Lecture III: Overview

One of the conclusions of the first lecture in The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam is that the content of religious experience cannot be communicated, except indirectly in the form of judgments, otherwise known as “revelations.” Starting from this point of departure, the arguments of the second lecture produces the following conclusions:

  1. The philosophical test of the revelations of religious experience involve determining whether or not they are in harmony with what is known through other regions of experience.
  2. Experience unfolds in time at three main levels—matter, life, and consciousness—and these are studied by physics, biology, and psychology.
  3. Science can only give a fragmented or sectional view of Reality, whereas religion aspires toward a vision of the whole; we therefore need the tools of philosophy to analyze and interpret the facts of experience as established by the relevant sciences.
  4. The Reality that is revealed through religious experience is the same Reality that is discernible through the facts of experience as it unfolds at the levels of matter, life, and consciousness

In Lecture III, “The Conception of God and the Meaning of Prayer,” Iqbal begins by re-stating the last conclusion as follows: There is a singular reality, philosophically conceivable as the “Ultimate Ego” and identified by the Qur’an as “Allah.” Starting from this assertion, Iqbal seeks to accomplish two principal tasks in his third lecture, as the title indicates. Accordingly, the lecture can be understood as consisting of two main sections. However, I feel that Iqbal’s interpretation of the story of Adam deserves its own section, even though Iqbal himself presents that discussion as part of the Islamic view of God. Perhaps that middle section can be seen as the bridge that connects the two main topics, i.e., God and prayer. Following is my outline of the third lecture.

The Conception of God
and the Meaning of Prayer

Lecture III is made up of three main sections. In the first section, Iqbal attempts to present a philosophically sound interpretation of the Islamic view of God. In the second section, Iqbal describes his understanding of the qur’anic version of what he calls “the Legend of the Fall.” Finally, in the third section of the lecture, Iqbal addresses the core of religious life, i.e., prayer. Taken as a whole, Lecture III is about the qualities of God, the nature and potential of the humankind, and the role of prayer in allowing human beings to establish an intimate relationship with God.

I. Islamic Conception of Ultimate Ego/God [1–24]

A. Individuality [1–4]
B. Infinity [5]
C. Creativity [6–20]
  1. Other Divine Attributes [6]
  2. How is God related to Creation? [7–8]
  3. Criticism of Ash’arite Atomism [9–17]
  4. Nature of Time [18–20]
D. Knowledge [21]
E. Omnipotence [22]
  1. Omnipotence vs. Limitation [22–23]
  2. Problem of Evil [22–24]
II. Story of Adam in the Qur’an [25–34]
A. Qur’anic Approach to Ancient Legends [25]
B. Pre-Biblical Origins of the Legend [26]
C. Unique Features of Qur’anic Version [27–29]
  1. No Serpent or Rib [27]
  2. Two Distinct Episodes [28]
  3. Earth as Dwelling Place [29]
D. Islamic View of Humankind [30–34]
  1. Consciousness and Freedom [30]
  2. Knowledge, Reproduction, and Power [31]
  3. Concrete Individuality or Selfhood [32–33]
  4. Responding to the Trust [34]
II. Meaning of Worship/Prayer [35–40]
A. Prophetic and Mystic Consciousness [35]
B. Nature of Prayer [36–37]
D. Congregational Prayer [38]
E. Formal Aspects of Prayer [39–40]

What are the questions that Iqbal is trying to address in his third lecture? Following are some of the obvious ones:

  • How does the Qur’an describe God?
  • How can we justify the qur’anic view of God using the tools of philosophy?
  • What is the relationship between God and God’s creation?
  • What can we learn from a philosophical criticism of the Ash’arite theory of creation?
  • Why is it important for religion, particularly Islam, to grapple with the problem of time?
  • What is the nature of divine knowledge?
  • What is the qur’anic position regarding the problem of evil?
  • What can the story of Adam tells us about the nature and potential of human beings?
  • What is the function of worship/prayer in relation to mystic consciousness?
  • In what ways is worship/prayer a natural and instinctive activity?
  • What is the significance of the diversity in the formal aspects of worship/prayer?

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