Ahmed Afzaal

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.

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The main text of the Reconstruction is organized into seven lectures, each of which has its own title. However, there are no section breaks or subheadings within any of these lectures. This poses a difficulty for the person who is trying to apply the steps of analytical reading to understand Iqbal’s text. Specifically, the absence of clear sub-divisions in the Reconstruction makes it hard for the reader to identify the different segments that make up each lecture, which is what step 3 of analytical reading requires. To make the reader’s task easier, I would like to amend the process of analytical reading by adding a new step. Since this step has to be carried out before step 3, let’s call it step 2A.

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Reconstruction: Preface (3)

In the “Preface” to his book on The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, Iqbal is making an argument as to why this project is necessary as well as urgent. To summarize, religious faith ultimately rests on a particular type of inner experience, but the methods for cultivating such experiences that were developed by our spiritual ancestors are no longer working today, since the modern “cultural outlook” is different in significant ways from that of the earlier generations of Muslims. It is, of course, possible to design new approaches and new methods for cultivating such experiences, but those who are supposed to be doing this are not currently inclined towards that undertaking. So, what is to be done? Iqbal responds as follows:

In the absence of such a method the demand for a scientific form of religious knowledge is only natural.

This sentence contains in a nutshell the whole point, not only of the book but also of the larger project of “reconstruction” that the book aims to initiate. The key phrase here is “a scientific form of religious knowledge.” Before I try to unpack that phrase, let me quote one more sentence.

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