The Reconstruction Of Religious Thought In Islam
Author: Allama Muhammad Iqbal
Muhammad Iqbal is one of those Islamic intellectuals of the Subcontinent who is celebrated by all, read by few, and understood by even fewer. Iqbal’s 1930 book “The Reconstruction Of Religious Thought In Islam” is a collection of speeches that this revered visionary leader gave on reconstructing the metaphysical worldview of Islam in the light of modernity. It is a deeply humbling piece of contemporary Islamic scholarship wherein Iqbal attempts to synthesize the spiritual outlook of Islam with modern rationality, explaining the worldview of the Quran in comparison to and contrast with the philosophies articulated by Nietzsche, Bergson, Einstein, and other Western philosophers. He argues for the enduring importance of spiritual gnosis and practice, alongside modern activist knowledge and empiricism.
Consisting of seven chapters, the book is primarily targeted at contemporary Muslims, who were keenly aware of their weakness vis-a-vis Europe, as well as of their historic role as a “worthy opponent” that, at some point in the past, held the upper hand against Western Christian competitors.
Let me start with the title of the book: the second part of the title contains the term “religious thought,” and it is very important to make a clear distinction between religion and religious thought. The book tries to present the fresh meaning of religion to those who are going on new atheistic roads or are reluctant to the orthodox religious interpretations. The book argues for Islamic religious thought which needs to be reconstructed. Now, let’s analyze the first part of the title: ‘reconstruction’. Why there is a need for reconstruction? According to Iqbal, during the last five hundred years, religious thought in Islam has been practically stationary, and to propel the stationary thought it needs to be reconstructed. The reconstruction is needed in the Muslim religious philosophy with due regard to the philosophical traditions of Islam and the more recent developments in the various domains of human knowledge.
Let me take you to the chapter-wise short analysis to find out as to which areas of Islamic religious thought need to be reconstructed, according to Iqbal.
KNOWLEDGE AND RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE
In the first part of this chapter, Iqbal makes us understand the actual meaning of the Qur’an—the second most-widely read book in the world after the New Testament. Iqbal concluded in the context of the actual meaning of the Qur’an that it is a book that emphasises deeds rather than the idea. He says “This larger whole is to use a Qur’anic metaphor, a kind of perverted table which holds up the entire undetermined possibilities of knowledge as a present reality, revealing itself in serial time as a succession of finite concepts appearing to reach a unity which is already present in them”. Every book has a purpose behind it and the rest of the content follows it. So, what could the purpose of the Qur’an? According to Iqbal “The main purpose of the Qur’an is to awaken in man the higher consciousness of his manifold relation with God and the universe.”
In the second part of the chapter, Iqbal sheds light on the charismatic personality of the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) in a non-traditional way. The Prophet of Islam (PBUH) is the most loved and followed person in the world but much misunderstood inside and outside Islamic circles. I would take the support of a few arguments from this part of the chapter which would clear dogmas attached with the Prophet of Islam (PBUH). The first one, when Iqbal was making a distinction between knowledge, believing, and experiencing he emphasis on religious experience and providing Islam the rational foundations which are justified by the Prophetic way of seeking “God, grant me knowledge of ultimate nature of things.” Secondly, the Prophet of Islam was the first critical observer of the psychic phenomenon. It is clear from the above arguments that the Prophet of the believers was not a believer himself but a real seeker. The rest of the Muslims should seek not to believe according to Prophetic tradition.
THE PHILOSOPHICAL TEST OF THE REVELATIONS OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE
This chapter reveals to us the scientific taste of Iqbal especially in the subject of Physics. Iqbal argues for the central place of religion in the synthesis of data of human experience. He takes his position against the teleological and ontological arguments for the existence of God and generates evidence in favor of cosmological scholoraristic philosophy. Further, Iqbal beautifully countered the argument of ‘Mechanism of reproduction’ which I had great support. He says, “Creation is opposed to repetition, so the mechanism is impossible.”
THE CONCEPTION OF GOD AND THE MEANING OF PRAYER
In the first part of the chapter, Iqbal provides a critical analysis of the orthodox but dominant school of thoughts regarding the conception of God. It includes the Ash’arite school of thought in terms of Islamic atomism. School of Basra shaped by Abu Hashim and some other conceptions of western intellect.
In the later part of this chapter Iqbal answers the most controversial question, Where does God live?. He narrates the term Divine time “ The time which is free from the quality of passage, and consequently does not admit of divisibility, sequence, and change. It is above eternity, it has neither beginning nor end.” Moreover, he addresses the question of God’s knowledge of future events “ The future certainly pre-exists in the organic whole of God’s creative life, but it pre-exists as an open possibility, not as a fixed order of events with definite outlines.”
In the later parts of the chapter, he gives his views about the first man. It is again a matter of great controversy among scholarly circles. Some scholars consider the adam as a real man while others as a metaphoric reference. But Iqbal presents his argumentation in the context of the first human and elaborates the metaphoric nature of Qur’anic verses regarding adam and eve which is eye-opening for orthodox interpretations. He says, “ The word adam is retained and used more as a concept than as the name of a concrete human individual. This use of the word is not without authority in the Qur’an itself.” Moreover, he explains the entire discourse of the Qur’an which covers the whole incident of adam and eve from symbolic nature to actual meaning.
THE HUMAN EGO —- HIS FREEDOM AND IMMORTALITY
This chapter has plenty of interesting aspects like the interpretation of ego by ‘Kant’s critique of pure reason’ and ‘Neitzche’s doctrine of eternal reassurance’. ‘Islamic theory of salvation is also one of the most eye-opening aspects of this chapter which says, “It is with the irreplaceable singleness of his individuality that the finite ego will approach the infinite ego to see for himself the consequences of his past actions and to judge the possibilities of his future.” The idea of ‘Barzakh’ and the idea of ‘Resurrection’ which are the whole basis of the spread and sustainability of religion where it takes lead over other methods of data collection is busted by Iqbal. He says, “The state of Barzakh, therefore, does not seem to be merely a passive state of expectation, it is a state in which the ego catches a glimpse of fresh aspects of reality, and prepares himself for adjustment to these aspects.”
But the most important part of this chapter in which Iqbal addresses the most controversial question of all time ‘Origin of man’ in light of quranic ideas and modern biology. He sums up the whole idea of creation and evolution of the human ego in one poem of Rumi, as
The first man appeared in the class of inorganic things,
Next, he passed therefrom into that of plants,
For years he lived one of the plants,
Remembering naught of his inorganic state so different,
And when he passed from the vegetive to the animal state,
He has no remembrance of his state as a plant,
Except for the inclination that he felt to the world of plants,
Especially at the time of spring and sweet flowers;
Like the inclination of infants towards their mothers,
Which know not the cause of their inclination to the breast,
Again the great creator, as you know,
Drew man out of the animal into the human state.
Thus man passed from one order of nature to another,
Till he became wise and knowing and strong as he is now.
Of the first souls, he has now no remembrance,
And he will be again changed from his present soul.
And the chapter ends with addressing the misconceptions about the idea of hell and heaven.
“Heaven and Hell are stated, not localities. Their descriptions in the Quran are visual representations of an inner fact. Hell, in the words of the Quran, is “God’s kindled fire which mounts above the hearts the painful realization of one’s failure as a man. Heaven is the joy of triumph over the forces of disintegration. There is no such thing as eternal damnation in Islam. The word ‘eternity used in certain verses, relating to Hell, is explained by the Quran itself to mean only a period (78:23). Time cannot be wholly irrelevant to the development of personality. Character tends to become permanent; its reshaping must require time. Hell, therefore, as conceived by the Quran, is not a pit of everlasting torture inflicted by a revengeful God, It is a corrective experience that may make a hardened ego once more sensitive to the living breeze of Divine Grace Nor is Heaven a holiday. Life is one and continuous. Marches always onward to receive ever-fresh illumination.
THE SPIRIT OF MUSLIM CULTURE
One of the most important facts highlighted by Iqbal in this chapter was the Anti-classical nature of the Qur’an. Most of the famous and dominant Muslim schools of thought and scholars made this mistake throughout the centuries that they tried to understand Qur’an under the Light of Greek Philosophy.
Further, Iqbal mentioned the importance of the work of Ibn-E-khuldoon and Ibn-E-Muskawiah towards understanding Qur’anic metaphors in a non-traditional way. The focus of the chapter is to put Islam not as a philosophy but as a cultural movement of prophetic conscious experience. Iqbal says, “The idea was neither a concept of philosophy nor a dream of poetry. As a social movement, Islam aimed to make the idea a living factor in the Muslim’s daily life and thus silently and imperceptibly to carry it towards fuller fruition.”
THE PRINCIPLE OF MOVEMENT IN THE STRUCTURE OF ISLAM
Iqbal mentions the key players in the past of this Islamic social movement like Baghdad, Tamiya and he finally concludes in the favour of Turkish moderated religious and political thought in the following words “ The truth is that among the Muslim nations of today, Turkey alone has shaken off its dogmatic slumber, and attained to self-consciousness. and suggest for Muslims to set it as a guiding principle for them.
Later he arguments for the establishment of a caliphate to unite Muslims of the different schools of thought under a single authority because “ In the international world week find no sympathy; power alone deserves respect.”
At the end of the chapter, he again emphasizes the importance of ijtihad along with some other directions. He says, “Humanity needs three things today, A spiritual interpretation of the universe, spiritual emancipation of the individual, and basic principles of a universal import directing the evolution of human society on a spiritual basis. In addressing the question of the purpose of Islam He summarizes the whole idea that the “ultimate aim of Islam is to build a spiritual democracy.”
IS RELIGION POSSIBLE?
Iqbal answers the question of the possibility and non-possibility of religion throughout the book in many ways but in this chapter, he adopted the most interesting way of answering this question which is to first address the biological nature and evolutionary process of humans.
Iqbal says modern atheistic socialism and nationalism are a great threat to religion because it providing a better lifestyle but again he gives an edge to religion by arguing that “ The truth is that the religious and the scientific processes, though involving different methods, are identical in their final aim. Both aim at reaching the most real. In fact religion, for reasons which I mentioned before, is more anxious to reach the ultimately real than science.”
Iqbal concluded the chapter in favor of religion in a poetic way.
The I AM which he seeketh,
Liethbeyond philosophy, beyond knowledge.
The plant that grows only from an invisible soil of the heart of man,
Growth not from a mere heap of clay!
The book is full of multiple flavors. You will find History, Philosophy, Science especially physics, Psychology, Religious scriptures, Poetry, Work of western philosophical thought, work of Muslim philosophical thought, and much more. The book is enriched with great religious and spiritual experiences for souls who are suffering from an existential crisis.