Ahmed Afzaal

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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Reconstruction: Preface (2)

Having written the first three sentences, Iqbal now anticipates another question from his reader. He can guess that the mention of religious experience has led the reader’s mind toward the mystical tradition in Islam, sometimes called Sufism. Since religious experience has always been the special domain of mystics, it would be natural for the reader to raise the following question: If the cultivation of religious experience is really as important as you say it are, shouldn’t we ask the Sufis to guide us in dealing with the predicament you’ve just described? Without stating the question in so many words, Iqbal responds as follows:

The more genuine schools of Sufism have, no doubt, done good work in shaping and directing the evolution of religious experience in Islam; but their latter-day representatives, owing to their ignorance of the modem mind, have become absolutely incapable of receiving any fresh inspiration from modem thought and experience. They are perpetuating methods which were created for generations possessing a cultural outlook differing, in important respects, from our own.

Muhammad Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religion Thought in Islam, p. xliii
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Reconstruction: Preface (1)

I would now like to share my understanding of the brief note that Iqbal added to the published version of his lectures, under the title “Preface.” It begins with a short statement that is both simple and profound at the same time:

The Qur’an is a book which emphasizes “deed” rather than “idea.”

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

I have previously written a commentary on this sentence, which can be found here and here. Iqbal is unequivocally acknowledging, at the very beginning, that thoughts and ideas (and therefore beliefs) do not constitute the topmost priority from the perspective of the Qur’an. Instead, the Qur’an emphasizes “deed.” In my earlier commentary, I argued that the word “deed” is Iqbal’s shorthand for what he calls “the essence of religion,” and is essentially synonymous with “faith.” (Notice that the very next sentence uses the phrase “religious faith.”)

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