Iqbal, Muhammad

   Sir Muhammad Iqbal was without a doubt the greatest Indo-Muslim philosopher-poet and possibly the most important and influential Islamic intellectual of the twentieth century. Encouraged by the eminent Orientalist Sir Thomas Arnold (who tutored him at the Government College in Lahore), Iqbal studied philosophy at Cambridge with the British Hegelian J. M. E. McTaggart and went on to write his dissertation at Munich University on the development of metaphysics in Persia. Upon his return to India, he first took up a position as Professor of Philosophy and English Literature, but soon decided to give up his teaching career and become a lawyer in order more effectively to propagate his political ideas and the broader philosophical conception of the human being upon which they were based. Iqbal’s primary mode of expression was philosophicaldidactic poetry, which he wrote in both Persian and Urdu. Of particular note are his Secrets of the Self (Asrar-i khudi), in which he first articulated his quasi-Nietzschean emphasis on the development of the self or ego (khudi) as opposed to mystical annihilation (fana’), and The Mysteries of Selflessness (Rumuz-i bikhudi), which stressed the development of the communal ego and the duties of the individual within the larger Muslim community. However, his magnum opus is the Book of Eternity (Javid-nama), which he dedicated to his son. The poem recounts a Dantian spiritual journey in which Iqbal travels through the spheres accompanied by the Sufi poet Rumi, engaging various leaders (both Muslim and non-Muslim) in dialogues about philosophical and political problems. Iqbal only published three prose works, two of which are in English: his dissertation, The Development of Metaphysics in Persia, and The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, which collected a series of lectures he had delivered at various universities in India. Whereas the former is for the most part a work of historical scholarship, the latter articulates a new metaphysics by means of Iqbal’s unique reconciliation of Muslim theology and European science and philosophy. It is generally considered one of the most important works of modern Islamic philosophy.
   Iqbal’s philosophy of the self envisions the trajectory of humanity in a dynamic, developmental and powerfully affirmative way. He rejects the myth of the Fall, or rather reinterprets it as a symbolic representation of the individual’s development from ‘a primitive state of instinctive appetite to the conscious possession of a free self, capable of doubt and disobedience’. Influenced by western ‘vitalist’ philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Henri Bergson, Iqbal adopts an evolutionary worldview, albeit with the full realization or perfection of the human self (insani-i kamil) – the ideal person – as its teleological apex. Interestingly, Iqbal thinks quite highly of Nietzsche, not only because of his dynamic conception of reality and his model of the Übermensch as the fully realized, striving human, but also because of his healthy anti-Platonism (Iqbal was of the opinion that Platonic mysticism had contributed to the decline of Islam). Nonetheless, in Iqbal’s portrait, Nietzsche is like a man who has stopped at the la ilah (‘there is no god’) of the witnessing, before he has reached the final affirmation of illa Allah (‘but God’). Iqbal’s emphasis on the full realization or perfection of the self thus diverges from Nietzsche’s insofar as it envisions God as the greatest self. It also diverges from monistic strains of Sufism, insofar as it rejects the oneness of existence, understood at least as strong identity with the divine. The perfection of the self results not in the vanquishing of God or the realization of one’s unity with God, but rather with a fruitful, appropriate relationality to the divine. On Iqbal’s account, the human being can perfect and fully actualize itself only in relation to God. Although the human being is the apex of creation, it is still the servant (‘abd) of God.
   The full development of the human self is never a fait accompli, but rather involves a ceaseless striving. Iqbal’s concern is primarily with the journey rather than the destination, so to speak; one truly is only as long as one is moving. He even sees Satan (Iblis, al-Shaytan) as an ineliminable catalyst in the quest for the full realization of the self. For it is Iblis who gives humankind its taste for striving in the first place, provoking us to a perpetual struggle which makes possible our epistemological, ethical and spiritual development. Evil itself is thus redeemed by the necessary role it plays in actualizing human potential, and Iqbal envisions Satan’s prostration before the self-perfected human being as a compensation for his earlier refusal to acknowledge the supremacy of Adam. One is reminded of Goethe’s ‘Faustian man’ a bit here, except that Iqbal’s optimal orientation towards the world is characterized by both science and mysticism, for without love (‘ishq), reason (‘aql) becomes demonic. On Iqbal’s account, even the immortality of the human soul is an achievement rather than a pre-given fact. This idea is ultimately bound up with Iqbal’s understanding of time, which he conceives in a two-fold way, as created serial time on the one hand and uncreated time or pure duration on the other. The former is essentially clock time; the latter is the more fundamental constant and endless flow in which all creatures have their life and being. Through its own self-perfection, the human being has the ability to cast off the ‘magician’s girdle’ (zunnar) of serial time and reach the ‘eternal now’ of the divine. On the socio-political front, Iqbal’s activism was an expression of his more fundamental spiritual and intellectual concerns. His energetic efforts to awaken the consciousness of Indian Muslims, his participation in organizations such as the All India Muslim League, and his idea of a separate Muslim homeland won him the title of ‘spiritual father of Pakistan’. Yet Iqbal’s concerns were by no means particularistic or merely nationalistic. He focused his efforts as well on the larger anti-colonialist pan-Islamist movement and ultimately the Muslim independence movement, which he saw as a vehicle, not for yet another kind of provincial exclusivity, but rather for the universal humanitarian ideal, which arguably had animated his thought and practice all along.
   See ‘Abduh, Muhammad; al-Afghani; Islamism; modern Islamic philosophy; Wali Allah, Shah
   Further reading: Hassan 1977; Iqbal 1908/64, 1930, 1950, 1953, 1966/2003; Schimmel 1963; Singh 1997; Vahid 1959

Islamic Philosophy. . 2007.

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