Home » All My Posts » Dialogue: Ali Abbas Jalalpuri on Iqbal’s scholasticism

Dialogue: Ali Abbas Jalalpuri on Iqbal’s scholasticism

Even though it can be entirely attributed to my shameful reluctance to read philosophy in Urdu, I am embarrassed to be introduced to Ali Abbas Jalalpuri’s work so late, especially his profound critique on Iqbal.

Jalalpuri’s critique of Iqbal, besides being academically valuable in its own right, is also important as it can help us immensely to reclaim Iqbal from armchair ideologues and political islamists whose strictly authoritarian projections are a source of constant confusion, especially for the youth, given the theoretical impact of Iqbal’s poetry and thought on our education system as well as so-called national ideology. But there is a downside of this critique as well; that it can be equally employed to brush aside one of the most important contribution of Iqbal, i.e, an attempt to reconstruct religious thought during Islam’s sojourn into modernity.

Though multi-faceted and decently encompassing, Jalalpuri’s criticism on Iqbal emanates from a single contention that Iqbal should be essentially understood as a scholastic rather than a philosopher, an assertion that I find ineffectual on many grounds.

Firstly, with this assertion, Jalalpuri tries to convey to the reader that Scholasticism and Philosophy are two strictly separate academic disciplines which can somehow be distinctly traced from antiquity to present times. It is true that Scholastic tradition can be traced back to medieval times (when it was pursued as a discipline combining various other disciplines, e.g., semantics, logic and metaphysics), it is difficult not to consider it as an undercurrent within the medieval philosophical tradition.

Secondly, an indirect import of this distinction would be that Philosophy must be equated with a purely skeptic indulgence where perhaps the indulgence to discern truth stands more important than the truth itself. Contrastingly, by subscribing himself to a confessional religion, a philosopher automatically begins his quest by holding true a set of faith-based assumptions. If not denying completely the cohabitation of theism and philosophy, considering the scholastic method aphilosophical would at least take philosophy and religious faith to their respective non-overlapping magisteria, leaving no question for any kind of synthesis.

Thirdly, Iqbal adequately addresses these epistemic issues himself in his first lecture as he tries to put religious faith in correct philosophical perspective. Before moving further with his synthesis, Iqbal tries to establish cognitive value of faith as he tries to elaborate the domains of religion and philosophy

Philosophy, no doubt, has jurisdiction to judge religion, but what is to be judged is of such a nature that it will not submit to the jurisdiction of philosophy except on its own terms. While sitting in judgment on religion, philosophy cannot give religion an inferior place among its data. Religion is not a departmental affair; it is neither mere thought, nor mere feeling, nor mere action; it is an expression of the whole man. Thus, in the evaluation of religion, philosophy must recognize the central position of religion and has no other alternative but to admit it as something focal in the process of reflective synthesis.

In view of the fact that Iqbal adequately explains the kind of philosophical method he is employing to undertake his inquiry, any criticism of his overall outlook towards philosophy as an academic indulgence would not serve well while ignoring his lectures and primarily utilizing secondary sources like letters, poetry and opinions of other critics.

According to the obvious ambit of his critique, which is primarily meant to criticize Iqbal’s theology, most pertinent part of Jalalpuri’s thesis constitutes his reading of Iqbal’s concept of God and theological monism (or oneness of being popularly known as wahdat al-wujood in Islamic tradition). After briefly summarizing the history of Transcendentalist and Immanentist schools of conceptualizing Divinity, Jalalpuri contends that Iqbal belonged to the latter.

Once again, to support his contention within a space of not more than seven odd pages, Jalalpuri seldom deconstructs Iqbal’s thesis directly (as presented in second and third lecture of Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam) and feels content to criticize scholars who influenced the thought of Iqbal, for instance Bergson or Fichte. Nevertheless, he raises two important objections on Iqbal’s allegedly Immanentist view of God: first, that assuming immanence of God necessitates negation of His divine self, and second, that if change is an inherent part of the universe than change has to be predicated as well to the Ultimate Ego immanent in the universe.

In my view, what is completely missed in the aforementioned objections is the acknowledgment of Iqbal’s methodology of invoking scripture to support his re-visioning of the Divine self. Even a casual reading of Iqbal’s lectures at least conveys the kind of methodology he is employing to limn the nature of God’s existence. Take for his instance the beginning when he starts picking apart the common arguments of God’s existence utilizing arguments from science as well as scripture, and as he build up his thesis, he seldom hides the inherent problems and limitations of his arguments. Therefore keeping Jalapuri’s above two objections in backdrop, a careful reading of Iqbal’s take on cosmological argument seems mandatory to evaluate his thought in detail.

To summarize his approach, Iqbal starts by questioning the tendency of cosmological argument to ‘reach the infinite by merely negating the finite‘, terming this infinite a ‘false infinite‘. He goes on to question the materialistic nature of Newtonian space, calling contemporary theories of Whitehead, Berkeley and Einstein in his support and ends up conceiving a novel relationship between Nature and God; a relationship which stands significantly distinct with Bergson’s, as contended by Jalalpuri in his review.

Perhaps the most important part of this significance is how Iqbal vindicates this relationship using the terminology of Sunnat Allah (habits of Allah) from Quran. In the words of Basit Bilal Koshul, a quite recent reviewer of Iqbal’s reconstruction project, Iqbal innovatively transforms the cosmological argument’s ‘cause-effect dualism‘ to ‘person-habit relationship‘ between God and nature and goes on to explain his transformed view of nature, infinity and the kind of finitude inherent in this transformed view of infinity, which he terms as ‘true infinite’. Koshul further observes that infinity of God, in the paradigm constructed by Iqbal, is ‘intensive‘, rather than ‘extensive‘. Coming from this kind of perspective, Iqbal successfully ends up constructing a more personal God than the one purported by the dictates of cosmological argument.

Albeit it can be termed as partially fair, there is enough room to disagree with some of the major points of Jalalpuri’s review of Iqbal’s romanticism, rationalism and a the kind of quixotically poetic emphasis Iqbal gives on intuition as compared to reason. For instance, the contention that Iqbal was an ‘enemy of the reason (khirad dushman)‘ and originator of the movement against rationalism in modern Islam, is not only an oversimplification but can be called a blatant misreading of Iqbal. A probably reason of this misinterpretation can be Jalalpuri’s failure to find the correct pivoting point where two equally important (and often contrasting) character traits of Iqbal can be balanced, i.e., his mystic disposition and proclivity for a discourse primarily guided by reason.

In fact, Iqbal himself struggled to find that correct balance, and though he seldom strikes that equilibrium in his poetry – where intuition mostly comes out as winner – his prose sufficiently contains that magical reconciliation. An important prerequisite for understanding that balance is to know how Iqbal redefines the relationships between consciousness, ideas and various levels of inner human experiences. In the mystic dimension of this newly constructed complex, intuition is ‘thought in its deeper movement‘ and, feelings and ideas are two facets of a same ‘inner experience‘. In the rational dimension, however, same mystic experience has to be objectively verified by the faculty of reason. His project to use philosophical test bed for vindicating revelation of religious experience can easily be seen as an undertaking towards synthesis of intuition and reason.

Overall, Ali Abbas Jalalpuri’s critique of Iqbal is a refreshing read with some really thought-provoking and intriguing observations; however, what should have been the most profound part of the thesis – that is Iqbal’s theology and scholasticism – turned out to be its major weakness. Contrary to the chiefly pluralist tradition of conceptualizing God and its attributes, Jalalpuri ended up projecting Islamic God as an almost vulgarly anthropomorphic entity for his readers, in order to characterize Iqbal’s scholasticism as a divergent discourse.


10 thoughts on “Dialogue: Ali Abbas Jalalpuri on Iqbal’s scholasticism

  1. Are there no knowledgeable Muslims on PTH who can discuss Iqbal critically and intelligently?

    No ‘Muslims’ on PTH other than our Qadiani friends whose understanding of all religion begins and ends with Mirza?

    Come on, Pakistanis. Iqbal’s impact on Pakistan has been considerable. We either want to reinforce that impact or get rid of it. Either way, it is necessary to understand Iqbal well and accurately. The sound bites promoted by the government and the power establishment are more harmful than good.

  2. well, having read ali abbas and the evaluation above, i can share a word with you: iqbal kept me wandering in the thick forest of descrepancies and condradictions, jalalpori led me to clarity and a well defined vision.

    • In fact, I tend to agree with you. The point of the post was not to compare Jalalpuri and Iqbal, per se and in fact there is very little to compare them anyway. In my view, Jalalpuri was a teacher par excellence and his writings have profound clarity, judging from the standards of subcontinent. Thank you for dropping by, though.

  3. Pingback: Among ‘Unliberated’ Liberals (I): Bogus critics unpack the so-called baloney of Pakistan’s literary ‘Babas’ | Hanging Odes

  4. Historically I think we must admit that scholasticism is simply a manner or method of doing philosophy. And yes, this method was much used in medieval Catholic schools/colleges. But to say that scholasticism is something other than philosophy/theology is incorrect. Thanks for this post though. I am enjoying reading your reflections on Iqbal, whose ‘Reconstruction’ I have recently completed.

    On another note, I was disappointed that Iqbal did not interact with Aquinas directly at all. He does mention the arguments for the existence of God, but that is all. I can’t help but feel that Iqbal presents a caricature of Christianity in this book, and had he seriously read Aquinas this would not have been so.

    • Thanks a lot for dropping by. I am unable to comment on Iqbal’s possible reading of Aquinas but that is indeed a profound point that you have raised. In Reconstruction, however, Iqbal is perhaps not interested in presenting his readings of Christianity. One can however sufficiently argue that instead of classical scholastic rationalism, Iqbal’s project can be more aligned with the modern tradition of philosophy of science, drawing abundantly from theoretical physics, time and space and mathematization etc.

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