6: The basic tenets of Iqbal's project

From Jawdat Said

Revision as of 10:24, 23 August 2009 by Admin (Talk | contribs)

(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to: navigation, search

Q.6: Jawdat Sa'eed confers on Muhammad Iqbal's thought such a distinguished status. So what is so original about Iqbal? In what way has he laid the bases for a new system? What is his impact on current Arab thought?

Interview with "Current Islamic Issues"
1: The major stages in the intellectual progress
3: The main features Jawdat's project
4: Two sources of knowledge
5: Are you advocating the discarding of jihad
6: The basic tenets of Iqbal's project
7: The challenge of globalization
8: Patriarchal-glorification-and-infallibility
9: Is the Islamic mind in a crisis?
10: The present Arabic cultural scene
11: Muhammad Arkoun's attitude
12: Interpretation of the holy texts
*Download the full Interview

A.6: It is not easy to bring together what I have to say about Iqbal. What most attracted me to him is that he was firm in his belief, that he believed deeply, and it showed in his behavior. And besides his solid belief, he had a profound and extensive understanding of the current world, the understanding of an original philosopher. It always amazed me how the two sides thrived side by side in the same mind. As I felt the urgency of combining science and faith together in coming to terms with our dilemmas, I felt that Muhammad Iqbal had both in the highest degree, in a way that I could not find in any other person, and both aspects were solidly established in his character. He was well-informed about the Islamic heritage; he had a thorough knowledge there; and he was quite present, quite at home with what went on in the world, conversant in several languages. You do not often come across a man like that in the Muslim World. What we usually have in the Muslim World is a person specializing in Islamic heritage, but not knowledgeable about modernity, or vise versa; and that of course is our weakness. But Muhammad Iqbal well understood the importance of both sides. He was an original thinker about the science of tawheed, the Islamic faith (the modern theology that Arkoun very much harps on); he was an original sufi, mystic, who knew what to take and what to leave; he was an original jurist, who had some ingenious views in the sphere of dealings. We do not find anyone to take up what Iqbal contributed, to substantiate and elaborate it. He was quite aware of the novelty of his ideas, and he was also aware that people did not understand him, that he was burning alone, like a candle. He felt that he had set the tone for a poet that did not yet pick up from where he left; he felt that it was a rare deer that he had left behind, and that the hunter who would catch that deer had not yet appeared. In brief, he felt that his ideas were for the future, that there was no Muslim yet who was ready to pay the price to buy the Joseph left behind by Iqbal. But he felt sure at the same time, as he said at the end of his collection, The Book of Secrets and Symbols, that what he sowed would produce some time later a field that would be splendid to observe.

As for his influence on modern Islamic though, it is quite little, particularly in the Arab World. All people understand is that he was a poet that praised Islam; he complained: they take me for one of the poets, and they tell me, 'Eulogize this man', 'Satirize this man'; they do not understand me. In this way we understand why Hamilton Jibb said of him in his book: Modern Trends in Islam: "He understood Islam in a new and unprecedented way, but his calls were cries in the wilderness, or blows in the ashes. There was no one to understand him or to respond to his calls."

One would come across quite a few who say they admire his praise of Islam; but all have reservations concerning him; all those responsible for the young caution their followers against him, saying that he had extreme sufi views, or unacceptable legal rulings. They dread his referring to history and experience in judging civilizations; they dread his attitude to shari'ah, the Divine law, when he says that the rulings of shari'ah may be reconsidered in the light of experience. In sum, his innovations have been submerged in ambiguity and skepticism. Most of those who claim to know something about him do not really understand him; they have not invested enough time to exploring his depth.

The world as he saw it was different from what others saw. He said: Our ka'bah (the holy cube of Mecca) is replete with idols; disbelief makes fun of our Islam; our sheikh has bet on Islam, favoring the idols; our mufti sells his fatwa for some money; our preacher has his sight fixed at the idols' home; they have wasted the purity of Mecca. Iqbal said that there was need for a fresh Islamic theory which recognized the continuous creation: taking note of the world's tireless evolution and expansion. And he noted that one of the basic principles of the Qur'an was that communities were brought to account collectively in this world. He took the verse of the Qur'an, 'To every people is a term,' (7:34) to be an example of historical judgments, that in its aphoristic brevity it indicated the possibility of studying human groups scientifically, as organisms. The attention given to history in the Qur'an as a source of knowledge was not casual or in passing. It really laid the basis for very deep historical study.

He connects tawheed, the unity of God, to the unity of the whole world. It is the basis for a scientific principle that directs believers to show obedience to God, rather than to thrones and crowns.

He also discusses the stagnation that cripples Islamic thought. He cites the controversy concerning the 'oldness' of the Qur'an; he also mentions Sufism, mysticism, how it blocked people's visions of Islam as a social constitution. He notes how the traditional scholars were alarmed at the fall of Baghdad, apprehensive that it would lead to social dissolution; therefore they focused all their efforts on one thing: to maintain a uniform social life that applied to all classes of people; they most jealously denied any form of reformation in legislation. That precaution was designed to protect the social system, which was their first concern. And they had some justification there, for a rigid system would resist dissolution. They failed to see, however, as our modern scholars do, that the destiny of a people did not depend on a system as it depended on the caliber and solidity of individuals; that a community which was dominated by disciplinarian ways would result in the individual's completely dissolving; he would pick up all the social values around him, but he would lose his soul. From this it transpires that the unrealistic veneration of past history is not the remedy for a people's dissolution. The only panacea for dissolution is to have individuals with strong individuality; only individuals like this will have in their character the depth of life, and it is individuals like that who are capable of announcing unconventional views, which will prove that the inherited legacy is not at all a taboo to contradict. (The above is adapted from chapters five and six of Iqbal's Reconstruction of the Religious Thought in Islam.) It may be noted that what we have here is a quite unconventional way of discussion. I reflected long on such passages, and I detected a shaking up of our inherited legacy, of the things that the ancestors thought and then assumed that what they had thought was revealed by God; but I realized that that legacy was not inviolable.

We have not absorbed Muhammad Iqbal's thought; to absorb and digest it requires that one dedicates a long time to that; his intellectual stature is not to be taken lightly. We need to devote to him many debates and studies. Only then can we reap the fruit of his ideas; elaborate and expand them. I am sure that future generations will be awakened to his contributions, that his innovative notions will win the respect and acceptance they deserve. There will be a lot of studies on him and his achievements. His is one of the great minds that dedicated themselves to the service of Islam. May God grace him with His favor. He really uplifted my life, and illuminated my mind with the profundity of his faith and the vastness of his learning.