Ali Sharaiti’s Magnum Opus on Iqbal

Iqbal is one of the pioneers of contemporary Islamic resurgence. Hundreds of books have been written on Iqbal’s thought in all major languages. Although Allama Iqbal used both Urdu and Farsi (Persian) languages to express his thoughts, his intellectual output in Persian is more voluminous than Urdu. Javed-nama his magna opus, has been acclaimed as a classic of Persian literature. But until 1970s most of the readers of Persian literature remained unaware of his message. Work of Dr. Ali Shariati, a prominent Iranian Social Reformer, on Iqbal helped the readers of Persian literature gain insight into the message and thought of Iqbal.

Ali Shariati’s scholarly work on Iqbal in Persian has been published in the form of a book titled Ma wa Iqbal (We and Iqbal). It is based on his lectures at a conference on Iqbal (Husainiyah Irshad) and the text Shariati wrote before his death in 1977.

The book consists of a preface, an introduction and four chapters covering various facets of Iqbal’s philosophy and message. In the preface, describing the greatness of Iqbal, Dr. Shariati observes, Describing the persona and message of Iqbal, Shariati writes, “Iqbal is a multi-faceted individual. He thinks like Bergson. He loves like Rumi. He plays the songs of his faith like Nasir Khusraw. He fights with colonialism for the liberation of Muslim nations as Sayyid Jamal had done. He endeavors to save civilization as Tagore had tried to do from the tragedy of calculating reason and the pest of ambition. Like Carrel, he holds the hope and the aspiration to be able to revive love and the spirit in harsh life of modern man. Like Luther and Calvin, he makes his goal the revival of his religious thought and an Islamic Renaissance in this age.”

In the first chapter titled “A Manifestation of Self-reconstruction and Reformation,” Dr. Shariati observes, “If one were to reconstruct the form of Islam which has been made to degenerate in the course of history, re-assemble it in such a way that the spirit could return to a total body, transform the present dazed elements into that spirit as if the trumpet of Israfil were to blow in the 20th century over a dead society and awaken its movement, power, spirit, and meaning, it is, then, that exemplary Muslim personalities will be reconstructed and reborn like Mohammad Iqbal.” Describing the traits of Iqbal, Shariati observes, “He is a great mystic, with a pure spirit, delivered of materiality and, at the same time, a man who respects and honors science, technological progress, and the advancement of human reason in our age, he regards reason and science in the very sense they are understood today as allies of love, emotion, and inspiration in the evolution of the human spirit, but he does not accept their goal.

In the second Chapter titled “Not deceived by the West,” Shariati expounds on the influence of the West on Iqbal. Shariati points out that Iqbal understood the West from close quarters, he became familiar with the civilization, culture, society, and history of the West, yet he escaped from being captured by the West. Dr. Shariati observes, “Iqbal ascends to the highest intellectual summit in the West and understands the value of European science and technology, the nature of Iqbal’s thought is derived from a nation which is historically and culturally characterized by fineness of sentiments, tenderness of imagination, purity of spirit, idealism of heart, illumination, and inspiration. With such an intellectual background, spirit and outlook, Iqbal has turned to Islam and he is competent enough to reassemble and reconstruct the dispersed and disintegrated elements of Islamic intellectual schools.

In Chapter III titled “Ideology”, Shariati discussing Iqbal’s ideology, observes, it is he who gave ideological consistency to Sayyid Jamal’s revolutionary uprising. He gave deep, intellectual roots to his fertile and sturdy tree. Return to the East? After becoming familiar with our age, after moving through the highest horizons of Western thought, and after years of mixing and learning in schools of thought whose masters were wondrous genius of the new culture such as Hegel, Nietzsche, Kant, and Goethe, this invulnerable hero of European thought, philosophy, and culture, threw it all down at the feet of the Rustom of poetry – Rumi – to blind him with the dazzling light of the arrow of love.”

In Chapter IV titled “World View,” Shariati analyzes the foundations of Iqbal’s message. He observes that one of the most fundamental characteristics of Iqbal’s world view is his anti-philosophical aggressiveness and that Iqbal’s intellectual orientation rests on a solid foundation in the history of Islamic culture. Shariati writes, “Iqbal’s anti-philosophical position represents such an original and profound attitude which, throughout our history, has characterized intellectual disputes and ideological wars. However, it is not the mere repetition of his predecessor’s work but the evolution of it into an intelligent, vital, and constructive position, based upon what is happening to us in our age that is unique. That is, an authentic plan of resistance against the hellenization of the past in the form of a genuine, Islamic intellectual and cultural resistance in the struggle with Westernization with which we are confronted today and which threatens us with obliteration and metamorphosis.”

Shariati believes that in order to understand the secret of Iqbal’s ‘self’, one has to know the limits of philosophical-scientific consciousness, and realize that it stops at the boundary of facts. Whereas Gnostic-religious consciousness embodies three elements: anguish, love and action. Furthermore, he states that Hegel’s complicated philosophy and Francis Bacon’s rigid scientific eyes have been deprived of these three elements. Shariati observes that unlike Western culture where action implies mechanical and conventional arrangements bred by clever, crafty tricks directed at utilization and gain, Iqbal has defined action as ‘intoxication of deeds.’ For Iqbal, one who drinks the intoxicating wine of deeds is a mujahid.

Shariati explains that these states of intoxication, words of intoxication, intoxication of thoughts and intoxication of deeds, characterize four distinct types of intellectuals with four different world views: Sufi, jurisprudent, poet, and mujahid respectively.

Ma wa Iqbal (We and Iqbal) is Shariati’s masterpiece on Iqbal’s philosophy and thought. His scholarly work enables readers to understand Iqbal’s message in the context of historical perspective and relate it to the contemporary world. Like Dr. Annemarie Schimmel’s scholarship on Iqbal, Dr. Shariati has also used a holistic approach in analyzing Iqbal’s work. Dr. Shariati has delved deep into Iqbal’s mind and soul and presented his message in simple and lucid form for readers to understand Iqbal’s pivotal role as the leader of contemporary Islamic resurgence.


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