Critical Appreciation of the Works of Iqbal


Iqbal Studies

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The Book of Slavery

See also Chapter 62, 'The Museum of Slavery' in The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality

‘The Book of Slavery’, constituting the final section of Persian Psalms, marks a significant point in the unfolding of Iqbal’s views about art and literature.

In the first book, Secrets and Mysteries, he differentiated between two types of poets: (a) those presenting beauty and hope, who lead their followers to success; and (b) those presenting ugliness and dead ideas, who lead their followers to destruction. With some exceptions like Mir Taqi Mir, Mirza Ghalib and Bahadur Shah Zafar, the poetry produced in the Muslim East since its political decline in the eighteenth century was usually seen as belonging to the second category, which needed to be shunned.

Therefore, in the second book, The Message of the East (1923), the readers are reminded in unmistakable terms that the tables have turned since the World War I (1914-1918). In the near future, the West was going to be the most likely source of unhealthy trends in art and literature, and might even become the greatest patron of that decadent mysticism which was being expelled from the East for good reasons. This is further elaborated in the third book, The Call of the Marching Bell (1924), where the poet shows how stepping aside from the downward movement of Western art and thought enabled him personally to arrive at a fresh vision of the destiny of the world.

Examples of the decadent trends in painting, music and religion of “the slaves” are listed in ‘The Book of Slavery’ in the next volume. The title need not mislead us: “the slaves” are not necessarily the peoples of the East who are enslaved by colonialism. The colonial masters themselves – who would not be the colonial masters for much longer in any case – are equally entitled to be placed in the category of “slaves” as used in this work (and Iqbal drops a hint by saying, “The fetters are not on feet, but on the heart and the soul – Oh, wonder!”).

Critical Appreciation