The philosophy of Iqbal can be summarized in eight simple points.
Here they are.
Today I would like to question the widespread impression that the philosophy of Iqbal is rather complicated. My lifelong research has led me to think that it can be summrized in eight simple points, seen in the slide here.
Of course, he has presented complex discussions in such writings as the Reconstruction. Still, every such discussion can be traced back to one or more of these eight points. The difficulties of the students of Iqbal Studies arise either from their lack of awareness of these basic principles or because these principles are deliberately obscured by the experts in order to promote other worldviews without announcing the points of departure.
What about ‘khudi’? The most famous idea associated with Iqbal seems to be missing from the list but it is not. His philosophy of ego or self is an elaboration of the very first point here: ‘The essential nature of human being consists in will.’
Iqbal laid out these basics in three research papers soon after the completion of his studies in Europe. They were ‘Political Thought in Islam’ (1908), ‘Islam as a Moral and Political Ideal’ (1909) and ‘The Muslim Community – a sociological study’ (1911). The first was published in the research journal of London University. The other two were delivered as extensive lectures, respectively in Lahore and Aligarh, and then printed in various journals in British India.
To have an idea of his overall approach, we may look at the very first sentence of the second paper:
‘There are three points of view from which a religious system can be approached: the standpoint of the teacher, that of the expounder, and that of the critical student.’
After explaining the differences between these points of view, he ascribes to himself the third one, i.e. the standpoint of a critical student. Hence, although the subject of these three research papers was Islam, the framework used for the study was based on generally accepted principles (‘since my method is essentially scientific,’ he wrote).
The eight basic principles of his philosophy can all be extracted from these three papers, and may be categorized as universal, specific and urgent (colour-coded in the slide).
In ‘Islam as A Moral and Political Ideal’, Iqbal offers four basic postulates of his worldview. He attributes them to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as well as the French thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Hence, it can be said that these postulates are universal and not specific to Islam (although they have a special relevance for Islam as will be mentioned in the next section).
This is not just an interpretation: there is no justification for attributing some other worldview to Iqbal. Einstein’s theory of relativity has been interpreted in many ways but nobody denies that the equation is e=mc2. Likewise, the text of Iqbal’s paper does not support an alternative reading (‘since my method is essentially scientific,’ he wants us to remember).
The four postulates of Iqbal’s worldview are:
- The essential nature of human being consists in will.
- The ethical nature of human being is good.
- All the principal forms of vice can be reduced to fear.
- Salvation is absolute freedom from fear and grief.
The four postulates mentioned above can give birth to many societies, communities and civilizations. The Muslim community, founded by the Prophet of Islam, is one such community. In the paper ‘The Muslim Community – a sociological study’, the structure of this community is shown to comprise of three components: (a) faith; (b) uniform culture; and (c) common institutions of law and government. Definitions are also given, and they are the next three basic points of Iqbal’s philosophy:
- Faith: We are members of the society founded by the Prophet of Islam because we all believe in a certain view of the universe, and participate in the same historical tradition.
- Uniform culture: In order to participate in the life of the communal self, the individual mind must undergo a complete transformation, secured internally by that uniform culture which the intellectual energy of our ancestors has produced.
- Common institutions: The transformation of the individual mind is secured externally by the common institutions of Islam – law and government.
All the above points culminate on a single task that Iqbal put before his society in ‘The Muslim Community – a sociological study’. He then devoted himself completely to the achievement of this task. It was to produce the type of character demanded by the community as a requirement of the phase the community was passing through. Since the phase can only be said to be over after this requirement is met, it should still be our goal even today – especially today.
He called it the ‘Muslim type’ of character but the American sociologist Franklin Henry Giddings, acknowledged in the paper as the source, had named it the ‘austere’ type. That term is being used here for the sake of consistency.
- Austere character: If it is our aim to secure a continuous life of the community, we must produce a type of character, which at all costs, holds fast to its own, and while it readily assimilates all that is good in other types, it carefully excludes from its life all that is hostile to its faith, uniform culture and common institutions.
The purpose of all the intellectual and political activities of Iqbal was to produce this type of character. This does not exclude even the most philosophical of his writings. For instance, the preface of the Reconsruction ends on this sentence: ‘Our duty is carefully to watch the progress of human thought, and to maintain an independent critical attitude towards it.’ This is a function of the austere type of character.