The Spirit of Muslim Culture
THE SPIRIT OF MUSLIM CULTURE
“Muhammad of Arabia ascended the highest Heaven and returned. I swear by God that if I had reached that point, I should never have returned.” These are the words of a great Muslim saint, ‘Abd al-Quddūs of Gangoh. In the whole range of Sufi literature it will be probably difficult to find words which, in a single sentence, disclose such an acute perception of the psychological difference between the prophetic and the mystic types of consciousness. The mystic does not wish to return from the repose of “unitary experience”; and even when he does return, as he must, his return does not mean much for mankind at large. The prophet’s return is creative. He returns to insert himself into the sweep of time with a view to control the forces of history, and thereby to create a fresh world of ideals. For the mystic the repose of “unitary experience” is something final; for the prophet it is the awakening, within him, of world-shaking psychological forces, calculated to completely transform the human world. The desire to see his religious experience transformed into a living world-force is supreme in the prophet. Thus his return amounts to a kind of pragmatic test of the value of his religious experience. In its creative act the prophet’s will judges both itself and the world of concrete fact in which it endeavours to objectify itself. In penetrating the impervious material before him the prophet discovers himself for himself, and unveils himself to the eye of history. Another way of judging the value of a prophet’s religious experience, therefore, would be to examine the type of manhood that he has created, and the cultural world that has sprung out of the spirit of his message. In this lecture I want to confine myself to the latter alone. The idea is not to give you a description of the achievements of Islam in the domain of knowledge. I want rather to fix your gaze on some of the ruling concepts of the culture of Islam in order to gain an insight into the process of ideation that underlies them, and thus to catch a glimpse of the soul that found expression through them. Before, however, I proceed to do so it is necessary to understand the cultural value of a great idea in Islam– I mean the finality of the institution of prophethood.
A prophet may be defined as a type of mystic consciousness in which “unitary experience” tends to overflow its boundaries, and seeks opportunities of redirecting or refashioning the forces of collective life. In his personality the finite centre of life sinks into his own infinite depths only to spring up again, with fresh vigour, to destroy the old, and to disclose the new directions of life. This contact with the root of his own being is by no means peculiar to man. Indeed the way in which the word Wahy (inspiration) is used in the Qur’an shows that the Qur’an regards it as a universal property of life; though its nature and character are different at different stages of the evolution of life. The plant growing freely in space, the animal developing a new organ to suit a new environment, and a human being receiving light from the inner depths of life, are all cases of inspiration varying in character according to the needs of the recipient, or the needs of the species to which the recipient belongs. Now during the minority of mankind psychic energy develops what I call prophetic consciousness– a mode of economizing individual thought and choice by providing ready-made judgements, choices, and ways of action. With the birth of reason and critical faculty, however, life, in its own interest, inhibits the formation and growth of non-rational modes of consciousness through which psychic energy flowed at an earlier stage of human evolution. Man is primarily governed by passion and instinct. Inductive reason which alone makes man master of his environment, is an achievement; and when once born it must be reinforced by inhibiting the growth of other modes of knowledge. There is no doubt that the ancient world produced some great systems of philosophy at a time when man was comparatively primitive and governed more or less by suggestion. But we must not forget that this system-building in the ancient world was the work of abstract thought which cannot go beyond the systematization of vague religious beliefs and traditions, and gives us no hold on the concrete situations of life.
Looking at the matter from this point of view, then, the Prophet of Islam seems to stand between the ancient and the modern world. In so far as the source of his revelation is concerned he belongs to the ancient world; in so far as the spirit of his revelation is concerned he belongs to the modern world. In him life discovers other sources of knowledge suitable to its new direction. The birth of Islam, as I hope to be able presently to prove to your satisfaction, is the birth of inductive intellect. In Islam prophecy reaches its perfection in discovering the need of its own abolition.This involves the keen perception that life cannot for ever be kept in leading strings; that, in order to achieve full self-consciousness, man must finally be thrown back on his own resources. The abolition of priesthood and hereditary kingship in Islam, the constant appeal to reason and experience in the Qur’an, and the emphasis that it lays on Nature and History as sources of human knowledge, are all different aspects of the same idea of finality. The idea, however, does not mean that mystic experience, which qualitatively does not differ from the experience of the prophet, has now ceased to exist as a vital fact. Indeed the Qur’an regards both Anfus (self) and Āfāq (world) as sources of knowledge. God reveals His signs in inner as well as outer experience, and it is the duty of man to judge the knowledge-yielding capacity of all aspects of experience. The idea of finality, therefore, should not be taken to suggest that the ultimate fate of life is complete displacement of emotion by reason. Such a thing is neither possible nor desirable. The intellectual value of the idea is that it tends to create an independent critical attitude towards mystic experience by generating the belief that all personal authority, claiming a supernatural origin, has come to an end in the history of man. This kind of belief is a psychological force which inhibits the growth of such authority. The function of the idea is to open up fresh vistas of knowledge in the domain of man’s inner experience. Just as the first half of the formula of Islam has created and fostered the spirit of a critical observation of man’s outer experience by divesting the forces of Nature of that Divine character with which earlier cultures had clothed them. Mystic experience, then, however unusual and abnormal, must now be regarded by a Muslim as a perfectly natural experience, open to critical scrutiny like other aspects of human experience. This is clear from the Prophet’s own attitude towards Ibn Sayyād’s psychic experiences. The function of Sufism in Islam has been to systematize mystic experience; though it must be admitted that Ibn Khaldūn was the only Muslim who approached it in a thoroughly scientific spirit.
But inner experience is only one source of human knowledge. According to the Qur’an, there are two other sources of knowledge– Nature and History; and it is in tapping these sources of knowledge that the spirit of Islam is seen at its best. The Qur’an sees signs of the Ultimate Reality in the “sun”, the “moon”, “the lengthening out of shadows”, “the alternation of day and night”, ‘the variety of human colour and tongues”, “the alternation of the days of success and reverse among peoples”– in fact in the whole of Nature as revealed to the sense-perception of man. And the Muslim’s duty is to reflect on these signs and not to pass by them “as if he is dead and blind”, for he “who does not see these signs in this life will remain blind to the realities of the life to come.” This appeal to the concrete combined with the slow realization that, according to the teachings of the Qur’an, the universe is dynamic in its origin, finite and capable of increase, eventually brought Muslim thinkers into conflict with Greek thought which, in the beginning of their intellectual career, they had studied with so much enthusiasm. Not realizing that the spirit of the Qur’an was essentially anti-classical, and putting full confidence in Greek thinkers, their first impulse was to understand the Qur’an in the light of Greek philosophy. In view of the concrete spirit of the Qur’an, and the speculative nature of Greek philosophy which enjoyed theory and was neglectful of fact, this attempt was foredoomed to failure. And it is what follows their failure that brings out the real spirit of the culture of Islam, and lays the foundation of modern culture in some of its most important aspects.
This intellectual revolt against Greek philosophy manifests itself in all departments of thought. I am afraid I am not competent enough to deal with it as it discloses itself in Mathematics, Astronomy, and Medicine. It is clearly visible in the metaphysical thought of the Ash‘arite, but appears as a most well-defined phenomenon in the Muslim criticism of Greek Logic. This was only natural; for dissatisfaction with purely speculative philosophy means the search for a surer method of knowledge. It was, I think, Nazzām who first formulated the principle of “doubt” as the beginning of all knowledge. Ghazālī further amplified it in his Revivification of the Sciences of Religion, and prepared the way for Descartes’ Method’. But Ghazālī remained on the whole a follower of Aristotle in Logic.
In his Qistās he puts some of the Qur’anic arguments in the form of Aristotelian figures, but forgets the Qur’anic Sūrah known as Shu‘arā’ where the proposition that retribution follows the gainsaying of prophets is established by the method of simple enumeration of historical instances. It was Ishrāqī and Ibn Taymiyyah who undertook a systematic refutation of Greek Logic Abū Bakr Rāzī was perhaps the first to criticize Aristotle’s first figure and in our own times his objection, conceived in a thoroughly inductive spirit, has been re-formulated by John Stuart Mill. Ibn Hazm, in his Scope of Logic emphasizes sense-perception as a source of knowledge; and Ibn Taymiyyah in his Refutation of Logic, shows that induction is the only form of reliable argument. Thus arose the method of observation and experiment. It was not a merely theoretical affair. Al-Bīrūnī’s discovery of what we call reaction-time and Al-Kindī’s discovery that sensation is proportionate to the stimulus, are instances of its application in psychology. It is a mistake to suppose that the experimental method is a European discovery. Dühring tells us that Roger Bacon’s conceptions of science are more just and clear than those of his celebrated namesake. And where did Roger Bacon receive his scientific training?– in the Muslim universities of Spain. Indeed Part V of his Opus Majus which is devoted to “perspective” is practically a copy of Ibn Haitham’s Optics. Nor is the book, as a whole, lacking in evidences of Ibn Hazm’s influence on its author. Europe has been rather slow to recognize the Islamic origin of her scientific method. But full recognition of the fact has at last come. Let me quote one or two passages from Briffault’s Making of Humanity:
.. it was under their successors at that Oxford school that Roger Bacon learned Arabic and Arabic science. Neither Roger Bacon nor his later namesake has any title to be credited with having introduced the experimental method. Roger Bacon was no more than one of the apostles of Muslim science and method to Christian Europe; and he never wearied of declaring that a knowledge of Arabic and Arabian science was for his contemporaries the only way to true knowledge. Discussions as to who was the originator of the experimental method... are part of the colossal misrepresentation of the origins of European civilization. The experimental method of the Arabs was by Bacon’s time widespread and eagerly cultivated throughout Europe. (pp. 200-01)…
Science is the most momentous contribution of Arab civilization to the modern world, but its fruits were slow in ripening. Not until long after Moorish culture had sunk back into darkness did the giant to which it had given birth rise in his might. It was not science which brought Europe back to life. Other and manifold influences from the civilization of Islam communicated its first glow to European life. (p. 202).
For although there is not a single aspect of European growth in which the decisive influence of Islamic culture is not traceable, nowhere is it so clear and momentous as in the genesis of that power which constitutes the paramount distinctive force of the modern world, and the supreme source of its victory– natural science and the scientific spirit. (p. 190).
The debt of our science to that of the Arabs does not consist in startling discoveries or revolutionary theories; science owes a great deal more to Arab culture, it owes its existence. The ancient world was, as we saw, pre-scientific. The astronomy and mathematics of the Greeks were a foreign importation never thoroughly acclimatized in Greek culture. The Greeks systematized, generalized, and theorized, but the patient ways of investigation, the accumulation of positive knowledge, the minute methods of science, detailed and prolonged observation, experimental inquiry, were altogether alien to the Greek temperament. Only in Hellenistic Alexandria was any approach to scientific work conducted in the ancient classical world. What we call science arose in Europe as a result of a new spirit of inquiry, of new methods of investigation, of the method of experiment, observation, measurement, of the development of mathematics in a form unknown to the Greeks. That spirit and those methods were introduced into the European world by the Arabs. (p. 191).
The first important point to note about the spirit of Muslim culture then is that, for purposes of knowledge, it fixes its gaze on the concrete, the finite. It is further clear that the birth of the method of observation and experiment in Islam was due not to a compromise with Greek thought but to a prolonged intellectual warfare with it. In fact, the influence of the Greeks who, as Briffault says, were interested chiefly in theory, not in fact, tended rather to obscure the Muslims’ vision of the Qur’an, and for at least two centuries kept the practical Arab temperament from asserting itself and coming to its own. I want, therefore, definitely to eradicate the misunderstanding that Greek thought, in any way, determined the character of Muslim culture. Part of my argument you have seen; part you will see presently.
Knowledge must begin with the concrete. It is the intellectual capture of and power over the concrete that makes it possible for the intellect of man to pass beyond the concrete. As the Qur’an says:
O company of Jinn and men, if you can overpass the bounds of the Heaven and the earth, then overpass them. But by power alone shall ye overpass them. (55: 33).
But the universe, as a collection of finite things, presents itself as a kind of island situated in a pure vacuity to which time, regarded as a series of mutually exclusive moments, is nothing and does nothing. Such a vision of the universe leads the reflecting mind nowhere. The thought of a limit to perceptual space and time staggers the mind. The finite, as such, is an idol obstructing the movement of the mind; or, in order to overpass its bounds, the mind must overcome serial time and the pure vacuity of perceptual space. “And verily towards thy God is the limit”, says the Qur’an.This verse embodies one of the deepest thoughts in the Qur’an; for it definitely suggests that the ultimate limit is to be sought not in the direction of stars, but in an infinite cosmic life and spirituality. Now the intellectual journey towards this ultimate limit is long and arduous; and in this effort, too, the thought of Islam appears to have moved in a direction entirely different to the Greeks. The ideal of the Greeks, as Spengler tells us, was proportion, not infinity. The physical presentness of the finite with its well-defined limits alone absorbed the mind of the Greeks. In the history of Muslim culture, on the other hand, we find that both in the realms of pure intellect and religious psychology, by which term I mean higher Sufism, the ideal revealed is the possession and enjoyment of the Infinite. In a culture, with such an attitude, the problem of space and time becomes a question of life and death. In one of these lectures I have already given you some idea of the way in which the problem of time and space presented itself to Muslim thinkers, especially the Ash‘arite. One reason why the atomism of Democritus never became popular in the world of Islam is that it involves the assumption of an absolute space. The Ash‘arite were, therefore, driven to develop a different kind of atomism, and tried to overcome the difficulties of perceptual space in a manner similar to modern atomism. On the side of Mathematics it must be remembered that since the days of Ptolemy (A. D. 87-165) till the time of Nasīr Tūsī (A. D. 1201-74) nobody gave serious thought to the difficulties of demonstrating the certitude of Euclid’s parallel postulate on the basis of perceptual space. It was Tūsī who first disturbed the calm which had prevailed in the world of Mathematics for a thousand years; and in his effort to improve the postulate realized the necessity of abandoning perceptual space. He thus furnished a basis, however slight, for the hyperspace movement of our time. It was, however, Al-Bīrūnī who, in his approach to the modern mathematical idea of function saw, from a purely scientific point of view, the insufficiency of a static view of the universe. This again is a clear departure from the Greek view. The function-idea introduces the element of time in our world-picture. It turns the fixed into the variable, and sees the universe not as being but as becoming. Spengler thinks that the mathematical idea of function is the symbol of the West of which “no other culture gives even a hint.” In view of Al-Bīrūnī’s generalizing Newton’s formula of interpolation from trignometrical function to any function whatever, Spengler’s claim has no foundation in fact. The transformation of the Greek concept of number from pure magnitude to pure relation really began with Khwārizmīs movement from Arithmetic to Algebra.
Al-Bīrūnī took a definite step forward towards what Spengler describes as chronological number which signifies the mind’s passage from being to becoming. Indeed, more recent developments in European mathematics tend rather to deprive time of its living historical character, and to reduce it to a mere representation of space. That is why Whitehead’s view of Relativity is likely to appeal to Muslim students more than that of Einstein in whose theory time loses its character of passage and mysteriously translates itself into utter space.
Side by side with the progress of mathematical thought in Islam we find the idea of evolution gradually shaping itself. It was Jāhiz who was the first to note the changes in bird-life caused by migrations. Later Ibn Maskawaih who was a contemporary of Al-Bīrūnī gave it the shape of a more definite theory, and adopted it in his theological work Al-Fauz al-Asghar. I reproduce here the substance of his evolutionary hypothesis, not because of its scientific value, but because of the light which it throws on the direction in which Muslim thought was moving.
According to Ibn Maskawaih plant-life at the lowest stage of evolution does not need any seed for its birth and growth. Nor does it perpetuate its species by means of the seed. This kind of plant-life differs from minerals only in some little power of movement which grows in higher forms, and reveals itself further in that the plant spreads out its branches, and perpetuates its species by means of the seed. The power of movement gradually grows farther until we reach trees which possess a trunk, leaves, and fruit. At a higher stage of evolution stand forms of plant-life which need better soil and climate for their growth. The last stage of development is reached in vine and date-palm which stand, as it were, on the threshold of animal life. In the date-palm a clear sex-distinction appears. Besides roots and fibres it develops something which functions like the animal brain, on the integrity of which depends the life of the date-palm. This is the highest stage in the development of plant-life, and a prelude to animal life. The first forward step towards animal life is freedom from earth-rootedness which is the germ of conscious movement. This is the initial stage of animality in which the sense of touch is the first, and the sense of sight is the last to appear. With the development of the senses the animal acquires freedom of movement, as in the case of worms, reptiles, ants, and bees. Animality reaches its perfection in the horse among quadrupeds and the falcon among birds, and finally arrives at the frontier of humanity in the ape which is just a degree below man in the scale of evolution. Further evolution brings physiological changes with a growing power of discrimination and spirituality until humanity passes from barbarism to civilization.
But it is really religious psychology, as in ‘Irāqī and Khawājah Muhammad Pārsā, which brings us much nearer to our modern ways of looking at the problem of space and time. ‘Irāqī’s view of time-stratifications I have given you before. I will now give you the substance of his view of space.
According to ‘Irāqī the existence of some kind of space in relation to God is clear from the following verses of the Qur’an:
Dost thou not see that God knoweth all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth? Three persons speak not privately together, but He is their fourth; nor five, but He is their sixth; nor fewer nor more, but wherever they be He is with them. (58: 7)
Ye shall not be employed in affairs, nor shall ye read a text out of the Qur’an, nor shall ye do any work, but We will be witness over you when you are engaged therein; and the weight of an atom on earth or in heaven escapeth not thy Lord; and nor is there aught that is less than this or greater, but it is in the Perspicuous Book. (10: 61).
We created man, and we know what his soul whispereth to him, and we are closer to him than his neck-vein. (50: 16)
But we must not forget that the words proximity, contact, and mutual separation which apply to material bodies do not apply to God. Divine life is in touch with the whole universe on the analogy of the soul’s contact with the body. The soul is neither inside nor outside the body; neither proximate to nor separate from it. Yet its contact with every atom of the body is real, and it is impossible to conceive this contact except by positing some kind of space which befits the subtleness of the soul. The existence of space in relation to the life of God, therefore, cannot be denied; only we should carefully define the kind of space which may be predicated of the Absoluteness of God. Now, there are three kinds of space– the space of material bodies, the space of immaterial beings, and the space of God. The space of material bodies is further divided into three kinds. First, the space of gross bodies of which we predicate roominess. In this space movement takes time, bodies occupy their respective places and resist displacement. Secondly, the space of subtle bodies, e.g. air and sound. In this space too bodies resist each other, and their movement is measurable in terms of time which, however, appears to be different to the time of gross bodies. The air in a tube must be displaced before other air can enter into it; and the time of sound-waves is practically nothing compared to the time of gross bodies. Thirdly, we have the space of light. The light of the sun instantly reaches the remotest limits of the earth. Thus in the velocity of light and sound time is reduced almost to zero. It is, therefore, clear that the space of light is different to the space of air and sound. There is, however, a more effective argument than this. The light of a candle spreads in all directions in a room without displacing the air in the room; and this shows that the space of light is more subtle than the space of air which has no entry into the space of light. In view of the close proximity of these spaces, however, it is not possible to distinguish the one from the other except by purely intellectual analysis and spiritual experience. Again, in the hot water the two opposites– fire and water– which appear to interpenetrate each other cannot, in view of their respective natures, exist in the same space. The fact cannot be explained except on the supposition that the spaces of the two substances, though closely proximate to each other, are nevertheless distinct. But while the element of distance is not entirely absent, there is no possibility of mutual resistance in the space of light. The light of a candle reaches up to a certain point only, and the lights of a hundred candles intermingle in the same room without displacing one another.
Having thus described the spaces of physical bodies possessing various degrees of subtleness ‘Irāqī proceeds briefly to describe the main varieties of space operated upon by the various classes of immaterial beings, e.g. angels. The element of distance is not entirely absent from these spaces; for immaterial beings, while they can easily pass through stone walls, cannot altogether dispense with motion which, according to ‘Irāqī, is evidence of imperfection in spirituality. The highest point in the scale of spatial freedom is reached by the human soul which, in its unique essence, is neither at rest nor in motion. Thus passing through the infinite varieties of space we reach the Divine space which is absolutely free from all dimensions and constitutes the meeting point of all infinities.
From this summary of ‘Irāqī’s view you will see how a cultured Muslim Sufi intellectually interpreted his spiritual experience of time and space in an age which had no idea of the theories and concepts of modern Mathematics and Physics. ‘Irāqī is really trying to reach the concept of space as a dynamic appearance. His mind seems to be vaguely struggling with the concept of space as an infinite continuum; yet he was unable to see the full implications of his thought partly because he was not a mathematician and partly because of his natural prejudice in favour of the traditional Aristotelian idea of a fixed universe. Again, the interpenetration of the super-spatial “here” and super-eternal “now” in the Ultimate Reality suggests the modern notion of space-time which Professor Alexander, in his lectures on Space, Time, and Deity, regards as the matrix of all things. A keener insight into the nature of time would have led ‘Irāqī to see that time is more fundamental of the two; and that it is not a mere metaphor to say, as Professor Alexander does say, that time is the mind of space. ‘Irāqī conceives God’s relation to the universe on the analogy of the relation of the human soul to the body; but, instead of philosophically reaching this position through a criticism of the spatial and temporal aspects of experience, he simply postulates it on the basis of his spiritual experience. It is not sufficient merely to reduce space and time to a vanishing point-instant. The philosophical path that leads to God as the omnipsyche of the universe lies through the discovery of living thought as the ultimate principle of space-time. ‘Irāqī’s mind, no doubt, moved in the right direction, but his Aristotelian prejudices, coupled with a lack of psychological analysis, blocked his progress. With his view that Divine Time is utterly devoid of change a view obviously based on an inadequate analysis of conscious experience– it was not possible for him to discover the relation between Divine Time and serial time, and to reach, through this discovery, the essentially Islamic idea of continuous creation which means a growing universe.
Thus all lines of Muslim thought converge on a dynamic conception of the universe. This view is further reinforced by Ibn Maskawaih’s theory of life as an evolutionary movement, and Ibn Khaldūn’s view of history. History or, in the language of the Qur’an, “the days of God”, is the third source of human knowledge according to the Qur’an. It is one of the most essential teachings of the Qur’an that nations are collectively judged, and suffer for their misdeeds here and now. In order to establish this proposition, the Qur’an constantly cites historical instances, and urges upon the reader to reflect on the past and present experience of mankind.
Of old did we send Moses with Our signs, and said to him: “Bring forth thy people from the darkness into the light, and remind them of the days of God.” Verily, in this are signs for every patient, grateful person. (14: 5)
And among those whom we had created are a people who guide others with truth and in accordance therewith act justly. But as for those who treat Our signs as lies, We gradually bring them down by means of which they know not; and though I lengthen their days, verily, My stratagem is effectual. (7: 181-83)
Already, before your time, have precedents been made. Traverse the earth then and see what hath been the end of those who falsify the signs of God. (3: 137)
If a wound hath befallen you, a wound like it hath already befallen others; We alternate the days of successes and reverses among peoples. (3: 140)
Every nation hath its fixed period. (7: 34)
The last verse is rather an instance of a more specific historical generalization which, in its epigrammatic formulation, suggests the possibility of a scientific treatment of the life of human societies regarded as organisms. It is, therefore, a gross error to think that the Qur’an has no germs of a historical doctrine. The truth is that the whole spirit of the Prolegomena of Ibn Khaldūn appears to have been mainly due to the inspiration which the author must have received from the Qur’an. Even in his judgements of character he is, in no small degree, indebted to the Qur’an. An instance in point is his long paragraph devoted to an estimate of the character of the Arabs as a people. The whole paragraph is a mere amplification of the following verses of the Qur’an:
The Arabs of the desert are most stout in unbelief and dissimulation; and likelier it is that they should be unaware of the laws which God hath sent down to His Apostle; and God is Knowing, Wise.
Of the Arabs of the desert there are some who reckon what they expend in the cause of God as tribute, and wait for some change of fortune to befall you: a change for evil shall befall them! God is the Hearer, the Knower.(9: 97-98)
However, the interest of the Qur’an in history, regarded as a source of human knowledge, extends farther than mere indications of historical generalizations. It has given us one of the most fundamental principles of historical criticism. Since accuracy in recording facts which constitute the material of history isan indispensable condition of history as a science, and an accurate knowledge of facts ultimately depends on those who report them, the very first principle of historical criticism is that the reporter’s personal character is an important factor in judging his testimony. The Qur’an says: “O believers! if any bad man comes to you with a report, clear it up at once. (49: 6)
It is the application of the principle embodied in this verse to the reporters of the Prophet’s traditions out of which were gradually evolved the canons of historical criticism. The growth of historical sense in Islam is a fascinating subject. The Qur’anic appeal to experience, the necessity to ascertain the exact sayings of the Prophet, and the desire to furnish permanent sources of inspiration to posterity– all these forces contributed to produce such men as Ibn Ishāq, Tabarī, and Mas‘ūdī. But history, as an art of firing the reader’s imagination, is only a stage in the development of history as a genuine science. The possibility of a scientific treatment of history means a wider experience, a greater maturity of practical reason, and finally a fuller realization of certain basic ideas regarding the nature of life and time. These ideas are in the main two; and both form the foundation of the Qur’anic teachings.
1. The Unity of Human Origin. “And we have created you all from one breath of life”, says the Qur’an. But the perception of life as an organic unity is a slow achievement, and depends for its growth on a people’s entry into the main current of world-events. This opportunity was brought to Islam by the rapid development of a vast empire. No doubt, Christianity, long before Islam, brought the message of equality to mankind; but Christian Rome did not rise to the full apprehension of the idea of humanity as a single organism. As Flint rightly says, “No Christian writer and still less, of course, any other in the Roman Empire, can be credited with having had more than a general and abstract conception of human unity.” And since the days of Rome the idea does not seem to have gained much in depth and rootage in Europe. On the other hand, the growth of territorial nationalism, with its emphasis on what is called national characteristics, has tended rather to kill the broad human element in the art and literature of Europe. It was quite otherwise with Islam. Here the idea was neither a concept of philosophy nor a dream of poetry. As a social movement the aim of Islam was to make the idea a living factor in the Muslim’s daily life, and thus silently and imperceptibly to carry it towards fuller fruition.
2. A Keen Sense of the Reality of Time, and the Concept of Life as a Continuous Movement in Time. It is this conception of life and time which is the main point of interest in Ibn Khaldūn’s view of history, and which justifies Flint’s eulogy that “Plato, Aristotle, and Augustine were not his peers, and all others were unworthy of being even mentioned along with him.” From the remarks that I have made above I do not mean to throw doubt on the originality of Ibn Khaldūn. All that I mean to say is that, considering the direction in which the culture of Islam had unfolded itself, only a Muslim could have viewed history as a continuous, collective movement, a real inevitable development in time. The point of interest in this view of history is the way in which Ibn Khaldūn conceives the process of change. His conception is of infinite importance because of the implication that history, as a continuous movement in time, is a genuinely creative movement and not a movement whose path is already determined. Ibn Khaldūn was not a metaphysician. Indeed he was hostile to Metaphysics. But in view of the nature of his conception of time he may fairly be regarded as a forerunner of Bergson. I have already discussed the intellectual antecedents of this conception in the cultural history of Islam. The Qur’anic view of the “alternation of day and night” as a symbol of the Ultimate Reality which “appears in a fresh glory every moment,” the tendency in Muslim Metaphysics to regard time as objective, Ibn Maskawaih’s view of life as an evolutionary movement, and lastly Al-Bīrūnī’s definite approach to the conception of Nature as a process of becoming – all this constituted the intellectual inheritance of Ibn Khaldūn. His chief merit lies in his acute perception of, and systematic expression to, the spirit of the cultural movement of which he was a most brilliant product. In the work of this genius the anti-classical spirit of the Qur’an scores its final victory over Greek thought; for with the Greeks time was either unreal, as in Plato and Zeno, or moved in a circle, as in Heraclitus and the Stoics. Whatever may be the criterion by which to judge the forward steps of a creative movement, the movement itself, if conceived as cyclic, ceases to be creative. Eternal recurrence is not eternal creation; it is eternal repetition.
We are now in a position to see the true significance of the intellectual revolt of Islam against Greek philosophy. The fact that this revolt originated in a purely theological interest shows that the anti-classical spirit of the Qur’an asserted itself in spite of those who began with a desire to interpret Islam in the light of Greek thought.
It now remains to eradicate a grave misunderstanding created by Spengler’s widely read book, The Decline of the West. His two chapters devoted to the problem of Arabian culture constitute a most important contribution to the cultural history of Asia. They are, however, based on a complete misconception of the nature of Islam as a religious movement, and of the cultural activity which it initiated. Spengler’s main thesis is that each culture is a specific organism, having no point of contact with cultures that historically precede or follow it. Indeed, according to him, each culture has its own peculiar way of looking at things which is entirely inaccessible to men belonging to a different culture. In his anxiety to prove this thesis he marshals an overwhelming array of facts and interpretations to show that the spirit of European culture is through and through anti-classical. And this anti-classical spirit of European culture is entirely due to the specific genius of Europe, and not to any inspiration she may have received from the culture of Islam which, according to Spengler, is thoroughly “Magian” in spirit and character. Spengler’s view of the spirit of modern culture is, in my opinion, perfectly correct. I have, however, tried to show in these lectures that the anti-classical spirit of the modern world has really arisen out of the revolt of Islam against Greek thought. It is obvious that such a view cannot be acceptable to Spengler; for, if it is possible to show that the anti-classical spirit of modern culture is due to the inspiration which it received from the culture immediately preceding it, the whole argument of Spengler regarding the complete mutual independence of cultural growths would collapse. I am afraid Spengler’s anxiety to establish this thesis has completely perverted his vision of Islam as a cultural movement.
By the expression “Magian culture” Spengler means the common culture associated with what he calls “Magian group of religions”, i.e. Judaism, ancient Chaldean religion, early Christianity, Zoroas-trianism, and Islam. That a Magian crust has grown over Islam, I do not deny. Indeed my main purpose in these lectures has been to secure a vision of the spirit of Islam as emancipated from its Magian overlayings which, in my opinion, have misled Spengler. His ignorance of Muslim thought on the problem of time, as well as of the way in which the “I”, as a free centre of experience, has found expression in the religious experience of Islam, is simply appalling. Instead of seeking light from the history of Muslim thought and experience, he prefers to base his judgement on vulgar beliefs as to the beginning and end of time. Just imagine a man of overwhelming learning finding support for the supposed fatalism of Islam in such Eastern expressions and proverbs as the “vault of time”, and “everything has a time!” However, on the origin and growth of the concept of time in Islam, and on the human ego as a free power, I have said enough in these lectures. It is obvious that a full examination of Spengler’s view of Islam, and of the culture that grew out of it, will require a whole volume. In addition to what I have said before, I shall offer here one more observation of a general nature. Spengler says:
The kernel of the prophetic teaching is already Magian. There is one God– be He called Yahweh, Ahuramazda, or Marduk-Baal– who is the principle of good, and all other deities are either impotent or evil. To this doctrine there attached itself the hope of a Messiah, very clear in Isaiah, but also bursting out everywhere during the next centuries, under pressure of an inner necessity. It is the basic idea of Magian religion, for it contains implicitly the conception of the world-historical struggle between Good and Evil, with the power of Evil prevailing in the middle period, and the Good finally triumphant on the Day of Judgement.
If this view of the prophetic teaching is meant to apply to Islam it is obviously a misrepresentation. The point to note is that the Magians admitted the existence of false gods; only they did not turn to worship them. Islam denies the very existence of false gods. In this connexion Spengler fails to appreciate the cultural value of the idea of the finality of prophethood in Islam. No doubt, one important feature of Magian culture is a perpetual attitude of expectation, a constant looking forward to the coming of Zoroaster’s unborn sons, the Messiah, or the Paraclete of the fourth gospel. I have already indicated the direction in which the student of Islam should seek the cultural meaning of the doctrine of finality in Islam. It may further be regarded as a psychological cure for the Magian attitude of constant expectation which tends to give a false view of history. Ibn Khaldūn, seeing the spirit of his own view of history, has fully criticized and, I believe, finally demolished the alleged revelational basis in Islam of an idea similar, at least in its psychological effects, to the original Magian idea which had reappeared in Islam under the pressure of Magian thought.
Lecture V: The Spirit of Muslim Culture
Cf. ‘Abd al-Quddūs of Gangoh, Latā’if-i Quddūsī, ed. Shaikh Rukn al-Din, ‘Latīfah’ 79; the Persian text rendered into English here is:
محمد مصطفی درقاب قوسین او ادنی رفت و باز گردید۔ واللہ ما بازنگردیم۔
Reference may also be made here to very pithy and profound jottings of Allama Iqbal on the back cover of his own copy of William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience, especially to those under the sub-heading: ‘Mystical and Prophetic Consciousness’ with an explicit mention of ‘Abd al-Quddūs Gangohī; see Muhammad Siddīq, Descriptive Catalogue of Allama Iqbal’s Personal Library, Plate No. 8.
This great idea is embodied in the Qur’anic verse 33: 40, i.e. ‘Muhammad is Allah’s Apostle and the Seal of all Prophets’ (Rasūl Allah wa khātaman nabiyyīn), and has also been variously enunciated in the Hadith literature: (i) yā Muhammad anta rasūl Ullāhi wa khātam al-anbiyā: ‘O Muhammad! You are Allah’s Apostle and the Seal of all Prophets’; this is what other Prophets would proclaim on the Day of Resurrection (Bukhari, Al-Sahīh, ‘Tafsir’: 17). (ii)Wa ana khātamun nabīyyīn: ‘And I am the last of the Prophets’ (ibid., ‘Manāqib’: 7; Muslim, Al-Sahīh, Īmān: 327). (iii) Laysa nabīyya ba‘dī: ‘There is no Prophet after me’ (Bukhārī, ‘Maghāzī’: 77). (iv) Lā nabīyya ba‘dī: ‘There is no Prophet after me’ (ibid., ‘Anbīyā’’: 50; Muslim, ‘Imārah’: 44; Fadā’il al-Sahābah: 30-31). (v) Wa lā nabiyya ba‘dahū: ‘And there is no Prophet after him’, said so by Abū Awfā as narrated by Ismā‘īl (Bukhāri, ‘Ādāb’: 109). (vi) Lā nubuwwah ba‘dī: ‘There is no prophethood after me’ (Muslim, Fadā’il al-Sahābah: 30-32).
Though wahy matluww (revelation which is recited or worded revelation) is specific to the Prophets, the Qur’an speaks of revelation in connection with earth (99: 5), heavens (41: 12), honey-bee (16: 68-69), angels (8: 12), mother of Moses (28: 7) and disciples of Jesus (5: 111). As to the different modes of revelation see 42: 51.
Reference here is to the last but one passage of the Qur’anic verse 5: 3 which reads: ‘This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour unto you and have chosen for you as religion al-Islām’. This passage, according to all available ahādīth on the testimony of the Prophet’s contemporaries, was revealed at ‘Arafāt in the afternoon of Friday, the 9th of Dhu ’l-Hijjah 10 A.H., the year of the Prophet’s last pilgrimage to Makkah (cf. Bukhāri, ‘Īmān’:34, where this fact is authenticated by ‘Umar b. al-Khattāb). It is to be noted that the Prophet’s death took place eighty-one or eighty-two days after the revelation of this verse and as it speaks of the perfection of religion in Islam, no precept of legal import whatsoever was revealed after it; cf. Rāzī, Al-Tafsīr al-Kabīr.
The first half of the formula of Islam is: lā ilāh ill Allāh, i.e. there is no god but God, or nothing whatever is worthy of worship except Allah. The other half is: Muhammadu Rasūlullāh, i.e. Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. The expression ‘formula of Islam’ signifies that by bearing witness to the truth of these two simple propositions a man enters the fold of Islam.
Cf. Bukhārī, ‘Janā’iz’: 78; ‘Shahādah’: 3, and ‘Jihād’: 160 and 178 (Eng. trans. M. Muhsin Khan, II, 244-45; III, 488-89, and IV, 168-69 and 184-86) and Muslim: ‘Fitan’: 95-96 (Eng. trans. A. H. Siddiqi, IV, 1510-15).
Cf. Muqaddimah, trans. Rosenthall, Vol. III, Section vi, Discourse: ‘The Science of Sufism’; D. B. Macdonald, Religious Attitude and Life in Islam, pp. 165-74, and M. Syrier, ‘Ibn Khaldūn and Mysticism’, Islamic Culture, XXI/ii(1947), 264-302.
Reference here is to the Qur’anic verses: 41: 37; 25: 45; 10: 6; 30: 22 and 3: 140 bearing on the phenomena of Nature which have quite often been named in the Qur’an as āyāt Allah, i.e. the ‘apparent signs of God’ (Rāghib, Al-Mufradāt, pp. 32-33); this is followed by reference to verses 25: 73 and 17: 72 which in the present context clearly make it as much a religious duty of the `true servants of the Most Gracious God’ to ponder over these apparent signs of God ‘as revealed to the sense-perception of man’ as to ponder over the Divine communications (āyat al-Qur’an) revealed to the Holy Prophet– this two-way God-consciousness alone ensures man’s physical and spiritual prosperity in this life as well as in the life hereafter.
Cf. G. H. Lewes, The Biographical History of Philosophy (1857), p. 306, II. 4-8, where Lewes says: ‘It is this work (“Revivification of the Sciences of Religion”) which M. Schmölders has translated. It bears so remarkable a resemblance to the Discours de la méthode of Descartes, that had any translation of it existed in the days of Descartes, everyone would have cried against the plagiarism’. The second sentence of this passage was quoted by Allama Iqbal in his doctoral dissertation: The Development of Metaphysics in Persia (1908), p. 73, note (1), in support of his statement that Ghazālī ‘anticipated Descartes in his philosophical method’.
It is to be noted that Schmölders’ Essai sur les écoles philosophiques chez les Arabes (Paris, 1842) was not the French translation of Ghazālī’s voluminous ‘Revivification’ (Ihyā ‘Ulūm al-Dīn inforty books) but that of his autobiographical work Al-Munqidh min al-Dalāl with its earliest edited Arabic text. It seems that the remarkable originality and boldness of Ghazālī’s thought in the French version of al-Munqidh led Lewes to confuse it with the greater, the more famous ‘Revivification’ (Ihyā’). For the ‘amazing resemblance’ between Ghazalī’s Al-Munqidh min al-Ḍalāl (Liberation from Error) and Descartes’ Discourse de la méthode (Discourse on Method), see Professor M. M. Sharif, ‘The Influence of Muslim Thought on the West’, ‘Section: D’, A History of Muslim Philosophy, II, 1382-84.
Cf. Al-Qistās al-Mustaqīm, trans. D. P. Brewster (The Just Balance), chapters ii-vi and translator’s Appendix III: ‘Al-Ghazālī and the Syllogism’, pp. 126-30; cf. also Michael E. Marmura, ‘Ghazalī’s Attitude to the Secular Sciences and Logic’, Essays on Islamic Philosophy and Science, ed. G. F. Hourani, Section II, pp. 102-03, and Susanna Diwald’s detailed review on Al-Qistās in Der Islam (1961), pp. 171-74.
Shihāb al-Dīn Suhrawardī Maqtūl.
For an account of Ishrāqī’s criticism of Greek logic contained in his Hikmat al-Ishrāq, cf. S.Hossein Nasr, ‘Shihāb al-Dīn Suhrawardī Maqtūl’, A History of Muslim Philosophy, I,384-85; a fuller account of Ishrāqī’s logic, according to Nicholas Rescher, is to be found in his Kitāb al-Talwihāt and Kitāb al-Lamahāt cf. Development of Arabic Logic, p. 185). It is to be noted that the earliest explanation of Ishrāqī’s disagreement with Aristotle that logical definition is genus plus differentia, in terms of modern (Bosanquet’s) logic, was given by Allama Iqbal in his Development of Metaphysics in Persia, pp. 97-98.
For an expose of Ibn Taymiyyah’s logical masterpiece Al-Radd ‘alā ’l-Mantiqiyīn (‘Refutation of the Logicians’) cf. Serajul Haque, ‘Ibn Taimīyyah’ in A History of Muslim Philosophy, II, 805-12; also Majid Fakhry, A History of Islamic Philosophy (pp. 352-53) for a lucid summing up. A valuable study of Ibn Taymiyyah’s logical ideas is that by ‘Alī Sāmī al-Nashshār in Manāhij al-Bahth ‘inda Mufakkiri ’l-Islām wa Naqd al-Muslimīn lil Mantiq al-Aristatlīsī, chapter III, sections ii and iii. Al-Nashshār has also eidted Suyūtī’s Jahd al-Qarīhah fi Tajrīd al-Nasīhah, an abridgment ofIbn Taymiyyah’s Al-Radd ‘alā ’l-Mantiqiyīn.
Aristotle’s first figure, al-shakl al-awwal or al-qiyās al-kāmil ofthe Muslim logicians, is a form of syllogism in which the middle term occurs as a subject in the first premise and as a predicate in the second premise. It is the only form of syllogism in which the conclusion becomes available in the form of a general (universal) proposition needed for scientific purposes; cf. M. Saeed Sheikh, A Dictionary of Muslim Philosophy, s.v.
As to the criticism of the first figure referred to here, it is more rightly to be ascribed to Fakhr al-Dīn Rāzī (1149-1209), who, besides his own now available logical works, wrote quite a few critical commentaries on the works of Ibn Sīnā (980-1037), rather than to the eminent physician of Islam, Abu Bakr Zakariyya Rāzī 1864-c. 925), none ofwhose short treatises on some parts ofthe Aristotelian Organon seems to have survived; cf. Nicholas Reacher, The Development of Arabic Logic, pp. 117-18. Happily this stands confirmed by Allama Iqbal’s Presidential comments (almost all of which have been incorporated in the present passage) on Khwājah Kamāl’s Lecture (in Urdu) on ‘Islam and Modern Sciences’ in the third session of the All-India Muhammadan Educational Conference, 1911, in Delhi; see S. A. Vahid (ed.), Maqālāt-i Iqbāl, pp. 239-40; cf. also Allama’s letter dated 1 February 1924 to Sayyid Sulaimān Nadvī, Iqbālnāmah, I,127-28; reference in both cases is to Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzi and not to Abū Bakr Rāzī.
It is to be noted that of all the writings of Allama Iqbal including his more than 1200 letters Abū Bakr Rāzi is mentioned only in Development of Metaphysics in Persia: ‘as a physician and as a thinker who admitted the eternity of matter, space and time and possibly looked upon light as the first creation’ (pp. 24, 96). In a significant passage on p. 96 of this work Allama has listed about ten Muslim thinkers who were highly critical either of Greek philosophy in general or Greek logic in particular– Abū Bakr Rāzī’s name does not appear in this list.
This is Ibn Hazm’s Hudūd al-Mantiq referred to in his well-known Kitāb al-Fisal (I,4 and 20; V, 70 and 128) under somewhat varied titles; also mentioned by his contemporary and compatriot Sa‘īd b. Ahmad al-Andalūsī in hisTabaqāt al-Umam (p. 118) and later listed by Brockelmann in GAL; Supplementbände (I, 696). C. van Arendonk, however, in his article on ‘Ibn Hazm’ in The Encyclopaedia of Islam (II, 385) and I. Goldziher, s.v. in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, VII,71 have declared that ‘the work has not survived’. And certainly very little was heard of this work until Dr. Ihsān ‘Abbās of the University of Khartoum discovered possibly the only MS and published it under the title: Al-Taqrīb li-Hadd al-Mantiq (The Approach to the Limits of Logic) in 1959. Allama’s comments on Ibn Hazm’s ‘Scope ofLogic’ (Hudūd al-Mantiq), at a time when it was generally considered to have been lost is a proof of Allama’s extraordinary knowledge of Muslim writers and their works.
Cf. Development of Metaphysics in Persia (1964), p. 64, where it is stated that ‘Al-Bīrūnī (d. 1048) and Ibn Haitham (d. 1038) ... anticipated modern empirical psychology in recognizing what is called reaction-time’: in the two footnotes to this statement Allama Iqbal quotes from de Boer’s History of Philosophy in Islam, pp. 146 and 150, to establish the positivism, i.e. sense-empiricism of Al-Bīrūnī and Ibn Haitham. On pp. 151-52 of de Boer’s work is a passage (possibly referred to by Allama Iqbal here) which describes reaction-time very much in the modern sense: ‘not only is every sensation attended by a corresponding change localized in the sense-organ, which demands a certain time, but also, between the stimulation of the organ and consciousness of the perception an interval of time must elapse, corresponding to the transmission of stimulus for some distance along the nerves.’
As to Al-Kindī’s discovery that sensation is proportionate to stimulus, cf. de Boer, op. cit., p. 101, where he speaks of ‘the proportional relation existing between stimulus and sensation’ in connection with Al-Kindī’s mathematized theory of compound remedies. This is given in Al-Kindī’s celebrated treatise: Risālah fi Ma‘rifah Quwwat ’l-Adwiyyāt al-Murakkabah which was at least twice translated into Latin (Sarton, Introduction to the History of Science, II, 342 and 896).
Cf. Opus Majus, trans. Robert Belle Burke, Vol. II, Part V (pp. 419-82). It is important to note that Sarton’s observation on Roger Bacon’s work on optics is very close to that of Allama Iqbal. ‘His optics’, says Sarton, ‘was essentially based upon that of Ibn al-Haitham, with small additions and practical applications’ (op. cit., II, 957).As reported by Dr. M. S. Nāmūs, Allama Iqbal helped him in understanding the rotographs of the only MS (No. 2460in Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris) of Ibn Haitham’s Tahrīr al Manāzir for a number of days; cf. Ibn al-Haitham: Proceedings of the Celebrations of 1000th Anniversary (held in November 1969 under the auspices of Hamdard National Foundation Pakistan, Karachi), p. 128.
See, however, Professor A. I. Sabra’s scholarly article: ‘Ibn al-Haytham’ in Dictionary of Scientific Biography, VI, 189-210, especially p. 205where he gives up-to-date information about the MSS of Ibn Haitham’s Kitāb Manāzir.According to Professor Sabra, ‘The reference in Brockelmann to a recension of this work in the Paris MS, ar. 2460(Brockelmann has 2640) ismistaken; the MS is a recension of Euclid’s Optics which is attributed on the title page to Hasan ibn (Mūsā ibn) Shākir’.
‘Ibn Hazm’ here is a palpable misprint for ‘Ibn Haitham’– the context of the passage more fittingly demands the latter rather than the former name. Ibn Hazm’s influence on Roger Bacon’s Opus Majus, a predominantly science-oriented work, looks somewhat odd. There seems to be no evidence of it in the text of Opus Majus – Ibn Hazm is not even so much as mentioned by name in this work. Sarton, despite his great praise for Ibn Hazm’s scholarship (I, 713), nowhere hints at his contributions to ‘science’ or his influence on Roger Bacon, nor is this to be found in other standard works, for example, in the sixteen-volume Dictionary of Scientific Biography.
For Tūsī’s discussion of the parallel postulate (also named ‘axiom of parallelism’), see his ‘Al-Risālat al-Shāfiyah ‘an al-Shakk fi ’l-Khutūt al-Mutawāziyah’in (Tūsī’s) Rasā’il, Vol. II, Pt. viii, pp. 1-40.Commenting on this work Sarton observes (op. cit. II, 1003): ‘Nasīr al-Din’s discussion was remarkably elaborate’. Cf. also Cajori, A History of Elementary Mathematics, p. 127, Q. Hāfiz b. Tauqān, Turāth al-‘Arab al-‘Ilmī, pp. 97-98,R. Bonola, Non-Euclidean Geometry,pp. 12-13 and 37-38and Dr. S. H. Nasr’s article: ‘Al-Tūsī’ in Dictionary of Scientific Biography, XIII, 508-14especially p. 510.
This passage may be read in conjunction with Allama Iqbal’s observation on Tūsī in his Sectional Presidential Address (delivered at the Fifth Oriental Conference, Lahore, on 20 November 1928): ‘A Plea for the Deeper Study of Muslim Scientists’: ‘It is Tusi’s effort to improve the parallel postulate of Euclid that is believed to have furnished a basis in Europe for the problem of space which eventually led to the theories of Gauss and Riemann’ (Speeches, Writings and Statements of Iqbal, p. 138).Euclid’s parallel postulate is Postulate V of the first book of his Elements. What it means to say is that through a given point ‘P’ there can be only one straight line ‘L’ parallel to a given straight line. It is to be noted that to Euclid’s successors this postulate had signally failed to appear self-evident, and had equally failed to appear indemonstrable– hence, Allama Iqbal’s generalized statement that ‘since the days of Ptolemy (87-165 A. D.)till the time of Nasīr Tūsī (1201-1274 A. D.) nobody gave serious thought to the postulate. Deeper and wider implication of the postulate, however, cannot be denied. ‘The innumerable attempts to prove this fifth postulate on the one hand and the development of the non-Euclidean geometries on the other are as many tributes to Euclid’s wisdom’, says Sarton (op. cit. I, 153). A long note on the postulate by Spengler– well versed in mathematics– in his Decline of the West, 1, 176, admirably brings out its deep philosophical import.
These non-Euclidean geometries were developed in the nineteenth century by certain European mathematicians: Gauss (1777-1855) in Germany, Lobachevski (1792-1856) in Russia, Bolyai (1802-1860) in Hungary and Riemann (1826-1866)in Germany. They abandoned the attempt to prove Euclid’s parallel postulate for they discovered that Euclid’s postulates of geometry were not the only possible postulates and that other sets of postulates could be formulated arbitrarily and self-consistent geometries based on them. They further discovered that the space assumed in Euclidean geometry is only a special case of a more general type. These non-Euclidean geometries assumed immense scientific significance when it was found that the space-time continuum required by Einstein’s theory of gravitation is non-Euclidean.
This in short is the movement of the idea of parallel postulate from Euclid to Einstein; Allama Iqbal with his seer-like vision for ideas was very much perceptive of this ‘movement’ and also of the scientific and philosophical significance of the non-Euclidean geometries. It is to be noted that Allama’s keenly perceptive mind took full notice of the scientific developments of his days, for example, of anti-mechanistic biologism (neo-vitalism) of Hans Driesch and J. S. Haldane and of quantum theory as well as of relativity-physics especially as expounded by Eddington, Louis Rougier, Lord Haldane, Wildon Carr and other philosopher-scientists. Among other things, one may notice a score of books on the ‘Philosophy of Contemporary Science’, more than half of which are on relativity-physics (mostly published between 1920and 1928) in his personal library alone. See M. Siddiq, Descriptive Catalogue of Allama Iqbal’s Personal Library, pp. 4-7 and 71-76, as well as Plates Nos. 22and 23giving the facsimiles of Allama’s signatures dated July 1921 and September 1921 on his own copies of Einstein’s work: Relativity: The Special and the General Theory: A Popular Exposition (1920) and Edwin E. Slosson’s Easy Lessons in Einstein (1920); cf. also Dr Ahmad Nabi Khan, Relics of Allama Iqbal (Catalogue), books listed at IV. 41and IV. 46. The first book The Mystery of Space by Robert T. Browne by its very sub-title: ‘A Study of the Hyperspace Movement in the Light of the Evolution of New Psychic Faculties and an Inquiry into the Genesis and Essential Nature of Space’ suggests that it was probably this book which was foremost in Allama’s mind when he spoke of highly mathematical notion of ‘hyperspace movement’ in connection with Tūsī’s effort to improve the parallel postulate here as well as in his ‘Plea for Deeper Study’ (Speeches, Writings and Statements of Iqbal, p. 141). Allama’s keen interest in higher mathematics is evinced by his references in the present rather compact discussion on Newton’s interpolation formula, recent developments in European mathematics and Whitehead’s view of relativity as distinguished from that of Einstein and more importantly by the two long letters (preserved in Allama Iqbal Museum, Lahore) ofpurely mathematical nature written to him by Fadl Hamīd on 19 July 1928 and 27 July 1935; cf. Dr. Ahmad Nabi Khan, op. cit., Letters II. 34 and II. 75.
Cf. a fairly long passage from Spengler’s Decline of the West (I, 75) quoted in Allama’s Address: ‘A Plea for Deeper Study of the Muslim Scientists’ and an account of the way he went into the authentication of Al-Bīrūnī’s view of mathematical function (Speeches, Writings and Statements of Iqbal, pp. 135-36).Allama’s interest in ‘mathematical idea of function’ seems to be two-fold: religio-philosophical and scientific. The function-idea, he says, ‘turns the fixed into the variable, and sees the universe not as being but as becoming’. This is in full accord with the Qur’anic view of the universe which God has built with power and it is He Who is steadily expanding it (cf. M. Asad, The Message of the Qur’an, p. 805,note 31) and again ‘He adds to His creation whatever He wills: for verily, God has the power to will anything’ (35: 1). The Qur’anic view of the growing universe is thus ‘a clear departure’ from the Aristotelian view of the fixed universe. Aristotle’s doctrine of potentiality passing into actuality fails to resolve the mystery of becoming, in its living historicity and novelty or, as W. D. Ross has put it: ‘The conception of potentiality has often been used to cover mere barrenness of thought’ (cf. his Aristotle, p. 176). Hence, Allama’s repeated pronouncements, that the spirit of the Qur’an is essentially anti-classical. Philosophically speaking, time, which in the present context has been linked up with the notion of functionality and rightly so, is the most indispensable condition for the very possibility and reality of human experience, cognitive or moral. This explains, partly at least, why ‘Time’ is the recurring theme in Allama’s works in both prose and verse.
In mathematics function is a relationship of correspondence between two variables called independent variable and dependent variable and is expressed by saying ‘y is a function of x’ which means y changes with x. so that for a certain value of x, y has a certain value (or values). In Europe though the term ‘function’ in its full mathematical sense was used by Leibniz in 1694, the theory of functions had already emerged with the analytic geometry of Pierce Fermat in 1629and that of the father of modern philosophy Rene Descartes– Descartes’ La Geometrie appeared along with his better known Discours de la méthode in 1637. After that such rapid advances took place in mathematics that within, say, fifty years it was completely metamorphosed into its modern form or, as Spengler puts it: ‘Once this immense creation found wings, its rise was miraculous’. Being well versed in mathematics, Spengler gives an exciting account of the new discoveries of the Western mathematicians and their impact on European science and arts (op. cit., I, 74-90).Two of his statements are to be noted. ‘Not until the theory of functions was fully evolved’, says Spengler, ‘could this mathematics be unreservedly brought to bear in the parallel sphere of our dynamic Western physics’. Generally speaking, this means that Nature speaks the subtle and complex language of mathematics and that without the use of this language the breath-taking progress of science in the West, since the seventeenth century, would have been a sheer impossibility. Spengler, however, did not care to know that the mathematical idea of function originated, not in the West, but in the East, more particularly with the most brilliant Al-Bīrūnī’s Al-Qānūn al-Mas‘ūdī in1030, i.e. six hundred years before Fermat and Descartes.
The second statement to be noted is that, according to Spengler, ‘The history of western knowledge is thus one of progressive emancipation from classical thought’ (op. cit, p. 76). As it is, Allama Iqbal has the least quarrel with Spengler on the truth of this statement for he says: ‘The most remarkable phenomenon of modern history, however, is the enormous rapidity with which the world of Islam is spiritually moving towards the West. There is nothing wrong in this movement, for European culture, on its intellectual side, is only a further development of some of the most important phases of the culture of Islam’ (Lecture I, p. 6: italics mine). And further, ‘Spengler’s view of the spirit of modern culture is, in my opinion, perfectly correct’ (p. 114). What Allama Iqbal, however, rightly insists is ‘that the anticlassical spirit of the modern world has really arisen out of the revolt of Islam against Greek thought’ (ibid.). This revolt consists in Islam’s focussing its vision on ‘the concrete’, ‘the particular’ and ‘the becoming’ as against the Greeks’ search for ‘the ideal’, ‘the universal’ and ‘the being’. Spengler failed to see these Islamic ingredients of modern culture because of his self-evolved thesis ‘that each culture is a specific organism, having no point of contact with cultures that historically precede or follow it’. Spengler’s thesis has its roots, not in any scientifically established dynamics of history, but in his uncompromising theory of cultural holism (note the sub-title of the first volume of his work: Gestalt and Wirklichkeit). Cf. W. H. Dray’s article, ‘Spengler, Oswald’, inEncyclopaedia of Philosophy, VII, 527-30for critical evaluation of Spengler’s philosophical position.
Cf. M. A. Kazim, ‘Al-Bīrūnī and Trignometry’, Al-Bīrūnī Commemoration Volume, esp. pp. 167-68, for the English translation of the passage from Al-Bīriurī’s Al-Qānūn al-Mas‘ūdī (Vol. I, Maqālah III, chapter 8, last article) wherein Al-Bīrūnī generalizes his interpolation formula ‘from trignometrical function to any function whatever’. This is likely the passage pointedly referred to by Allama Iqbal in his ‘A Plea for Deeper Study of the Muslim Scientists’ (Speeches, Writings and Statements of Iqbal, p. 136).See, however, Professor E. S. Kennedy’s highly commendable article on ‘al-Bīrūnī’ in Dictionary of Scientific Biography, II, 147-58. He bases Al-Bīrūnī’s theory of function on his ‘Treatise on Shadows’ already translated by him.
Cf. M. R. Siddiqi, ‘Mathematics and Astronomy’, A History of Muslim Philosophy, ed. M. M. Sharif, II, 1280, and Juan Vernet, ‘Mathematics, Astronomy, Optics’, The Legacy of Islam, ed. Joseph Schacht and C. E. Bosworth, pp. 466-68.According to Sarton, Al-Khawārizmī ‘may be called one of the founders of analysis or algebra as distinct from geometry’ and that his astronomical and trignometric tables were the Muslim tables which contained, not simply the sine function, but also the tangent’ (op. cit., I, 563).
Cf. Al-Fauz al-Asghar, pp. 78-83;also Development of Metaphysics in Persia, p. 29where an account of Ibn Maskawaih’s theory of evolution is given as summed up by Shiblī Nu‘mānī in his ‘Ilm al-Kalām, pp. 141.43.
This is a reference to the views of Khwājah Muhammad Pārsā (d. 822/ 1420)as contained in his short but valuable tractate on time and space: Risālah dar Zamān-o-Makān, the only extant MS of which, perhaps, is the one listed by A. Monzavi in his Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts, Vol. II, Part I, p. 800. I am greatly indebted to Qāzī Mahmūd ul-Haq of British Library, London, for the microfilm of this MS. This resulted as a preliminary in the publication of Urdu translation of Khwājah Muhammad Pārsā’s Risalah dar Zamān-o-Makān along with a brief account of his life and works by Dr. Khwājah Hamīd Yazdānī in Al-Ma‘ārif (Lahore), XVII/vii, July 1984), 31-42, 56. Cf. Nadhr Sābirī (ed.),Ghāyat al-Imkān fi Ma‘rifat al-Zamān by Shaikh Mahmūd Ashnawī, ‘Introduction’, p. ‘r’ where it is alleged that Khwājah Pārsā made an extensive use of Ashnavī’s said tractate on space and time, which is not very unlikely seeing the close resemblance between the two tractates; yet at places Khwājah Pārsā’s treatment of the subject is sufistically more sophisticated.
Misprinted as ‘weight’ in previous editions.
Cf. Ghāyat al-Imkān fī Dirāyat al-Makān, ed. Rahīm Farmanish, pp. 16-17; English trans. A. H. Kamali, p. 13. On the authorship of this sufistic tractate on space and time, see note 34 in Lecture III.
Ibid., p. 17; English trans., p. 13.
Ibid., p. 23; English trans., p. 17.
Ibid., pp. 24-25; English trans., pp. 18-19.
Ibid., p. 25; English trans., p. 19.
Ibid., p. 17; English trans., pp. 20-21.
Ibid., pp. 27-28; English trans., p. 21.
Ibid., pp, 28-29; English trans., pp. 21-22.
Cf. Space, Time and Deity, II, 41; also R. Metz, A Hundred Years of British Philosophy, pp. 634-38, and article ‘S. Alexander’ in The Dictionary of Philosophy, ed. D. D. Runes, wherein it is made clear that the term ‘deity’ is not used by Alexander in any theological sense but in terms of his doctrine of emergent evolution: ‘The quality next above any given level (of evolution) is deity to the beings on that level’.
Alexander’s metaphor that time is mind of space is to be found in statements such as this: ‘It is that Time as a whole and in its parts bears to space as a whole and its corresponding parts a relation analogous to the relation of mind .. . or to put the matter shortly that Time is the mind of Space and Space the body of Time’ (Space Time and Deity, II, 38). Allama Iqbal’s references to Alexander’s Space, Time and Deity, in the sufistic account of space and time in the present Lecture as also in his address earlier: ‘A Plea for Deeper Study of Muslim Scientists’ (Speeches, Writings and Statements, p. 142) coupled with his commendatory observations on Alexander’s work in his letter dated 24 January 1921 addressed to R. A. Nicholson (Letters of Iqbal, p. 141) are suggestive of Allama’s keen interest in the metaphysical views of Alexander.
Of all the British philosophers, contemporaries of Allama Iqbal, Alexander can be singled out for laying equal emphasis on space and time as central to all philosophy. ‘All the vital problems of philosophy’, says Alexander, ‘depend for their solution on the solution of the problem what Space and Time are and, more particularly, in how they are related to each other’. According to Allama Iqbal, ‘In [Muslim] . . . culture the problem of space and time becomes a question of life and death’ (p. 105). ‘Space and Time in Muslim Thought’ was the subject selected by Allama for his proposed Rhodes Memorial Lectures at Oxford (1934-1935) (cf. Letters of Iqbal, pp. 135-36 and 183; also Relics of Allama Iqbal: Catalogue, Letter II, 70 dated 27 May 1935 from Secretary, Rhodes Trust) which very unfortunately he could not deliver owing to his increasing ill health. A letter dated 6 May 1937 addressed to Dr. Syed Zafarul Hasan of Aligarh Muslim University (author of the well-known Realism, 1928), discovered only recently, shows that Allama Iqbal had already gathered ‘material’ for his Rhodes Memorial Lectures; cf. Rafī al-Dīn Hāshimī, ‘Allamah Iqbal ke Chand Ghair Mudawwan Khutūt’, Iqbal Review, XXIII/iv (January 1983), pp. 41-43.
Attention may be called here also to an obviously unfinished two-page draft on ‘The Problem of Time in Muslim Philosophy’ in Allama’s own hand preserved in the Allama Iqbal Museum, Lahore; cf. Dr. Ahmad Nabi Khan,Relics of Allama Iqbal: Catalogue, I. 37.
Cf. Ghāyat al-Imkān fi Dirāyat al Makān, pp. 16-17; English trans., p. 13.
Ibid., p. 50; English trans., p. 36.
This is a reference to the Qur’anic verses: 6: 6; 9: 39; 17: 16-17; 18: 59; 21: 11; 22: 45-46; 36: 31. God’s judgment on nations, also called ‘judgment in history’, according to the Qur’an, is said to be more relentless than God’s judgment on individuals– in the latter case God is forgiving and compassionate. Nations are destroyed only for their transgression and evil doings. And when a nation perishes, its good members meet the same doom as its bad ones for the former failed to check the spread of evil (11: 116); cf. F. Rahman, Major Themes of the Quran, p. 53.
See also Qur’anic verses 15: 5 and 23: 43.
For very special circumstances under which a keen sense of history grew in Islam, see I. H. Qureshi, ‘Historiography’, A History of Muslim Philosophy, II, 1197-1203.
Abū ‘Abdullah Muhammad b. Ishāq (d. c. 150/767) has the distinction of being the first biographer of the Holy Prophet. His work Kitāb Sīrat Rasūl Allāh (‘The Life of the Apostle of God’) has, however, been lost and is now known only through Ibn Hishām’s recension of it.
Abu Ja‘far Muhammad b. Jarīr al-Tabarī (225-311/839-923) is one of the greatest Muslim historians. His remarkably accurate monumental history Kitāb Akhbār al-Rusul wa ’l-Mulūk (‘Annals of the Apostles and the Kings’), the first comprehensive work in the Arabic language, has been edited by M. J. de Goeje and others in 15 volumes (Leiden, 1879-1901). Al-Tabarī is equally well known for his commendable commentary on the Qur’an: Jāmi‘ al-Bayān fi Tafsīr al-Qur’an in 30 volumes– a primal work for the later commentators because of its earliest and largest collection of the exegetical traditions.
Abū ’l-Hasan ‘Ali b. al-Husain b. ‘Ali al-Mas‘ūdī (d. c. 346/957), after Al-Tabarī, is the next greatest historian in Islam– rightly named as the ‘Herodotus of the Arabs’. He inaugurated a new method in the writing of history: instead of grouping events around years (annalistic method) he grouped them around kings, dynasties and topics (topical method); a method adopted also by Ibn Khaldūn. His historico-geographical work Murūj al-Dhahab wa ’l-Ma‘ādin al-Jawāhir (‘Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems’) also deals with Persian, Roman and Jewish history and religion.
Reference is to the Qur’anic verses 4: 1; 6: 98; 7: 189; 39: 6.
See Robert Flint, History of the Philosophy of History, p. 86. Flint’s eulogy of Ibn Khaldūn, expressive of his sentiment of a discovery of a genius, now stands more or less confirmed by the realistic assessments made of Ibn Khaldūn by eminent scholars such as A. Toynbee, A Study of History, III, 322; Sarton, op. cit., III, 1262; Gaston Bouthoul in his Preface to de Slane’s Les Prolégomènes d’ Ibn Khaldoun (second edition, Paris, 1934-38) and R. Brunschvig, La Berbérie orientale sous les Hafsides, II, 391.
Cf. Muqaddimah, trans. F. Rosenthal, III, 246-58, also M. Fakhry, A History of Islamic Philosophy, pp. 361-64.
Phenomenon of the alternation of day and night is spoken of in many verses of the Qur’an such as 2: 164; 3: 190; 10: 6; 23: 80; 45: 5.
On the notion of time as held by Zeno, Plato, Heraclitus and Stoics, cf. A. J. Gunn, The Problem of Time, pp. 19-22.
Cf. O. Spengler, op. cit., II, 189-323.
Cf. Lecture I, p. 3, Lecture III, p. 56 and p. 102.
Cf. Spengler, op. cit., II, 248-55.
Ibid., pp. 235, 240; cf. also note 33 in Lecture IV.
Cf. Muqaddimah, Chapter III, section 51: ‘The Fatimid.....’, trans. Rosenthal, II, 156-200. Ibn Khaldūn recounts formally twenty-four traditions bearing upon the belief in Mahdī (none of which is from Bukhārī or Muslim) and questions the authenticity of them all. Cf. also the article ‘al-Mahdī’ in Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam and P. K. Hitti, History of the Arabs, pp. 439-49, for the religio-political background of the imam-Mahdī idea.
Reference may also be made to Allama Iqbal’s letter dated 7 April 1932 to Muhammad Ahsan wherein, among other things, he states that, according to his firm belief (‘aqīdah), all traditions relating to Mahdī, masīhiyyat andmujaddidiyyat are the product of Persian and non-Arab imagination; and he adds that certainly they have nothing to do with the true spirit of the Qur’an (Iqbālnāmah, II, 231).
And finally it shall be rewarding to read this last paragraph in conjunction with Allama’s important notes on the back cover of his own copy of Spengler’s Decline of the West, facsimile of which is reproduced in Descriptive Catalogue of Allama Iqbal’s Personal Library. Plate No. 33.