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Iqbal's Critique of Ghazzali

Muhammad Iqbal is also critical of Ghazzali's characterization of knowledge. He thought that Ghazzali was mistaken in giving up reason and thought and embracing mystic experience as the only exclusive way the totally infinite could be revealed to an individual. Iqbal writes:

He failed to see that thought and intuition are organically related and that thought must necessarily simulate finitude and inconclusiveness because of its alliance with serial time. The idea that thought is essentially finite, and for this reason unable to capture the Infinite, is based on a mistaken notion of the movement of thought in knowledge. [Iqbal, p. 5]

For Iqbal, there is no inherent difficulty in a finite being grasping the reality of an infinite one. Thought is dynamic and is revealed via a temporal vision over time. He further explains how the infinite can come into the comprehension of a finite being. Using a Quranic metaphor, the infinite according to Iqbal is "'a kind of 'Preserved Tablet', which holds up the entire undermined possibilities of knowledge as a present reality, revealing itself in serial time as a succession of finite concepts appearing to reach a unity which is already present in them. It is in fact the presence of the total Infinite in the movement of knowledge that makes finite thinking possible."

Thus, the continuos revealing of the infinite over a temporal period allows the finite to grasp the essence of the infinite God. It is not that at any point the finite intellect will be able to fully comprehend the limitless and infinite, but rather that it is the potential of thought to be itself without limit, that allows it to have an understanding of the limitless, at least in principle. Dr. Naquib Al-Attas, a contemporary Muslim philosopher and disciple of Al-Ghazzali's school, explains the concept of intuition as understood by him:

We maintain that all knowledge of reality and of truth, and the projection of a true vision of the ultimate nature of things is originally derived through the medium of intuition. The intuition that we mean cannot simply be reduced to that which operates solely at the physical level of discursive reason based upon sense-experience, for since we affirm in man the possession of physical as well as intelligential or spiritual powers and faculties which refer back to the spiritual entity, sometimes called intellect, or heart, or soul, or self, it follows that man's rational, imaginable and empirical existence must involve both the physical and spiritual levels.

Here he reaffirms both physical (material) and spiritual (metaphysical) levels as necessary for intuition. However, special emphasis is placed upon the spiritual. This concept of intuition is a major theme both within higher Islamic philosophy and mysticism. It holds that the ultimate reality can be directly and spontaneously experienced and truth can become self-evident with complete clarity.

Iqbal is trying to point out that, intellectual reason and intuition are inseparable, and that in the act of comprehending something by intuition, the intellect plays an indispensable role, which cannot be discounted. He thus thinks that Ghazzali was mistaken in his claim that reason and intuition could not interact and were incompatible. Iqbal saw both of these avenues as complimentary, towards ultimate knowledge.

Adapted from the book: "Groundwork in Islamic Philosophy"

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