Allama Iqbal’s Approach towards the issue of Rationality:
Posted by khuram on August 27, 2006
Iqbal, basically was not a Rational Philosopher. He was a Scholastic (Mutakkalim — Mahir-e-Ilm-ul-Kalam). Scholasticism basically is such an attempt whereby Scholastic scholars try to interpret their religion in such a way as to show that religious doctrines are in perfect harmony with the established rational philosophies.
As I pointed out in another post on the topic of “Scientific Revolution and Muslim World” that roots of early Muslim philosophers could be found in Mutazillah faith. Mutazilities were the first ever Scholastics (Mutakalims) in Islam. Thus Yaqub Alkindi, Al-Farabi and Ibn-e-Sina etc. were also basically Scholastic scholars. All of them had tried to resolve the apparent differences between the doctrines of Islam and the work of such rational Philosophers as Aristotle and Plato.
All of these Muslim scholars however committed a common mistake. They mistakenly took the work of Platinus, a first century B.C mystic type philosopher as an original work of Aristotle. Both Plato and Aristotle were pro-rational philosophers but Platinus was inspired by mysticism of Pythagoras. In this way elements of Greek mysticism entered in the work of above-mentioned Muslim scholars. Platinus was not pro-rational in the strict sense but under the influence of Plato, he did assign due importance to rationality in his otherwise pure mystic type doctrines. This point basically deceived Muslim philosophers and they considered those doctrines as the original work of Aristotle, who was a complete Rationalist Philosopher. So the work of Muslim Philosophers was aimed at bringing harmony between the religious doctrines of Islam with such Greek rational doctrines, which had been contaminated by the elements of mysticism. Muslim Philosophers had tried to get understanding of religious doctrines based on strong rational footings. Their intention was admirable and it might had got ultimate success also just if they had successfully segregated the mystic elements from the rational elements of Greek thought.
Just like early Muslim philosophers had tried to bring harmony between Islamic religious doctrines and rational doctrines of Aristotle and Plato, Allama Iqbal also had tried to bring ‘harmony’ between Islamic doctrines and the doctrines of Western philosophers, who were popular in his time. Thus Iqbal had tried to bring harmony between Islamic doctrines and the works of such Western philosophers as Rousseau, Fichte, Neitzsche, Bergson, Loyed Margon, Alexander Ward etc. etc. In addition, Iqbal also incorporated various elements of Muslim Sufism in his work. Iqbal also had taken the negative meanings of the emergence of Quantum Physics in his time. He had viewed it as a defeat to classical physics. He also equalized this ‘defeat’ of classical physics as a ‘victory’ of religion.
Iqbal, in his work, had adopted many anti-rational elements out of the work of Rousseau, Neitzsche and Bergson. Rousseau, in his work, had preferred ‘passions’ (jazbat) to ‘rationality’ (aqal). The same thing reflected in the work of Iqbal where he gave preference to ‘Ishq’ (obviously a kind of passion) over ‘rationality’.
Bergson was another anti-rationalist. According to him, human rationality particularly was incapable to understand the true nature of time or ‘duration’. For him, ultimate reality could be found in the true meaning of his ‘duration’. But this purpose could not be achieved by using intellect or rationality. Only ‘intuition’, according to him, could find that ultimate reality. According to Bergson, Rationality can understand ‘time’ only in terms of ‘minutes’ and ‘seconds’ etc. whereas reality is that each and every moment of time continuously keeps on creating new and new features to the universe. He calls this phenomenon as ‘creative evolution’ and considers it as the ultimate reality of universe. Since rationality sees time just in mechanical terms of minutes and seconds, so it cannot get the true knowledge of ‘creative evolutionary’ aspect of duration. Only intuition, according to Bergson, can find out this reality. Bergson has conceived ‘intuition’ as equivalent to such ‘instincts’, which acquire the quality of ‘self cognition’. So according to Bergson, only the ‘intuition’ (i.e. self-aware instinct) can find out the ultimate reality of ‘creative evolutionary’ duration. This reality, which intuition finds in this way cannot be communicated to others with the help of written or spoken words. So reality can be found only through personal intuitive experience. Bergson also discusses the role of ‘rationality’, which just serves the purpose of converting that non-communicate-able pure reality into the shape of less pure but communicate-able form of written or spoken words of language. In this way, ‘intuition’ produces the knowledge of reality. This original knowledge is pure but cannot be communicated to others in this pure form. Role of rationality is secondary. Rationality converts this pure knowledge into impure form that can be communicated to others in the form of written or spoken words.
What Iqbal has done? He has picked the same concept of Bergson’s ‘intuition’ with the same meaning and has given preference to this concept of intuition over rationality. He also says that only intuition gives pure knowledge but this pure knowledge cannot be communicated. By just following the Bergson’s course, he says that rationality can be used to convert this pure knowledge into impure form and so knowledge can be communicated but only in impure form. Just like Bergson, Iqbal also says that pure knowledge can be acquired only through personal ‘intuitive’ experience. Rationality cannot produce any knowledge. Rationality only converts pure knowledge into impure but communicate-able form. See that for the purpose of getting new knowledge, there is no need of rational inquiry according to Bergson and Iqbal.
Bergson’s views deserve heavy criticism. Despite the traditional criticism, these views are not acceptable to me because of my own views about how new ideas are generated by mind. I myself have worked on the issues of how new ideas come to mind. I am having the opinion that only rationality produces new ideas. At first new ideas (in the form of compound ideas etc.) are formed inside mind in such way that gives the vague feelings that something new has been known. This thing has been considered to be ‘intuitive product’ by Bergson. I consider it the product of rationality. Bergson considers it as pure knowledge. I consider it as vogue and less transparent knowledge. According to Bergson, his intuitive and ‘pure’ knowledge could be made into ‘impure’ but ‘communicate-able’ through the application of rationality. In my opinion, that ‘vogue’ and ‘less transparent’ knowledge can be made into solid, more transparent and more explanatory by purposeful thinking and deep rational inquiry, which are more advanced features of human rationality. In another post, where I have presented some aspects of my views about ideas, I have shown that in producing any form of new knowledge, mind only arranges and re-arranges the already available pieces of information. I, in my work, have defined ‘intellect’ as the ability of mind that it can arrange and re-arrange various sets of information. So the process of creation of ‘new’ knowledge takes place under the control of ‘intellect’ or ‘rationality’. At first instance, rationality can produce only vague and less transparent ideas. Those vague and less transparent ideas can be made into more transparent and more explanatory through the processes of deep purposeful thinking and analysis, which are advanced features of same rationality.
What cannot be communicated cannot be regarded as ‘pure’ just because it cannot be communicated. Actually it could not be communicated just because it was not sufficiently elaborated or it had not acquired sufficient transparency and explanatory power so as to be successfully communicated. What cannot be communicated can be better termed as ‘vogue’ or ‘less transparent’ etc. One who knows something new in ‘vogue’ and ‘less transparent’ form finds oneself unable to successfully communicate it to others. If that person makes his mind more clear about that vogue or less transparent idea after thinking and analysis, then he can bring sufficient elaboration in that idea that now it becomes communicate-able. A more elaborated idea would be better than a vogue idea. Bergson and Iqbal are having the view that more elaborated idea would be ‘impure’ whereas that vogue idea would be ‘pure’.
Actually this ‘intuition’ has deceived many Sufi-type philosophers. It is another interesting fact that only Bergson has tried to define the term ‘intuition’. Otherwise, it always has been regarded as something very mysterious, which at once can convey the knowledge of reality to Sufi etc. Bergson is actually a Sufi by heart. According to Bertrend Russell, Bergson has just presented old Sufism using modern terminology of biology such as ‘instincts’ etc. Iqbal is also a Sufi, though explicitly he has reacted against Wahdat-ul-Wajood. Actually there are many other things in Iqbalian thought where he has assumed clear contradictory positions. Iqbal has presented his views in the form of poetry but his detailed views about philosophical matters are found in his lectures on ‘Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’. His poetry is full of exaggerations and cannot serve the purpose of any systematic philosophy. ‘Reconstruction of Religious Thought’ is actually an attempt to ‘modernize’ the Islamic Theology. He has taken many of the views from above mentioned western philosophers as well as even from Wahdat-ul-Wajoody Sufism and has presented them in the name of new Islamic Theology.
There is clear difference between the approach of ancient Muslim philosophers and that of Iqbal. Ancient Muslim Philosophers like Al-Farabi and Ibn-e-Sina also had tried to present Islamic Theology on strong rational footings. But, for doing it, they openly had admitted that their works were the attempt to bring harmony between the doctrines of religion and those of Plato and Aristotle. Allama Iqbal however never has admitted that he has taken such and such ideas from the works of such and such western or Muslim Sufi Scholar. Instead, he has presented these ideas and has given supporting proofs by manipulating the meanings of various teachings of Islamic Sacred books in a way which was suitable to his context. Original meanings of those teachings do not come up to the meanings, which Iqbal takes for his purpose. For example, he has taken the same meaning of ‘time’ as had been taken by Bergson. But Iqbal uselessly has tried to show that he had taken that meaning of time from the work of ancient Muslim scholars.
FICHTE belonged to post Napoleon-war Germany. He had tried to re-build the morale of German nation after their defeat in the hands of Napoleon, with the help of his philosophy of ‘Egoism’. According to him ‘Absolute Ego’, an impersonal entity – i.e. instead of religion’s God who possesses ‘personality’, was the ‘ultimate reality’. All humans also possess ‘personal egos’ which have been originated (emanated) from the same ‘Absolute Ego’. This Absolute Ego, according to Fichte, was in the state of transition towards stronger positions. (Remember that aim before Fichte was to give strength to the ego of German nation after their defeat … with the view to restore the morale of nation.) Fichte also asserted that those individuals who successfully strengthen their personal egos, not only contribute to the purpose of Universe as a whole, but also they could ensure the survival of their individual personalities even after death.
What Iqbal has done? In his new Theology, Iqbal has adopted the same concept of Ego by the name of ‘Khudi’ and Fichte’s ‘Absolute Ego’ has become ‘Ana-e-Mutliq’ for Iqbal. There is one important difference however. Fichte had conceived Absolute Ego as the ultimate reality. That ultimate reality was of a non-religious type. Iqbal only has given this non-religious type ultimate reality a religious touch. He also conceives ‘Ana-e-Mutlaq’ as the ultimate reality but in addition, he has equalized this ‘ultimate reality’ to God. Individuals, on the other hand possess personal ‘khudies’, which have been emanated (originated … In a manner in which light originates from sun) from Ana-e-Mutlaq. See that in this scheme, individuals have not been ‘created’ by God but individual khudies (individuals) have been ‘emanated’ from Ana-e-Mutlaq (God). Just like Fichte’s views, Iqbal’s Ana-e-Mutlaq is also in the state of transition towards stronger positions. Individuals who try to give strength to their khudies (through ‘ishq’, ‘riazat’ etc. etc. i.e. not through using rationality) contribute to the purpose of Ana-e-Mutlaq. Again just like Fichte, In Iqbalian system also, individuals who possess strong khudies can survive death also. It’s meaning is that persons who did not possess strong khudies shall not be given any life after their death. According to Iqbal, a person who wants to die forever can do it provided he must not try to give any strength to his khudy. So there are no such things as paradise and hell in Iqbalian new Theology. Just like SATAN is hero of Milton (Remember a famous quotation by Milton: “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven” – Milton’s work relates to Romantic movement in literature) , Iblees is the hero of Iqbal. Iqbal also was influenced by Romantic writers/ scholars like Milton etc.
At this point, it seems necessary to give a mention of two main forms of Theology. Theology is any systematic theory about God and about the relationship of God with the Universe. In Theology, there always have been two different types of views about God. First one is the ‘Transcendental View of God’ (Mawarayi) and the second is ‘Imminentalist View of God’ (Suryani). Semitic religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam etc. possess the ‘Transcendental View of God’ (Mawarayi Khuda). Its meaning is that these religions conceive God as a ‘personality’ whose existence is separate from and is independent of the existence of material universe. God existed in those times also when there was no existence of material world. The relationship between God and Universe is that of a Creator and creature.
Second view, which is mainly held by Arian nations, is known as ‘Imminentalist’ (Suryan) view of God. According to this view, God is not viewed as any personality. There is no separate existence of God and Universe. God actually pervades (Taari-o-Saari Hona) in the whole Universe. The relationship between God and Universe is not that of Creator and creature but is that of soul and body. If God is viewed as a ‘soul’ of Universe then it means that God did not exist before the existence of material world. Actually, according to Imminatalism, God and Universe neither had any origin and nor would have any end.
It is clear that Islamic concept of God is that of Transcendental. First of all Fichte’s ‘Absolute Ego’ is an impersonal entity. Iqbal has equalized this impersonal entity with God. So Iqbalian Theology talks of an ‘Imminantalist’ God and this view has to be contradictory with the Islamic doctrines.
Secondly, Iqbal was also influenced by an Evolutionary School of Thought, which is known as “Emergent Evolution”. Alexander Ward and Loyed Margon were the main proponents of this school of thought. According to Prof. Alexander, (In Europe, name of one of Iqbal’s teacher was Alexander … I am not confirmed however whether he was same Prof. Alexander) the whole Universe is in the process of evolution. Non-living matter first evolved into the form of plant life. Then plant life evolved into animal life. This life ultimately has been evolved into the shape of human mind. According to him, it seems wrong to assume that human mind was the last stage in the evolution of universe. He says that universe is moving towards another stage of evolution. He calls this stage to be Divinity. He says that relationship of human mind to Divinity is similar to the relationship of animal life to human mind. According to him, just like human mind has been evolved from animal life, in the same way, Divinity shall evolve from human mind. Thus universe is not complete at the moment because it is still in the process of evolution.
Under the influence of these views, Iqbal has conceived reality to be in the process of continuous evolution. According to him, God pervades (taari-o-saari hai) in this evolutionary reality. Here Iqbal explicitly adopts the imminentalist view of God. According to him, since reality is ‘evolutionary’, so Transcendental God will have to be considered indifferent and having no linkage with the affairs of material world. By saying that God pervades in such an evolutionary reality, Iqbal is saying that God is also in the process of evolution. To be in the process of evolution means to be still incomplete etc.
So there is variety in Iqbalian thought but neither Iqbal has given this variety any systematic shape, nor anything can be regarded as pro-rationality in this confused bundle (Iqbalian thought) of a handsome variety of ideas.