Like Gökalp in Turkey, Muhammad Iqbal (1873–1939) is also widely known as the ideological father of a modern state (in his case, Pakistan). He first proposed a Muslim state in northwestern India as early as 1930, and was a much-loved national poet. However, his most lasting legacy may well be as a philosopher who regarded the kernel of Islam as being the betterment of the individual. Iqbal took the earlier Islamic modernist approach to science one crucial step further: for him, the study of nature was itself a religious act since natural laws were created by God. As he said: “Nature is to the Divine Self as character is to the human self ...[and] knowledge of Nature is the knowledge of God’s behaviour.”6
At the same time, Iqbal felt that the Qur’an pointed toward the spiritual nature of reality. In his view, religion provided answers to questions beyond the scope of science, which ultimately has only a “sectional view of Reality.” Indeed, only religion enables human beings to understand their cosmic purpose, which is to be God’s representatives in this world, despite all their failings. In this context, Iqbal interpreted the expulsion of Adam and Eve from heaven not as a fall, but as an elevation to another plane of consciousness. Adam—and by extension every human being—was a free agent, capable of disobedience and doubt.
Iqbal’s worldview was a positive one. The universe was forever growing and improving, and humans would ultimately triumph over evil. But that required each and every individual to strive toward self-improvement, in the full knowledge that they bore responsibility for representing God in the universe. In many respects, these ideas reflected the prevalent attitude of European thinking, and indeed Iqbal enjoyed the benefits of a European education—first at a British missionary college in his native town, then at Government College, Lahore, and later at Cambridge, Heidelberg, and Munich. Yet his ideas also flowed directly from the Qur’an. The conclusions he drew, though, were revolutionary: self- perfection, in and of itself, becomes an act of prayer, and thus prayer need not be limited to Islamic ritual.
From: Islam, by Jamal J.Elias
Amherst College, Massachusetts
Taylor & Francis e-library, 2005