For my freshman seminar, I recently read through Muhammad Iqbal’s poem, “Complaint and Answer,” as one of the assignments. As I read through Iqbal’s poem, I could not help but stop several times to note down the enormous parallels between what God seemed to consider the ideal Muslim, and what Lord Krishna (a Hindu deity) proclaimed to be the qualities of the ideal Hindu in the Bhagavad-Gita. Moreover, everything which God claimed that Muslims of today’s time were doing “wrong,” seemed to directly parallel the “demonic” qualities which Krishna warns Hindus about in Chapter 16 of the Gita. Here is my overview of the parallels.
In Iqbal’s poem, God describes the ideal Muslim as follows:
“Ever truthful, ever fearless was the Muslim in his speech,
Strong and sure his sense of justice, clean of partiality
High exalted was his courage, far above the common reach,
And sweet modesty the dew was that refreshed his nature’s tree;
Of his wine the liquid essence by self-naughting was distilled,
And his joy was in self-emptying the flask his Maker filled.
Every Muslim was a lancet poised to sever falsehood’s vein,
In the mirror of his being ceaseless action’s luster shone;
In his own right arm he trusted, by his strength he could attain,
And while you are scared of dying, he had fear of God alone.
In almost the same manner, Sri Krishna lists the qualities of a “divine” human being (one who is close to God) in the first three slokas (verses) of Chapter 16 of the Gita:
- Fearlessness, purity of heart, perseverance in the yoga of knowledge, charity, sense restraint, sacrifice, study of the scriptures, austerity, honesty;
- Nonviolence, truthfulness, absence of anger, renunciation, equanimity, abstaining from malicious talk, compassion for all creatures,
- freedom from greed, gentleness, modesty, absence of fickleness;
- Splendor, forgiveness, fortitude, cleanliness, absence of malice, and absence of pride; these are the qualities of those endowed with divine virtues, O Arjuna.
Iqbal’s mention of “ceaseless action” also has a counterpart within Hinduism — in fact, an entire chapter of the Gita (chapter 5) is devoted to the idea of Karma Yoga, or the Yoga of Selfless Action. And courage too is a main idea of the Gita — in fact, the reason why Lord Krishna recited the Bhagavad-Gita to Arjuna was because Arjuna lacked the courage to fight for what he knew was righteous! Thus, it comes up several times in the Gita that it is of utmost importance to do one’s duty, regardless of how difficult it is.
Besides the parallels between the positive qualities of devotees described by both Iqbal and Sri Krishna, there are uncanny similarities between what both religions seem to denounce as well. In Chapter 16 of the Gita, after listing the characteristics of an ideal devotee, Lord Krishna goes on to list the qualities of so-called “demonic people,” explaining how such people act.
- Hypocrisy, arrogance, pride, anger, harshness, and ignorance; these are the marks of those who are born with demonic qualities, O Arjuna.
- Divine qualities lead to nirvana, the demonic (qualities) are said to be for bondage. Do not grieve, O Arjuna, you are born with divine qualities.
- There are two types of human beings in this world: the divine, and the demonic. The divine has been described at length, now hear from Me about the demonic, O Arjuna.
- Persons of demonic nature do not know what to do and what not to do. They neither have purity nor good conduct nor truthfulness.
- They say that the world is unreal, without a substratum, without a God, and without an order. The world is caused by lust (or Kama) alone and nothing else.
- Adhering to this view these lost souls, with small intellect and cruel deeds, are born as enemies for the destruction of the world.
- Filled with insatiable desires, hypocrisy, pride, and arrogance; holding wrong views due to delusion; they act with impure motives.
- Obsessed with great anxiety until death, considering sense gratification as their highest aim, convinced that this (sense pleasure) is everything,
- Bound by hundreds of ties of desire and enslaved by lust and anger; they strive to obtain wealth by unlawful means for the fulfillment of desires. They think:
- This has been gained by me today, I shall fulfill this desire, this is mine and this wealth also shall be mine in the future;
- That enemy has been slain by me, and I shall slay others also. I am the Lord. I am the enjoyer. I am successful, powerful, and happy;
- I am rich and born in a noble family. I am the greatest. I shall perform sacrifice, I shall give charity, and I shall rejoice. Thus deluded by ignorance;
- Bewildered by many fancies; entangled in the net of delusion; addicted to the enjoyment of sensual pleasures; they fall into a foul hell.
- Self-conceited, stubborn, filled with pride and intoxication of wealth; they perform Yajna only in name, for show, and not according to scriptural injunction.
- Clinging to egoism, power, arrogance, lust, and anger; these malicious people hate Me (who dwells) in their own body and others’ bodies.
The above description parallels (almost exactly!) what Iqbal believes would be God’s response to the Muslim’s shiqwa, or complaint from the beginning of the poem. God first mentions the lack of humility in modern Muslims — Krishna too mentions pride several times, highlighted in orange above. God then speaks of how Muslims have become lazy, and how it is almost like a burden for them to arise for the morning prayers — Sri Krishna warns Hindus against laziness and hypocrisy as well, as highlighted in bright green. Iqbal (via the voice of God) then criticizes the greed of Muslims, mentioning how they make profits from selling tombstones; greed, lust, and acting for wrong motives are mentioned several times in the Gita as well (highlighted in purple)! Iqbal writes next, “Drunken with the pride of riches, wealthy men neglect God’s due;” similarly, Krishna warns us against performing religious rituals for the wrong reasons (money, fame, riches) instead of just out of love for God — these references are highlighted in blue. The parallels between the words of Iqbal’s God and Sri Krishna are quite uncanny — and just the idea that two of the world’s major religions can have so many similarities, despite the fact that they came into being during very different time periods, in different areas of the world, and in different historical contexts is incredible to me. For me, these “coincidences” are not really coincidences at all, but simply proof that some higher entity must really exist, and must really be guiding all of the different religious figures towards the same essential truth.