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Dr. Humaira Shahbaz

مضمون نگار نیشنل یونیورسٹی آف ماڈرن لینگویجز کے شعبہ فارسی سے وابستہ ہیں۔ [email protected]

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Hilal Her

A Journey from Selfness to Selflessness: Iqbal’s Perspective of Women Empowerment

April 2023

What is empowerment? How does one become empowered? Why does someone need to be empowered, especially women? These are questions that are on everybody’s minds, especially since there has been a lot of talk about women’s empowerment in our society. Empowerment can be described as a “process that fosters power in people for use in their own lives, their communities, and their society, by acting on issues they define as important.” It is the process of taking control of one’s own life, to exercise power, to achieve goals, control circumstances, to and help themselves and others to maximize the quality of life. Women empowerment is a set of measures designed to enable women to make decisions that are life-changing for them and their families, as well as the society on the whole. The empowerment of women and girls so they can utilize their potential is critical for building democratic societies, protection of human rights, fostering international peace and security, progressive market economies, etc., that ensure sustainable development of a society. 
Allama Iqbal, whose work aims at generating awareness about the power that an individual holds to change their own and national destiny, is cognizant of the importance of empowered women for the progress of the society. Iqbal has, hence, referenced many empowered women in his works in addition to addressing women related issues in both his prose and poetry. Even Iqbal’s message that is not specific to women holds a lot of thought that women need to ponder over. Let us go through Iqbal’s words to understand his ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ of women empowerment through the lens of his philosophies of Selfness or Self (Khudi) and Selflessness (Bekhudi)

Iqbal’s Philosophy of Selfness (Khudi)
Iqbal’s philosophical Persian poem Asrar-e-Khudi (The Secrets of Self) starts with the idea that the system of the universe originates in the Self, and the continuation of the life of all individuals depends on the strengthening of the Self. The life of the Self exists in forming desires and bringing them to reality. It is strengthened by Love and is weakened by asking. When the Self is strengthened by Love, it gains dominion over the outward and inward forces of the universe. Iqbal further explains that the negation of the Self is a doctrine invented by the subject races of mankind so that by this means they may sap and weaken the character of their roles. He identified three stages of educating one’s Self: Obedience, Self-control, and Divine Vicegrency. Iqbal tells us interesting stories in this poem, bringing attention to the importance of having enemies for the training of one’s Self. The story of the diamond and dew drop impart the lesson of not neglecting self-preservation. In another poem, a diamond advises a coal to avoid fear, grief, and anxiety, and be hard as a stone to become a diamond; whosoever strives hard and grips tight, the two worlds are illumined by them. Most importantly, in a dialogue between the River Ganges and the Himalayas, Iqbal explains how the continuation of social life depends on firm attachment to the characteristic traditions of the community. 
Thus, according to Iqbal’s philosophy of ‘Selfness’, a woman, for the realization of her dreams, should be Obedient and Vicegerent before Allah, exercise self-control and follow the characteristic traditions of her community. Yet, she must keep herself away from fear, grief, and anxiety for achieving self-empowerment. 
Iqbal’s discourse on ‘Selfness’ in Asrar-e-Khudi, indicates his fear that one might lose focus on her roles and only dwell on her rights.
Iqbal’s Philosophy of Selflessness (Bekhudi)
Once women are empowered socially, financially, ethically and even religiously through good education and equal opportunities, then what’s next? In Allama Iqbal’s there is an indication, a hint of a journey after getting empowerment and that leads us to his philosophy of ‘Selflessness’.
Iqbal’s Falsafa-e-Khudi is often emphasized as the end goal, but it is merely a midway station in the journey towards being an ideal-being, an ideal woman. What we really need to focus on is the Falsafa-e-Bekhudi – the realization that the journey of empowered individuals leads to the empowerment of a community. In his Persian volume of poetry, Rumuz-e-Bekhudi (The Mysteries of Selflessness), Iqbal talks about the bond that exists between an individual and a community. A community is made of the mingling of individuals, which according to Iqbal, owes the perfecting of its education to prophethood. The belief in the oneness of Allah is the first pillar of Islam, and in a community that is what keeps an individual safe from the despair, grief and fear – the abominations that destroy the social fabric.

Let Love set fire to pale Anxiety;
Be thou God’s fox, to learn the tiger’s trade
The fear of God faith’s only preface is,
All other fear is secret disbelief

In Ramuz-e-Bekhudi, Iqbal stressed that the organization of the community is only possible though law, and that the law of the Muhammadan community is the Quran. The maturity of communal life derives from following the divine law, that a good communal character derives from discipline according to the manners of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). 
The perfection of communal life is attained when the community, like the individual, discovers the sensation of self, and that the propagation and perfecting of this sensation can be realized through guarding communal traditions. In community life, the continuance of the species derives from motherhood, and the preservation and honoring of motherhood is highly stressed in Islam. Following are some of the excerpts from the Iqbal’s Ramuz-e-Bekhudi:

Of the Book’s wisdom. If thou lookest well,
Motherhood is a mercy, being linked
By close affinity to prophethood,
And her compassion is the prophet’s own.
For mothers shape the way that men shall go;
Maturer, by the grace of Motherhood,
The character of nations is, the lines
That score that brow determine our estate.
If thou art learned to attain the truth
Behind the form, our word community

Interestingly, Iqbal gives the example of two women living in different social circumstances. One woman he describes as follows:

Take any peasant woman, ignorant,
Squat‐figured, fat, uncomely, unrefined,
Unlettered, dim of vision, simple, dumb;
The pangs of motherhood have torn her heart,
Dark, tragic rings have underscored her eyes;
If from her bosom the community
Receive one Muslim zealous for the Faith,
God’s faithful servant, all the pains she bore
Have fortified our being, and our dawn
Glows radiant in the lustre of her dusk

Followed by her, Iqbal describes another woman:

Now take the slender figure, bosomless,
Close‐cosseted, a riot in her glance,
Her thoughts resplendent with the Western light;
In outward guise a woman, inwardly
No woman she; she hath destroyed the bonds
That hold our pure community secure;
Her sacred charms are all unloosed and spilled;
Bold‐eyed her freedom is, provocative,
And wholly ignorant of modesty;
Her learning is inadequate to bear
The charge of motherhood, and on the dusk
And evening of her days not one star shines;
Better it was this rose had never grown
Within our garden, better were her brand
Washed from the skirt of the community

Iqbal clearly mentions that people’s wealth is not in fine linen or treasured hordes of silver and gold, its riches are individuals, clean‐limbed and, strong of body, supple‐brained, hard‐laboring, healthy and nimble to high enterprise. For him, it is the mothers that preserve the strength of scripture and community. Initiatives like education, resources, facilities, exposure, equal opportunities, etc., which empower a woman’s Self are useless, if she, as an empowered individual, does not act with Selflessness for the good of the community by fulfilling her roles and duties. Empowerment is a journey. It begins with knowing your rights and ends with the fulfillment of respective roles. Iqbal emphasizes that true political life begins not with claiming rights, but with performing duties.
Iqbal admits that he is not an advocate of absolute equality between man and woman. He had clear idea that nature has allotted different responsibilities to both genders that are indispensable for the health and prosperity of the family and community. Women’s empowerment is very important to think about, talk about and to strive for those who are not able to exercise their rights. But, what about those who are empowered but not enlightened? For Iqbal, their empowerment is good for nothing: not for the community, not for their own selves. They are equipped with higher education but not enlightened. Why are uneducated women who know how to nurture children and raise them with morals and rightness considered far better than the educated women who are reluctant in getting married and taking up responsibilities, not willing to bear the hardships and purpose of motherhood? What good is their empowerment? Keeping in mind, the persona or location of women is not the nucleus of the discussion, for Iqbal it is not always true that if a woman is simple and peasant, she is always beneficial for the society and if a woman is well groomed, highly educated then she pays no heed towards the societal progression. It can just as easily be the other way round as it is simply about the fulfilment of their rights and performing their duties. Hats off to those empowered women who managed to empower themselves and are actively participating in the empowerment of their community. And salute to those that are not empowered enough but still striving hard and performing their respective roles. HH


Email:[email protected]

Dr. Humaira Shahbaz

مضمون نگار نیشنل یونیورسٹی آف ماڈرن لینگویجز کے شعبہ فارسی سے وابستہ ہیں۔ [email protected]

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