“Listen to the flute, how it complains of separation and tells its story,” says Rumi at the beginning of the Masnavi. Then he goes on to say that just as the music of the flute is the breath of the flute player, so our voices are also coming from somewhere else.
In his famous poem ‘Answer to the Complaint’ (‘Jawab-i-Shikwa’), Iqbal seems to be playing around with this premise when he says at the very beginning that a word which comes from the heart never goes without effect: since it is “heavenly originated”, it reaches the heaven. Here, we see that Iqbal takes Rumi’s premise to mean that the connection between the voice and its source is two-way!
Iqbal recited this poem in October 1912, and according to my research, it was shortly after this poem that Iqbal was visited by Rumi in a dream (discussed in a previous post).
The verses which Iqbal found himself writing as he woke up from his dream were about the significance of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon) for defining “Love”. Interestingly, it was precisely the point at which ‘Answer to the Complaint’ had left off a few months ago.
Hence it seems that there was a strong undercurrent which was running through the creative self of Iqbal around this time, and that may also be taken into account when exploring the spiritual connection with Rumi which became manifest in this manner at this point.
Subsequently, the most important change which Iqbal suggested in spiritual though was to redefine “Real Love” (ishq-i-haqeeqi) as love of nation rather than the love of God as it was understood previously. In the intellectual milieu to which Iqbal belonged, the Muslim nation is more than collective consciousness. It is a real entity. It is a collective ego, which is inherently the same as “the spirit of all human beings.”
Whether perceived in that manner or simply defined as the collective ego of Muslim nation, it is invariably connected with the spiritual life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). To a Muslim, love of nation and humanity is only a practical aspect of the love of Prophet Muhammad.
Is it possible that Rumi also meant this love of nation and humanity when he talked about “love” in his Masnavi? If the flute is the human soul, then what is the reed bed from which it has been cut off? At least the opening lines of the second volume of the Masnavi provide some basis for interpreting the reed bed as the collective ego rather than God. “Only the animal soul can exist separately,” says Rumi. “The human soul is just one.”
Two years ago I was interviewed for the Voice of America about the impact of Rumi on Iqbal. I replied that I would rather like to talk about the impact of Iqbal on Rumi: the message of Iqbal seems to be suggesting the possibility of a new interpretation of Rumi.