The great Indo-Muslim poet and philosopher Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938), was born in Sialkot in what was then India and today belongs to Pakistan.
His lectures are very famous and the collection of these lectures has have given the name of The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam ,which actually was the compilation of lectures delivered by Muhammad Iqbal on Islamic philosophy; it was published in 1930. These lectures were delivered in 1928 at the universities Madras, Hyderabad, Mysore and Aligarh, following Iqbal’s study in Lahore, Cambridge and Munich. The last chapter, “Is Religion Possible”, was added to the book from the 1934 Oxford Edition onwards. The book is a major work of modern Islamic thought. In Reconstruction, Iqbal called for a re-examination of the intellectual foundations of Islamic philosophy .It was a major influence on Mawlana Mawdudi 1/,Mawlana Abul Hassan Nadvi 2/ Iranian sociologist Ali Shariati 3/ ,Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Khamnai ,Yousuf al Qardawi and other contemporary Muslim reformers, including Tariq Ramadan and innumerable others.
These lectures also show sometimes that Iqbal allowed himself to be inspired by Western thought and philosophy: “Most of my life has been spent in the study of European philosophy and that viewpoint has become my second nature. Consciously or unconsciously I study the realities and truths of Islam from the same point of view. I have experienced this many a time that while talking in Urdu I cannot express all that I want to say in that language.”
But this influence was not confined to the western sources only as Iqbal was having the deep knowledge of numerous intellectual traditions from Ibn Arabi and Fakhr ad-Din Razi to Einstein, Bergson and Freud. Thus his erudition was very vast. His ultimate sources of inspiration, however, were the Quran and Mawlana Rumi.
Like many thinkers of his generation he felt that Islam had suffered for centuries under an “intellectual paralysis” that had allowed the West to leave it behind. The task, then, was the reconstruction of religious thought: “The task before the modern Muslim is, therefore, immense. He has to re-think the whole system of Islam without completely breaking with the past”.
An important prerequisite for this re-thinking is a critical reception of modern knowledge: “The only course open to us is to approach modern knowledge with a respectful but independent attitude and to appreciate the teachings of Islam in the light of that knowledge.”
But Iqbal was conscious of his glorious past. “No people can afford to reject their past entirely, for it is their past that has made their personal identity. And in a society like Islam the problem of a revision of old institutions becomes still more delicate, and the responsibility of the reformer assumes a far more serious aspect”.
Though Iqbal ,no doubt ,was inspired by some positive aspects of European thought yet he was very critical of the negative dimensions of European thought and culture: :“Believe me, Europe today (due to its perverted ego) is the greatest hindrance in the way of man’s ethical advancement. The Muslim, on the other hand, is in possession of these ultimate ideas of the basis of a revelation,… which, speaking from the inmost depths of life, internalises its own apparent externality. With him the spiritual basis of life is a matter of conviction for which even the least enlightened man among us can easily lay down his life.”
Thus the study of Western thought had not turned Iqbal into an irreligious European, his Westernization did not go that far, in spiritual matters he remained a believer in ex Oriente lux (the conception that light, in the sense of culture and civilisation, originates from the East).
When Iqbal calls for a reconstruction of religious thinking, he actually means that we have to maintain balance and presents his view thus: On the one hand the reception of science, that is to say the natural sciences must be justified. This can be done by providing proof of their Islamic origins: “The empirical character of the Koran, this theory maintains, made it possible for Muslims to become the founders of modern science, the birth of Islam then being the birth of inductive reasoning, an intellectual revolt against the speculative philosophy of the Greeks – and for the experimental methods of the Arabs to be taken up in European thought and further developed”.
On the other hand, the mystic experience of God is as real for Iqbal as every other human experience; the segmentary character of the natural sciences means they – “are like so many vultures falling on the dead body of Nature, and each running away with a piece of its flesh” – so religion has a central role in the synthesis, the bringing together of all human experience. Religion alone has the power to establish an intimate contact with reality and it does so by means of the spiritual condition we call “prayer”.
However religious thinking does not attain dynamism merely through the reception of modern knowledge. Of more crucial importance is the world- and self-conception of Islam, according to Iqbal, the true and ‘rediscoverable’ essence of Islam in conflict with a mistaken fatalistic concept of divine predestination. To this end he devises a theology of creative change:
“It is time regarded as an organic whole that the Koran describes as Taqdir or the destiny – a word which has been so much misunderstood both in and outside the world of Islam. Destiny is time regarded as prior to the disclosure of its possibilities. (…) The destiny of a thing then is not an unrelenting fate working from without like a task master; it is the inward reach of a thing, its realizable possibilities.”
“If time is real (…),” Iqbal goes on to say, “then every moment in the life of Reality is original, giving birth to what is absolutely novel and unforeseeable. Everyday doth some new work employ Him, says the Koran. To exist in real time means (…) to create it from moment to moment and to be absolutely free and original in creation. The universe is a free creative movement.”
Iqbal goes from theology to Jurisprudence which sounds ostensibly wonderful. But it only gets serious when Iqbal moves from freethinking theology into the treacherous field of jurisprudence where nothing less than the rules and laws by which society functions are at stake. Here, as generations of reformist Muslims and Orientalists have done, he identifies Ijtihad, the process of making a legal decision by independent interpretation of the sources of the law as “the principle of movement in the structure of Islam”.
In order to find reconciliation between stability and change, Islamic society must, on the one hand, find eternal principles, “it must possess eternal principles to regulate its collective life; for the eternal gives us a foothold in the world of perpetual change.”
However since eternal principles can also be debilitating if they are understood as excluding all change, the dynamism of Ijtihad is necessary. Nothing untoward there – but then the surprises begin to pile up, and they should give us pause for thought:
One point to be emphasized here regarding Iqbal’s contribution to the Renaissance of Islam is “healthy conservative criticism, [that] serve[s] at least as a check on the rapid movement of liberalism in the world of Islam”. But Iqbal is no liberal reformer, even if there are many who like to think of him as such; he is a conservative reformer, concerned about the “proper limits of reform”!
It is exactly this that characterises his finely balanced conception of “spiritual democracy” as alternative to the non-spiritual democracies of Europe, that “highest goal of Islam” and its contribution to the progress of mankind. If Iqbal transfers the authority of the Ijtihad to a Muslim legislative assembly, he is not doing so solely to ensure the contributions of sensible laymen to legal discussions. It is much more a matter of avoiding major errors in interpreting the laws – this is why the jurists should form “a vital part of a Muslim legislative assembly helping and guiding free discussion on questions relating to law”.
This book consists on the following chapters:
The first chapter of the book is Knowledge and Religious Experience, in which, Iqbal starts by giving us a brief description of the basic structure of the universe and the way we are related to it. Iqbal argues that the traditional method used to interpret religion which he describes as “reading the Qur’an in the light of Greek thought” is not the best way to understand religion properly. Although, he recognizes the fact that in the domain of religious knowledge complete independence of thought is not possible still he emphasizes on the use of rationalism. According to him “the spirit of the Qur’an was essentially anti-classical”. Another method described by the author as he calls it is the “mystic experience”. “Mystic experience for the purpose of knowledge is as real as any other region of human experience and cannot be ignored merely because it cannot be traced back to sense-perception. Nor is it possible to undo the spiritual value of the mystic state by specifying the organic conditions which appear to determine it”. Thus, the author finalizes his argument by concluding that religious experience is a state of feeling which cannot be explained. It is just a feeling of cognition, the content of which cannot be communicated.
The Philosophical Test of the Revelations of Religious Experience is the second chapter, at the beginning of which Iqbal has quoted three arguments namely the Cosmological, the Teleological, and the Ontological, and has stated the flaws in these arguments. He states that the Cosmological argument tries to reach the infinite by negating the finite, which according to the author is a “wrong infinite”, since it excludes the finite. The Teleological argument serves to give us a contriver but fails to give us a creator. Finally, the third argument, Ontological argument, assumes that the idea of an ultimate ego in our mind is enough to prove the existence of the infinite (God).
From here, the writer goes on to talk about experience. Experience, he says, has three levels namely matter, life and the level of mind and consciousness. While talking about matter, the author tries to imply that the things we see and hear, for example, sound waves, colours, gravity and other physical phenomenon in nature are not actual happenings but mere illusions. Time, he says, is not a real movement. Events happening in the future are not new but are already located in an unknown space. Hence the fourth dimension is actually a set of events happening in a definite order. By this, Iqbal states a setback in Einstein’s theory of relativity. Iqbal sees life as planned for purposes that lay deep down the intellect of a living being. The conscious experience is the level of experience, in which we are in direct contact with reality, since our perception of our own selves as quoted in Iqbal’s words is “‘internal, intimate and profound”. Thus the element of purpose and desire moulds the present state of consciousness as well as the future. The conclusion that we are brought to at the end of this lecture is that the Ultimate reality is a “rationally directed creative life”.
In the third lecture The Conception of God and the Meaning of Prayer, various aspects of God have been explained. These include Creativeness, Knowledge, Eternity and Omnipotence. Eternity is described by Iqbal using the ash‘arite theory of Atomism in Islam and the doctrine of accidents. The knowledge of the ultimate ego makes God aware of the entire history as it constitutes quantized events occurring in a definite sequence, and hence divine knowledge is acquired in eternal present. Therefore divine knowledge includes everything in the past, present and the future. Omnipotence is the blind power without any limits. This power is exercised by God while holding all goodness in his hand. Iqbal then raises the question “How is it then possible to reconcile the goodness and Omnipotence of God with all the evil in his creation?” Here he is talking about man as the creation of God. Iqbal then comes to a conclusion that man possesses this quality of improvement, and is destined to overcome evil. Coming to prayer the author describes the meaning of prayer. The meaning of prayer, he says, is an “expression of mans inner yearning for a response in the awful silence of the universe” . Prayer is a way for that searching ego to discover its own worth as a dynamic factor in this universe.
In the following lecture, The Human Ego-His Freedom and Immortality, Iqbal starts by stating that the Qur’an emphasizes the individuality and uniqueness of man, and has a definite view of his destiny. Then he proceeds to describe the human ego, which, according to him, is the unity of mental states which exist as a whole, called mind. Every ego is unique and is imperfect as a unity of life. The body, he says, is connected to the soul as the body is the medium of action of the soul and is in-detachable from it. The purpose of the soul is depicted by the action of the body. Since acts are connected to the ego by the mode of incentives, therefore, an individual can only be interpreted and understood by his or her judgments and aims. The immortality of the ego is later described by the author. Ego did not exist since eternity, and has a beginning like everything. According to the Qur’an, there will be a day of judgment and there will be a life after death. Ego will then be accountable for its actions.
At the start of the fifth chapter, The Spirit of Muslim Culture, Iqbal talks about the psychological difference between the prophetic and mystic type on consciousness. To judge the value of the Prophets’ religious experience is to examine the cultural world that has been created by them. From here Iqbal proceeds to talk about Muslim culture and the interpretation of Islam against Greek philosophy. No doubt that the ancient philosophy has produced great systems of beliefs, yet the need of modern philosophy and science has become essential in modern times. If an individual believes in divine revelations and prophet hood, the divine revelations, according to believers, should come to an end and the traditional system of interpreting Islam should be reconsidered.
The Principle of Movement in the Structure of Islam seems to be the most important lecture in the book. In fact the idea behind the whole book revolves around it. It is in this lecture where the author urges the need for innovation in Islamic thought. The principle of movement in the structure of Islam according to the author is Ijtihad, which means to form an independent judgment on a legal question. The set of legal principles received from Qur’an has great capacity of expansion and development. Ever since the establishment of schools, the law of Islam was “reduced to a state of immobility” by the rejection of Ijtihad which had a number of reasons. Firstly there was fear that rationalism would destroy the foundation of Muslim society. Secondly the need of organization felt by the early scholars lead to the exclusions of innovation in the Shar’iah and took away the power of the individual. It is argued by the author that Qur’an is not a legal code; but its purpose is to awaken in man the higher consciousness of his relation with God and his creations. Similarly, the Sunnah was meant for the people at that time and place, and therefore, according to the author, is specific to that people. The world of Islam according to Iqbal should proceed to the work of reconstruction before them.
The seventh lecture, “Is Religion Possible?” provides us with the conclusion posted by the author. Iqbal has categorized religious life into three periods, namely faith, thought and discovery. The first period involves acceptance without rationalism. The second period, he says, is when acceptance is followed by rationalism. In the third period, religious life searches for a logical view of the world with God as a part of that view. He goes on, and tries to explain that religion and science involving different methods aim at reaching the same goal i.e. the ultimate reality. He states that even though religion and science use different methods but reach the same final aim. The method of dealing with reality by means of concepts, he says, is not a serious way to deal with it. Religion, as Iqbal describes it, is the only way to deal with reality since religion is more anxious to reach its final aim.
In my view, the whole purpose of the book revolves around its 6th chapter, The Principle of Movement in the Structure of Islam, where Iqbal has stressed upon the use of Ijtihad, which was abandoned by the Muslims long back due to the fall of Bagdad and the intellectual despondency of the Muslim ulama and thinkers. He points out that the Muslim thought and theology needed reshaping in order for them to understand and practice their religion as defined by the Qur’an. The style adopted by the author is theoretical, as he uses philosophy with a comprehensive combination of Islam mysticism and science in a unique blend to explain his point of view. This combination explains all points of view from different angles, hence is popular with all sorts of readers. If you believe that the Holy Prophet (SAW) is the last apostle and that the divine revelations only were sent to him last time, the end of the supernatural ultimately follows. With the end of the supernatural, the traditional ways to understand and interpret religion should be considered obsolete, and new ways of understanding religion should be considered. The application of science in order to get a grip of reality provides today’s reader with a more adequate method to comprehend religion. Even though Iqbal stresses on this point, he still uses Quranic verses and Sufi elaborations to explain the reality of this universe and God, its creator.
This methodology used by Iqbal provides the reader with rationalism as well as religious conservatism. To get a comprehensive overview on religion, established religious dogmas should be given due weightage.
Even though the blend of science and philosophy seems to be a comprehensive methodology, excessive use of philosophy for reasons to criticize theories of physics is not always desirable as it sometimes invites much question begging and hair splitting. For example, Iqbal, in his second lecture challenges the theory of matter and Einstein’s theory of relativity, as quoted in his own words “The empirical attitude which appeared to necessitate scientific materialism has finally ended in a revolt against matter”.
Reconstruction of Reconstruction of religious thought in Islam—some new dimensions:
Iqbal spoke on Ijtihad as the principle of Movement in Islam and since then much time has elapsed though the lectures had tremendous impact on the subsequent events unfolding in the Islamic world. We know that Iqbal’s views on Ijtihad were much appreciated by almost all sections of ummah including Ulama though these were never put to the practical test by Muslims as has happened with many other such efforts made by other reformists from Shah Wali Allah of Delhi onwards. How strange that Muslims have done Ijtihad on Mutashabiat Aayat rather than Muhkamat Aayat which are the actual subjects on which Ijtihad needs to be done .We have examples of attempting at Ijtihad on the essence and attributes of God by Mutazillah in their own way and they were followed by Sufis even Ibn Arabi and Mansur has also made the transcendental aspects of divine head the subject of human comprehension and have tried to solve the problems of transcendence by making Godhead to descend from heavens into the realm of this mundane phenomenonal world in the manner of some denominations and communities of the world who have rendered Tawhid redundant by their ratiocination long back in form of incarnationism and awtarhood .Shankar and Plotinus are such examples followed by the Christians who have resorted to the catastrophic Ijtihad on the god head and have made God like humans or humans like God by their erroneous and pugnacious interpretations .
But the Quran had sternly warned against all such attempts and had asked Muslims to believe in Allah and His attributes and all such verses of the Quran which are allegorical without subjecting these to manmade similitude or similarities. Perhaps it was Greek thought which not only impacted Muslims thinking at the doctrinal levels but also Hindus and Christians before Islam and convinced some of their best minds to believe in emanation or emanation like theories which resulted in futile theological discussions engaging the best minds in debates which had open ended nature and thus led to sectarian developments at the cost of the glorious achievements otherwise marking the hall mark of early Islamic era.
However what Iqbal intended to achieve by his lecture on Ijtihad was hardly achieved and thus this issue needs reconsideration for all the Muslim thinkers, scholars and groups who want to revitalize Islamic ethos once more on the lines it had ones flourished in the context of Arabia, Central Asia and Iran in medieval times .
Ijtihad if shorn of all the above mentioned acrimonies has a great role to play in any future activity Muslims may take in hand and especially the reconstruction of Islamic thought and restructuring of our society depends on it for all the further developments.
All other subjects Iqbal had dealt with in his lectures are now losing their importance owing to the new challenges put forward before Muslims by the emerging circumstances and after Iqbal Muslim world has seen the emergence of stalwarts like Mawlana Mawdudi ,Ismail Raji Faruqui, Khomeini, Ali Shariati and Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi ,all of whom have shown subtle and positive influences of Iqbal’s revitalist thought notwithstanding, have come out with new and more practical concerns of the ummah rather than remaining satisfied with the highly sophisticated philosophical and intellectually loaded lectures of Iqbal .
But Iqbal’s views on Ijtihad are still very relevant and we need to start all our reconstructions of Islamic thought by employing it in its broader ramifications.
The second problem closely related to Ijtihad will be and must be none else than the muslim responses to the educational challenges where Muslim have failed miserably in the present era owing to their complacency and lethargy .How strange that religions like Christianity, which in essence are akin to reclusion and monasticism, have taken lead in championing the cause of education making the world better and even Muslims world over have more or less depended on the missionary schooling of their wards .
Till date we have not been able to decide what constitutes actual Islamic education and what is the status of modern sciences including physics astronomy mathematics and technology in the scheme of Islamic epistemology and how far can these disciplines be accommodated alongside with Muslim classical /traditional or modem education .Madrasah has remained that static that any attempt to reform it or bring changes into its syllabi, was resisted by the custodians of madrashs tooth and nail. Efforts of Shibli ,Mawlana Mawdudi, Sir Syed and Ismail Raji Faruqui and others have met but with very less success in convincing the traditional muslim clergy about the tenacity of modern sciences visa vise religious sciences .
The classification of Uloom attributed to Ghazzali as Fard al Kifayah and Fard al ´Ain is still prevalent despite the desperate attempts of Ismail Raji Faruqui who somehow could at least convince some well meaning Muslim luminaries to start universities and institutions aiming at Islamisation of Knowledge .Though this very notion is fraught with many intellectual intricacies and loopholes but given the abject performance of Muslims in the arena of education it is still a great achievement .But the traditional leadership of ulama in most of the muslim countries could neither be convinced about Raji Faruqui’s approach to modern uloom not to sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s stance on traditional sciences .
Uloom can be classified as nafiah and ghair nafiah but not as Islamic and non Islamic .Because the Muslims in the times of the Prophet(SAW) and even afterwards were ahead of all other nations in the acquisition of all sciences and technologies though these were in crude form given the pace of technological advancement in medieval period .
For example the prophets’(SAW) adopting the khandaq technology during the battle of Ahzab on the advice of Salman of Persia (RA) and sending letters to the rulers with the prophetic seal .The arranging of education of Ansar boys by the prisoners of war belonging to Makkan infidels and taking Areqat as the guide at the time of Hijrah by none else than the Prophet (SAW ) and exhorting Umar Ibn Abdullah Ibn Aas (RA) to learn Hebrew language and the mastery of Zayd Ibn Thabit of Hebrew and Syraic languages are only few examples of that glorious past where knowledge of various crafts, sciences, languages and skills was not considered profane or sacred but either useful or useless .
Imam Ghazzali had extolled science of magic over ignorance. Ghazzali maintained that knowledge leads to action while as ignorance leads to inertia and action is always better than inaction and stagnation. Though we are not here discussing whether magic is islamically allowed or not but the approach of our ancestors to sciences prevalent during their respective times.
Muslims translated treasures of knowledge belonging to different nations in the best possible way and thus paved the way for the renaissance and enlightenment of the west at the coast of their own decadence.
One of the stumbling block in the way of realisation of many goals of educational excellence is the moribund approach of Muslims to science and religion.
There are two divergent groups among the Muslims who talk about science and religion.
Some people are adamant to prove everything scientific as islamically tenable while as others are hell bent to oppose everything scientific.
Worse still is the situation when philosophy of science based on atheistic premises and materialist origination is being employed and advocated by some crudlant muslim zealots to prove divine origin of time and space and the heavens and earth.
Big bang and evolution theories have been allowed by our scholars to speak about the divine origin of this otherwise mechanical world as these theories ostensibly and explicitly employ.
Since science after getting divorced from religion post renaissance has gathered heaps of irreligious moorings and thus it could never come to terms with the divine matters despite the frantic attempts of the evolutionists and Averosists of our era, we find a confusion personified everywhere in the attempts of Muslims debaters while bringing defense to theology from this already renegade witness.
So far as the inventions of the science are concerned those could be utilized for the service of Islamic propagation but at the scientific doctrinal level we needed a cautious response as the methodology and the conclusions made believe by the atheistic scientists were going to be counterproductive to our religious objectives in the wrong run if employed unwisely for the support of religion .And by invoking the authority of science in all the matters relating to religion or metaphysical aspects of religion were bound to be self contradictory and would bounce back once the scientific theory based on assumption or hypotheses was found to be erroneous .
The case of evolutionism is in point .Unless you master the real science you cannot interpret it .Muslims need to change their mind set and becoming scientifically oriented rather than scientifically obsessed.
As there is no third option. Only the discoverers and inventers have the final word about the discoveries and inventions. Modern science and technology being highly sophisticated, positivistic and empirical in nature and based on verification and elimination of metaphysical notions .Therefore to build metaphysical or theological propositions on their basis is to invite more confusion than clarity.
Our ulama and intellectuals need to shun the inferiority complex and try to evaluate the darker sides of philosophy of science and only appreciate the practical aspects of science which have not been presented as the alternative to theological or spiritual origination of the universe.
Because in the ‘era of atheism’, to borrow a stance from great Taqi Ameeni, religion was relegated to oblivion by science .Philosophers and scientists have been projected as the alternative to the long chain of Prophetic personages who have brought the values of spirituality and morality and not the mundane concerns to the central stage of life which humans as humans were capable of handling without the divine guidance on each and every trivial issue touching upon these matters.
From Auguste Comte to Bertrand Russell all the sociologists and scientific writers of the west have advocated positivistic universe without theological or religious standards as these have been long before abandoned and no one cared for their advocacy .How come we expect that modern science which has no inspiration from religion will come to the defense of the later from the blue.
Thus we need to develop our own scientific edifice after the Tawhidic weltanschauung by well established scholars in the Muslim ethos and practicing and believing scientists who themselves need to take lead in all the matters where science could speak for religion and genuinely so.
Alongside modern education which has been received by Muslims warmly but naively, the atheistic hedonistic and immoral value cherished by the western education have also made their inroads into our world and have started vitiating everything Islamic in our present and future generations .From Sir Syed to Ismail Raji Faruqui almost all the educationists have ignored this aspect or have not given it the attention it deserved .Iqbal had rightly said:
Khush tu ham bhi Jawnaoon ki taraqi say magar
labay khindan say nikal jati hai faryad bhi sath
Ham samajttay ki laitagi faragaht tailim
nahin maaloom tha ki chala aayay ga ilhad bhi sath
We are losing our generations to the western ways of life styles where no consideration for modesty or morality can be expected .This is the double fitnah we are face to face with: fitnah-i-Shibhat and Fitnah-i-Shahwat as Ibn Taimiyah would call it.
Our Madrasah despite their shortcomings have at least taken care of this vulnerable aspect of our younger generations .We need to start separate schools colleges and universities for both the genders or if it is not possible we have to see whether the Islamic code of moral conduct is observed in our administered private educational institutions and schools at least.
This is the biggest challenge of our times as Karen Armstrong has rightly said that Christians in modern times have adopted advocacy of “doctrine” as their strategy to spread their message while as Muslims have depended only on “polity”, that too ,I may dare to say ,slavishly!
Alongside science and the relation of Islam with it, we have a grave problem where Muslims need to rethink is the process of inter religious dialogue where Muslims are lagging behind and are caught unawares as they are not prepared to face this mosaic situation where the Christians are advocating the interfaith dialogue in a clandestine manner and are setting the standards of interreligious and interfaith dialogue.
What the Muslims need to do is to develop a complete scheme where they can in real sense of the word play very important role .Muslims are duty bound to convey the message of their religion to whole world as per the Quranic injections in peaceful manner and use all genuine and legal methods to represent the essence of their religion in this multi faith and multicultural pluralistic world. The Quran has already alluded to this reality: Kuntum khaira umatin wal takun min kum umatun etc
Inter religious dialogue cannot become the substitute to that religious duty of conveying the Dawah , but if we are conscious we can use all such dialogical activities as a best way to convey the message of Islam to the world through these peaceful forums where adherents belonging to different religions assemble to reach to some common agenda facing the world in terms of conflict resolutions and peace, global warming ,human rights situations and support to the poor and marginalized sections of our societies .
But one consideration is must that these activities of dialogue have been initiated by people with the aim of proselytizing Asia in the next millennium sometimes, as has been evidenced by some unfortunate episodes in Orissa and even in Kashmir. Therefore we have to develop our own contours perimeters and yard sticks before involving ourselves headlong in any such process.
Since ulama have been absent from almost all the platforms where decisions about the transformation of the world are being carried away, we have to depend on our intellectuals who are Islamically very much vocal and concerned or as Mawlana Mawdudi had long back said that better than a molvi a professor can explain the Quran in modern times .But without the spiritual and moral training which only our pious ulama can provide, our such engagements can be not most rewarding .Therefore, the constant interaction between ulama and intellectuals is the best solution to many of our problems we are facing on such fronts.
What is lacking in interreligious dialogues the most is the touch of genuine spiritual vigour.Spirituality and mundane mentality are other cancers on which we have to anchor our thought in modern times as there are extremes here too .There is the majority of the Muslims at least in the Asian countries who believe that whatever is being preached or spread on the name of Sufism or spirituality is to be believed naively at its face value and all the charlatans superstations grave worship, relic worship ,tooth worship ,foot print worship and what not, all are interpreted in good faith to be in consonance with the hyperbolic spiritualized personages these all items may be remotely or directly connected to .
It presents a very awkward situation for a Dai in such circumstances to preach pristine Tawhid to the non Muslims at interreligious dialogical sessions, when only the next moment they are exposed to this highly populist practice in the shrines which have become the only face indexers of Islam especially in Indian subcontinent. Hardly any difference can be pointed out except names and items between the brethren of other religions and our own tomb worshippers in its ritualistic or sometimes philosophical mystical overtones.
On the other hand there are staunch opponents of all aspects of spirituality or its genuine islamically justifiable versions .Even the name Sufism seems abhorrent to a small but islamically very vocal section of our community .All the elements of spirituality are eliminated from all the syllabi of the schools or books with such titles are not allowed to be displayed on the book stalls which may have any remote relation with Sufism or its contents .I was informed by one of the books sellers whom I wanted to had give some of my own books authored on Sufism and muslim philosophy in Mecca in 2007 and he informed me that these books are banned and may warrant action against any person who displays such stuff on his shop.
Iqbal had mystified even very simple beliefs of Godhead and Prophet hood in his Reconstruction but in our situation we have to strike balance between these two extreme situations.
Our times are bereft of spirituality as the gross materialism which has surfaced in the wake of much materialist progress made possible by science and technology after all the spiritual and Eschatological notions were relegated to oblivion .
But since this western rendezvous could not last long as it was against the nature of man ,now men are turning to everything on the name of spirituality though it may be the agnostic mysticism preached by Buddhists or the essentially and primordial mundane oriented yoga advocated by neo-Hindu yogis .
In such circumstances we find that muslim scholarship lacking a balanced response .The people who represent Islamic spirituality are those people who have confounded Islamic mysticism by advocating the Islamized version of Advaita Vedanta or a God –oriented mysticism advocated by the Buddhists, as we find starking similarities ostensibly at least between it and the Sangha system, where renunciation is considered the key to all forms of salvation.
The true spiritual face is still not seen by the world where a balanced Islamic spiritual ethos replaces the grossly mystified Vedanta or highly idolized Buddhist reconciliatory scenario which has started attracting people of the west who are in search of genuine spirituality.
Islam and only Islam has the wherewithal to meet this challenge .It was to my astonishment in 2009 when I found some Muslims from Holland and Iran in the Ashram of Swami Veda Bharati at Reshikesh who had stayed in that Ashram to satiate their spiritual hunger in absence of such centers in muslim world .
Though the Indian ascetics and Buddhist Monks have already paved the way for acceptance of any spiritual version of reality, Islamic spirituality can become a subject of much attraction in this dehumanized world of spiritual bankruptcy.
Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jeelani ,Ghazzali ,Junaid Baghdadi and Ibn Taimiyah are some of our such great personalities who can guide us to a balanced and more pragmatic approach here also to come to terms with the challenges posed to us by modern times .Kashmir Jamaat-i-Islami has provided a good example of such approach that its important leaders have written treatises on spirituality or Sufi masters and Mian Tufail of Pakistan translated Kashaf al Mahjub of Shaikh Ali Hujwiri and showed way towards this assimilation of our spiritual ethos with the work of Dawah even in this mosaic situation .
Western civilization has given the world hedonistic and luxurious gifts to such an unbridled range that if a man follows western standards of immorality he has but to face AIDS or gross materialistic and atheistic tendencies while as Islamic civilisation with its equal emphasis on both mundane and spiritual dimensions of human progress finally ended in favour of an austerity bound life style and asceticism where some of the muslim Sufis preferred to remain celibate and lived life of deliberate poority and deprivation.
Social work is one of the areas where muslim scholarship seems less interested .Muhammad (SAW) was a great social worker apart from being a great prophet, at Mecca he had been the member of half al fazool and at Madinah he would say :If I am invited to half al fazool I will accept the call .He was helping the destitute the poor the distressed and would combine people on the basis of blood relations .He was the helper of the poor and said that I and the feeder of an orphan will be together in paradise .He said that the worker for the help of widows and the miserable will be like the Mujahid in the way of Allah. Muslims in modern times are lagging behind miserably in this field whereas they need these services the most.
The philanthropic agencies with unknown agendas are working in Muslim societies as unfortunately Muslims are the most vulnerable people to all manmade calamities and atrocities inflicted on them by their adversaries .But how unfortunate that our people do not have their own social and civil service organizations and philanthropic groups to help them out in their distresses. Though there may be exceptions, but exceptions do not make a rule.
Thus the reconstruction of religious thought is to be done on these lines by the scholars ulama and intellectuals at this crucial juncture when we are face to face with enormous challenges never faced by our brethren in the past .
The Muslim treatment of woman in modern times has attracted many critics in our times to attack Islamic gender equations without realizing the lofty status Islam has bestowed on women .I often say that Islam has given woman all the rights ,but Muslims have snatched almost all from her .In the same manner people advocate that Feminism has given women the position which could not be imagined in earlier periods of history .But this is the biggest lie of this century .I tend to say that Islam had librated women from bondage ,but since women have liberated themselves from Islam ,they are again in bondage .Islamic scholars have to present the actual Islamic position visa vise women in a comparative manner .On one hand what Islam has given to women in terms of educational ,economic ,social political and spiritual rights are to be presented in a global perspective taking due consideration of the women in present world scenario where she is being exploited on the name of progress and fashion shows .But since things can be appreciated better in comparative paradigms we need to extensively make the theotcal studies basing our research on the textual studies of the scriptures and to show how Islam has an edge while bestowing on women the best possible avenues for her spiritual and mundane advancement without compromising with her dignity and honour .Islam gives women rights as some not after snatching from her all the delicacies and beauties of being a femine as had been done by the modern feminist who have extolled women over men at the cost of her felinity .On the other hand we have to expose the excesses done by feminists to woman by making her to confront men openly and that too in a manner where woman is rendered helpless as both men and women are the counterparts of each other and not the enemies or antitheses to each other as has been amply maintained by Islam. Muslims need to improve the conditions of their women according to the injections of the Quran and also advocate the dignified status Allah has bestowed on women folk through the benefactor of humanity .The prophet used to say that the delight of my eyes has been kept in prayer and women .He said that the best amongst the believers is the one who treats his wives in the best way. Woman has been called the best asset of the world by the prophet (SAW).Since the door of Ijtihad has been closed by our jurists long back we need such stalwart ulama who will open it forth and also have a look on the medieval legal decision about the matters relating to Talaq ,maintenance ,women’s education, womens vocations etc .