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  • Iqbal's Conception of God
  • M. Shabbir Ahsen
Iqbal's Conception of God. By M. Salman Raschid. Second edition. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2010. Pp. xxvii + 122. Pak Rs 395.

In his provocative book Iqbal's Conception of God, Salman Raschid challenges the received view about Muhammad Iqbal (d. 1938) — a poet and philosopher from British India who is generally regarded as the official philosopher of Pakistan — as a great religious thinker. He does this by examining Iqbal's conception of God as presented in The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (hereafter Reconstruction), especially in its second chapter. This examination, according to the author, does not vindicate Iqbal as a great religious thinker. The author finds Iqbal wrong in two ways. First, Iqbal draws extravagant conclusions of a metaphysical nature, which lack any solid foundation, from his superficial reading of science and philosophy. Second, Iqbal tries to find support for his intellectual findings in the Qur'an. Thus, he is guilty of misunderstanding both the Western tradition and the Islamic tradition. In addition to this, the author finds a tension between panentheistic and pantheistic conceptions of God in Iqbal. In the final analysis, we are told that "Iqbal has produced no original or independent argumentation." To put it strongly, we have a picture of a man here who fails to impress as a serious thinker.

This is the book's second edition, the first having been published in 1981. In the present edition, the author has appended a timeline from the arrival of Islam in India to the establishment of Pakistan and a biographical note on Iqbal, which may be helpful to the reader. The substantial part remains the same. The book has three sections: the first deals with the Western tradition and the second with the Islamic tradition, and the third, which is very brief, tries to go beyond Iqbal. The writing style is similar to that of a dissertation; the treatment is piecemeal and brief with occasional repetitions.

The author begins with a summary of Iqbal's treatment of the scholastic arguments for the existence of God. These arguments are shown by Iqbal to be logically inadequate on several accounts. Very briefly, the cosmological argument goes from the finite to the infinite, the teleological argument is consistent, with a finite external designer, and the ontological argument begs the question. Iqbal maintains that these arguments fail to prove the existence of God because they assume the disunity of thought and being, and are not sensitive to the distinction between the finite and the infinite. According to the author, these themes assume Hegelian epistemology and ontology. The unity of thought and being can be fully appreciated, according to Iqbal, if and only if one examines and interprets experience in the light of the Qur'an. The author finds this to be problematic on two accounts, one philosophical and the other religious. On the philosophical side, this approach is not consistent with Hegel. Here Iqbal is trying to prove Hegelian ontology, we are told, with a method that is characteristically anti-Hegelian. Iqbal, therefore, is guilty of distortion. On the religious [End Page 602] account, Iqbal is accused of misinterpreting the Qur'an. The interpretation of experience allowed Iqbal to delve into science, but the author questions Iqbal's understanding of the subject; he is criticized for not having a proper understanding of Einstein, Whitehead, and Bergson.

The author does not find much support for Iqbal's view of God in traditional Islamic thought. Here he takes al-Ghazali and Abul Kalam Azad as the key thinkers and goes on to show that Iqbal's conception of God is very different from theirs, and, as mentioned above, Iqbal has been criticized for not being careful in quoting the Qu'ran. The author succinctly employs the conception of God held by al-Ghazali and Abul Kalam, in which anthropomorphism is rejected and His Transcendence is affirmed — with an underscore on His Uniqueness, making it clear that God need not be construed in any way similar to us or His Creations. One would have thought that Iqbal's conception of God would agree with this in principle if not in...


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pp. 602-604
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