by Farhan A. Shah, Muslim reform thinker and humanist, The Faculty of Theology, University of Oslo
Islam is not a fixed and settled fact, but rather a possibility to be realized. It is a possibility for Muslims, to be sure, but also for the whole of humanity, including people who travel other spiritual paths. Ultimately this possibility is for human beings to claim their unique role in a vast and evolving universe as carriers of God's trust that they - we - can add goodness and beauty to the world, realizing our own potential along the way. We are beckoned by God to develop communities of love and justice which benefit human beings and the world. Toward this end it helps to learn from scholars who have thought deeply about Islam in this way: pioneers in helping Islam realize its own potential as a way of peace. Two of them are Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938) and Ghulam Parwez (1903-1985), the foremost student of Iqbal. As a young scholar, my aim is to help bring them to our attention so that we can learn from them. I refer to God with masculine pronouns and to humanity with the word man, partly because this is the language of the scholars I cite. However, I trust that readers will understand that the creative source of fresh possibilities for human development (God) is gender-free and, of course, that human development is for all, women and men, young and old. Our hope -- Islam's hope -- is for this inclusive development, with Pakistan as a font for its cultivation. The process begins, but does not end, with a recognition that we human beings are co-workers with God, helping bring about the common good of the world.
We live in an Evolving World
For Muhammad Iqbal we live in an evolving world which contains a multitude of organisms. We are among these organisms; creatures among creatures in a vast web of life. What distinguishes us from other creatures is what the late sociologist, Peter Berger, calls our “unfinished character.” According to Berger other animals thrive according to pre-programmed instincts, which give them an inherent stability. By contrast, says Berger, we humans live in what he calls an open world: that is to say, a world which needs to be shaped and reshaped by human activities, i.e., human agents are architects of their worlds. Of course we know that other animals have creative intelligence, too, adaptive to new situations. The difference between humans and other animals ought not to be exaggerated. Still, there is a powerful difference in the degree to which we human are uniquely free and, therefore, uniquely responsible for the worlds we create. This way of thinking parallels that of Ghulam Ahmed Parwez in Islam: A Challenge to Religion (1989). There we read: Instincts enables the animal to make a satisfactory adjustment to its environment. It enables it to satisfy its basic needs and so preserve both itself and its young…Each seems to know instinctively what it can do and what it cannot. Migratory birds traverse thousands of miles, flying over deserts and forests, plains and mountains, and fishes through seas and oceans, and never lose their way. Instinct guides them unerringly to the clime they are seeking (Parwez 1989, 107-108). Human beings, says Parwez, are different:
His [man`s] activities are not governed by invariable laws, as is the case with inanimate beings, nor are they completely determined by blind urges inherent in him…Even the sure guidance that instinct gives is denied to him…Man has much in common with the animals but the differences between the two are more important than the resemblances. His intellectual powers and immense learning capacity set him apart from the other animals. However, though potentially superior to the animals, he is at the beginning of life much worse-equipped for the struggle of life than they are. If he develops his powers he can quickly outstrip the animals (Parwez 1989, 108-109, sic, emphasis added).
In short, given our powers to influence, we humans must utilize our intellectual and creative capabilities, thus bringing about a new world within the existing temporal order. Indeed, we are already doing this. Scientists now propose that we have entered a new geological era, the Anthropocene age, in which human activities shape every portion of our planet, whether positively or negatively. Our responsibility to shape the planet for good is now inescapable.
The whole of nature is infused with Wahi
In light of this, it is instructive to consider the role of God in our creative becoming. In Islam we speak of this as wahy (revelation, guidance). As Parwez explains, wahy “literally means prompting, inspiring or infusing a thought or feeling into a person. At different levels of creation wahi operates in different forms, ranging from inciting a blind urge to inspiring a thought” (Parwez 1989, 106). In the animal sphere, God`s wahy manifests itself in what Berger calls “highly specialized and directed drives.” This recognition of divine guidance in the animal world is a far cry from the more mechanistic way of looking at the world found in modern Western thinking and, for that matter, in Hellenic philosophy.
Here Muhammad Iqbal is helpful. Commenting on the worldview of Socrates and the latter’s focus on human beings along, Muhammad notes the contrast between the Hellenic and the Qur’anic: “How unlike the spirit of the Qur’an, which sees in the humble bee a recipient of Divine inspiration…” (Iqbal 2012, 3, emphasis added). The Qur’anic verse Iqbal is hinting towards reads: And consider how your Lord inspired the bee, “Build for yourself dwellings in hills and in trees, and in what people may build (Qur’an 16: 68). Put differently, in the animal kingdom, wahy is an operative factor which takes the form of instincts, thus leading to “the satisfaction of its [animal`s] basic needs (Parwez 1989, 108, sic).
Moving beyond the animal world, human beings too need God`s helping hand. Since human beings have no clear-cut guidance that is pre-programmed in their biological constitution, and because humans are self-determined creatures endowed with high intellect and creative abilities, the character of God`s guidance granted to humans is qualitatively different than that of animals or inanimate objects. The Qur’an is God’s Guidance for Humans and a Source for Creative Transformation
Iqbal considers the Qur’anic scripture to be the embodiment of God`s guidance, which human agents may choose to follow or reject, according to their personal liberty. In the human realm, this guidance, or wahy, “points out the way to self-realization and to the promotion of human knowledge and happiness…Wahi shows the way to harmony in the individual mind as well as in human society” (Parwez 1989, 112). Put in a different way, the Qur’anic scripture is God`s wahy, which illuminates the way towards those lines of thought and action productive of planetary well-being. It represents God`s creative call towards Himself, towards cooperation for the actualisation of those possibilities conducive of unifying humanity and enhancing the quality of life. And since God`s will is peace, as expressed in the Qur’anic verse 10:25, responding to God`s call implies giving over to peace. By being receptive to God`s call, we are able to reach the station of mo’min. A Mo’min, as Parwez explains, is “at peace with himself and with the world…” (Parwez 1989, 112). It is, put in a different way, a mode of balanced behaviour, beneficial and pleasing to others. Moreover, it is important to recognize that God does not coerce people to join Him in a cooperative effort to promote the common good of all life on planet earth. God, in the form of persuasive guidance, imparts only the necessary guidance important to our lives; it want humans to be aware of the various relevant possibilities; possibilities productive of either creating conflicts, or peace and balance in the immensity of God`s earth. As Parwez puts it: “Wahi merely informs him which way leads to his growth and development and which to his disintegration, and leaves him free to choose for himself” (Parwez 1989, 114). It is for this purpose the Qur’anic scripture addresses itself as a guide for humankind (huddan lil-nass). In short, human beings enjoy freedom and can actualize God`s aims for His creative creation, or select between other possibilities, all according to their power of autonomy and discretion.
Further, it is also clear from Iqbal`s Reconstruction that the ultimate aim of life is not the flight from the narrow confines of individuality, but rather the consolidation and enhancement of it; the gradual unfoldment of its latent potentialities being the focus of its temporal career. Thus affirms Iqbal, “The Qur’an does not contemplate complete liberation from finitude as the highest state of human bliss. The unceasing reward of man consists in his gradual growth in self-possession, in uniqueness, and intensity of his activity as an ego” (Iqbal 2012, 94).
Indeed Iqbal, in a paper which was published in Hindustan Review titled as Islam as a Moral and Political Ideal (1909), explicates in detail the Islamic ideal in its political and ethical aspects. Ethically speaking, for Iqbal, the ultimate ideal of Islam is to “…disenthral man from fear, and thus to give him a sense of his personality, to make him conscious of himself as a source of power” (Iqbal, 1909). Moreover, the idea of human individuality as a source of power and latent potentialities capable of actualisation, determines the worth of human actions: “that which intensifies the sense of individuality in man is good, that which enfeebles it is bad.”
For Iqbal, this cuts the very root of some aspects of pantheistic sufism (medieval mysticism) and its notion of Unity of Being, with its modes of activity which favours a view in direct contrast to the Iqbalian view of human individuality (self-affirmation and not self-effacement or self-renunciation.
The idea of self-affirmation paves the way for Iqbal`s reflections on human beings as God`s vicegerents on earth (Divine vicegerency); a central notion in Iqbal`s humanistic thinking. It is intimately related to the “trust of personality”. Iqbal explains, “…With all his failings he is superior to Nature, inasmuch he carries within him a great trust, which, in the words of the Qur’an, the heavens and the earth and the mountains refused to carry” (Iqbal 2012, 9). The “trust” Iqbal is referring to is, in Qur’anic terminology, named as “Ruh” (Divine Energy), and, in Iqbalian terminology, Khudi.
Humans are breathed by God and this breath is our Freedom
For Iqbal, this divine energy that God has breathed into human beings raises them above the animal and inanimate world, and makes humans uniquely self-determined creatures, empowered with autonomy and “world-building” abilities. This energy is not a mere manifestation of God`s being. It is breathed in man by God, but, as Iqbal notes, “…the finite ego must be distinct, though not isolated from the Infinite” (Iqbal 2012, 94). In Parwez we also note the same understanding. He says that, “It [ruh] is…fromHim [God] but not of Him” (Parwez 1989, 98, sic).
This differs from Sufism. The sufistic ideal of “the drop merging into the ocean” is totally omitted from the Iqbalian reformed God-man model. The emphasis is shifted and laid on the human individuality (khudi) and its proper actualisation by adjusting to the spatio-temporal order. Thus the ultimate ethical ideal of Islam, according to Iqbal, is not to lose the self, inwardly propelled by a fear of becoming fully human, but to “disenthral man from fear” so that they can become more fully themselves. The liberation from fear Iqbal is pointing towards is connected to the nature of humans` external environment: in primitive societies, human beings looked upon the natural agents as destructive and hostile. Man, therefore, in order to endure, moved towards the deification of the natural forces. As Parwez states, “He sought to appease the raging storm, the turbulent river or crashing thunder by methods which had proved effective in pacifying an enraged neighbor or a furious enemy” (Parwez 1989, 325). Moreover, the human species entered a new phase, that of paganism. In order to control the powerful forces of nature, the pagans resorted to witchery and magic. The idea that man is a helpless creature in front of the awesome forces of nature and powerful animals, worked as an obstructing force, thus enfeebled man`s sense of himself/herself as a “source of power”. Since the Qur’an`s express purpose is, as understood by Iqbal, to “awaken in man the higher consciousness of his manifold relations with God and the universe” (Iqbal 2012, 7). Iqbal places man in a purposeful relationship with his spatio-temporal order. According to Iqbal`s reflections, Islam looks upon the world of matter with respect, and further, “…points the way to master it with a view to discover a basis for a realistic regulation of life” (Iqbal 2012, 8). What, then, are the basic characteristics of the universe, which we are called upon to conquer?
The universe is not created by haphazardly conditions; it is not meaningless. “It is not the result of a mere creative sport” (ibid.).
The natural world is not a shadow of Reality or optical illusion. It is, in Iqbal`s words, “a reality to be reckoned with” (ibid.).
The universe is liable to increase; “it is not a block universe, a finished product, immobile and incapable of change” (ibid.).
The dynamic character of the physical world, its constant flux and movement is considered “by the Qur’an as one of the greatest signs of God” (ibid.).
For Iqbal, the conquest of time and space is not a pipe dream, or a lofty ideal to gaze upon. It is, on the contrary, man`s duty by disclosing “the means of realizing his conquest of Nature as an actual fact” (Iqbal 2012, 9). In the words of his student G.A. Parwez, “The destiny of man lies not in turning away from nature but in making it obey his will” (Parwez 1989, 328).
Using the Intellect as a Form of Worship
This important point has been expressed in the Qur’anic scripture in metaphorical language, which depicts human agents as topping the chain of God‘s creation on planet earth for the very reason that human beings are equipped with free-will and intellectual powers superior to other denizens of earth. And since the physical world and human beings are created by the same source, i.e., God, therefore, there is no inherent conflict between nature on the one side and the human species on the other. Equipped with intellectual faculties productive of perceptual and conceptual knowledge of the physical world (the universe/nature), the human being is capable of establishing fruitful and intimate contact with the observable Reality. Thus contends Iqbal:
It is the lot of man to share in the deeper aspirations of the universe around him and to shape his own destiny as well as that of the universe, now by adjusting himself to its forces, now by putting the whole of his energy to mould its forces to his own ends and purposes. And in this process of progressive change God becomes a co-worker with him, provided man takes the initiative… (Iqbal 2012, 10, emphasis added).
The above-mentioned statement of Iqbal needs unpacking:
First, the Qur’an, by arousing man`s empirical attitude unto nature, wants humans to become conscious of nature as a symbol, pointing towards God. In other words, the scientific quest, by accumulating knowledge about the physical world, its mechanisms and varying actualities, is a search after God. For Iqbal, nature is a “structure of events, a systematic mode of behaviour” (Iqbal 2012, 45). And since it is one of God`s self-expressions, it is organically related to His Self. That is, nature is the Habit of Allah. Iqbal asserts that “The knowledge of Nature is the knowledge of God`s behaviour. In our observation of Nature we are virtually seeking a kind of intimacy with the Absolute Ego; and this is only another form of worship” (ibid., emphasis added). Iqbal`s interpretation of worship from mere ritual and ceremonial, to scientific worship in the sense of intimate contact with nature by deepening and enlargeable knowledge into the mechanisms of it so as to conquer its forces, entails a reformistic call to the Muslims masses engrossed in other-wordliness and narrow matters of mere ritualism; a call to turn their attention to the observable reality, considered as a religious obligation.
God's Power is Persuasive not Coercive
Second, since God`s power is persuasive, and offers an open invitation to join Him in the quest for an ampler life, human beings need to take the initiative in order to establish a constructive relationship with God. If he disregards a vital relationship with God, then, says Iqbal, “the spirit within him hardens into stone and he is reduced to dead matter” (Iqbal 2012, 10). I noted above that God`s guidance extents over all animate and inanimate actualities. In the entire creation, the human species is the only creation possessing significant freedom, creativity and power. And because of humans` peculiar constitution, the mode of God`s guidance extended to them needs to be radically different than that of other creatures. The Iqbalian concept of vicegerency (na´ib-I Haqq) is derived from the term khalif or khalifah (guardian/representative), a term which the Qur’ran uses in order to convey the ideal role of humanity on earth. The ideal position of humanity, according to Iqbal, is to actualise and consolidate ones’ ego by “consciously participating in the creative life of his Maker…to mould what is into what ought to be…” (Iqbal 2012, 58, emphasis added). For Iqbal, the growth of free and moral agents is a risky enterprise because of the very fact that humans have the capacity to be unreceptive to God`s invitation. However, says Iqbal, “that God has taken this risk shows His immense faith in man; it is for man now to justify this faith” (Iqbal 2012, 68).
This trust is mentioned in a symbolic language in the Qur’ran, in which God tells the angels (forces of nature) about His plan to create a species endowed with freedom and creative powers, thus capable of representing God`s will on earth. The angels were doubting God`s enterprise of electing humanity as His representatives on planet earth, but God responded that He knows what the angels know not. Hence God trusted humanity from the very beginning. The role of human beings as God`s vicegerents on earth, and the concept of trust (ammanah) entails, according to Mouhanad Khoricide, a Muslim theologian, that …people are entrusted with the mission on Earth to take care of the materiel and non-materiel resources at their disposal (including health, time, talents and mental capacities) and to treat them responsibly; they are to do so in their own interest but also in the interest of the people around them, in order to cultivate the Earth and to preserve order in society (Khorchide 2014, 77-78). God's Faith in Humanity
Muhammad Iqbal interpretation of the notion of “trust” is reflected in the following passage:
The naturalism of the Qur’an is only a recognition of the fact that man is related to nature, and this relation, in view of its possibility as a means of controlling her forces, must be exploited not in the interest of unrighteous desire for domination, but in the nobler interest of a free upward movement of spiritual life (Iqbal 2012, 12, emphasis added). The route to justify God`s faith in humanity is by harnessing the agents of nature and thus employing them for the promotion and elevation of common good. This is the gist and essence of Divine aims enshrined in the Qur’anic scripture. Humanity, by being receptive and open –within their own contexts –to the Divine call, not only cooperate with God in bringing about a world in which Divine aims are living actualities, but we also move towards the goal of self-actualisation (perfection). Khorchide avers that “Human beings may serve as a divine medium if they make themselves available…It is not only God`s intentions which are fulfilled through us, we also get closer to fulfilment – we get one step closer to perfection” (Khorchide 2014, 77). Put differently, human beings, by contributing towards the welfare of God`s creation, strengthens and consolidates their own individual ego, as well.
What is Needed
There can be no deep-rooted revitalisation and reform within Muslim communities riddled with endless cycles of immiseration, sectarian clashes, blind imitation, intellectual stasis, patriarchal structures, human right abuses, and ideological quagmires without challenging dictatorial and archaic ideas of God, and moving towards a more reformist and humanistic understanding of God which has positive, planetary implications for Muslim peoples in their individual and collective capacities.
The Iqbalian reformistic God-man model, whatever its offense to the religious sensibilities of the conventional Ulamas and Muslim masses, needs to be propagated in order to blast a way out of the cul de sac of both intellectual and normative dissatisfaction. The future is an open possibility, thus, asserts Iqbal, “we may not change the past, but we may change the future”.
As for Pakistan, Iqbal`s reformist, Quranic call serves as an important source of guidance, which we ought to understand and realise in our individual and corporate capacities. Mere lip service would not suffice. It is high time to embrace the humanistic teachings of Iqbal, with a view to reform our character and societal structures in a spirit of dynamism and universalism, thus becoming God`s companions in bringing about goodness, freedom, compassion and love, with no one left behind.
In a subsequent essay, I will look at the central features of the Iqbalian vision of an Islamic state (Pakistan).”
 Verse 2: 185 reads: The month of Ramadhan has been chosen for your collective training because this is the month in which Revelation of the Qur`an began It is Guidance for mankind, and it clearly explains the `why` of every Rule. And it is the Criterion of right and wrong.
 The Quranic verse 32:9 says: (Then Emergent Evolution took place that distinguished humans from the Animal Kingdom.) He shapes him in accordance with what he is meant to be, and breathes into him (something) of His Energy. (This something is a special gift to the humans in the form of free will). And thus, (O Mankind) He gives you the faculties of hearing, and sight, and feelings as well as minds…