Muhammad Iqbal and Alfred North Whitehead
Springboards for Conversation
There are Whiteheadian themes in the Qur'an.
Muhammad Iqbal did not see any difficulty in linking Whitehead’s ideas with the Qur’an. It might be a surprise that Iqbal finds some of the main Whiteheadian themes in the Qur’an itself.
The Qur'an evokes a recognition that the universe is a continuous creative flow.
We have seen that Professor Whitehead describes the universe, not as something static, but as a structure of events possessing the character of a continuous creative flow.
The creative flow of the universe is guided by One who inspires human being to develop new purposes over time.
The metaphysical position of Iqbal is thus that Reality is teleological, possessed of purpose and direction. Yet this is not one simple purpose, not a divine plan which automatically works itself out. Since individuals keep changing their purposes and since each change makes the whole situation different, nothing is automatic about the unfolding of the universe. Purpose is what directs consciousness and action, but purpose also changes. New purposes are discovered as the spirit matures. This also is paradoxical; our energy comes from our drive to make the world what we dream it ought to be, but our idea of what ought to be also changes and evolves. If we do not learn and change, the rigidity of our minds tends to smash us and others.
Our fundamental question is not simply what the universe is like, but who we might become as a species.
Iqbal agrees with Whitehead that knowledge of the physical universe is always tentative because the new breaks in and breaks up fixed ideas. Further, the problem of knowing ourselves is even more complex, because the problem is how can we know what we might become? Here, too, metaphor is the only tool we have in language to point to our sense of what is to happen next. Iqbal was concerned to transform the Indian Muslims’ sense of themselves and what they might be.
Islam is an invitation to become people who dwell in harmony with one another and the earth.
This invitation -- this lure within the human heart -- did not originate with the prophet Muhammad. It is an invitation felt by Abraham in his way, by Moses in his way, and by Jesus in his way. If Islam means to "surrender," it an act of surrendering to the invitation from God to dwell in harmony with one another and the earth.
The call of Islam is a possibility and in this sense it comes from the future.
We should not make absolutes of our earlier theories, clinging to pre-existent and fixed ideas. Nor need we romanticize the period of the first leaders of our community, pretending that they were "rightly guided" and we are not. And we should critique tendencies, within our own heritage, to sanction violence, greed, superstition, arrogance, and disrespect for people who think in different ways. Our need is to embrace pluralism: cultural, religious, and, of course, ecological. We can appreciate the better part of our past, but also criticize the worst part. We think freely, in a spirit of independent reasoning or ijtihad. This applies to Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, and all who hear the calling of the oneness of the One, the beckoning of tawhid, within our hearts. If, deep down, we are aware of the oneness and our calling to surrender to its arc of love, we are all muslims.
He had attended lectures by Alfred North Whitehead while he was a student at Cambridge early in the century, and he had learned from that famous mathematician that skepticism was advisable in terms of any claims to certain knowledge form any discipline. Iqbal says Professor Whitehead when he is referring to this intellectual mentor in his Reconstruction lectures, thus indicating that he continued to think of himself as a student to the professor.
The Muslim Philosopher-poet felt that his community needed to begin rethinking Islamic religious thought by insisting on skepticism towards past theories. He argues that the present moment is favorable precisely because the intellectual enterprise of physics has gone beyond the more simplistic mechanical theories of the universe which had developed in the 18th century following Newton. The skepticism Iqbal had learned from Whitehead included skepticism about the external world as measurable and readily intelligible.
Our responses to the call to harmonious living are not pre-determined, not even by God.
I have tried to meet,even though partially, this urgent demand by attempting to reconstruct Muslim religious philosophy with due regard to the philosophical traditions of Islam and the more recent developments in the various domains of human knowledge. And the present moment is quite favorable for such an undertaking. Classical Physics has learned to criticize its own foundations. As a result of this criticism the kind of materialism, which it originally necessitated,is rapidly disappearing; and the day is not far off when Religion and Science may discover hitherto unsuspected mutual harmonies. It must, however, be remembered that there is no such thing as finality in philosophical thinking. As knowledge advances and fresh avenues of thought are opened, other views, and probably sounder views than those set forth in these Lectures, are possible. Our duty is carefully to watch the progress of human thought, and to maintain an independent critical attitude towards it.
There can be harmony between religion and science. Both are forms of knowing.
The characteristic of the ego is spontaneity...No doubt man has a spatial aspect; but this is not the only aspect of man. There are other aspects of man, such as evaluation, the unitary character of purposive experience and the pursuit of truth... Every act of a free ego creates a new situation and thus offers further opportunities of creative unfolding... Nor is the activity of intelligence possible without the presence of ends... Life is only a series of acts of attention and an act of attention is inexplicable without reference to a purpose, conscious or unconscious... Thus ends and purposes, whether they exist as conscious or subconscious tendencies, form the warp and woof of conscious experience. And the notion of purpose cannot be understood except in reference to the future. The past, no doubt, abides and operates in the present; but this operation of the past in the present is not the whole of consciousness. The element of purpose discloses a kind of forward look in consciousness... To be determined by an end is to be determined by what ought to be... A state of attentive consciousness involves both memory and imagination as operating factors. On the analogy of our conscious experience, therefore, Reality is not a blind vital impulse wholly un-illuminated by idea. It’s nature is through and through teleological.
The better part of the future lies in a consonance between religion and science. But religion is deeper than science. It is lived poetry, informing the subjective forms of people: their attitudes, aspirations, memories, and dreams. The truth of religion does not lie in propositions proclaimed, but in lives lived. The best argument for religion is a loving life.
As we listen to the call of Islam, as we hear the beckoning of the Prophet, we are inwardly free. We can choose the path of harmony or choose against it. We are responsible for our choices. As we look back on decisions we have made in the past, we rightly recognize that we could have chosen otherwise. And as we look forward to the future, we rightly recognize that the future partly depends on choices we make in the present. It is not sufficient to say that the future is determined by God alone. It is partly determined by us, too.
Religion is an adventure of the spirit.
The call of novelty is one way that God is present in human life. God reaches into our lives and hearts, individually and collectively, not only by means of memories form the past, but also by means of promising ideas from the future. Their promise does not necessarily require a rejection of the past, but rather a creative synthesis of past and present in fresh and nourishing ways,
The originality or novelty of Process theism lies not in its overcoming of older views but in its synthesis of diverse traditional views.
The ongoing reconstruction of religion is a sign of loyalty to God.
God is the calling within each heart to avoid making an idol of the past in the interests of more deeply approximating a dream not fully realized. There is always more to the surrendered life than we have realized, always more to the dream than the past and present embodies.
Muhammad Iqbal’s “Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam” is concerned directly with the question of how it is possible for a rational person to be religious in the twentieth century. As a highly educated man, Iqbal knew that much twentieth century knowledge in the social and physical sciences tended to undercut earlier forms of confidence in religious authority. He had attended lectures by Alfred North Whitehead while he was a student at Cambridge early in the century, and he had learned from that famous mathematician that skepticism was advisable in terms of any claims to certain knowledge form any discipline. Iqbal says Professor Whitehead when he is referring to this intellectual mentor in his Reconstruction lectures, thus indicating that he continued to think of himself as a student to the professor.
Islam has not failed, but it also has not been fully tried.
Islam becomes more fully Islamic --more fully open to the beckoning of God toward harmony with self, other people, and the natural world -- as it recognizes, in the spirit of Muhammad Iqbal, its best days are in the future, not the past. These best days can emerge as patriarchy and hardened mindsets are critiqued and the way of surrender becomes filled with adventure, thus discovering with the Qur'an, not a rigid rule book, but an ocean of possibility for wise and compassionate living, sensitive to the beauty of creation and the emergence of beautiful souls, one breath at a time,
The future is an open possibility, even for God
According to Iqbal, God knows both past and the future. However, the nature of God’s knowledge of the future differs from God’s knowledge of the past. God does not know the future in the same manner as the past. God knows the future as a possibility that is not yet actualized. Otherwise, there would be no creation in the world and everything would be determined in advance.
Similarities and Differences
About Muhammad Iqbal
I lead no party, I follow no leader. I have given the best part of my life to careful study of Islam, its law and polity, its culture, its history and its litetature.
When truth has no burning, then it is philosophy, when it gets burning from the heart, it becomes poetry.
Iqbal stands alone in the post classical period of Islamic philosophy as a reviver of the discipline within the Muslim world. He is the only Islamic philosopher to make a serious attempt at grabbling with the problems of modern western philosophy within an Islamic context. His thought has been extremely influential throughout the Islamic world today.
Sir Muhammad Iqbal (Urdu: محمد اقبال) (November 9, 1877 – April 21, 1938), also known as Allama Iqbal (علامہ اقبال), was a philosopher, poet, and politician in British India, who is widely regarded as having inspired the Pakistan Movement. He is considered one of the most important figures in Urdu literature with literary work in both Urdu and Persian language...Though Iqbal is best known as an eminent poet, he is also a highly acclaimed "Muslim philosophical thinker of modern times....more