an important tool that can help man to return to his so-called originality is freedom of expression.

According to Iqbal, freedom of expression without moral restrictions is the invention of the Satan which turns man into an animal. Both agree that man is turned into an animal through unbridled freedom of expression. The difference is that Iqbal rejects this metamorphosis of man into animal whereas Deleuze idealises it.

Capitalist liberty, to Iqbal, restrains the growth, expansion and fulfillment of khudi. It does not liberate but enslaves man. He becomes slave of his animal passions.

Capitalist liberty unleashes animal passions such as greed and aggressiveness whereas Iqbalian spiritual liberty promotes the values of love, mercy and sacrifice.

Born Muhammad Iqbal; 9 November 1877
SialkotPunjabBritish India
Died 21 April 1938 (aged 60)
Lahore, Punjab, British India
Other names Poet of the East
شاعر مشرق
Alma Mater Trinity College, Cambridge
University of Munich
Religion Islam
Notable work Asrar-e-KhudiRumuz-e-BekhudiPayam-e-Mashriq,Zabur-e-AjamJaved Nama(more works)
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region British Raj
Main interests Urdu poetryPersian poetry, Law
Notable ideas Two-nation theoryConception of Pakistan

Iqbal’s Views on Khudi and Freedom by Asad Shahzad. The author is an assistant professor of Philosophy at an educational institute in Karachi

Courtesy: DAWN.COM.

The images used in this feature were made possible from the material obtained from The Citizens Archive of Pakistan

The bio is from

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