In modern times, the European renaissance movement which started in the 14th century got the impetus from the culture of learning, doing research, and exploration that was shown by the Muslim scholars of the Golden Age of Islam (750-1258). All the works of the Muslim scholars in science and research came to a halt after the fall of Baghdad in 1258 which triggered the demise of the Islamic empires. The decline of the empires and the internal conflicts within the Ummah made them lag behind other nations in the areas of science and technology.
Devastated by the feeling of defeat, the morale of Muslims was at the lowest ebb. This made them withdraw from active participation in politics and social life. This pathetic situation also made them lag behind in the areas of economy and education.
The sad fact is that our collective reluctance to open doors of Ijtehad while settling for a listless and lackluster approach to the teachings of Islam is the single most bane of the Muslim Ummah and, therefore, the chief reason why the Muslim world has been lagging far behind the West in science and technology despite such vast resources at its disposal.
As opposed to striving for enlightenment, innovation and rationalism which are at the core of the scientific temper, we revel in clichés and platitudes, never tire of basking in the past glory and do everything that helps to create an ambience which is marked by obscurantism, dogmatism and fanaticism.
This way we are trained to dread the new, the novel, the original- a trait that inevitably breads irrationalism and intolerance. It is these traits that have sadly come to define the Muslim World for the past five hundred years- a period of complete immobility due to blind obedience to tradition. That is why the Muslim world has been so deficient in producing scientists, thinkers and philosophers of note over this period of time. This is in sharp contrast with the golden period of Islam extending from 800 to 1300 A.D, when Islamic civilization was at its zenith.
As a means of escapism from active participation in social and political life, the Muslim masses started to seek solace and comfort for their hearts by going into Sufism. In studying Iqbal, one would discover that, at one point of his life he was a great admirer of Ibn Al-Arabi and his teaching of the Wahdah al-Wujūd. Iqbal in his doctorate dissertation The Development of Metaphysics in Persia (1908) had praised Ibn Al-Arabi. Later in his intellectual life, he found out that Al-Arabi’s philosophy and theosophy was not suitable to the philosophy of ego based on dynamism and action that he was developing.
Much of his observation on the state of stagnation of the Ummah was seen extensively described in his poetry and also in his philosophical writings. According to him, one of the factors that contributed to the cause of non-productivity, intellectual lethargy and backwardness of the Ummah was due to the conservatism prevalent in the intellectual circle.
This condition which did not take into consideration the modern and latest developments in the fields of science and education made the Muslims lag behind the West in terms of intellectual achievement. Moreover, due to these reasons, the Muslims who were not prepared to face the challenges of the modern world failed to strategize and avert the occupation of their lands by the West.
This condition of the Muslims caused them dearly as they became the subjects of the West. This pathetic condition made the Muslims lose their freedom of speech and action. Iqbal also believed that this state of being ruled by others also robbed the Muslims of their dignity and self-esteem. Iqbal stressed on inculcating the ingredients of scientific temper among the youth characterized by rationality, open mindedness, objectivity of intellectual beliefs, suspended judgment, aversion to superstitious beliefs, acceptance only after cross examination and investigation.
Further reading into Iqbal’s ideas will reveal the fact that generally the Muslim Ummah of his time was caught in the web of pseudo-mysticism and failed to follow the true spirit of Islam found in the dynamic teachings of the Quran and Sunnah. Iqbal who realized the problems of the Ummah, wanted to bring upon an Islamic Renaissance by calling the masses to relieve themselves from the meshes of superstition, mental lethargy, immobility and ignorance.
That is absolutely essential in view of the unprecedented challenges that include the need to restore order from chaos that is prevalent in the contemporary Muslim world, in an effort to produce a model-society based on justice, tolerance, trust and mutual respect.
His effort as a poet-philosopher and a religious reformer was aimed at awakening the Ummah from its deep slumber to a state of consciousness in executing its mundane duties in a more productive and dynamic manner. In addition to this, he also opposed the Muslims for their state of withdrawal, renunciation and feeling defeated in facing the challenges of life. Iqbal vehemently opposed those who took religion to be a sort of escapism and plainly resign to the fatalistic concept of life.
As opposed to all these serious problems of his time, Iqbal called for a true understanding of the religion that calls for all individuals, male and female to take the forward march in life towards the conquest of the material world along with the spiritual uplift. By calling for the banishment of superstitious beliefs, he also called the Muslims to embark on the bandwagon of science which promises progress.
To Iqbal, Muslims living in the modern world must learn to adapt by utilizing science, but at the same time they should not sever their relation with the heritage. In other words, Iqbal called the Muslims to interpret the Quran and Sunnah in the light of the scientific age in which they were living. He also believed that the failure on part of Muslims to do so will be a state of stagnation and they would be left behind when compared to others in the world, particularly the West.
Iqbal’s philosophy also clearly portrays his attitude which is very much in favour of science. To him, in order for man to progress spiritually he must look into the Quran as the revealed book from God and the universe as the open book of God. To him, science is not opposed to the religious teachings in Islam. Furthermore, he believed that scientific facts and findings can complement religion in strengthening one’s faith.
Dr Showkat Rashid Wani, Assistant Professor, Directorate of Distance Education, University of Kashmir
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.