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Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam إعادة بناء الفكر الديني في الإسلام

No Contradiction between Faith & Reason:

Dr. Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938 CE, India, the renowned 20thcentury Muslim poet-philosopher) is the only known modern Muslim philosopher who attempted the reinterpretation of Islamic doctrines in the present age through ‘Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’ without compromising on the fundamentals. He studied in Europe from 1905 to 1908; he earned his degree in philosophy from the University of Cambridge, qualified as a barrister in London, and received a doctorate from the University of Munich, Germany. His thesis, ‘The Development of Metaphysics in Persia’, revealed some aspects of Islamic mysticism formerly unknown in Europe. His works have been extremely influential in the revival of Islamic thought. He did not see any contradiction between faith and reason. Iqbal found that “the present-day Muslim prefers to roam about aimlessly in the valley of Hellenic-Persian mysticism, which teaches us to shut our eyes to the hard reality around, and to fix our gaze on what is described as illumination.’ In viewing the scientific and philosophic tradition of eastern and western Islam prior to the Tatar and Mongol invasions, there is an irrefutable proof that true Islam stands for the liberation of man’s spirit, promotes critical thought, and provides both the impetus to grapple with the temporal and the demonstration of how to set it in order.

The philosophical position of Iqbal was articulated in ‘The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’(1934 C.E), a volume based on six lectures delivered at Madras, Hyderabad, and Aligarh India, in 1928-29, Iqbal writes; “The Qur’an is a book which emphasizes ‘’deed’ rather than ‘idea’. There are, however, men to whom it is not possible organically to assimilate an alien universe by re-living, as a vital process that special type of inner experience on which religious faith ultimately rests. Moreover, the modern man, by developing habits of concrete thought —habits which Islam itself fostered at least in the earlier stages of its cultural career-has rendered himself less capable of that experience which he further suspects because of its liability to illusion. The more genuine schools of Sufism have, no doubt, done good work in shaping and directing the evolu­tion of religious experience in Islam; but their latter-day representatives, owing to their ignorance of the modern mind, have become absolutely incapable of receiving any fresh inspiration from modern thought and experience. They are perpetuating methods which were created for generations possessing a cultural outlook differing, in important respects, from our own. “Your creation and resurrection,” says the Qur’an, “are like the creation and resur­rection of a single soul” (Qur’an;31:28). A living experience of the kind of biological unity, embodied in this verse, requires to-day a method physiologically less violent and psychologically more suitable to a concrete type of mind. In the absence of such a method the demand for a scientific form of religious knowledge is only natural. I have tried to meet, even though partially, this urgent demand by attempting to reconstruct Muslim religious philosophy with due regard to the philosophical traditions of Islam and the more recent developments in the various domains of human knowledge. And the present moment is quite favorable for such an undertaking. Classical Physics has learned to criticize its own foundations. As a result of this criticism the kind of materialism, which it originally necessitated, is rapidly disappearing; and the day is not far off when Religion and Science may discover hitherto unsuspected mutual harmonies. It must, however, be remembered that there is no such thing as finality in philosophical thinking. As know­ledge advances and fresh avenues of thought, are opened, other views, and probably sounder views than those set forth in these lectures, are possible. Our duty is carefully to watch the progress of human thought and to maintain an independent critical attitude towards it”.

Abolition of Priesthood & Hereditary Kingship: He argued that a rightly focused man should unceasingly generate vitality through interaction with the purposes of the living God. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had returned from his unitary experience of God to let loose on the earth a new type of manhood and a cultural world characterized by the abolition of priesthood and hereditary kingship and by an emphasis on the study of history and nature.

Rejects Mystic Experience as Exclusive Way: Muhammad Iqbal is critical of Ghazzali’s characterization of knowledge. He thought that Ghazzali was mistaken in giving up reason and thought and embracing mystic experience as the only exclusive way the totally infinite could be revealed to an individual. Iqbal tried to point out that, intellectual reason and intuition are inseparable, and that in the act of comprehending something by intuition, the intellect plays an indispensable role, which cannot be discounted. He writes: “It may be that what we call the external world is only an intellectual construction, and that there are other levels of human experience capable of being systematized by other orders of space and time—levels in which concept and analysis does not play the same role as they do in the case of our normal experience.” As Iqbal explains, that the higher level of experience is not at the sensational or representational level, rather it is better described as a feeling rather than concepts.  He writes, It is rather a mode of dealing with Reality in which sensation, in the physiological sense of the word, does not play any part. This for Iqbal is the mystic experience that leads to ultimate certain knowledge. The individual may access the ultimate; he draws his inspiration from Einstein and Nietzsche”.

Recreation of Vigor in Islamic Thought: Einstein’s theory of relativity gave him hope, that his theory about the way the finite and the infinite are related is possible. Relativity shattered traditional notions of space, time and thus matter.  In the modern context it is important, for Islamic thought at least, to reassert itself clearly and define its parameters upon which a modern Islamic epistemology can be built [Epistemology: The branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge, its presuppositions and foundations, and its extent and validity].The work of European and American philosophers cannot be ignored, and their criticism should be used to recreate the vigor of Islamic philosophy, which has been lost over the past few centuries. The foundation of basic parameters has already been laid by Muhammad Iqbal.

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