By Justice Dr. Javid Iqbal
November 09, 2015
Iqbal states that the essence of “Tauhid” as a working idea, is human unity, human equality and human freedom. Therefore, practically speaking, the spirit of Islamic culture liberates man rather than enslaving him. However, objection is raised that the emphasis on human “unity” and “equality” is understandable, but how can “freedom” be associated with “Tauhid”? “Freedom” is a product of contemporary Western thought, whereas every Muslim bears witness while offering prayers that the Holy Prophet is “Abdohu”, i.e., the “slave” of Allah. Consequently all Muslims are expected to be the slaves of God.
Iqbal explains the expression “Abdohu” in his poetic work “Javid Nama” through Mansur Hallaj. Referring to the incident of “Marmiat” (Sura Al-Infaal: Verse 17), Mansoor Hallaj argues that the pebbles thrown on the occasion at the enemy were not thrown by the “hand” of the Holy Prophet but by the “Hand of Allah”. Consequently if one has the courage to speak the truth, then it is Allah Himself who is “Abdohu”. God has breathed His spirit into man (Sura Al-Sajdah: Verse 9), therefore man cannot be the slave of God. According to Iqbal, man is capable of becoming God’s “co-worker” provided that in the course of man’s evolution, he discovers his “self” and arrives at a stage where God may consult him before determining any new destiny for mankind. Those who rejected “freedom” as an integral part of the spirit of Islamic culture, but rather insisted on man’s slavery, were responsible for introducing monarchy in Islam, declaring “Sultan” as the shadow of God on Earth and thus returning us to the “Age of Ignorance”.
If Iqbal’s lecture on “The Spirit of Islamic Culture” is examined in the light of his other lectures on “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam” as well as his poetic works, one arrives at the conclusion that the message of freedom of the spirit in Islamic culture, has four important dimensions. Iqbal connects this message of “freedom” with his concept of “finality of Prophethood”.
Although Iqbal’s concept of “Finality of Prophethood” is unusual, it is rationally based on the Quranic principle of “Mutual Consultation” (Sura Al-Shura: Verse 38) and the words uttered by Caliph Umar on the death of the Holy Prophet to the effect that the Holy Prophet has passed away and now the Quran is sufficient for “our” guidance.
Iqbal further argues that Islam arrived at the stage when “inductive reason” of man had attained such maturity that there existed no need for such “protections” to mankind like prophets, priests and princes. In other words, these ”protections” were only required during the infancy and adolescent phases of human evolution, when in the dim light of “deductive reason” man feared, respected and depended on “traditions”, or sought guidance by following the old authorities. Iqbal consequently holds that Islam declared the end of Prophet-hood, the inexistence of priesthood, and furthermore, by destruction of the Sassanian and Roman Empires, Muslims established that there was no place for monarchy or arbitrary ruler-ship in Islam.
Thus Iqbal believes that the first dimension of “freedom” which the spirit of Islamic culture provides is the establishment of “people’s democracy”, i.e. Muslims accept the responsibility of running a democratic state. But this democracy, according to Iqbal, is neither a “theocratic” state nor a “secular” state. He calls the third alternative, a “spiritual” democracy, which means a democratic state in which all religions are respected and protected. (While he was an elected member of the Punjab Legislative Council, Iqbal proposed the making of a law which punished anyone who committed the offence of insulting a “Founder” of any of the religions).
Regarding the second dimension of “freedom”, Iqbal holds that the Holy Prophet is like a bridge between the ancient and the modern world. He is associated with the past as the fountain-head of “Revelation” (Wahi), and he is connected with the present as he permitted “Ijtihad” (Fresh interpretation of the Quranic rules) during his life-time. It is in this background that Iqbal expects Muslims to adopt a mode of life which must differentiate between the values of “permanence” and “change”, permanent being those laws which lay down “religious obligations” (Ibadaat) whereas those laws which are related to “mundane affairs” (Muamalat) are subject to change in accordance with the needs and requirements of the times.
In this matter Iqbal goes to the extent of observing that “decisions”, “fatawa” delivered in the past by representatives of different schools of Islamic jurisprudence, were relevant for the conditions of the times during which those were announced. Hence some of these “decisions” were no longer relevant under the contemporary conditions. Therefore, keeping in view the requirements of the present day, Muslim are free to rethink, reconsider, review and reform those “decisions” through the democratic process by practicing “Ijtihad” (Fresh interpretation of the Quranic rules). Therefore, according to Iqbal, after democracy, “Ijtihad” is not only the second most important dimension of “freedom”, it is also the principle of movement in the social structure of Islam.
The third dimension of “freedom”, according to Iqbal, is that Muslims are free to acquire rational and scientific knowledge, and that there is no distinction between Islamic and so-called non-Islamic knowledge. Iqbal establishes that the experimental method was introduced and evolved by Islamic civilization and that it was the Muslims who were the founders of modern sciences. In support of his argument he quotes the following passages from Briffault’s “Making of Humanity”:
“Science is the most momentous contribution of Arab civilization to the modern world….… It was not science only which brought Europe back to life. Other and manifold influences from the civilization of Islam communicated its first glow to European life ….. for although there is not a single aspect of European growth in which the decisive influence of Islamic culture is not traceable, nowhere it is so clear as in the field of natural sciences and scientific spirit …… Science owes a great deal more to Arab culture, it owes its existence”
Iqbal finally arrives at the conclusion that the advancement of modern European culture in rational and scientific knowledge, is in fact the prolongation of Islamic culture. On this basis the following by Muslims of the modern day European culture does not amount to the acceptance of an alien culture, but rather marks a return to the original path which had been abandoned by them.
The fourth dimension of “freedom”, in the eyes of Iqbal, is emphasis of the spirit of Islamic culture on man to be “creative” in possibly all aspects of his life. Obviously in this sphere poets, writers, artists, scientists etc. are all included. Since Iqbal believes that God has breathed His spirit in man, He expects man to be creative like Himself. In “Javid Nama” Iqbal makes God declare: “Anyone who does not possess the “creative” power, in our view, is no more than a “Kaafir” (non-believer) and a “Zandiq” (hypocrite). He has not taken his share from Our “Jamaal” (beauty), and he has been deprived from tasting the fruit of the tree of life”.
According to Iqbal, “creativity” is beyond the realms of Good and Evil. Therefore, in the performance of a “creative” act the difference between good and evil disappears. Even a sinful act, when performed creatively, would be transformed into a virtuous act. Iqbal claims that evil has an educative value of its own as a valuable lesson can be learned from its experience making one smarter. On the other hand, virtuous people are regarded as being generally very stupid due to their simple-mindedness. In “Javid Nama” Mansoor Hallaj introduces Iqbal to Satan and informs him “If you want to really understand Tauhid then learn it from the devil who as the first lover knows the secret of Tauhid” In the same manner Iqbal asks Bartari Hari the Sanskrit poet, “Where does a poetic verse come from? From myself or from God?” He replies “No one knows about the station of a poet. A prophet or a saint may attain satisfaction on seeing God, but a poet is neither satisfied being near God nor being far away from him. He is constantly in a state of turmoil and anxiety.”
Thus Iqbal affirms that, in order to keep this particular message of freedom delivered by the spirit of Islamic culture permanently alive, it is necessary for the community to appreciate and encourage creativity and innovation amongst its individuals. This would then make it possible for the community to produce creative persons. According to Iqbal, for those who are creative people, the mere irritation or pain of a pin prick to the body, would not warrant being a life to live; but for them to feel the unbearable heat of fire constantly burning under their feet, that would be a life for them which was worth living.
The critics of Iqbal allege that he was influenced by European philosophy, that he liked being innovative and that he interpreted the Quranic verses not in accordance with the accepted norms (Tafsir), but in accordance with what meanings he would like to give them (Taveel). However the truth is that according to his research, every new thought or discovery of Western culture, could not only be tested in light of the Quranic verses, but it could also be proved that those findings which are now being held as new, were considered, discussed and resolved in the Islamic civilization. Briefly, Iqbal aspired for the cultural re-awakening of Muslims and wanted to make them feel that as a community they have been leaders of the world in the fields of rational and scientific knowledge, and that the progress achieved by the European civilization was actually dependant on the Islamic culture.
Late Justice Dr. Javid Iqbal delivered a version of this article as a speech on Iqbal Day 2013 at Allama Iqbal Open University.