Our Beacon Forum

Is Allama Iqbal relevant today? Death Anniversary
By:Farhan Shah, Norway
Date: Tuesday, 21 April 2020, 1:21 pm

Muhammad Iqbal is relevant in numerous ways: Within the Islamic context, Iqbal presents a transformative and dynamic vision and interpretation of the category of Islam, one that is sensitive and receptive to the challenges of our postmodern realities. Iqbal seeks to creatively transform the Muslim consciousness by furnishing a vision of God, cosmos and human beings that enables Muslims to find inspiration, realistic hope and meaning in the face of the challenges and conundrums unleashed by modernity. Moreover, Iqbal`s Qur`anically-inspired philosophy presents an open-ended vision of human existence and a cosmology of emergence, in contrast to many conventional fatalistic-oriented theologies so dominant within our religious culture.

In Iqbal`s vision of Islam, God is not all-powerful in its conventional sense. Because, if God is the unilateral actor, then, philosophically speaking, human beings have no genuine agency at all, and if humans have no real power of free conscious behaviour, then God`s role of making humans do whatever God wills does not in fact express much power at all. Iqbal thought that the whole idea of an omnipotent God is self-destructive. Perhaps no conception has destroyed the faith of so many believers as the disappointment of the expectations fed by the monarchical idea of God as all-controlling power. As for Iqbal, God does not, and cannot, control everything. Rather than being bad news, Iqbal firmly believed that the reality of Divine self-limitation and unconditional compassion, opens up much needed space for genuine freedom and its resultant responsibility and creativity, which is grounded on our common, pre-reflective experience of responsible freedom. Iqbal`s thesis is that according to the Qur`anic scripture, God`s workings in the world is that God works in and through natural things and especially in and through human beings. That is, God is an important factor; however, God does not act on nature or human entities against their inherent characteristics.

With the help from Iqbal, we can construct, and speak of, a new narrative, a new story, of a vision of Islam that truly is constructively postmodern. A constructively postmodern Islam invites both theists and non-theists alike to be critical of certain assumptions and axioms of the project of modernity that prevent human subjects from appreciating planet Earth, living with respect for the greater whole of which we are an organic part, and building ecological civilizations. Iqbal`s interpretation of Islam in a holistic, interdependent and open-ended way, can help us to move toward a more ecologically sustainable future. It inspires, and challenges us, to make some important mental shifts. Some of the most central shifts are:

(1) From a shallow empiricism that focuses mainly on sense experience to a deep empiricism, so that we may learn to appreciate the wide array of experiences that yield wisdom about the natural world and non-human communities of life.

(2) From an overemphasis on individualism to personalism, to use a philosophical term. Personalism is a middle ground between radical individualism (tending toward solipsism) and authoritarian collectivism. It is a stance which implies a recognition that we are in fact persons-in-community, and never isolated entities, that is, no human entity is an island. Our individual well-being depends on the well-being of larger wholes.

(3) From reductive anthropocentrism, that focuses primarily on the innate value of human life to biophilia – that is, a recognition of the immanent value of all living actualities.

(4) From rigid and exclusivists loyalties and identities to our nation-states or ethnic wholes toward world-loyalty, or loyalty to the world as a sacred space.

(5) From atomistic compassion to radical empathy. That is, from a feeling of loyalty to just one`s own family, community or nation, toward allowing ourselves to feel the feelings of others outside our own established circuit, to be sensitive to the future of living communities by respecting, protecting and nurturing their needs and potentialities of growth within an interdependent whole.

Iqbal`s philosophy helps us to transcend preoccupations with radical individualism, encouraging us to recognize that we are creatures among creatures within an interdependent universe, throbbing with subjectivity and experience. Part of the issue of the notion of individualism within the modernity-paradigm lies in the assumption that callings are always individualised, shattered into bits of pieces. This highly individualistic idea of calling tends to block the actions required to save humanity from utter catastrophe. Iqbal presents a new, countercultural possibility: for Iqbal, callings can, and should be, collective, too, where our individual capacities and loyalties are fused into a counterculture. That is, we may live in Africa, Latin America, Europe, Asia, Oceania or North America; we may be young, old or in-between; we begin where we can begin, within our own immediate context and with our own limited capacities and resources. With the intellectual and moral courage and stamina to challenge the dominant modernist culture, its dogmatisms, idolatries and rigidities and axioms, leading us toward wholesome destruction, we can indeed recover some realistic hope for reconstructing our societies and structures. This reconstruction implies re-ordering our mental patterns and modes of being in which human life, and indeed all living beings, have their own subjective reality, and creating those conditions in which all life can flourish and thus experience the joy of harmony and intensity of experience. In short, in human communities, the ultimate concern should be the common good, in which rules, regulations and structures are in its service.

Iqbal believed that our deepest commitments as God`s co-companions are to honour each other, and work for justice, peace and sustainability, in whatever ways our circumstances allow. As a human being, as a believer who has faith in a God who empowers and supports human freedom and the positive use of our opportunities, and as a Muslim philosopher, I commend such a deep and transformative normative commitment wholeheartedly and enthusiastically. And I hope that more people – who deeply care for the future of humanity and all life – will join this life-enhancing calling; in the great quest for healing the planet. Before ending my response, I would like to share some poetic and inspiring words from Iqbal that embody the spirit of his dynamic and melioristic philosophy:

“We are gradually travelling from chaos to cosmos and are helpers in this achievement. Nor are the members of the association fixed; new member are ever coming to birth to co-operate in the great task. Thus the universe is not a completed act; it is still I the course of formation. There can be no complete truth about the universe, for the universe has not yet become `whole`. The process of creation I still going on, and man too takes his share in it, inasmuch as he helps to bring order into at least a portion of the chaos. “