Rafed English

Muhammad Iqbal

Iqbal gives his account of the possibility of religion in the last lecture in the reconstruction entitled "Is Religion Possible?"

For Iqbal, religion is not something that is isolated from philosophy. He advocates an integration of the two, sometimes suggesting that the science of psychology has not reached an advanced enough level to be able to incorporate spiritual experience as part of a scientific theory of knowledge. Iqbal thinks, given adequate methods, the ultimate reality is within human grasp. He writes,

The truth is that the religious and the scientific processes, though involving different methods, are identical in their final aim. Both aim at reaching the most real. In fact, religion is far more anxious to reach the ultimately real than science." [Iqbal, p. 155]

One of the major objections to proofs from religious experience has been that, religious experience is incommunicable and as such has no value as 'evidence' since it is not transferable from one person to the other. That is, person A may see the truth of a proposition whereas person B may not, and there is no way for person A to demonstrate to person B, how he came to believe a certain thing.

Iqbal does not think that this is a problem. Rather precisely this "problem" is the foundation of his worldview. He had an organic view about the universe as a whole and people as we encounter them. In our everyday life we see other individuals as mere functions, and only deal with them in so far as their conceptual relation to us is concerned.

We do not pursue them any further for any ultimate reality. Thus when seeking the divine we cannot and do not rely upon "others." The clue to the ultimate reality must be contained within the ego (person). The individual self must then be the only way to certain knowledge.

It maybe that what we call the external world is only an intellectual construction, and that there are other levels of human experience capable of being systematized by other orders of space and time -- levels in which concept and analysis do not play the same role as they do in the case of our normal experience. [Iqbal, p. 144]

The incommunicability of religious experience is an essential part of what makes it different from 'normal experience.' Strictly speaking, the experience which leads to this discovery is not a conceptually manageable intellectual fact; it is a vital fact, an attitude consequent on an inner biological transformation which cannot be captured in the net of logical categories [Iqbal, p. 145].

Intuition then is a valid form of knowledge yielding experience. This does not, however, mean that it is divorced from reason. Iqbal explains, although real, we do not have the tools at our disposal to evaluate this process of "inner biological transformation." The scientific method we have today is not sufficient to apply to these kinds of experiences, since scientific "concept and analysis" may not be applicable to this sort of experience as they are to physics. Dr. Al-Attas advocating a similar view states,

Belief has cognitive content; and one of the main points of divergence between true religion and secular philosophy and science is the way in which the sources and methods of knowledge are understood. [Anees]

At this level of experience, "the act of knowledge is a constitutive element in the objective reality" [Baharuddin]. He thought God could not be removed from his creation. Not in the pantheistic sense, but in that the ultimate reality cannot stand as an 'other' to the universe or person (as Avicenna thought). Rather, they are interlinked, and in looking within ourselves for this higher level of experience, the ultimate reality would be revealed unto the individual. As Iqbal explains, this higher level of experience is not at the sensational or representational level, rather it is better described as a feeling rather than concepts. He writes,

It is rather a mode of dealing with Reality in which sensation, in the physiological sense of the word, does not play any part. [Maruf]

This for Iqbal is the mystic experience that leads to ultimate certain knowledge. This knowledge is irresistible and like bright sunshine forces itself immediately to be perceived as soon as the mind turns its attention to it and leaves no room for hesitation, doubt or examination, but the mind is perfectly filled with the clear light of it [Hasan].

It should be mentioned that, although Iqbal offers the above explanation of the way in which an individual may access the ultimate, he draws his inspiration from Einstein and Nietzsche. Einstein's theory of relativity gave him hope, that his theory about the way the finite and the infinite are related is possible. Relativity shattered traditional notions of space, time and thus matter. The line between the physical and metaphysical had been blurred or rather interconnected. Hence, there is great philosophical debate at the frontiers of modern physics over what happens in extreme situations on the cosmological scale.

Nietzsche's emphasis on individuality deeply impressed Iqbal, who thought that Neitzsche was on the right track, if only he had not been distracted by naturalistic theories of Schopenhaur, Darwin and Lange mistakenly explaining away the existence of God. Hence, Nietzche was a failure. But he had realized an essential truth. That is, ultimately what matters is the ego, self, and nothing else. Thus it is not significant if reality is not transferable from one to another.

What matters is the "me" and not the "other."

It is also significant that Iqbal thought, that if a sufficient understanding of the 'mental' was achieved it would indeed be (at least theoretically) possible within the science of psychology to gain a better sense of the kind of deeper experience Iqbal is referring too. This maybe relevant to the concept in philosophy of Mind known as Anamolousness of the Mental. It states that there are no causal laws that relate to mental events. This explains the difficulty of science and psychology in grasping these concepts. Iqbal, however, thinks that it is at least theoretically possible to be able to achieve a working understanding of mental events.

The theories of knowledge advocated by the proofs from religious experience may be considered externalist accounts.

Externalism is the view that some of the justifying factors of belief need not be cognitively accessible and maybe external to the mind of the individual. That is, a person can be justified in holding a belief even if they are not aware that they are in possession of all the reasons that make the position justified. Iqbal is advocating a similar view, in that the reasons, although they may objectively exist, are difficult to determine by the individual.

Externalism often rests on the premise of reliablism. That is, one way to know that something is true, without knowing all the reasons, is if the knowledge is received from a reliable source. For example, we may consider our vision and senses to be a reliable source to affirm the existence of the external world. In the same way Iqbal and Ghazzali describe the experience of the divine in terms of the sense. If this experience is reliable and originating from God, then we could affirm the knowledge without knowing all the reasons that justify God's existence. It appears, however, that what Iqbal wants to say is that the reasons for the justification of God are in theory accessible to humans, but in practice are much more difficult to determine compared to the direct mystic experience of the divine entity. This is consistent with the views of Al-Ghazzali and Ibn Arabi on this issue. Iqbal also advocates another proof for the existence of God based upon the Quranic emphasis upon history. This can also be considered a reliablist account, however it has not been considered in this paper.

Adapted from the book: "Groundwork in Islamic Philosophy"

Share this article

Comments 0

Your comment

Comment description

Latest Post

Most Reviews