Understanding ‘Self’ Sociologically And Theologically

Allama Muhammad Iqbal was a prolific Muslim philosopher who envisioned the idea of Pakistan. These both claims Muhammad Iqbal as a “Muslim philosopher” and “his vision” for a separate homeland are highly contested. But such controversies do not lessen the intellectual sheen and grace of his philosophy rather it makes it more interesting and deep. Karl Popper has settled the matter: “the growth of knowledge depends entirely upon disagreement”.

This brief piece deals with Iqbal’s philosophy of “Khudi” or “self”. To understand the self is not as simple as it may seem. It is a complex, multi-dimensional and multi-layered concept that has been a matter of discussion for Psychologists, Philosophers, and now Social Psychologists working in the field of Sociology.

Generally, the conception of self is constructed in three ways. There is not only an objective world but also a subjective one to determine self. The interplay of subjectivity and objectivity leads to the formation of a strong idea of one’s self. At the outset, a person looks at himself through his own eyes; the way he/she considers himself/herself, his/her shortcomings, and strengths. In this process of determining or making ‘self’ a person tries to do every possible thing to make his image perfect to himself. He gives himself enough time for his personal growth.

Secondly, a person generally looks at himself through a societal lens. Here, society also serves as a mirror. While looking at oneself or imagining one’s overall character, all efforts are made to get fit into the society while keeping into consideration the existing socio-cultural discourses.

American sociologist Charles Horton Cooley has extensively written on this subject and presented a theory called looking-glass self. The looking-glass self is a social psychological concept created by Charles Horton Cooley in 1902. It states that a person’s self grows out of society’s interpersonal interactions and the perceptions of others.

In my opinion, such conception of self and its creation is beneficial for him as well as for society because through this way he is kept in check and does not violate the norms and values of society because he will be rejected by society if acts vice versa. On the other hand, it also sometimes results in alteration in his personality. He tries to reform himself to be adored and appreciated by society and by doing so, he forgets his own identity and becomes someone else.

Furthermore, the image a person sees of himself depends on how society portrays it. It will be a distorted image if you are surrounded by people who hold critical and censured views only. And it will be a soft and beautiful image if the group of people portraying it is not that critical. So, if a person frames his personality on the standards put forward by Society, he will take every step keeping in mind the sanctions that society offers him. This dimension of self is measured and formed by society.

The last aspect to look at self is the way you think your Creator looks at you and the way He created you. When a person gets to know about his Creator, he eventually gets to know his self, as God’s spirit has been breathed into him. This is a deeper self, of which a person becomes aware only when he gets closer to the Lord. Prayer is the best time and way to be in meditation and to introduce “self” to Creator. When a person’s inner self becomes aware of and then infuses with the Absolute-self, he experiences a whole new world of beauty and eternity. Allah says, “Allah knows the secret and what is even more hidden”.

There is a thin-line difference between “secret” and “hidden”. “Secret” is something that a person knows but conceals deep inside him. “Hidden” is something that is linked to that person but even he is not aware of it. This is where the concept of Absolute-consciousness begins. A person can only get to know what is “hidden” inside him by knowing his Creator through His remembrance. Iqbal extracted his philosophy from an ayah of Qur’an: “And be ye not like those who forgot Allah, and he made them forget their own souls.” (Chapter 59, Surah Al-Hashr). Here it is evident that when a person strays from the remembrance of Allah, he forgets himself.

In the age of social media, technological advancement, and innovation, we have become more or less like machines. Do we need to ask some fundamental questions regarding our existence to realize who we are? For that matter, I suggest students read about Iqbal and his philosophy who has a lot more to offer for the fulfillment of one’s spiritual needs.

The writer is a student of Sociology at the University of the Punjab, Lahore. She is interested in socio-political dynamics and writes for leading English language newspapers in Pakistan. She can be reached on Twitter @beenishfatima63


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