Lecture I: Overview

The first lecture in The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam is titled “Knowledge and Religious Experience.” After reading the lecture at least twice—or as many times as necessary—the reader should be able to carry out step 2 of analytical reading (“State what the whole text is about with the utmost brevity.”)

Since every lecture in the Reconstruction seems to address a variety of topics, step 2 can be incredibly helpful in allowing the reader to apprehend the single most important idea that structures “the whole text,” as opposed to just one of its sections or sub-sections. The reader’s job here is not to make a list of all the topics discussed in the text (“The author talks about A, and B, and C, and …”) as if they were a random collection of unrelated items. Rather, the reader’s job is to find the one theme that represents the text’s underlying unity. The underlying unity of a text is the single most important thought that makes all of its different components hang together; it is what transforms a broad range of ideas into a coherent whole. Step 2 asks the reader not only to find the underlying unity (“what the whole text is about”) but to also state that unity as concisely as possible, preferably in no more than one or two sentences

Based on my current understanding of the first lecture, here’s how I would carry out step 2 of analytical reading: Taken as a whole, Lecture I is about establishing that religious experience is a potentially valid source of knowledge.


Next, we have to tackle step 3 of analytical reading. This step requires us to create an outline of the text that shows its various components as well as the manner in which these components are interrelated (“Enumerate the text’s major parts in their order and relation …”). Completing this step will allow the reader to visualize the text as a complex whole, thereby rendering it more manageable for the purpose of in-depth analysis and interpretation. Since creating an outline requires at least some understanding of the content, we can expect that different readers will produce somewhat different outlines of the same text; readers are also likely to make changes in their outlines as their comprehension of the text improves over time. Discerning the logical sub-divisions in a text with no section breaks or subheadings can be especially tricky, but the reader can usually rely on the various clues that the author is likely to have left within the text. Generally speaking, it is a good idea for every reader to create his/her own outline, rather than rely on someone else’s.

Following is my attempt at creating an outline of the first lecture. I suggest you create your own outline first, and then compare it with mine.

Knowledge and Religious Experience

This lecture is divided into two main sections. The first section is an extended argument for reconstructing Islamic religious thought, and, as such, serves as an introduction to the entire lecture series. The second section addresses the main topic, i.e., the nature and value of religious experience.

I. Why Reconstruction?

A. Need for a Rational Justification of Religious Faith [1]
  1. Religion vs. Philosophy
  2. Thought vs. Intuition
B. Critical Appraisal of Classical Islamic Thought [2–3]
  1. Legitimacy of the Project
  2. Eclipse of Qur’anic Empiricism
  3. Rise of Philosophical Skepticism
  4. Kant vs. Ghazali
  5. Misunderstanding Thought
C. Now is the Time to Revise and Reconstruct [4]
  1. Current State of Islamic and Western Thought
  2. Demand for a Fresh Orientation of Islamic Faith
  3. Anti-Religious Sentiments among Muslims
  4. Purpose of this Lecture Series

II. Epistemology of Religious Experience

A. Religion vs. Civilization [5–6]
  1. Christian Response
  2. Islamic Response
B. Fundamental Teachings of the Qur’an [7–17]
  1. Character of the Universe [7–9]
  2. Nature & Potential of the Human Being [10–14]
  3. Nature & Function of Human Knowledge [15–16]
  4. Empirical Attitude of the Qur’an [17]
C. Two Modes of Experiential Knowledge [18–19]
  1. Sense Perception
  2. Heart/Intuition/Insight
D. Main Characteristics of Mystic Experience [20–28]
  1. Immediacy [20]
  2. Wholeness [21]
  3. Objectivity [22–24]
  4. Ineffability [25–27]
  5. Naturalness [28]
E. Psychological Critique of Religious Experience [29–33]
  1. Organic Antecedents
  2. Wish Fulfillment
  3. Sexual Impulse
F. Two Ways to Test the Validity of Revelation [34]
  1. Intellectual Test
  2. Pragmatic Test

Finally, step 4 of analytical reading requires us to figure out the question(s) to which the text is supposed to be responding (“Define the problem(s) the author is trying to solve”). Here, too, it is best if each reader attempts this exercise on his/her own. Even though it can be frustrating at times, the mental effort you invest in discerning the question(s) or problem(s) that the author is trying to resolve can be highly rewarding. Step 4 gives you the opportunity to practice a way of thinking that most people don’t get to practice enough—it requires you to take a familiar approach (Q —> A) and reverse it (A—>Q). Your brain will thank you!

Based on my current understanding of the first lecture, I have come up with the following questions that I believe Iqbal is trying to address.

I. Why Reconstruction?
  • What does it mean to reconstruct Islamic religious thought in the modern era?
  • Is this attempt at reconstruction legitimate from an Islamic perspective?
  • What justifies this project, given that we already possess a rich tradition of religious thought?
  • Why now? What makes the reconstruction of Islamic thought urgent and necessary at this particular moment?
II. Epistemology of Religious Experience
  • What fundamental contribution can Islam make to humanity?
  • How does the Qur’an respond to questions that are common to religion, philosophy, and higher poetry?
  • How do inner and outer experiences yield reliable knowledge?
  • What is a mystic experience? What are its main characteristics?
  • How can the mystic experience be defended against the criticism of psychology?
  • How can we tell whether the knowledge yielded by religious experience is true?

What questions do you think Iqbal is trying to answer? Are they similar to mine or did you come up with very different ones? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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