Ahmed Afzaal

Lecture I: Summary

Having shared an overview of the first lecture in Muhammad Iqbal’s major work, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, I would now try to summarize the contents of that lecture.

Summarizing is a useful learning activity because it forces the reader to differentiate between what’s central and what’s peripheral in a given text. It requires the reader to notice and describe the most important features of the text, to identify and present its main claims and key ideas; this necessitates focusing on the big picture while ignoring the details. A summary, in other words, is about seeing the broad contours of a forest; to do that, the reader must resist the temptation to study all the leaves on every branch of every tree. To produce a good summary, the reader has to make decisions about what counts as major ideas in a given text and what counts as minor details. This, in turn, involves interpretation. As a result, some degree of paraphrasing is also inevitable in a summary.

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Lecture II: Overview

At the end of Lecture I, Iqbal summarizes the gist of his conclusion, as follows:

Religious experience… is essentially a state of feeling with a cognitive aspect, the content of which cannot be communicated to others, except in the form of a judgment.

Muhammad Iqbal. The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, p. 21.

If this is so, Iqbal asks, how can those who haven’t had the same experience decide whether or not the said judgment is true? Iqbal suggests two different tests for this purpose—the intellectual or philosophical test, and the pragmatic test. Lecture II is Iqbal’s attempt to apply the former. While doing so, Iqbal also presents his understanding of the qur’anic view of Reality, which in his mind is identical with the qur’anic view of God. Taken as a whole, Lecture II is about establishing that what is revealed through religious experience is the same Reality that we know through other types of experience.

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Faith and Philosophy (1)

The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam is primarily a philosophical text; yet, the vast majority of people are neither philosophers nor do they harbor any burning desire to study this subject. But there are two redeeming features of the book: First, the title has the word “Islam” in it; and second, and it was written by a famous person. As a result, those who are interested in Islam and/or the author may feel enough curiosity to pick up the book, with every intention to read it. But the text is challenging even for students of philosophy, and is even more intimidating to those without a great deal of prior knowledge in theology and related subjects. These two facts, put together, raise the following question: What’s in it for me? Why should I spend all this time and mental energy on trying to understand a bunch of complex and abstract ideas that don’t have any obvious relevance to my everyday life? What am I supposed to do with the information that this book provides? In what ways is it going to help me strengthen my personal faith or enhance my religious practice? What do I stand to lose, if anything, if I decide to not engage with this book?

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