The Story of the Diamond and the Coal: Muhammad Iqbal on the Virtues of Struggle
Muhammad Iqbal had a penchant for delivering thoughtful messages through dialogues between inanimate objects and animals with his characteristically lively and evocative language. This allowed him to bring his messages into sharp focus and indulge his powerful imagination whilst remaining refreshingly entertaining. In his poem, Secrets of the Self, (Asrari-i-khudi in Persian), he has one such dialogue in the form of a candid conversation between a slighted and abject lump of coal, full of complaint about its plight; and a diamond, conscious of its magnificence and value in a manner that borders on conceit, if not for its subtle self-awareness that it is, in its origin, the same as the lump of coal. The diamond takes a paternalistic attitude to the coal, admonishing it for being “soft”, “burnt” and “abased.”
This dialogue gives an insight into how Muhammad Iqbal viewed struggle, difficulty and hardship in the overall formation of a strong and independent character. In Annemarie Schimmel’s indispensable survey of Iqbal’s life and thought, Gabriel’s Wing, she quotes a passage by Iqbal in which he explains how one’s personality is “formed and disciplined by its own experience.” The greater the difficulty one faces and overcomes then, the greater the possibilities for personal development. “I will declare the Truth” he says in another passage in Secrets of the Self, “thine enemy is thine friend. His existence crowns thee with glory.” “To the seed of man” he continues, “the enemy is as a rain-cloud: He awakens its potentialities.”
Now I will open one more gate of Truth, I will tell thee another tale.
“O thou entrusted with splendors everlasting, We are comradres, and our being is one; The source of our existence is the same, Yet while I die here in the anguish of worthlessness, Thou art set on the crowns of emperors. My stuff is so vile that I am valued less than earth, Whereas the mirror’s heart is rent by thy beauty.
My darkness illuminates the chafing-dish, then my substance is incinerated at last. Everyone puts the sole of his foot on my head, and covers my stock of existence with ashes. My fate must needs be deplored; Dost thou know what is the gist of my being?
Thou art a condensed wavelet of smoke, endowed with the properties of a single spark; both in feature and nature thou art star-like, splendors rise from every side of thee. Now thou becom’st the light of a monarch’s eye, Now thou adornest the haft of a dagger.”
“O sagacious friend!” said the diamond. “Dark earth hardened, becomes in dignity as a bezel. Having been at strife with its environment, it is ripened by the struggle and grows hard like a stone.
Tis this ripeness that has endowed my form with light. And filled my bosom with radiance. Because thy being is immature, thou hast become abased; Because thy body is soft, thou art burnt. Be void of fear, friend and anxiety; Be hard as a stone, be a diamond!
Whosoever strives hard and grips tight, the two worlds are illuminate by him. A little earth is the origin of the Black Stone, which puts forth its head in the Kaa’ba, Its rank is higher than Sinai,
It is kissed by the swarthy and the fair. In solidity consists the glory of life; weakness is worthlessness and immaturity.”
Note: This is taken from Reynold Nicholson’s translation.