The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam
  • Book Title:
 The Reconstruction Of Religious Thought In Islam
  • Book Author:
Muhammad Iqbal
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  • Preface
  • Knowledge and Religious Experience
  • The Philosophical Test of the Revelations of Religious Experience
  • The Conception of God and the Meaning of Prayer
  • The Human Ego – His Freedom and Immortality
  • The Spirit of Muslim Culture
  • The Principle of Movement in the Structure of Islam
  • Is Religion Possible?


The Qur‘an is a book which emphasizes ‘deed‘ rather than ‘idea‘. There are, however, men to whom it is not possible organically to assimilate an alien universe by re-living, as a vital process, that special type of inner experience on which religious faith ultimately rests.

Moreover, the modern man, by developing habits of concrete thought – habits which Islam itself fostered at least in the earlier stages of its cultural career – has rendered himself less capable of that experience which he further suspects because of its liability to illusion.

The more genuine schools of Sufism have, no doubt, done good work in shaping and directing the evolution of religious experience in Islam; but their latter-day representatives, owing to their ignorance of the modern mind, have become absolutely incapable of receiving any fresh inspiration from modern thought and experience.

They are perpetuating methods which were created for generations possessing a cultural outlook differing, in important respects, from our own. ‘Your creation and resurrection,‘ says the Qur‘an, ‘are like the creation and resurrection of a single soul.‘ A living experience of the kind of biological unity, embodied in this verse, requires today a method physiologically less violent and psychologically more suitable to a concrete type of mind. In the absence of such a method the demand for a scientific form of religious knowledge is only natural.

 In these Lectures, which were undertaken at the request of the Madras Muslim Association and delivered at Madras, Hyderabad, and Aligarh, I have tried to meet, even though partially, this urgent demand by attempting to reconstruct Muslim religious philosophy with due regard to the philosophical traditions of Islam and the more recent developments in the various domains of human knowledge. And the present moment is quite favourable for such an undertaking.

Classical Physics has learned to criticize its own foundations. As a result of this criticism the kind of materialism, which it originally necessitated, is rapidly disappearing; and the day is not far off when

 Religion and Science may discover hitherto unsuspected mutual harmonies. It must, however, be remembered that there is no such thing as finality in philosophical thinking. As knowledge advances and fresh avenues of thought are opened, other views, and probably sounder views than those set forth in these Lectures, are possible.

Our duty is carefully to watch the progress of human thought, and to maintain an independent critical attitude towards it.


What is the character and general structure of the universe in which we live? Is there a permanent element in the constitution of this universe? How are we related to it? What place do we occupy in it, and what is the kind of conduct that befits the place we occupy?

These questions are common to religion, philosophy, and higher poetry. But the kind of knowledge that poetic inspiration brings is essentially individual in its character; it is figurative, vague, and indefinite. Religion, in its more advanced forms, rises higher than poetry.

 It moves from individual to society. In its attitude towards the Ultimate Reality it is opposed to the limitations of man; it enlarges his claims and holds out the prospect of nothing less than a direct vision of Reality. Is it then possible to apply the purely rational method of philosophy to religion? The spirit of philosophy is one of free inquiry.

It suspects all authority. Its function is to trace the uncritical assumptions of human thought to their hiding places, and in this pursuit it may finally end in denial or a frank admission of the incapacity of pure reason to reach the Ultimate Reality.

The essence of religion, on the other hand, is faith; and faith, like the bird, sees its ‘trackless way‘ unattended by intellect which, in the words of the great mystic poet of Islam, ‘only waylays the living heart of man and robs it of the invisible wealth of life that lies within‘.[01]Reference here is to the following verse from the mystical allegorical work: ManÇiq al-ñair (p. 243, v. 5), generally considered the magnum opus, … Continue reading

Yet it cannot be denied that faith is more than mere feeling. It has something like a cognitive content, and the existence of rival parties— scholastics and mystics— in the history of religion shows that idea is a vital element in religion. Apart from this, religion on its doctrinal side, as defined by Professor Whitehead, is ‘a system of general truths which have the effect of transforming character when they are sincerely held and vividly apprehended‘.[02]A. N. Whitehead, Religion in the Making, p. 5.

Now, since the transformation and guidance of man‘s inner and outer life is the essential aim of religion, it is obvious that the general truths which it embodies must not remain unsettled. No one would hazard action on the basis of a doubtful principle of conduct. Indeed, in view of its function, religion stands in greater need of a rational foundation of its ultimate principles than even the dogmas of science. Science may ignore a rational metaphysics; indeed, it has ignored it so far.

Religion can hardly afford to ignore the search for a reconciliation of the oppositions of experience and a justification of the environment in which humanity finds itself. That is why Professor Whitehead has acutely remarked that ‘the ages of faith are the ages of rationalism‘.[03]Ibid., p. 73.

But to rationalize faith is not to admit the superiority of philosophy over religion. Philosophy, no doubt, has jurisdiction to judge religion, but what is to be judged is of such a nature that it will not submit to the jurisdiction of philosophy except on its own terms. While sitting in judgement on religion, philosophy cannot give religion an inferior place among its data.

 Religion is not a departmental affair; it is neither mere thought, nor mere feeling, nor mere action; it is an expression of the whole man. Thus, in the evaluation of religion, philosophy must recognize the central position of religion and has no other alternative but to admit it as something focal in the process of reflective synthesis. Nor is there any reason to suppose that thought and intuition are essentially opposed to each other. They spring up from the same root and complement each other.

The one grasps Reality piecemeal, the other grasps it in its wholeness. The one fixes its gaze on the eternal, the other on the temporal aspect of Reality.

The one is present enjoyment of the whole of Reality; the other aims at traversing the whole by slowly specifying and closing up the various regions of the whole for exclusive observation. Both are in need of each other for mutual rejuvenation. Both seek visions of the same Reality which reveals itself to them in accordance with their function in life. In fact, intuition, as Bergson rightly says, is only a higher kind of intellect. [04]Cf. H. L. Bergson, Creative Evolution, pp. 187-88; on this intuition-intellect relation see also Allama Iqbal‘s essay: Bedil in the light of … Continue reading

The search for rational foundations in Islam may be regarded to have begun with the Prophet himself. His constant prayer was: ‘God! grant me knowledge of the ultimate nature of things!‘ [05]Allahumm«arin« haq«‘iq al-ashy«kam«hâya, a tradition, in one form or other, to be found in well-known Sufistic works, for example, ‘Alâb. … Continue reading

 The work of later mystics and non-mystic rationalists forms an exceedingly instructive chapter in the history of our culture, inasmuch as it reveals a longing for a coherent system of ideas, a spirit of whole- hearted devotion to truth, as well as the limitations of the age, which rendered the various theological movements in Islam less fruitful than they might have been in a different age.

As we all know, Greek philosophy has been a great cultural force in the history of Islam. Yet a careful study of the Qur‘«n and the various schools of scholastic

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References / Footnotes

01Reference here is to the following verse from the mystical allegorical work: ManÇiq al-ñair (p. 243, v. 5), generally considered the magnum opus, of one of the greatest sufi poets and thinkers Farâd al-Dân ‘AÇÇ«r‘ (d.c. 618/1220):
02A. N. Whitehead, Religion in the Making, p. 5.
03Ibid., p. 73.
04Cf. H. L. Bergson, Creative Evolution, pp. 187-88; on this intuition-intellect relation see also Allama Iqbal‘s essay: Bedil in the light of Bergson, ed. Dr Tehsin Firaqi, pp. 22-23.
05Allahumm«arin« haq«‘iq al-ashy«kam«hâya, a tradition, in one form or other, to be found in well-known Sufistic works, for example, ‘Alâb. ‘Uthm«n al-Hujwayrâ, Kashf al-MaÁjëb, p. 166; Mawl«n« Jal«l al-Dân Rëmâ, Mathnawâ-i Ma‘nawâ, ii, 466-67; iv, 3567-68; v, 1765; MaÁmëd Shabistarâ (d. 720/1320), Gulshan-i R«z, verse 200, and ‘Abd al-RaÁm«n J«mâ (d. 898/1492), Law«‘ih, p. 3.