April June 2008Insight

IQBAL – THE FORERUNNER AGAINST THE CRISIS OF MORAL THEOLOGY

Ismail Bardhi

“Humanity needs three things today – a spiritual interpretation of the universe, spiritual emancipation of the individual, and basic principiles of a universal import directing the evolution of human society on a spiritual basis. Modern Europe has, no doubit, built idealistic systems on these lines, but experience shows that truth revealed through pure reason is incapable of bringing that fire of living conviction which personal revelation alone can bring. This is the reason why pure thought has so little influenced men, while religion has always elevated individuals, and transformed whole societies”.
(Muhammad Iqbal, The Reconstructon of Religious Thought in Islam)

Before I start elaborating on the subject I would like to say something about the appearance and impact of the translation of Muhammad Iqbal’s The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, in Bosnian language, or better of the name Iqbal among us, and then try to reflect his way of thinking in the realm of moral theology. But, as a theologian, firstly I would like to say few words about the role of theologians in the country of my origin, in presenting the Islamic philosophy and theology and their difficult position in the past.
During the time of socialism/communism in our country too much was written about philosophy in general, but not sufficiently about the Islamic philosophy and almost nothing about Muslim theology. The social order of that time was somehow troubled by theology, philosophy and literature, because they used to analyze it in a critical way which, in turn, was not suitable for the system itself and this was the reason for the strict state control over the written word in these disciplines. Nonetheless, when we speak about theology one may assert that as a science, as a scientific discipline it didn’t exist at all, except for that aspect concerning the practical needs of the Muslims. This situation or position was the reason the Islamic theology and philosophy not to be properly presented, without any plunging into their depths and without taking into consideration the intertwining between the Eastern and Western philosophy, which is a subject in itself.

At those times the few who used to present the Islamic philosophy before the audience in general, and the Muslims in particular, were mainly non-Muslim authors, like prof. Chedomil Velacic, prof. Rada Ivekovich from Sorbone, academic Mislava Jezhic from Zagreb and few others. Among the Muslim theologians who presented the reformers of the Islamic thought were the late Husein Djozo, Sherif ef. Ahmeti, profesor Hasan Sushiq. They were followed by the late Ahmed Smailovic and Hilmo Neimarlija, who for us students were the most renowned ulama who kept the Islamic theology and philosophy continuously fresh. Nowadays we have highly esteemed theologians and masters who study theology and philosophy in general, and the Islamic one in particular, in a professional manner and with brilliant criticism, thus making both of them “precious”, among whom the most prominent are Reshid Hafizovic, Adnan Silajdzic, Nevad Kahteran etc. As far as the position of these disciplines among Albanians is concerned, unfortunately they have not reached yet the necessary level, because different social orders and nationalism have prevented and pushed away this vigour of theology and philosophy. (In Albania, for instance, until the beginning of 90’s of 20th century religion was officially prohibited).

It may seem rather strange how come that we, theology students, were so interested in philosophy, and in particular the Islamic? This was because we were fought by that system and social order, and this scientific discipline was the only one which threw light on the weakness of Marxism, especially on the theory of materialism. At those times it was indeed satisfaction and pleasure for us to read, even in a fragmentary way, the sayings of renowned philosophers, like Heidegger (“only God can save us”), or Kolakowski (“I will never allow to die as a communist”, or his response to the question does he believe in God: “Hush, He is hearing us!”…). This was the reason why we used to read philosophy, because at the end of the day it was indeed attractive, while today, unfortunately, it faces its “end”.

And then, in those times of “prohibition”, the appearance of an Islamic theological philosophy of the Lahorian philosopher Muhammad Iqbal, through his work The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, published in Bosnian language, couldn’t have been anything else but joy and pleasure? This was even more true because it was translated by a translator specialized in the language of philosophy, as Mehmed Arapcic was. Prior to that, around 1971, in “Preporod”, the newspaper of the then Islamic Umion of (former)Yugoslavia, some fragments of Iqbal’s Javidnameh were translated and published. Of course I had no chance to read them at that time, but some 10 years latter, when I went to study at the Faculty of Islamic Sciences in Sarajevo.

The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam was a book which made Muslims even stronger in their faith, because they saw a man who could think purely theologically in a philosophic manner. This work had great impact on us, because it was difficult to be understood, it wasn’t something written for the sake of the writing itself, but nonetheless it forced human mind to be very disciplined and sincere towards God’s Word. In fact, the book was “good”, because not everybody could understand it, and on the other side it was rather challenging even for philosophers, lest to say for theologians. This book for Bosnian and Albanian Muslims, as well as for all others who could read it, was of particular importance because it called Muslims for a reform, or new model of thinking about religion, without touching in its genuinenes. I think that here lies the “miracle” in Iqbal’s work and what makes it interesting and actual even today for all of us, because it included in its title the word “reconstruction”, which is so tempting for readers.

Beside this dimension of Iqbal’s presentation, our Muslim theologians used to read often some fragments from his poetry. Nevertheless, during my whatever short stay in Lahore – Pakistan, I saw many gaps in our acquintance with Iqbal, and I reckon that much more should be done to study his work and place him in an appropriate place, with all of his bliss. Our, if I may say, complete ignorance of Iqbal comes first and foremost because of the abovementioned reasons and the wellknown negligence by Muslims. There is nobody’s fault, but ours, that we are not presenting the genuine thought and its representative in a proper way. And is it not a sign of lack of seriousness that works of Muhammad Iqbal have not been translated and published in our local languages, including both his philosophy and poetry? If we want to know Iqbal and his philosophy, we deffinitely must reach deep into his poetry, because it is a living philosophy with a metaphysics that offers love for the Creator and His creatures.

Having into consideration his complete intellectual, cultural and theological engagement, and on the other side the poor situation of Muslims, which are incompatible with each other, we instantly recall Iqbal’s very meaningful saying that “If the Prophet s.a.v.s. was here to see the Muslims in what condition they are, he would have not accepted them as belonging to this religion and to this Prophet.”

This is precisely Iqbal’s refusal to let man be humiliated into a piece of senseless matter, and his faith in the capabilities of the religion as an aspiration for a much wider life and highest forms of human participation, in which man shapes his destiny and the destiny of universe, and in which, according to the Qur’anic saying, for sure Allah’s help is with him. His lectures about the return of Muslims to Islam, this poet of the forgotten immemorial and thinker of the historical contruction of the future, has begun and finished with a hymn to a man who with his thinking and feelings rises towards the Ultimate Truth, something that is a permanent aspiration of the moral theology, which unfortunatly today is facing deep crisis.

* * *

Whoever accepts the existence of the objective moral order, he will not easily agree with the idea of adapting the moral commandments and moral theology – Ilmud-din – to the demands of these times, when a tendency for a theology of taqlid, immitation, of “producing” theological information, far from moral responsibility, is quite evident. It holds to the just principle that people of our time should adapt their way of life to the moral law, and not vice versa. The task of moral theology consists in justifying and explaining this principle to the people of today, so as to argument that moral order comes before man and that it is for his own good. Moral theology should also show that its goal is not to exhaust man or rule over him, but to contribute for a humane, moral and successful life.

To this end it is necessary for the theologian to be well acquainted with today’s reality. For instance, theology could say something real and important with relation to actual issues, which concern today’s man, only when it will know the biological, sociological, culturological, historical and philosophical dimension of the given concern. Without it the moralist cannot understand today’s man, nor give completely right answer to his questions. Without the cognition based on this knowledge the moral teaching in fact presents a moralization, which is in nobody’s benefit. On the contrary, people understand moralization as an effort to rule over them. In a democratic society nobody allows this to anybody, not even to the religious clerks. Unfortunately, the traditionally moral is often presented in such a way that people could conceive it as their opponent; they could easily see it in the perspective of its misuse – ruling over man, spread of fear for political purposes, a means for keeping rulers in their positions – and not in the perspective of a positive contribution of the moral for successful and decent life.

The obligation to attain as much knowledge about man as possible from various perspectives comes from the fact that demands of the moral have great impact on man’s life, both in positive as well as in negative sense, depending on how people understand them and what stance they take vis-à-vis them. In its nature moral is in service of good life, because it helps man in searching for the direction of his life, in selecting the goals and means. But, wrongly understood and wrongly implemented moral can prevent man’s successful development towards good and happiness, and could even destroy life. To prevent this the moralist must always have in mind three principles: The first principle says that moral demands should, if possible, fully respond to man’s capabilities in the horizon of the actual level of development. To be more concrete: one cannot expect from anyone to do anything that is impossible for him to do. The second principle says: the moralist should show the way and means through which man would realize what is being expected from him. Without that, the abstract moral demand could have a desperate impact upon man and force him to alienate himself from the moral. The third principle also is very important for a successful moral education: the moralist, and any educator in that sense, should take into account the personal freedom and responsibility of each and every individual in matters pertaining to morals and ethics. The responsibility in freedom or freedom interrelated with responsibility are part of those factors in life – especially of the religious life – which most strongly motivates man in his way of moral maturity, because it gives man the feeling of self-confidence and independence, the feeling and experience that he himself is “the master of his own fortune”. In this constellation man experiences the moral demands as demands of his own will, not of anyone else. Thus the autonomy, not the heteronomy, is being realized. Man experiences the divine moral, shaped in the moral religious law, as a gift, as an offer in his way towards better and more fortunate life, not as a compulsion or deprivation of personal freedom.

Here some very important questions are encountered: First, the question why is it difficult for people to implement the moral law, although they feel that it is for their own good? Why is it considered as true to say: “There are two laws in me, I see which one is good, and yet I follow the evil one”? This is a matter of the political-sociological power-holders’ weakness in matters of morals; this is a chance for those who have no power in society to prove their moral strength. Those in power, in the political-sociological sense, as well as, unfortunately, the highest religious institutions that try to serve them, are often weak in the realm of moral; the poor, the commons, the weak from the political-sociological aspect often remain faithful to the moral order and law. This antagonism is a common phenomenon of the existence and events in this world. The reason behind this may be the wrong presentation of the moral law, the wrong interpretation of the moral order or, simply, “the will for power”.

How should the moral be presented today so people could accept it and live accordingly? We already mentioned that the will for autonomy – for independence and self-determination – is one of the most essential lines of the mentality of today’s man. It is a consequence of the overall “democratization” of life and society on one side, and the created awareness for personal rights in a form of human rights on the other. The mentality and awareness of today’s man do not allow to be commanded or suppressed by any authority, without previous consent of those to whom the command or prohibition is being addressed. To be more specific: man cannot rule over man without mutual consent. Hence, democracy is being understood as a rule of people over themselves. It seems that often nobody pays any price about the controversy or even impossibility of this saying. Cunning politicians are fully aware for that and act in a Maciavellic manner, by enforcing their power in such a way so as to make people implement their will, convinced that they are implementing their own. Main movers of today’s civilization pay extraordinary attention to such mentality of the people. It seems that there is no single field of life in which openly is being spoken about commands and prohibitions.

Notions “command” and “prohibition” have been replaced by the notion “offer”. Always something is being offered to man, i.e. it is being left to his will to decide what to do. In all walks of life we encounter only offers: in education, school, marriage, intimate life, consumption, sports, traveling, religion, studies – everywhere offer prevails, “if you want, if you like”, because nothing can be imposed against one’s will. In the past this was not the case. Commands and prohibitions were always on the agenda and nobody considered it as something extraordinary, or even as an offense of the individual personality. This was also true for moral commands and prohibitions. Why has today’s man become over-sensitive to commands and prohibitions, to any authoritative appearance or demand, like in school, in the mosque, within the family?

Philosophically speaking, today a great turn in the development of the spirit and awareness is happening: it is relatively absolutized, immanently detached from the transcendent and – to be more picturesque – the planets are being separated from the Sun. Theologically speaking: gods, “created” by human hands, have assumed the place of the One Just and True God. The difficult and disastrous consequences of such development can be easily imagined. Most of them are already working and shaping our reality: the private and social, the political, the religious. It would be an error of the fate to open the way to this spirit of time. Religion and theology should not do that for the sake of “good” of human kind and each individual man. Religion, by opposing the spirit of time, doesn’t defend its rights, but the rights of each and every man in such moral-ethical direction, which enables him a successful and fortunate life.

More specifically: Religion and theology, including theologians who serve God, will not give up in front of the future demands in the name of the spirit of time and present social processes: a dynamic moral is being demanded instead of the allegedly static traditional moral. This means that the “old” imperatives of the moral must not be simply implemented in the life of today’s man, of today’s believer, but that a life situation should be the measure and indicator about which moral imperatives should be implemented and which ones considered as inadequate and hence invalid. Accordingly, the point of departure in moral preaching should be the question is today’s man capable to realize all commandments of the traditional moral? This stance results from the fact that today’s industrial society creates totally different circumstances of life that the one of the time of the Prophet s.a.v.s. Hence, it is being justly argued because it is verily a fact that today’s society imposes questions by addressing the individual, the family-matrimonial life, official life in a totally new form, which the Arabian society of the 6th century was not aware of. But, this doesn’t give us the right to conclude that moral imperatives from that time are not valid at all for today, and that they cannot serve as a paradigm or model.

One of the main characteristics of the development towards today’s Western civilization is the one that upholds the vital principle that life is being granted to man so he could enjoy it, namely, for realization of any kind of joy and pleasure. Almost all efforts of the society and science have this goal. The science in general, and its branches in particular – like psychology and medicine with all of its disciplines – are considered as tools for realization of a joyful life, a life without suffering, without problems or insecurity. Efforts are made to provide men with a sort of unlimited freedom, with less obligations and responsibilities as possible. Thus, it is not strange that many situations in life, as well as some manners of behavior, are being declared as intolerable and difficult to manage. Hence the demand that people should be relieved from them. It is precisely this point in which a conflict arises between the demands and the will of God, of the Revelation and the hedonic model of life today.
This conflict of stances creates great difficulties for the preacher of God’s Word and His commandments. He may very easily feel sympathy with people, with believers, to understand them in their weaknesses and rather explain God’s commandments according to their wishes, than to demand from them a faithful observance of God’s will. He may assume such position also from the fear that, if other way around, people would respect him less, or even avoid him, because some theologians think that it is better to be a “good” and “broad-minded”, rather than steadfast and firm.

One example: A person came to the Prophet s.a.v.s. and asked him: If I do all religious obligations and restrain from the forbidden ones, will I be saved? Modern theologians in this see a sort of egotistic-individualistic way of belief and consider that the initial question should be: what should I do to improve the human relations in the society, for people to live better life, for social justice to prevail and alike? These are political questions, which have priority in politics and not in the religious life, where God’s commandments and prohibitions come first. It is precisely here that the most tragic can be noticed in the so-called modern progressive man, who is not ready to fulfill even the basic precondition about what is the most important for salvation. The spirit of time simply presents that it is backwardness and archaism to observe God’s commandments. Unfortunately, there are also theologians who support such stance of the spirit of time with superficial sociological-psychological arguments.

Social conditions of various natures, psychological problems conditioned by the situations of time are making difficult to follow the Prophetic tradition, but nevertheless they also don’t make it impossible. Hence, the conclusion cannot be that Prophetic tradition must change its structure according to the mass of social-political relations, or according to the mass of the man’s psychological structure.

For instance, today’s people are governed by addictions of various kinds: alcohol, drugs, sexual perversities, power and wealth, pride. Nothing new. If such addict has sought a question about his condition, he has always found it within the same moral framework: it is about an objectively sinful act by which man harms himself as well as the others. This is why he must reject such way of living. The way towards liberation is through prayer, belief and hope that God with His endless mercy will help him to overcome that sinful condition. To doubt in this is a sin in itself. So, it should be clear that the believer is always responsible for his deeds and acts, including the wrong ones, regardless of the unfavorable social circumstances or the personal psychological stress. Belief in God’s mercy, the hope for success and patience in change of ups and downs has been a feature of the spiritual life of the believers of past times, and it should be the same today. Is it possible that today we are living in such inhuman circumstances that even God’s mercy, for what we pray so much, cannot prevent us from the sinful fall? If it is so, than we are indeed living in terrible times, in times of complete darkness and “absence” of God. But, as Muslims, we know that God is omnipresent and omnipotent, so it seems that something is wrong with us if we prescribe the responsibility for our sins to the evil times and alike.

Moral theology knows cases in which the freedom of choice is limited, in which the power of reasoning and capability to decide are very weak, like under the threat, under fear and oppression, in pain, in cases of spiritual and physical illness. But, this doesn’t free us from any kind of responsibility for our acts, except in abovementioned cases.

For the present time we really must say that the situation of the weakened freedom to decide is not anymore an exception, but a daily normality. This concretely means that we are in a paradoxical situation: the freedom of the individual is being declared as the highest value of the social and political life, but social-political processes and mechanisms are of such nature that individual freedom is being suffocated and limited in every step – with or without premeditation.

So should we not say to ourselves – to the modern man: we aim the peace, deep in our hearts we feel the need for salvation, but we lack the right knowledge about the way to peace, about the guidance towards peace, because the social-political processes are hiding from our very eyes the clear and penetrating sights into the Divine Truth about man and the world, because the “spirit of time” has convinced us that we must live according to the life circumstances, as the only possibility for participating in the progress of the modern civilization. This knowledge is very insecure way towards peace among nations, towards peace among people within the society and, what is even more tragic, it contains in itself a great threat towards realization of the only valid and serious matter of the life in this world – the attaining of the everlasting salvation: “By Time! Indeed man is at a loss, except those who have faith and do righteous deeds, and enjoin one another to (follow) the truth, and enjoin one another to patience.” (Qur’an, 103)

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