Hassan Abbas on Reform in Pakistan
Interview by, Sophie Roell
The Browser, Jun 9, 2011
Tell me about the book by Muhammad Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam.
This is an old book, from 1930, before Pakistan’s creation. It’s based on lectures given by Dr Iqbal, the Indian poet-philosopher who initially came up with the idea of Pakistan. He is also officially designated as the country’s “national poet”. You can buy this book everywhere in Pakistan – not only major bookstores, but small ones as well. Iqbal emphasises the concept of ijtihad. This is an Arabic word, which implies creative interpretation of Islamic law through rational or logical reasoning. He is making the case that religious belief, especially when its ideas are applied to politics, should be rational. He was also a supporter of representative democracy. Today his ideas are very relevant, especially when we have to counter the dogmatism of religious forces in the political arena, and challenge those involved in militancy or terrorism using Islam. His book makes the case that Islam is not rigid – as Muslim theologians portray it – and it has some very progressive credentials and dimensions.
Iqbal’s ideas and philosophy have the credibility to help democratic forces in Pakistan a lot. Because when any newcomer, or an upcoming scholar, talks about these progressive aspects he is immediately dubbed pro-Western – which is, unfortunately, a negative term in various parts of the country. Iqbal was very open-minded in his religious discourse, and his main message to the Muslims of South Asia was to come out of intellectual stagnation and realise their potential through education and political action. His six lectures, which are transcribed in this book, can play a very constructive role in Pakistani society today.
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