Let me say first that I am honored to be invited to speak on this occasion. It is, I think, another example of the hospitality that Pakistanand especially Lahorealways shows to us visiting scholars. It certainly is not a tribute to my status as an Iqbal scholar.
Pakistan, it seems to me, has been very fortunate in its two great founding fathers, Mr. Jinnah, that rarest of men, a politician of real wisdom; and Allamah Iqbal, your national poet and philosopher. As a nation, you might not always have done what they would have wished, but they are patient fathers and their wisdom is always waiting for you when you need it.
As I said, I have no claims to any expertise on Iqbal, his writings, or his thought. Iqbal is, I think, best known in Pakistan nowadays for his great theological work, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, and for his Urdu poetry. His Persian poetry is less read, at least in the original, because Pakistan has, for better or worse, abandoned the elegance of Persian for the practical virtues of English and Urdu.
There is one aspect of Iqbals thought and writings where I do have some claim to an informed opinion. That is his first book, The Development of Metaphysics in Persia. The Development of Metaphysics in Persia was Iqbals doctoral dissertation at Munich and was based on research he had done in Germany and England, as well as on his studies with the orientalist Thomas Arnold in Lahore. Its rather a neglected book. Its not poetry, and it does not represent Iqbals mature speculative thought. It also never received a great deal of attention from Western scholars of Islamic philosophy. I first encountered on a library shelf almost thirty years ago. It looked like something I should be interested in, but I didnt understand it, and I presumed that a book on such a subject published in 1908 would be out-of-date. Much later, when I had written a book or two of my own, I looked at it again and realized that Iqbal was dealing with aspects of Islamic philosophy that would remain untouched by anyone else for nearly half a century and whose importance would not be fully appreciated until the 1970s.
To understand what I mean, you need to know something about the history of Western study of Islamic philosophy. The study of Islamic philosophy is some three centuries older than any other branch of what Western academics now call Islamic studies. In the 12th century European Christian scholars visiting Spain discovered that the Arabs possessed a mass of advanced philosophical and scientific literature, some translated from Greek and some written by the Muslims themselves. Since very few such works had survived in Western Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire seven hundred years earlier, these scholars eagerly arranged for these books to be translated into Latin, the language of scholarship in Europe. Among these were works by leading Islamic philosophers of that period, notably Ibn Sina, Ghazali, and especially Ibn Rushd. These books were eagerly studied in Europe and were the basis of a philosophical and scientific renaissance in the 13th and 14th centuries. Ibn Rushd, indeed, was far better known in Europe than in the Islamic world, where he was almost forgotten. The Latin translations of Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd were among the earliest books printed in Europe. Many of Ibn Rushds works survive only in Latin translations.
It was natural enough that when European scholars began writing histories of philosophy, they should be mainly concerned with those Islamic philosophers whose works were translated into Latin eight hundred years ago. One needed to know something about Ibn Rushd to understand European philosophy of the later Middle Ages; it was not necessary to know, for example, Suhrawardi or Mulla Sadra, philosophers who were far more influential than Ibn Rushd in the Islamic world. So far, so good.
However, at this point the European scholars made a grave error. They assumed that those authors who were important to them represented the whole of the history of Islamic philosophy, rather than just the Islamic philosophy that happened to be available in Spain at the end of the 1100s. As a result, almost every general history of philosophy limits Islamic philosophy to the period 8501200. Even specialized histories of Islamic philosophy written as late as the 1970s do this, referring to the whole of the last eight hundred years of Islamic philosophical thought as a period of supercommentaries, degeneracy, decline, and so on.
A correlate of this approach was the habit of referring to philosophy in Islam as Arabian philosophy. This is, among other things, an example of a tendency in Western scholarship of Islam to identify Islam with the Arabs. It would simply be an amusing error were it not for the fact that it leads to the much larger error of ignoring the central role of Iran and Iranian culture in Islamic history. The Arabian philosophy known to the medieval Europeans and to the authors of histories of European philosophy is a version of later Greek philosophy. It is really only with the undeniably Iranian philosophers of the later period that Islamic philosophy becomes really distinctive.
The credit for changing this situation goes largely to the French orientalist, Henry Corbin, who wrote books establishing the importance of the later period of Islamic philosophy, of the great Sufi theorists like Ibn Arabi, and of the so-called School of Isfahan of the 16th and 17th centuries and people like Mulla Sadra. Two Pakistanis also played a major role in this change. M. M. Sharifs History of Muslim Philosophy was the first general history of Islamic philosophy to give due weight to the later philosophers and the Sufi thinkers. Fazlur Rahmans book on Mulla Sadra established the philosophical importance of this great 17th century Persian philosopher.
All this is by way of establishing the originality of Allamah Iqbals project in The Development of Metaphysics in Persia. His book was an attempt to take account of the whole history of Islamic metaphysical thought. Iqbals first innovation was to make his subject Persian metaphysics, rather than Islamic or Arabian metaphysics. This one word alerts us to the fact that he is working from a new perspective in Western scholarship, one in which Iran and Iranian culture is central. Others before him knew of Persian culture, of course, but they knew it as one part of Islamic culture, a subculture defined by being different from the Arab culture, which everybody assumed was the true Islamic culture. It would be another sixty years before another Western scholar, challenged the identification of Islamic and Arab culture and recognized the central importance of Iranian culture in Islam.
Once Iqbal had identified Persian metaphysics as his theme, it was his task to find the metaphysicians of Persia. Some, like Ibn Sina, were known to everyone, but for the later period Iqbal was working in territory almost unknown to the scholary world of his time. To be sure, some of these later philosophers were still being studied in the madrasas in India, but not all of them. An example is the Ishraqi, illuminationist, philosopher Suhrawardi. Thus, Iqbal was a real pioneer in giving the later period of Islamic philosophy its due weight.
This task that Allamah Iqbal set for himself was no small matter. Scholarship on Islamic philosophy was far less developed at the turn of the 20th century, and Iqbal was often writing about authors who had not been systematically studied. Often he had to work from manuscripts rather than printed books. Later scholarship has confirmed his judgments: for example, of the central importance of Suhrawardi and Mulla Sadra.
There is another aspect of this book that is worthy of note, its systematic character. The History of Metaphysics in Persia attempts to portray the history of thought in Iran as a coherent and organic process, developing in accordance with laws integral to itself.
The history of philosophy can be written in several ways. The most common approach is to list the philosophers chronologically or by school, giving some information on their lives and books and giving a summary of their views. This has its place, of courseSharifs History of Muslim Philosophy, which many of you know, is a fine examplebut the collection of historical facts is not the real goal of the study of the history of philosophy. It certainly was not Iqbals goal.
Allamah Iqbals real teacher in the history of philosophy was Hegel, the great German philosopher of the early 19th century. Hegel looked back on the previous twenty-five centuries of human thought and saw not simply of mass of contending and contradictory ideas and system but the gradual development of the human spirit. It is not the place to discuss Hegel in detail, nor was Iqbal a Hegelian as such. However, Iqbals approach to the history of philosophy was that of Hegel. He sought to understand the unfolding of the spirit of Iranian thought as expressed in all the varieties of Iranian thought. For Iqbal Iranian thought unfolded according to a definite and logical pattern, with certain underlying features shaping its development from its earliest phases in Zoroastrianismthe duality of light and darkness, for example. A particular philosopher or theologian or mystic might speak for only one aspect of this intellectual system or might introduce a new element or attempt to preserve a foreign element. But put together, the unfolding of Iranian metaphysics is like the development of a single mind: learning, synthesizing, and facing new challenges.
Very few scholars have followed Allamah Iqbal in his attempt to see Islamic philosophy as a coherent intellectual whole. Most have focused on a single philosopher or school, ignoring the rest. Those who have attempted to write the history of Islamic philosophy have usually done so as a collection of facts. Most attempts to take account of the whole of Islamic philosophy have been reductive: Real Islamic philosophy is this or that school, and the other schools are not really philosophy or, in the case of some Muslim historians, not really Islamic. Very few have tried to follow Iqbals example in making sense of the whole of Islamic philosophy by understanding how all of its parts fit together.
And, I think that while one might disagree with one or another or Iqbals judgments, one must acknowledge that his interpretation has stood up rather well, particularly in comparison to other histories of Islamic philosophy written about the same time. It is perhaps an immature work in terms of Iqbals own intellectual development, but in terms of scholarship it is very mature indeed. It is a book that deserved more attention that it received when it was published and merits reconsideration today.
BA in Near Eastern Languages from Yale University in 1973
PhD from Harvard University in 1983.
Author of several books
The Science of Mystic Lights, a study of the Illuminationist School in Islamic philosophy
The Leaven of the Ancients, Suhrawardi and the Heritage of the Greeks, a study the influence of non-Aristotelian Greek thought on Islamic philosophy
co-author of Suhrawardis Philosophy of Illumination, an edition and translation of a classic work of Islamic philosophy
translated two volumes of Kahlil Gibrans poetry
a number of articles on Islamic philosophy
This is his third visit to Pakistan. He came here first in 1997-98 on a Fulbright grant to do research and lecture in the Philosophy Dept. at Punjab University.
He is presently working on a book on the history of logic and rationalism in Pakistan.