Friday, 25 April 2014

The Forgotten Treasure of Iqbal’s Reconstruction

Iqbal’s is the unique flowering of poetical, mystical and philosophical genius in recent Islamic history. He has few predecessors and fewer inheritors. His encyclopedic mind wrestled with almost all the important issues that modern Muslim and modern man confronts in his life’s odyssey. His is the original, bold and very unorthodox approach. He is an arch innovator and non-conformist. His attempt of bridging philosophy and religion, or in general, knowledge and religion is unique in boldness and originality. What makes him truly modern and gives him a permanent place in the annals of modern history is his largely forgotten gospel of religious modernism,The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam.
Reconstruction makes Iqbal the most important intellectual of modernist Islam. His unique contribution in appropriating modern science and its methodological and philosophical premises in Islam has however not been duly appreciated. In an unprecedented move in Islamic history, he reinterpreted the idea of finality of prophethood in such terms as to legitimize modern scientific project.  His apology for the modern age that defines itself with respect to modern science constitutes a very interesting chapter not only in the history of Islam but also that of modern thought. His demythologizing, evolutionist and rationalist reading of Islam constitutes his unique contribution in the development of modernist Islam. His Reconstruction is an attempt in the direction of appropriating modern scientific thought in Islam. Iqbal has written and embarked on hitherto unprecedented enterprise of reconstruction of traditional religious thought in the light of modern scientific and philosophical developments. This kind of title of any book and this kind of reconstructive work implying reconstruction of traditional metaphysical-philosophical-theological-juristic thought structures has never been proposed in the history of Islam before him. There is a huge difference between reconstruction and reinterpretation. Many think that Iqbal has just written some sort of a new tafsir like so many new commentaries that have been read in the modern age. This only shows crass ignorance of Iqbal and traditional metaphysics. Indeed he has attempted to modernize Islam, not only its theology but shariah in many significant ways. He has attempted to write a prolegomena to new kalam. Reconstruction is the boldest ever critique of received/traditional religious thought in the light of modern episteme. It is the most frantic and intellectually advanced attempt to reconcile the cognitive and epistemic universe of traditional Islam with that of modern scientific and philosophical/thought. It attempts to reorient or restructure traditional hierarchy of power relations. One can safely assert that the Muslims have not realized the significance of this Iqbal who wrote Reconstruction. This book has either not been read or understood or reckoned with seriously by the Muslims.  The Muslims have usually denounced it (excepting certain modernists) or they have not bothered to read or could not understand it as it demands good familiarity with everything that constitutes modern episteme – one must have a deep acquaintance with the whole philosophical tradition of the West, with modern science and its methodological and philosophical assumptions, with modern social-political and economic structures that shape modern mind, with changed perception that has grown from a sort of frame shift mutation of the traditional religious (Christian) worldview. Understanding Reconstruction also needs knowledge of such variety of disciplines as modern physics, psychology and psychoanalysis, biology and even mathematics to certain extent. One must also have a good understanding of history of civilizations and religions and especially of Muslim history to properly contextualize and foreground the theses of Reconstruction. The integrated knowledge of both sciences of humanities, both traditional and modern, alone will allow one to properly understand and appreciate the radical nature of his claims made in Reconstruction.
 He and his Reconstruction are phenomena in themselves and history hardly ever repeats such phenomena. His appropriation of modern science in Islam, his rereading of Sufism and his individualist religious metaphysics are uniquely his and constitute his originality.  There is no other modern Muslim philosopher or traditional scholar who has done anything comparable. Iqbal and his overall philosophy, not just his Reconstruction are phenomena in themselves, unique, unprecedented. Iqbal is in himself an institution, a school that originated with him.
There is only one Iqbal and only one Reconstruction in history. Without a deep familiarity with such abstruse metaphysical and Sufi works as Insani Kamil of Al-Jili, Fusus of Ibn Arabi, such modern philosophers as Hegel, Nietzsche, Bergson etc., such scientific works as Darwin’s Origin of Species, Freud’s important works, Fraser and Comte’s works, such physicist philosophers as Einstein and Eddington, such theosophical works as Secret Doctrine to name only a few, understanding Iqbal or his Reconstruction and his originality and genius is not possible. He is mazloom as someone has well remarked as everybody who has memorized some of his verses and has not mastered or at least has not good acquaintance with world’s metaphysical, religious, philosophical and literary traditions has hardly any moral right to dabble in Iqbal studies or discuss Reconstruction.

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