Iqbal: Recited, not Read

For me Iqbal’s most provocative work lies in his Ijtihad in matters theological, spiritual and philosophical

Muhammed Maroof

Muslims of the Indian subcontinent are great lovers of Iqbal, though not great readers of him. Iqbal is so little known. He is mostly recited rather than read. And his prose – especially his The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam – is largely ignored even by Iqbal scholars. The book in focus today is a study of this ignored prose and as such timely and welcome addition to Iqbal studies. 
Muslims can stand up to the challenge of modernity by taking modern scholarship and canons of criticism seriously. And it demands critical review of traditional heritage. But Muslims have not been ready for this by and large. And it partly explains their malaise that prompted Iqbal to deliver Madras lectures. He defended the right of new generation for new interpretation and even reconstruction of traditional religious thought and develop new theology (jadeed ilm-i-kalaam). But more conservative mainstream Ulema call this group that iqbal endorses tajuddud parast. It is very difficult to digest Iqbal on  Ijtihad   for most Muslims.
 A sample of theses Iqbal upheld that we can interpret as his  Ijtihad   in theological and juristic issues follows.
•         Hitherto the spirit of Islam had only been partly realized. This problematizes neofoundationist/fundamentalist approach that has emerged everywhere in the Muslim world.
•         The idea of Mahdi is connected with Magian mentality of constant expectation and is alien to the Quranic spirit. He quotes Ibn Khaldun’s authority also in this connection.
•         Muslims did not realize the full meaning and revolutionary import of the idea of finality of prophethood. A proposition that helps us embrace modernity in more positive terms. But Muslim modernists from Sir Syed to Fazlur Rahman to Javid Ghamdi are all variedly persecuted in Muslim societies.
•         Gives his own twist to the concept of taqdir that is at variance with orthodox metaphysical thought.
•         Traditional Sufi techniques (he does not elaborate what he means by this) are not suitable for concrete type of a mind that modern man’s is characteristically. This calls for major adaptations from contemporary Sufi Masters. But it seems like many other suggestions this too has fallen on deaf ears.
•         Hell and heaven are states, not localities. Some Sufis have also maintained this. But most discourses on Islam in Friday prayers focus on literal portrayal of hell and heaven.
•         Islam is compatible with democracy, a proposition that raises many eyebrows in traditional camp.
•         He didn’t outright dismiss Orientalist reservations on existing corpus of hadith literature and welcomes Abu Hanifa’s move of not making much use of traditions of legal import. He would not be happy with Munkir-i-Hadith group either but would call for major revision of hadith literature that modern canons of criticism demand. He would have welcome Albani’s work but would like to go much farther.
•         Legislative assemblies can go for  Ijtihad   and seek help of juristic and respective subject experts in this connection. This is what would be resented by most traditional scholars today.
•         Mostly defended Ataturk’s reforms including saying goodbye to khilafat and use of local language in rituals.
The book discussed today touches upon some of these sensitive issues with great skill. It presents Iqbal as a great thinker of  Ijtihad  who has succeeded to a great extent. Though focusing primarily on Ijtihad   in legal issues it does engage with the background problem of modernity. The great merit of the book is its lucidity although it achieves this end by ignoring more tricky questions raised by Iqbal, especially as these relate to deeper aspects of Islamic intellectual heritage of which juristic thought is perhaps the most external one. For me Iqbal’s most provocative work lies in his  Ijtihad  in matters theological, spiritual and philosophical and any comprehensive work on  Ijtihad   will take that into consideration. The book can serve to introduce general readers on Islam or Iqbal to a critical issue that has been receiving increasing attention from thinkers.
The most important chapter that succeeds in retrieving importance and documenting impact of Iqbal’s views on  Ijtihad   on modern Muslim world is unfortunately the smallest chapter at the end. It deserves to be read by anyone who is not yet convinced that the gates of  Ijtihad   have been open, and in modern times wide open. We no longer need to plea to do  Ijtihad   but debate how far we are doing it rightly. Dr Mushtaq traces important elements of Muslim modernist thought to the plea for  Ijtihad   in Iqbal. He brilliantly shows how a host of views on interpretation of Islam that have been advocated by modern Muslim thinkers can be appreciated as species of Ijtihad. Fuller implications of this point would transform contemporary debate on legitimacy of Muslim Modernism and allow such thinkers as Fazlur Rahman, Arkoun, Dabashi, Ghamdhi and others to be better appreciated as contributors to Islamic intellectual tradition rather than dismissing them as innovative thinkers.
The book is well documented and has already won some critical acclaim after its first publication. I hope the author adds significantly for third edition and consults contemporary journals in English language on Islamic studies and law that the present edition has largely ignored.
According to the author Iqbal’s idea of collective Ijtihad   has greatly impacted subsequent Muslim thought. I think it is the author’s guess only as we can hardly causally connect Iqbal’s thought to triumph of democracy and legislative assemblies and rise of Fiqh Academies.
Dr Musthaq has chosen to ignore more critical voices on the issue of  Ijtihad who have new things to say on all the four sources of law that he discusses in the earlier chapters. The author succeeds in taming the disturbing nature of Ijtihadi enterprise of Iqbal that otherwise sounds quite unorthodox to many.  He presents Syed Moududi and Ikhwanul Muslimoon as pro-Ijtihad   in the Iqbalian sense of the term though I doubt how far this can stand scrutiny. Syed Moududi has been more justifiably seen as arch conservative disguised as modernist. Fiqh Academies are carrying forward  Ijtihad  as Dr Mushtaq notes but it is questionable if they are ready for out of box thinking that Iqbal demanded. Despite Dr Musthaq’s arguments that underscore impact of Iqbal’s view of  Ijtihad    on contemporary Muslim practice I think the whole of Reconstruction and the chapter on Principle of Movement in Islam on which the present work is an elaborate commentary, has been largely a voice in wilderness. We are, generally speaking hostile to any call for opening up and ostracize or marginalize such thinkers who try to do  Ijtihad. We issue fatwas against  Arkoun, Guenon, Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd etc. rather than see them as exercizing a sort of  Ijtihad. The author seems to foreground wider understanding rather than a very technical received understanding of  Ijtihad.   I hope he will continue to work on this enormously fecund and important issue and we will have another edition of the book in coming years. The book’s success lies in getting through the second edition so quickly, an honour few works by local authors have so far.
Iqbal was interested in presenting his own view of Islam as metaphysics, as theology, as a Way of Perfection and as spiritual democracy and in this context had a very different understanding of juristic corpus. Without dealing with the background theology and philosophy in which is grounded his legal thought one can only do a partial justice to such an issue as Iqbal’s view of  Ijtihad. I hope  Dr Musthaq would take up this more difficult job now and explain how the sixth chapter is a logical corollary of preceding chapters. Presently, as the book stands, it engages with  Ijtihad-i- fiqhi and not  Ijtihad-i- kalami that grounds the former.
Part of tragedy of modern Islam lies in failure to stand up to the challenge of doing  Ijtihad   and Iqbal’s own son and great advocate of  Ijtihad   has noted this. The question that the book raises with poignancy is when will Muslims come of age and shun conservatism. Iqbal had great problems with what he called tarzi faqeehana that has dominated so far as seen by languages of fatwas on almost every issue that really called more for understanding or modifying the received paradigm. If Iqbal had been heeded seriously we wouldn’t have such confusion and such heated debate or interest in such issues as place of fine arts or legitimacy of music, length of beard or shalwar, rakaat of taraweeh or veil or rights of minorities and  women in Islamic State. We invent labels to dismiss other viewpoints that may simply be applications of  Ijtihad . We dismissed Sir Syed, exiled Fazlur Rahman and Ghamdhi, fulminated against Syed Moududi on his Khilafat-o-Mulookiyat, issued 40 fatwas against Iqbal, called names of Wahidudin Khan, accuse Sufi thinkers of complicity with imperialism, ostracized Amina Wudood and the like, banned Khawja Ahmad-u-Din’s tafseer for 100 years, don’t know about many great works on Quranic hermeneutics, reject perennialist approach as heresy – to list a handful of cases. Are we ready to debate and open up to the freedom that  Ijtihad   brings? So far we haven’t. Otherwise we would not find fierce denunciation of different positions on such issues. We find very strong opinions against modernist practices and anxiety to defend Islam against innovations and all this presupposes that gates of  Ijtihad   are closed. Iqbal’s battle against fossilizing conservatism and the closed mindset is portrayed in this book that would interest all those who are interested in Iqbal, in modern Islam, in Muslim decline and in freedom of expression.

Lastupdate on : Wed, 31 Jul 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Wed, 31 Jul 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Thu, 1 Aug 2013 00:00:00 IST

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