Deconstructing 'The Reconstruction'

Greater Kashmir

Talk of an Iqbal scholar or lover, one is sure to find that he/she will be familiar with Iqbal’s collection of seven lectures that he delivered in India between 1924-1932 at Hyderabad, Mumbai, Delhi and Aligarh. These lectures were later on published as The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. Among them the first four lectures— (1) Knowledge and Religious Experience (2) Philosophical Test of the Revelation (3) The Concept of God and the Meaning of Prayer (4) The Human Ego—His Freedom and Immortality—were delivered at the Universities of Mysore, Usmania and Aligarh, and at Madras between 5-17 January 1929 before Iqbal reached back his home on 19 January. He still had to write three more lectures which he did, and completed by October 1929. In November 1929, the Allama delivered these lectures at the AMU where he had reached on 17 November 1929 on the invitation of the then Vice Chancellor, Sir Ross Masood. Eventually, all these lectures were published in the book form from Lahore in 1930. The remaining three lectures— (5) The Spirit of Muslim Culture (6) The Principle of Movement in the Structure of Islam (7) Is Religion Possible — along with the previous one’s contained Iqbal’s entire philosophy of ‘religion’, a term used both as ‘mazhab’ and ‘deen’ in literature, but to Iqbal ‘deen’ is more appropriate as it encompasses the whole life rather than a way of life (20; note: the numeral refers to the page number of Mushtaq’s book). The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam is primarily based on the Allama’s concept of importance of ‘Ijtihad’ (theological decisions taken after mutual consultations, or even individually) so that Islam overcomes any obstacles created by science or modern world. Iqbal’s philosophical notions were an exercise into making Islam relevant for all times to come, albeit with the help of the scholars and religious leaders who could take decisions on various issues that confronted the Muslims from time to time—one such matter was divorce sought by a woman or a woman’s waiting period if her husband had disappeared. Can there be any ‘reconstruction’ of the Quran? Obviously, no Muslim could ever think of changing this book of God and its various verses. ‘Ijtihad’ or consultations are possible only when there is a dispute about which the Quran and the Sunnah are silent. It is possible in Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh).

khutbaat-i-Iqbal ki ‘asri maa’naviyyat (Contemporary Significance/Relevance of the Lectures of Iqbal) by Dr Mushtaq Ahmad Ganai, a book consisting of six chapters, explores the significance of Iqbal’s concept of ‘Ijtihad’ in the contemporary world and tries to find out if the lectures still can be made as a basis for understanding the relationship between Islam and philosophy? The author, Mushtaq, quoting Sayid Nazir Niyazi, says that the Allama wanted religion to be made compatible with the changing times and synchronised with science (17-18). The Allama had felt the need of a great jurist as back as in 1904 so that the Islamic principles were given a new and modern direction. However, the Allama felt that such a ‘legislator’ had not yet been born (18).  The Allama had felt that Islam was a practical religion and it contained in itself the power of guiding human beings at every step (21). Since, the Allam was presenting the philosophical ideas, he was well aware that philosophy had its own limitations, and nothing could be taken as the final word. Mushtaq quotes Iqbal in the regard (22): “…There is no such thing aa finality in Philosophical thinking. As knowledge advances and fresh avenues of thought are opened. [sic] Other views and probably sounder views than those set forth in these lectures are possible…” Finding new meanings and interpreting them according to the need of the times is what, I believe, has led Dr Mushtaq Ganai to delve deeply into whether Iqbal’s lectures and the thoughts contained therein are relevant and significant in modern times. I know that nobody in Kashmir, in particular, and none of the Iqbal lovers, in general, would like to read ‘No’ with regard to Iqbal’s philosophy or poetry for he is taken as THE only poet to have given a definitive interpretation of Islam and its principles. Otherwise, we know how different schools of jurisprudence have created differences leading to sectarianism among Muslims.

Dr Mushtaq has analysed all the lectures in detail and documented his interpretation by referring to great Iqbal scholars of the subcontinent. Chapter 2 of the book presents a critical assessment of all the seven lectures one by one. The author has taken great pains in placing Iqbal as the guiding star who understood and visualised what challenges Islam was going to face after him. As is the case with any Iqbal scholar/lover, I didn’t find any challenges made to Iqbal idea of ‘Ijtihad’ (collective or individualistic) in these analyses. Rather, the author has with the help of references justified Iqbal’s philosophy as the only viable roadmap for Islam to become a meaningful religion in modern times.

It is in Chapter 3, entitled ‘Contemporary Significance of Iqbal’s Lectures’, where the author has tried to deconstruct Iabal’s entire philosophy of ‘The Reconstruction’ and its significance today. According to the author, Iqbal had badly felt the need of compilation the jurisprudence, especially in India where a gap had been created with the closure of Islamic centres and institutions (168).  The Allama had suggested the formation of a Legislative Council that would compile and edit the Islamic laws in accordance with the modern needs and codify them for the courts to implement (168). He had also asked for including jurisprudence and the history of Islamic jurisprudence in the syllabus of the institutions of great religions so that students studied them without any prejudice (169). Iqbal had also advocated the reconstruction of both consensus (‘ijmaa’) and guessing (‘qiyaas’) (169). Dr Mushtaq finds that Iqbal’s idea of reconstruction of Islamic thought has found its echo in Europe and America where mosques, Islamic centres and centres of research are being created to understand Islam and its philosophy.

Chapters 4-5 discuss research-related analyses of Iqbal concept of Reconstruction while Chapter 6 is about the author’s other works and the views of some of the scholars thereon.

khutbaat-i-Iqbal ki ‘asri maa’naviyyat (Contemporary Significance/Relevance of the Lectures of Iqbal) is a well-documented thesis on the lectures of Iqbal and a great addition to the Iqbal Studies. Printed on clear white paper and typeset in nastaaliq, it presents a nice getup with hardcover and jacket containing the Allama’s portrait.