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Old Thursday, July 28, 2005
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Default Iqbal On The Material And Spiritual Future Of Humanity



Iqbal's world view is based on his deep concern with the future of humanity as well as of religion. On the future of humanity his thoughts are scattered in his poetic works and some of his prose writings. But on the future of religion he has elaborated his ideas in the last chapter of his book: The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, entitled "Is Religion Possible?"
Broadly speaking, religion is required for the moral uplift of humans: if there had been no humans, there would have been no need for religion. Therefore humanity and religion complement each other and it is proper to assess Iqbal's views on the future of humanity before considering his ideas on the future of religion.

Let us begin by defining two relevant terms: (a) development, and (b) the modern person. In the modern context, development means increase in the per capita income of a nation state; this purely materialistic concept of development is generally considered a Western innovation. The meaning of "the modern person" reflects changes in the mentality and way of life of the Western as a result of the dissemination of materialism and the evolution of Western Europe from a developing to a developed society. The modern person or man is sometimes called industrial man, technical man, mass man, one-sided man, angry man, lonely man, etc. One believes in the supremacy of the science and technology of which one is a product; one relies on reason and feverish activity; one is secular, proud, selfish, and amoral; one seeks happiness only through multiplying material comforts and wealth. According to Iqbal, the modern person is so much overshadowed by the results of intellectual achievements that one has ceased to live soulfully, i.e., from within.

Many liberal thinkers and poets of the West have criticised the modern man. There is a very interesting passage in Iqbal's Reconstruction Lectures in which he shows his disillusionment with both the Western and the Eastern person.

In the domain of thought he is living in open conflict with himself, and in the domain of economic and political life he is living in open conflict with others. He finds himself unable to control his ruthless egoism and his infinite gold-hunger which is gradually killing all higher striving in him and bringing him nothing but life-weariness. Absorbed in the 'fact', that is to say, the optically present source of sensation, he is entirely cut off from the unplumbed depths in his own being.

About Eastern person, he laments:

The conditions of things in the East are no better. The technique of medieval mysticism by which religious life, in its higher manifestations, developed itself both in the East and in the West has now practically failed. . . . Far from reintegrating the forces of the average man's inner life, and thus preparing him for participation in the march of history, it has taught him a false renunciation and made him perfectly contented with his ignorance and spiritual thraldom (Reconstruction, pp. 148-149).

Generally speaking, the modern person is the Western and is found in materially prosperous countries, technically called I. D. Cs (Industrially -Developed Countries) as oppose to U. D. Cs (Under-Developed Countries).


What took place in Europe which eventually led to the development of materialism and the emergence of this modern person? European society in the Middle Ages was feudal. The average person lived as a serf, totally dominated by cruel feudal lords and a static Church. The hold of the Church was primarily based on Ptolemy's cosmology, according to which the earth was the centre of the universe and everything, including the sun, revolved round it. On the basis of this cosmology, the position adopted by the church was that man was under the direct gaze of God. Thus the Church, being the vicar of God and with the support of the feudal lords, acquired enormous power over the ignorant, superstitious and frightened masses who were exploited for centuries.

However, certain events and movements in Europe changed that state of affairs. These were: the Reformation, which released man's faith from the hold of a dominating and static Church; the Renaissance, which liberated the human mind, which in its quest for knowledge gradually learned to depend on reason, sense-perception and scientific thinking; and the shattering of Ptolemaic cosmology by Copernican astronomy, according to which the earth could no longer be considered the centre of the cosmos: as one celestial body among many revolving around the sun it was but an insignificant speck.
Hence, human beings were not under the constant gaze of God, indeed Darwin's theory followed that they had descended from apes, biologically evolving from animals. Iqbal feels that this formulation of evolution in Europe (unlike the one advanced Islam which evoked Rumi's tremendous enthusiasm for the biological future of man) led to the belief that there existed no scientific basis for the idea that the present rich human endowment would ever be materially exceeded. For Iqbal "This is how the modern man's secret despair hides itself behind the screen of scientific technology" (Reconstruction, pp. 148).

However Iqbal realised that all these events collectively made people conscious that they had to depend solely on themselves, which led to their awakening. People gained confidence through the philosophies of criticism and naturalism, and felt that their future lay exclusively in their control over the forces of nature. Thereafter the industrial revolution changed the face of Europe, and with the French Revolution came the concepts of liberty, equality and fraternity. It was in fact this awakening which led to the rise and growth of materialism, and to the disappearance of religion from the collective life of the people.

After learning how to produce energy through coal and steam, cheap energy and labour were used for running factories and mills. Europe manufactured more goods then ever before seen in the history of humankind. The sale of these goods required markets, the search for which and, in turn, for more raw materials led to colonialism and imperialism. As a market society was created in Europe, the standard of life of the average person improved and emphasis upon freedom of trade curtailed the autocratic powers of monarchs, supplanting them by capitalist democracies on the basis of territorial nationalism.

In Europe these events engendered the formation of a new mentality and a new freedom; the new person who emerged in this process demanded absolute freedom without any kind of control which actually amounted to tyranny and meant ruthless trampling over the rights of others. Therefore, the modern person with all its dedication to and respect for, human rights maintained double standards as, broadly speaking, human society was divided into the exploiters and the exploited. The competition and jealousy among the exploiter-robber nations of Europe eventually led to the first World War, on the one hand, and the establishment of atheistic socialism or communism in Russia, on the other. The struggle for supremacy over the others continued and resulted in the second World War.

But no lesson was learned by man from these two wars of mass destruction of human life and property. The race for the manufacture and production of fatal arms did not stop. According to the figures provided by Dr. Hans Blix, by 1985 there existed 50,000 nuclear devices with an explosive yield of 1000 Hiroshima bombs -- the equivalent of four tons of TNT each human being in the world.

The I. D. Cs sustain their prosperous position through the production and use of energy. While the population of the I. D. Cs is 27 percent of the population of the world it consumes 80 percent of the world's energy produce. The population of the U. S. A. is only 6 percent of the world population but it consumes 36 percent of the energy, whereas the U. D. Cs constitute 73 percent of the world population and use only 20 percent of the world's energy.

The U. D. Cs aspire to become like the I. D. Cs, and have before them the model of the West, but the I. D. Cs maintain their economic and technological hegemony by imposing and economic system based on loans. If the U. D. Cs increase the prices of raw material, the I. D. Cs increase the prices of technology or finished products. This results in a global inflation which is not as destructive for the I. D. Cs as for the poor U. D. Cs. Thus the material prosperity of modern man is founded upon and maintained on this discrimination between people. Nevertheless, despite the oil crisis, global inflation, and a population explosion in the U. D. Cs, the movement there for economic freedom and technological participation gains in momentum.

Meanwhile a depressing picture of the future is presented in the annual reports of the Club of Rome. According to these reports by approximately the middle of the 21st century the world's food resources may be completely exhausted. Hunger is likely to strike first in certain parts of Africa and thereafter in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, etc. If the growth rate of the population remains the same as it is at present, this situation is likely to arise in the first quarter of the 21st century. The reports also state that the conventional means of energy may be completely exhausted before the end of the 21st century.

In the light of these reports, some liberal thinkers of the West are recommending that the political leaders of the I. D. Cs review their definition of development. According to some of them the utopias of the early 20th century i.e., communism and capitalism, as economic orders, both have failed to get rid of under-development on a global scale, and at present there is no economic system which can generate the human will and courage to improve living conditions. The eminent Marxist philosophers, Herbert Marcuse and Maximilion Robel, were extremely critical of the Soviet policy of concentrating on breaking the Western industrial and technological supremacy instead of using the Soviet revolution for the economic betterment of humankind. Such a policy could have forestalled the eventual breakdown of the Soviet economy.

At present, world politics are not development-oriented but power -oriented. As power is dependent on economic stability, then the emergence and continuance of a unipolar power cannot perdure in an ivory tower, when 73 percent of the population of the world is afflicted with global inflation, population explosion and underdevelopment. Liberal thinkers see the world today on the edge of a global economic crisis which can lead to the total destruction of mankind. Consequently, they suggest the establishment of a new international economic order based on ethics and morality. Such artificial discriminations as blacks and whites, capitalists and communists, developed and underdeveloped, etc., have been harmful for the natural advancement of humanity. Tofler suggests that the U. N. should establish an international body composed of economic experts belonging to both I. D. Cs as well as U. D. Cs, to control the threatened global economic crisis and to keep an eye on the negative trends of world economy. In order to save humanity from future economic crises, it is necessary to think in terms of the unity of human beings rather than of nations. The world's population should be planned according to its resources and that these resources, which should be fully exploited. All are underdeveloped in the sense that for economic survival they depend on one another. Therefore the future survival of humankind is possible only if it is matured by the bitter past experiences and learns to respect fellow men. (Future Shock/The Ecco Spasm Report).

It is interesting to note that the views now stated by such liberal thinkers regarding the future of humanity are more or less the same as those expressed by Iqbal in his writings more than 50 years ago. Iqbal rejected territorial nationalism as a basis for human unity even when he was a student in Europe. In the Allahabad Address (1930) which contained his suggestion of the formation of a Muslim state in the north-west of the Indian subcontinent, he had stated:

Luther . . . did not realise that in the peculiar conditions which obtained in Europe, his revolt (against the Church organisation) would eventually mean the complete displacement of the universal ethics of Jesus by the growth of a plurality of national and hence narrower systems of ethics. Thus the upshot of the intellectual movement initiated by. . . . Rousseau and Luther was the break up of the one into a mutually ill-adjusted many, (and) the transformation of a human into a national outlook. . . . The result is a set of mutually ill-adjusted states dominated by interests not human but national. And these mutually ill-adjusted states after trampling over the morals and convictions of Christianity, are today feeling the need for a federated Europe, i.e., the need of a unity which the Christian Church organisation originally gave them, but which, instead of reconstructing it in the light of Christ's mission of human brotherhood, they considered fit to destroy under the inspiration of Luther (Speeches and Statements, ed. by A. R. Tariq, pp. 4-6).

In a poem titled "Mecca and Geneva" included in his Zarb-i-Kalim, he points out that in this age nations seem to be mixing freely with one another, although the principle of unity remains hidden from the discerning eye. This is so because the aim of Western diplomacy is to divide humanity into nations, whereas the mission of Islam is to unify human beings into one fraternity. In this regard Mecca sent a message to the city of Geneva: Are you content to be a seat of the League of Nations or would you prefer to be the centre of United Humanity?

In a statement recorded a couple of months before his death in 1938, Iqbal pointed out:

The modern age prides itself on its progress in knowledge and its matchless scientific developments. No doubt, the pride is justified. . . . But inspite of all these developments, the tyranny of imperialism struts abroad, covering its face in the masks of (capitalist) democracy, (territorial) nationalism, communism, fascism and heaven knows what else besides. Under these masks, in every corner of the earth, the spirit of freedom and the dignity of man are being trampled underfoot in a way which not even the darkest period of human history presents a parallel. The so-called statesmen to whom government had entrusted leadership have proved demons of bloodshed, tyranny and oppression. The rulers whose duty it was to promote higher humanity, to prevent man's oppression of man and to elevate the moral and intellectual level of mankind, have in their hunger for dominion . . ., shed the blood of millions and reduced millions to servitude simply in order to pander to the greed and avarice of their own particular groups. After subjugating . . . weaker peoples . . . they sowed (the seeds of) divisions among them that they should shed one another's blood and go to sleep under the opiate of serfdom, so that the leech of imperialism might go on sucking their blood without interruption. . . . The governments which are not themselves engaged in this drama of fire and blood are sucking the blood of the weaker peoples economically. It is as if the day of doom had come upon the earth, in which each man looks after the safety of his own skin, and in which no voice of human sympathy is audible. . . . The world's thinkers are stricken dumb. Is this going to be the end of all this progress and evolution of human civilisation? . . . Remember, man can be maintained on this earth only by honouring mankind, and this world will remain a battleground of ferocious beasts of prey unless and until the educational (and moral) forces of the whole world are directed to inculcate in man respect for humankind. . . . National unity too is not a very durable force. Only one unity is dependable and that unity is the brotherhood of man, which is above race, nationality, colour or language. . . . So long as men do not demonstrate by their actions that they believe that the whole world is the family of God, so long as distinctions of race, colour and geographical nationalities are not wiped out completely, they will never be able to lead happy and contented lives, and the beautiful ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity will never materialise. (Speeches and Statements, ed. by A. R. Tariq, pp. 226-228)


It has been pointed out that, broadly speaking, religion is required for the moral uplift of man. However, a counter argument may be advanced that questioning why morality or ethics, being a branch of philosophy, should it be founded on religion. This line of questioning leads naturally to the discussion of the difference between philosophy and religion.

According to Iqbal, philosophy is an independent inquiry based on reason for the comprehension of reality in the broader or higher sense, religion also is is a search for reality, but its foundations are laid on experience which is not at the normal level. were one to claim that the normal level of experience is the only one that yields knowledge then religion need not attract anyone's attention. But, Iqbal argues, the universe as normally perceived is only an intellectual construct, and there are other levels of human experience capable of being systematised by other orders of time and space in which concept and analysis does not play the same part as normal experience. For this reason the knowledge gained by religious experience, essentially personal and incommunicable. However, Iqbal maintains, this does not imply that the pursuit in if religion has been futile.

The modern person is secular in the sense of being indifferent toward religion. The reason is that according to their evaluation religion is not in conflict with science, but science has precedence as its findings are rationally demonstrable religion is reduced to mere superstition providing solace in stages of ignorance, but has no authentic relevance in the present and future. Iqbal does not agree with this conclusion. In his view reality has outer as well as inner dimensions; science is concerned with the external behaviour of reality, whereas the domain of religion is to discover the meanings of reality in reference to its inner nature. In this respect both scientific and religious processes run parallel to each other: "A careful study of the nature and purpose of these really complementary processes shows that both of them are directed to purification of experience in their respective spheres" (Reconstruction, p. 155).

Iqbal divides religious life into three periods. In the first religious life appears as a form of discipline voluntarily accepted by an individual or a group of people as unconditional commands, without any rational understanding of the ultimate purpose of those commands. Only in this sense is religion based on dogma, ritual or some kind of priesthood. In the second period revelation is reconciled with reason and its discipline is accompanied by a rational understanding of its discipline and of the ultimate source of authority. At this stage religion may claim to be sole possessor of the Truth and may become exclusive or engender hatred against other religions, as well as within one religion itself when one mode of interpretation comes into conflict with another. In the third period religion becomes a matter of personal assimilation of life and power. Iqbal calls this third stage of religious life higher religion.

It is, then, in the sense of this last phase in the development of religious life that I use the word religion. . . . Religion in this sense is known by the unfortunate name of mysticism, which is supposed to be a life-denying, fact-avoiding attitude of mind directly opposed to the radically empirical outlook of our times. Yet higher religion, which is only a search for a larger life, is essentially experience and recognised the necessity of experience as its foundation long before science learnt to do so (Reconstruction, p. 143-144).

In this context of higher religion, where God is the centre of all religions and the Truth is absolute, why is there a diversity or relativity of religions? The answer of Martin Lings is that God has sent different religions suited to the needs, requirements and characteristics of the different groups of humanity in different temporal cycles. But if these groups of men, in the course of human history, have persecuted one another on account of religious differences, then Providence cannot be held responsible. However, despite winning converts through persuasion or slaughter of human beings in the name of religion, many religions which have fought or competed with one another in past history have survived and now dominate different parts of the world. It is necessary, therefore, irrespective of the position adopted by the partisan religious authorities, that we must carefully examine what, according to Iqbal, higher religion teaches about the nature of God.

Modern Western civilisation has dealt with the problem of religion through encouraging the development of two types of secularism. One is based on indifference towards religion; this attitude is adopted by modern man in capitalist democracies. The other type is based on the suppression of religion; for a number of years this policy has been followed by the socialist countries. But experience tells us that indifference towards religion automatically leads to the demand for that variety of "freedom" which Albert Camus calls "tyranny" or "waywardness." On the other hand, recent developments in the U. S. S. R. and the other socialist countries indicate that atheism cannot be successfully imposed on a people from outside, and that whenever such an attempt is made, it is bound to fail. Thus it is evident that the existing types of secularism have not been able to resolve the problem.

It is perhaps in this background that Iqbal rejected the methodologies of territorial nationalism, capitalism, atheistic socialism, as well as religious conservatism, as drawing upon the psychological forces of hate, suspicion and resentment which tend to impoverish the soul of man, closing up his hidden sources of spiritual energy.

Surely the present moment is one of great crisis in the history of modern culture. The modern world stands in need of biological renewal. And religion, which in its higher manifestation is neither dogma, nor priesthood, nor ritual, can alone ethically prepare modern man for the burden of the great responsibility which the advancement of modern science necessarily involves, and restore to him that attitude of faith which makes him capable of winning a personality here and retaining it hereafter. It is only by rising to a fresh vision of his origin and future, his whence and whither, that man will eventually triumph over a society motivated by an inhuman competition, and a civilisation which has lost its spiritual unity by its inner conflict of religious and political values. (Reconstruction, p. 149).

From the above analysis it appears that the solution of the problem lies in the adoption of the policy, not of indifference or suppression, but of respect for all religions. Every religion in the narrower sense consists of dogma, ritual and some form of priesthood. This aspect of religion is exclusive or relative to the people who adhere to it, and only in this sense is the international community is multi-religious. Unfortunately some of the religious communities in the world today are passing through a phase of conservatism or fundamentalism which has let loose the forces of hatred and resentment. Whatever may be the reasons for this affliction, let us hope that the phase is temporary and shall pass away. However according to Iqbal, each great religion at the higher level contains the absolute Truth. Therefore it is necessary for every religious community to discover and project the higher level of its religion. It is at this level that religion can restore to humanity its spiritual unity and ethically prepare one to respect one's fellow-men.

Iqbal does not consider Islam as a religion in the ancient sense of the word. For him, "It is an attitude -- an attitude, that is to say, of Freedom, and even of defiance to the Universe. It is really a protest against the entire outlook of the ancient world. Briefly, it is the discovery of Man (Stray Reflections. p. 193).

Iqbal deduces the principles of higher religion from the verses of the Qur'an and bases his political idealism on them. Two examples may be useful.
In Sura XXII, verse 40 it is stated: "If God had not raised a group (i.e., Muslims) to ward off the others from aggression, the churches, synagogues, oratories and mosques, where God is worshipped most, would have been destroyed."
Broadening the interpretation of this verse so as to include all religious minorities in a Muslim state, he proclaims in the Allahabad Address:

A community which is inspired by the feeling of ill-will towards other communities, is low and ignoble. I entertain the highest respect for the customs, laws, religious and social institutions of other communities. Nay, it is my duty, according to the teachings of the Qur'an, even to defend their places of worship, if need be (Speeches and Statements, ed. by A. R. Tariq, p. 10).

For Iqbal "Tauhid" (The Unity of God), as a working idea, stands for equality, solidarity and the freedom of man. Therefore from the Islamic standpoint, the state is essentially an effort to transform these ideal principles into spacial and temporal (Reconstruction, pp. 122-123). He not only sees the republican form of government as consistent with the spirit of Islam, but is convinced that the ultimate object of Islam is the establishment of a "spiritual democracy."
There are specific verses on which Iqbal could have relied? Let us examine the relevant verses.

(a) In Sura XL verse 78 while addressing the Holy Prophet, God says: "Verily We have sent messengers before thee. About some of them have We told thee, and about some have We not told thee."
The self-evident meaning of the verse is that God has sent not only those prophets whose names are known to the Semitic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), but others bearing the tidings of numerous other modes of religion of Truth.

(b) The second relevant piece in this connection is Sura V verse 69 in which it is stated: "Verily the Faithful (Muslims) and the Jews and the Sabians and the Christians, whoso believeth in God and the Last Day and doeth good deeds, no fear shall come upon them, neither shall they grieve." As for the expression "Sabians" there is no general agreement as to which religion this is. However, as indicated in the verse, that category of religions is based on a central idea of God and accountability, which emphasise doing good deeds. Thus according to the Qur'an, everyone who believes in God and eventual accountability and who does good deeds need not fear as no grief shall come upon them.

(c) The third is Sura V verse 48 in which God, addressing human beings, declares:

For each of you We have appointed a law and a way. And if God had willed He would have made you one (religious) community. But (He hath willed it otherwise) that He may put you to the test in what He has given you. So vie with one another in good works. Unto God will ye be brought back, and He will inform you about that wherein ye differed.

If God had sent only one religion to a world of widely differing aptitudes, it would not have been a fair test for all. Therefore He has sent many different religions and in this Qur'anic verse He expects human beings to enter into rivalry with one another only in doing good deeds and nothing else. It was in the light of such verses of the Qur'an that Iqbal desired that the Muslims of today evolve and establish a "spiritual democracy." He maintains:

Humanity needs three things today -- a spiritual interpretation of the universe, spiritual emancipation of the individual, and basic principles of a universal import directing the evolution of human society on a spiritual basis. Modern Europe has, no doubt, 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. . . . With him (i.e., the Muslim) the spiritual basis of life is a matter of conviction for which even the least enlightened man among us can easily lay down his life; and in view of the basic idea of Islam that there can be no further revelation binding on man, we ought to be spiritually one of the most emancipated peoples on earth. Early Muslims emerging out of the spiritual slavery of pre-Islamic Asia were not in a position to realise the true significance of this basic idea. Let the Muslim of today appreciate his position, reconstruct his social life in the light of ultimate principles, and evolve, out of the hitherto partially revealed purpose of Islam, that spiritual democracy which is the ultimate aim of Islam. (Reconstruction, p. 142).

The conclusion is that if for the survival of humanity it is necessary to respect his fellow-humans, in the same way it is necessary for one to learn to respect religions other than one's own. Only through the adoption of this moral and spiritual approach, borrowing Iqbal's phrase, may one rise to a fresh vision of one's future.
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