In Support of Ahmadi (Muslims)

Aamir Liaquat Hussain has done it again. Yet another member of the Ahmadiyya (Muslim) community was killed in a small village, after two so-called Muslim scholars publicly reviled Ahmadis on television.

In this video, the Muslim leader, Syed Arif Shah Owaisi, said that the fitna-e-qadiyaniat (dissension caused by Ahmadiyya) is the biggest enemy of people of Pakistan. Everybody started clapping at this comment. Aamir Liaquat lauded the comment and other scholars joined in to show their support. 

It’s ridiculous how religious feelings are flared in Pakistan and how irresponsible the TV channels have become in publicly airing such views. This is not the first time Aamir Liaquat Hussain has been involved in inciting anti-Ahmadiyya sentiment in the masses via his TV program.

In September 2008, Aamir Liaquat Hussain dedicated a whole episode in discussing Ahmadiyya beliefs in which scholars declared that ‘anyone who associated with false prophets was “worthy of murder”.’

Within 48 hours after his show was aired, two prominent leaders from the Ahmadiyya community were killed in Pakistan. Although Aamir Liaquat Hussain clearly distanced himself from the killings, the fact remains that his TV show has been spewing hatred against the Ahamdiyya community.

I strongly condemn attacks on the Ahmadiyya community and fully support the Ahmadiyyas all over Pakistan. In fact, as I had argued in one of my blog-posts earlier, I do not see why the finality of Prophethood should be such a big issue for Muslims all over the world. I am a firm believer in freedom of expression with regards to one’s religious beliefs and see no problem if members of the Ahmadiyya community believe Mirza Ghulam of Qadian as a Prophet of Allah. Whether such a belief is true or not is another debate. However, no one should be killed for holding such views. Pakistan is indeed a hotbed of religious intolerance and religious minorities are severely persecuted. Where is Allah when He is needed?

Why pray?

As another year comes to an end, I wonder what I have achieved so far. That my relationship with religious faith has, more or less, come to an end is evident. I am still struggling to find God within all that has transpired over the last year.

My wife had a harrowing, child-birth experience from which she is still recovering: physically and psychologically. Throughout this time, I have longed for her pain to be over. I have wished for the existence of a Benevolent and Merciful God, who would respond to the agonizing cries of my wife and alleviate her suffering.

But, from an atheistic perspective, it has always been wishful thinking. “Of course, there is no God! No super-natural power to answer your prayers.” In my head, I often hear similar sentences in the voice of Richard Dawkins.

In times of utter distress and tragedy, man has yearned for something, for someone that may provide solace and comfort.

Putting the thinking cap on, I know that neither the doctors nor my or my wife’s parents or friends or colleagues can be of much help in healing the wounds of my wife. Yet one hopes for Mother Nature to operate in her mysterious ways and create a ‘medical miracle‘ of sorts.

Ah, well, life is indeed weirder than we can imagine. Though we do not see the so-called laws of Nature be broken every now and then, phenomena do occur that lack the so-called scientific explanation. The occurrence of such phenomena does not prove anything except our very own ignorance about the nature of Nature. However, it does prove – to quote Carl Sagan – that ‘the cosmos is full beyond measure of elegant truths; of exquisite interrelationships; of the awesome machinery of nature.’

In circumstances such as these, do I feel the need to pray to someone or something? Perhaps. But, then again, what is a prayer? I don’t have a personal definition but to quote Sir Muhammad Iqbal:

Prayer… is an expression of man’s inner yearning for a response in the awful silence of the universe. It is a unique process of discovery whereby the searching ego affirms itself in the very moment of self-negation, and thus discovers its own worth and justification as a dynamic factor in the life of the universe.

Maybe, that’s all I can suggest to my wife: to be optimistic and hopeful by believing in her own-self as a ‘dynamic factor.’ To see herself as an agent of change and free-will in the cosmos, who is capable of overcoming all the obstacles of life.

Perhaps, then, in the quintessential mystical sense, belief in God is tantamount to belief in one’s own self. I find this to be an extremely spiritually uplifting thought. It gives me (and my wife) hope to carry on living no matter how bad things get. After all, life is the greatest gift of Nature…

Forgetting the Qur’an

Qur’an is a book greatly esteemed by Muslims and is considered a Divine Revelation, for all of humanity until kingdom come. There is also a belief prevalent amongst Muslims that the Qur’an has been unchanged since the time it was revealed to Prophet Muhammad.

Sana'a manuscript
Sana’a manuscript

Muslims generally provide a circular argument for this belief saying that the Qur’an has remained unchanged since the time of its revelation because the Qur’an says so itself. This circular argument is primarily derived from the 9th verse of Surat Al-Hijr, which is the 15th chapter of the Qur’an. The following table provides various translations of the verse:

Translator Translation
Sahih International Indeed, it is We who sent down the Qur’an and indeed, We will be its guardian.
Muhsin Khan Verily We: It is We Who have sent down the Dhikr (i.e. the Quran) and surely, We will guard it (from corruption).
Pickthall Lo! We, even We, reveal the Reminder, and lo! We verily are its Guardian.
Yusuf Ali We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption).
Shakir Surely We have revealed the Reminder and We will most surely be its guardian.
Dr. Ghali Surely We, Ever We, have been sending down the Remembrance, and surely We are indeed Preservers of it.

As far as I see, there are two major problems in deciding, with absolute certainty, whether the Qur’an has been preserved in its entirety or not. The first problem pertains to the method of transmission of historical facts. Compared to the 21st Century America, where a plethora of media exists to record and archive events of the past, the 6th Century Arabia was quite different. The method of keeping records, in pre-Islamic Arabia, was largely oral.

No proper institutions such as libraries, museums and the Internet – to name a few – existed in Arabia during the time of Prophet Muhammad, which were responsible for the collection and maintenance of historical events. By modern standards, the process of archiving was extremely primitive. As a consequence, separating the myths and rumors from actual historical facts becomes problematic.

Muslims argue that since pre-Islamic Arabia was a largely oral culture, the Arabs were particularly good at memorization. However, as I will try to demonstrate in this post, humans generally tend to forget and even the Arabs are no exception.

The second problem in validating the Muslim narrative about the completeness and historical authenticity of the Qur’an is the absence of counter-narratives. We only know about the preservation, compilation and standardization of the Qur’an through the lenses of Muslim scholars and scribes, who lived during the initial years of Islam.

To the best of my knowledge, there appear to be no historical records, written and preserved by non-Muslims, who lived in that era about the process of compilation and canonization of the Qur’an. The lack of a counter-narrative raises more questions about the claim that the Qur’an has been preserved in its actual form since the time of its revelation.

There have been certain books, such as Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World, which, according to Wikipedia, try to understand the origins of Islam in light of the then-contemporary historical, archaeological and philological data. Hagarism apparently draws not from just Arabic historical documents but also from Armenian, Coptic, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin and Syriac sources. I will not go into the detailed analysis of this book for I have not read it and scholars do not seem to accept the conclusions of the book. I will, however, state that although early Islam, as described in works like Hagarism, may not be accurate according to scholars, stringent and skeptical standards along with ‘rich literatures of the Middle East that existed before, during and after the rise of Islam’ are needed in order to have a more accurate understanding about the emergence of the Qur’an.

So, without further ado, let’s start with the Muslim narrative about the compilation of the Qur’an, which can be understood through Hadith. Ahadith (plural of hadith) are the reports of the teachings, deeds and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad that are not part of the Qur’an. Ahadith also contain the saying and teachings of the companions of Prophet Muhammad. In this post, I will be elaborating my point about the difficulty in determining the completeness of the Qur’an, in light of the following hadith, which is attributed to Zaid bin Thabit Al-Ansari:

Who was one of those who used to write the Divine Revelation: Abu Bakr sent for me after the (heavy) casualties among the warriors (of the battle) of Yamama (where a great number of Qurra’ were killed). ‘Umar was present with Abu Bakr who said, ‘Umar has come to me and said, The people have suffered heavy casualties on the day of (the battle of) Yamama, and I am afraid that there will be more casualties among the Qurra’ (those who know the Qur’an by heart) at other battle-fields, whereby a large part of the Qur’an may be lost, unless you collect it. And I am of the opinion that you should collect the Qur’an.” Abu Bakr added, “I said to ‘Umar, ‘How can I do something which Allah’s Apostle has not done?’ ‘Umar said (to me), ‘By Allah, it is (really) a good thing.’ So ‘Umar kept on pressing, trying to persuade me to accept his proposal, till Allah opened my bosom for it and I had the same opinion as ‘Umar.” (Zaid bin Thabit added:) Umar was sitting with him (Abu Bakr) and was not speaking. me). “You are a wise young man and we do not suspect you (of telling lies or of forgetfulness): and you used to write the Divine Inspiration for Allah’s Apostle. Therefore, look for the Qur’an and collect it (in one manuscript). ” By Allah, if he (Abu Bakr) had ordered me to shift one of the mountains (from its place) it would not have been harder for me than what he had ordered me concerning the collection of the Qur’an. I said to both of them, “How dare you do a thing which the Prophet has not done?” Abu Bakr said, “By Allah, it is (really) a good thing. So I kept on arguing with him about it till Allah opened my bosom for that which He had opened the bosoms of Abu Bakr and Umar. So I started locating Quranic material and collecting it from parchments, scapula, leaf-stalks of date palms and from the memories of men (who knew it by heart). I found with Khuzaima two Verses of Surat-at-Tauba which I had not found with anybody else, (and they were): “Verily there has come to you an Apostle (Muhammad) from amongst yourselves. It grieves him that you should receive any injury or difficulty He (Muhammad) is ardently anxious over you (to be rightly guided)” (9.128) The manuscript on which the Quran was collected, remained with Abu Bakr till Allah took him unto Him, and then with ‘Umar till Allah took him unto Him, and finally it remained with Hafsa, Umar’s daughter.

This is hadith # 201 in Book 60 of the 6th Volume of Sahih al-Bukhari, which is one of the six major hadith collection. A number of points come to my mind after reading this hadith and assuming that the hadith is true.

1) The Qur’an was not compiled during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad.

2) There were no instructions left by Prophet Muhammad on how to compile and order the verses of the Qur’an.

3) There is a possibility that some verses of the Qur’an may have been lost.

The first and second point are more than evident. With regards to the third point, I’d say the following. Abi Khuzaima Al-Ansari was the only one who remembered the last two verses of Surat At-Tauba. Now, since Abi Khuzaima Al-Ansari, was the only person who remembered these last two verses, how can one be sure that he did not err? I am not questioning the sincerity and honesty of Abi Khuzaima Al-Ansari here. I am rather questioning the imperfection of the human mind, which tends to forget with the passage of time and also muddles up events of the past. I don’t think that there can be a definite resolution of this issue.

Given that Verse 128 of Surat At-Tauba is included in the Qur’an, we are only left to speculate whether this verse is indeed part of the Qur’an that was revealed to Prophet Muhammad. We also do not know if there were any other verses of Surat At-Tauba or any other Surah that were forgotten.

Moving on, we find another hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari about the process of canonization of the Qur’an. Narrated by Anas bin Malik, it is hadith # 510 in Book 61, Volume 6 and is as follows:

Hudhaifa bin Al-Yaman came to Uthman at the time when the people of Sham and the people of Iraq were Waging war to conquer Arminya and Adharbijan. Hudhaifa was afraid of their (the people of Sham and Iraq) differences in the recitation of the Qur’an, so he said to ‘Uthman, “O chief of the Believers! Save this nation before they differ about the Book (Quran) as Jews and the Christians did before.” So ‘Uthman sent a message to Hafsa saying, “Send us the manuscripts of the Qur’an so that we may compile the Qur’anic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you.” Hafsa sent it to ‘Uthman. ‘Uthman then ordered Zaid bin Thabit, ‘Abdullah bin AzZubair, Said bin Al-As and ‘AbdurRahman bin Harith bin Hisham to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies. ‘Uthman said to the three Quraishi men, “In case you disagree with Zaid bin Thabit on any point in the Qur’an, then write it in the dialect of Quraish, the Qur’an was revealed in their tongue.” They did so, and when they had written many copies, ‘Uthman returned the original manuscripts to Hafsa. ‘Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur’anic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt. Said bin Thabit added, “A Verse from Surat Ahzab was missed by me when we copied the Qur’an and I used to hear Allah’s Apostle reciting it. So we searched for it and found it with Khuzaima bin Thabit Al-Ansari. (That Verse was): ‘Among the Believers are men who have been true in their covenant with Allah.’ (33.23)

As evident from the two ahadith I have shared, the collection and canonization of the Qur’an was an extremely arduous task. This clearly leads to the fundamental problem, as stated on Wikipedia, in determining if the ‘Uthmanic text comprehends the entire body of material that was revealed to Muhammad, or if there has been material that is missing from the Uthmanic text.’

There are Muslim counter-arguments of course. According to Wikipedia:

Al-Khoei brings up in favor of the Qur’an is that by the time ‘Uthman became caliph, Islam had spread to such an extent that it was impossible for him, or even for anyone more powerful than him, to remove anything from the Qur’an. The value and importance the Qur’an during this time protected it from being altered. In the oral culture at this time, people paid great attention to memorizing pre-Islamic Arabic poetry, it is hard to imagine that they did not pay similar attention to the preservation of the Book of the Almighty, especially since they believed they would be rewarded in the hereafter for memorizing it. Uthman could have altered the text, but he would have been unable to remove the Qur’an from the hearts of the Muslims who had memorized it.

I would argue that even though the Arabs may have paid utmost attention to memorizing the verses of the Qur’an, Arabs are, at the end of the day, humans, who tend to forget and make errors. The two ahadith I have shared illustrate the point that only one person remembered certain supposed verses of the Qur’an, which no one else remembered! This does, according my understanding, makes the possibility of completely forgetting some of the verses of Qur’an as extremely real.

Another possible question is: what if these ahadith are not true? In that case, we are still left with the problem of historically determining and subsequently validating on how the Qur’an was compiled during the life and after the death of Prophet Muhammad. If these ahadith are not true, we cannot know whether there were any reliable media, apart from the faulty human memory, to effectively store and transmit the verses of the Qur’an.

Summing up, I would say that the belief that Qur’an has been preserved in its entirety since the time of Prophet Muhammad needs re-examination. It’s about time that Muslims start looking into this matter seriously.

The bane of blasphemy

The blasphemy law in Pakistan is, perhaps, from the perspective of US constitution, highly oppressive and runs counter to the very essence of freedom of speech. While preparing for this blog post, I came across an intellectually stimulating blog by Prof. Sheldon Nahmod about free speech and hate speech. I stumbled across a new and equally interesting fact that the First Amendment of the US Constitution “prohibits government from regulating such [hate] speech altogether.”

Nahmod goes onto say that the “First Amendment creates a marketplace of ideas in which everyone can participate.” The central argument is that by exercising rationality, people will be ultimately able to assess the value of a given idea. By including hateful ideas in the marketplace of ideas, one would expect counter-speech to emerge. This will allow people to reason more effectively about the worthiness of a given hateful idea.  To quote Nahmod “more speech rather than less is the remedy.”

In Pakistan, however, it is the other way round. Less speech rather than more is the remedy. The blasphemy law is a classic example of this fact. According to Section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code, defiling the sacred name of Prophet Muhammad is punishable by death or imprisonment for life. Whereas I do not believe in defiling the name of Prophet Muhammad or any other revered personality of any religion per se, I do believe that the death penalty is too harsh a punishment for any person who defiles the name of the Prophet Muhammad.

In fact, and in agreement with the US constitution, I believe there should be no punishment at all for anyone who defiles the sacred name of Prophet Muhammad. I am a firm believer in the cliche that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” No matter how derogatory a remark one may make about Prophet Muhammad, the remark will be, at the end of the day, composed of just a bunch of words that definitely do not cause any bodily injury.

A derogatory remark can offend and infuriate. A derogatory remark may cause some amount of psychological distress. However, as far as I see, a derogatory remark about Prophet Muhammad who passed away 1400 years ago in the Arabian peninsula should not be able to mentally scar an individual of the 21st century for life.


I really believe that Muslims need to be honest with themselves in trying to understand why passing derogatory remarks about Prophet Muhammad should not be an act worthy of death penalty.

Unfortunately, this is not how people think in Pakistan. Individuals are often accused of blasphemy and are punished by the vigilantes even before being brought to the court. Those who sympathize and support the individuals accused of blasphemy often face dire consequences.

The assassination of the former governor of the state of Punjab, Salman Taseer, as well as the Federal Minister of Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, are examples of how rampant the persecution, in the name of Islam, is in Pakistan. More than that, the vigilantes who punish the opposers of the blasphemy law are actually glorified in Pakistan.

People love Mumtaz Qadri,” who, despite being a body guard of Salman Taseer, ended up killing him.  Qadri was showered with rose-petals when we appeared in the court, while the judge, who sentenced him to death, had to flee from Pakistan.

Qadri: The Muslim Rockstar
Mumtaz Qadri: The Muslim Rockstar

The blasphemy law is indeed a “black law” that needs be expunged from the Pakistan Penal Code. However, Islamic fanaticism is much more deep-rooted. The blasphemy law is just the tip of the iceberg. Islam needs a thorough evaluation and Muslims have to re-learn, if not get rid off, their religious beliefs, if Pakistan is to ever compete successfully in the marketplace of ideas

The Curse of Islam

As I begin to write (this blog post), I am finding it hard to write. I am finding it hard to write not because I don’t have a concrete idea in my mind or words to express my thoughts. I am finding it hard to write primarily because what has happened is extremely difficult, if not utterly impossible, to express through words. It is difficult to write about the horrific attack in Peshawar on December 16, 2014 which claimed the lives of more than 140 schoolchildren and injured countless others. Like any liberal humanist, I condemn this cowardly act in the strongest of terms. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have words strong enough to truly condemn the attack.


Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has accepted responsibility of this attack. TTP is an umbrella organization of various militant groups maintaining a heavy presence in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. One of main objectives of TTP, according to CTC Sentinel, is to ‘enforce Sharia, unite against NATO forces in Afghanistan and perform “defensive jihad against the Pakistan army.”’

Whereas this particular attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar appears to be more politically motivated (as a retaliation against Operation Zarb-e-Azb) than religiously driven, religion does appear as one of the driving forces of TTP. Islam is, after all, a core component of TTP’s ideology and the influence of Islam, on TTP’s decision making, cannot be completely ignored.

For example, Maulana Fazallulah a.ka. Radio Mullah, who served as a leader of TTP, opposed the vaccination against polio on the grounds that it was “a conspiracy of the Jews and Christians to stunt the population growth of Muslims.”

Also, before becoming the emir of the TTP, Radio Mullah was the leader of Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), which is a militant organization aiming to enforce Sharia Law in Pakistan. According to South Asia Terrorism Portal, the ex-leader of TNSM, Maulana Sufi Mohammed, said in an August 1998-speech that “those opposing the imposition of Sharia in Pakistan were wajib-ul-qatl (worthy of death).”

It is more than evident that individuals like Mullah Radio and Sufi Mohammad want to impose a very extreme interpretation of Islam, by hook or by crook, in Pakistan.

Incidents like these make me feel ashamed as a citizen of Pakistan and makes me question certain aspects of Islam even more. Peaceful Muslims all over the world, whether orthodox or progressive, strongly oppose the violence of TTP. Yet no Muslim seems interested in questioning the fundamental tenets of Islam, which, at the end of the day, had some role to play in the development of TTP’s ideology. 

Islam, unfortunately, has certain characteristics that make it an ideal ideology for those who wish to engage in a violent conflict against the prevalent system of the world. According to my understanding, there are two fundamental beliefs about Islam that almost immediately transform it into an extreme ideology. The two beliefs are:

1) Islam is a complete code of life that governs all aspect of one’s personal, economic, political and socio-cultural existence.

2)  Jihad is a form of armed-struggle against the “wrong doers.”

The combination of these two beliefs, in my opinion, naturally leads to the development of the Sharia Law and motivates Muslims to fight a Jihad against those who oppose the Sharia Law.

As I have been arguing in many of my previous blog entries, one needs to question the very basic beliefs of Islam before one can proceed ahead. I can never consider Islam as a complete way of life if I cannot accept the existence of metaphysical entities such as Allah, angels and Satan.

Pakistan, as an off-shoot of the Indian subcontinent, has had a rich history of Sufism, which is the mystical side of Islam. Love, peace and tolerance have always been an integral part of Sufism. Unfortunately, and much to the chagrin of the Sufis and the seculars, the rise of religious extremism in Pakistan is reaching unprecedented levels.

Whatever maybe the political scenario, terrorism is terrorism and cannot be simply tolerated. In times like these, the Sufis and the seculars need to unite to face Islamic fundamentalism head on. A critical analysis of Islam is well overdue. Therefore, in my opinion, a partial solution to the growing religiosity in Pakistan is to undertake the Iqbalian project of reconstructing the religious thought in Islam. Realistically speaking, I doubt if such an undertaking will succeed in Pakistan. However, this Jihad, in the land of reason through the power of pen, has to be one of the counter measures against the Jihad of the sword.

A Case for Allah

Sir Muhammad Iqbal, widely referred to as Allama Iqbal, was a poet-philosopher of the Indian subcontinent, who is credited with proposing the idea of creation of Pakistan. He makes a case for Allah in a lecture titled: ‘The Philosophic Test of the Revelations of Religious Experience.’ The lecture is published as the second chapter of Allama Iqbal’s famous book called The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam.


I believe it is more appropriate to say that in this lecture, Allama Iqbal tried to philosophically  analyze the nature of human experience in order to probe the nature of Ultimate Reality through clues furnished by the verses of the Qu’ran. In this blog-entry, I will try to summarize the key points made by Allama Iqbal and point towards any potential shortcomings that exist in his thesis, according to my understanding.

Iqbal starts off the lecture by talking about the three traditional arguments given for the existence of God and provides a critique of each of the three arguments. He goes on to suggest that the real significance of these arguments will appear if it can be demonstrated that ‘thought and being are ultimately one.’

Iqbal views thought ‘not as a principle which organizes and integrates its material from the outside, but as a potency which is formative of the very being of its material.’ Therefore, according to Iqbal, ‘thought or idea is not alien to the original nature of things; it is their ultimate ground and constitutes the very essence of their being, infusing itself in them from the very beginning of their career and inspiring their onward march to a self-determined end.

Further into the lecture, Iqbal states that ‘[i]n conscious experience life and thought permeate each other. They form a unity. Thought, therefore, in its true nature, is identical with life.

Therefore, to truly understand Iqbal’s view of Ultimate Reality, we have to understand how Iqbal defined and described the concept of Life. Toward the end of his lecture, Iqbal concludes his thesis by saying that ‘the Ultimate Reality is a rationally directed creative life.’ Iqbal continues on to say that it is a ‘simple fact of experience that life is not a formless fluid, but an organizing principle of unity, a synthetic activity which holds together and focalizes the dispersing dispositions of the living organism for a constructive purpose.’

This definition of life, provided by Iqbal, appears to be one of the most abstract definitions of life. Whereas traditional biology may define life in terms of certain properties and functions that separate the animate from inanimate matter, life, according to Iqbal, is force of organization with a definite purpose that is more fundamental than matter itself. Iqbal believes that life is ‘foundational and anterior to the routine of physical and chemical processes.’

Iqbal views life as fundamentally incapable of being explained in terms of mechanism. Iqbal believes that postulating the ‘existence of a self-producing or self-maintaining mechanism’ is meaningless because ‘[a] mechanism which reproduced itself would be a mechanism without parts, and, therefore, not a mechanism.

Iqbal views consciousness as a consequence of life. According to Iqbal, ‘[c]onsciousness may be imagined as a deflection from life. Its function is to provide a luminous point in order to enlighten the forward rush of life.’ Iqbal continues on and says that the, ‘consciousness is a variety of the purely spiritual principle of life which is not a substance, but an organizing principle, a specific mode of behaviour essentially different to the behaviour of an externally worked machine. Since, however, we cannot conceive of a purely spiritual energy, except in association with a definite combination of sensible elements through which it reveals itself, we are apt to take this combination as the ultimate ground of spiritual energy.’

Thus, for Iqbal, life is the basic principle of Reality. Furthermore, according to Iqbal, ‘the origin of [life] … must be sought in a spiritual reality revealable in, but non-discoverable by, any analysis of spatial experience.’

To sum up Iqbal’s views, we can say the following:

1) Life is an organizing principle which holds together a living organism for constructive purposes.

2) Life is foundational and anterior to the routine of physical and chemical processes.

3) Consciousness is a deflection from life that illuminates the forward rush of life.

4) Life cannot be explained and understood in a purely mechanistic fashion.

5) The spiritual nature of life can be revealed in, but not discovered by, the analysis of human experience.

All these points seem to suggest a very vitalist conception of life. Contemporary biology does not accept vitalism in any form. Therefore, from the perspective of a modern biologist, Iqbal’s views on life are of no use. Iqbal righty suggests that the sectional nature of science, as exemplified by biology, cannot conceive life as a spiritual energy and cannot explain the ‘factual wholeness’ of life in a purely mechanistic fashion.

However, it is the 5th point about how religious experience can reveal the spiritual nature of life that Iqbal tries to talk about in the last quarter of his lecture.

Iqbal talks about the spiritual nature of life by making use of Bergson’s idea of ‘pure duration.’ As there is constant change observed in Nature, ‘conscious existence means a life in time.’ Iqbal makes a distinction between two modes of conscious experience: the efficient and the appreciative. The efficient side of conscious existence, in the words of Iqbal, ‘enters into relation with what we call the world of space… [It is] the practical self of daily life in its dealing with the external order of things.’ The appreciative side of the self is revealed by a deeper analysis of conscious experience. Iqbal states that ‘[i]t is only in the moments of profound meditation, when the efficient self is in abeyance, that we sink into our deeper self and reach the inner centre of experience. In the life-process of this deeper ego the states of consciousness melt into each other.’

The essential difference between the appreciative and efficient self is how these two modes experience time. In the words of Iqbal, ‘[i]t appears that the time of the appreciative-self is a single “now” which the efficient self, in its traffic with the world of space, pulverizes into a series of “nows” like pearl beads in a thread. Here is, then, pure duration unadulterated by space.’

Iqbal concludes that ‘[a] critical interpretation of the sequence of time as revealed in our selves has led us to a notion of the Ultimate Reality as pure duration in which thought, life, and purpose interpenetrate to form an organic unity. We cannot conceive this unity except as the unity of a self– an all-embracing concrete self– the ultimate source of all individual life and thought.’

The crux of Iqbalian argument for the existence of God lies in Bergeson’s conception of ‘time of the appreciative self’ (as described in Iqbalian terms). Whereas Bergeson considers pure time to be prior to self, Iqbal inverts the argument and states self to be prior to pure time by arguing that pure time cannot ‘hold together the multiplicity of objects and events.’ An appreciative self is required, ‘which can seize the multiplicity of duration– broken up into an infinity of instants– and transform it to the organic wholeness of a synthesis. To exist in pure duration is to be a self, and to be a self is to be able to say “I am.”

Iqbal further continues that ‘only that truly exists which can say “I am”. It is the degree of the intuition of “I-amness” that determines the place of a thing in the scale of being.’

From this point, Iqbal immediately moves to talk about the Ultimate Self and says that to ‘[t]he Ultimate Self… the not-self does not present itself as a confronting “other”, or else it would have to be, like our finite self, in spatial relation with the confronting “other”. [The Ultimate Self’s] “I-amness” is independent, elemental, absolute. Of such a self it is impossible for us to form an adequate conception.

Iqbal’s argument for the existence of Allah appears to be a kind of solipsism at best. The Ultimate Reality is an organic unity which is formed via the interpenetration of thought, life and purpose. What is unclear is how the existence of Ultimate Self is derived from the experience of finite, appreciative self. Based on my careful perusal of the lecture, Iqbal does not seem to provide any philosophical argument to derive the existence of such an Ultimate Self from the experience of the finite, appreciative self. He only quotes verses of the Qu’ran to speak of and support such a Self.

Furthermore, and in line with the interview of Muhammad Asad that I had shared on my blog few weeks ago, Iqbal too admits that it is not possible to form any proper conception of the Ultimate Self. Yet, paradoxically, Iqbal has devoted an entire lecture in trying to philosophically justify the religious claims about the Ultimate Self.

Iqbal not only claims that the Ultimate Self is ‘independent, elemental, absolute’ but also states that the Ultimate Self ‘is unthinkable without a character, i.e. a uniform mode of behaviour.’ According to Iqbal, ‘[n]ature is to the Divine Self as character is to the human self.’ Such descriptions of the Ultimate Self appear to contradict the idea that no proper conception of the Ultimate Self can be formed. In fact, the very statement that “it is impossible for us to form an adequate conception [of the Ultimate Self]”, ends up being a definite conception of the Ultimate Self.

Iqbal does not seem to address this apparent problem in his lecture. To conclude this rather long blog-post, I would say that the appearance of a finite, appreciative self is fairly self-evident. However, to say that there is an all-embracing concrete Self as the ultimate source of all individual life and thought needs further warranting. Iqbal, unfortunately, did not seem to have provided satisfactory reasons for accepting the existence of such an Ultimate Self a.k.a Allah.

I will, however, give credit to Allama Iqbal for attempting to grapple the topic of Allah’s existence in light of the science and philosophy of his day. The sincerity and intellectual energy that went into the preparation of this and other lectures is highly commendable. In a future blog-post, I will try to present a critique of Iqbal’s conception of life in light of contemporary science and see what conclusions can be reached. 

Religion is the opium of the people

Recently, a video clip has sparked controversy amongst the Muslims in general and Pakistani Muslims in particular. Junaid Jamshed (JJ), a pop-star turned televangelist, made a few Islamically inappropriate comments about the Mother of Sunni Muslim Ummah: Aishah bint Abi Bakr, who was one of wives of Prophet Muhammad.

JJ, in my opinion, tried to crack a misogynistic joke by sharing an anecdote about Aisha and Muhammad so as to highlight what, according to him, is an essential attribute of being a woman: attention seeking.

JJ said something on the following lines:

Hazrat Aisha (Hazrat being an honorable Arabic title) often used to seek the attention of Prophet Muhammad. She would often pretend to be sick so that Prophet Muhammad may come and tend to her. Once she wrapped her head, lay down and cried in pain. Prophet Muhammad came and inquired as to what happened. She said my head is splitting in two and I am very sick. Prophet Muhammad said: Oh Aisha, if you die in this condition, the Prophet of Allah will say your funeral prayer. Can you imagine how blessed will you be? She instantaneously got up, unwrapped her head and said: You want to me to die, so that you can go to your other wives! This story is proof of the fact that even in the company of the Prophet, women cannot change. Do not try to change women. Women are created from the most crooked portion of the rib. If you try to straighten it, it will break.

Whereas people in the West, including myself, will find this video offensive for the obvious misogynistic attitude of JJ, Muslims are upset for a completely different reason.

Even though I have grown up in Pakistan in a somewhat religious household, I have always struggled to find the emotional connection with and reverential significance of Prophet Muhammad, his kin and companions. However, for Muslims in Pakistan, it is simply inconceivable to talk about the revered personalities of Islam in such a light-hearted manner.

Islamists like Aamir Liaquat Hussain and Syed Muzaffar have gone absolutely berserk.

I will not translate these two videos in English for there is nothing of substance in these speeches. These speeches are, to quote Shakespeare, “full of sound and fury; signifying nothing.

Needless to say, these individuals are full of religious fervor. Their diatribes are emotionally charged and, in these two videos, they have gone as far as abusing the mother of JJ.

Aamir Liaquat Hussain and Syed Muzaffar are a classic example of the growing intolerance and bigotry in Pakistan. They believe that their own parochial interpretation of Islam is the true Islam and anyone that does not conform to their interpretation is a kaafir and subject to punishment according to the injunctions of Islam.

In fact, what JJ did is, for all practical purposes, tantamount to blasphemy. It isn’t surprising that an official case of blasphemy has already been registered against JJ in Pakistan.

Blasphemy is a serious issue in Pakistan for which literally thousands of people have been killed in the past couple of years. One of the recent and most tragic incidents was the attack on a Christian couple last month by a mob of more than 1000 Muslims. The couple was burned alive in a brick kiln and the woman was 4 months pregnant.

Thinking about this event sends a chill down my spine and I just don’t have enough words to express how I feel. Even though JJ has publicly released a video, sincerely apologizing for his action, it remains to be seen if the Muftis, Aalims and the general masses in Pakistan forgive him and embrace him once again.

If anything can be said with certainty, it is that the life of JJ and his family is in danger. He is in UK and has no plans to return to Pakistan.

Even a practicing, main-stream, Sunni Muslim like Junaid Jamshed is not safe in Pakistan any more. This is the sorry state of affairs in Pakistan. Religiosity and fanaticism of the highest order have taken hold of the masses and it is difficult to find sane and liberal voices in the din of Islamist slogans. I seriously hope that passionate inquiry into the very fundamentals of Islam (as I am trying to do through my blogs) leads towards more tolerance, acceptance and forgiveness.