The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam
by Dr. Muhammad Iqbal
The Human Ego – His Freedom and Immortality
THE Qur’an in its simple, forceful manner emphasizes the individuality and uniqueness of man, and has, I think, a definite view of his destiny as a unity of life.1 It is in consequence of this view of man as a unique individuality which makes it impossible for one individual to bear the burden of another,2 and entitles him only to what is due to his own personal effort,3 that the Qur’an is led to reject the idea of redemption. Three things are perfectly clear from the Qur’an:
(i) That man is the chosen of God:
‘Afterwards his Lord chose him [Adam] for himself and turned towards, him, and guided him, (20:122).
(ii) That man, with all his faults, is meant to be the representative of God on earth:
‘When thy Lord said to the angels, “Verily I am about to place one in my stead on Earth”, they said, ‘Wilt Thou place there one who will do ill therein and shed blood, when we celebrate Thy praise and extol Thy holiness?’ God said, “Verily I know what you know not”, (2:30).
‘And it is He Who hath made you His representatives on the Earth, and hath raised some of you above others by various grades, that He may prove you by His gifts’ (6:165).
(iii) That man is the trustee of a free personality which he accepted at his peril:
‘Verily We proposed to the Heavens, and to the Earth, and to the mountains to receive the “trust”, but they refused the burden and they feared to receive it. Man undertook to bear it, but hath proved unjust, senseless!’ (33:72).
Yet it is surprising to see that the unity of human consciousness which constitutes the centre of human personality never really became a point of interest in the history of Muslim thought. The Mutakallimën regarded the soul as a finer kind of matter or a mere accident which dies with the body and is re-created on the Day of Judgement. The philosophers of Islam received inspiration from Greek thought. In the case of other schools, it must be remembered that the expansion of Islam brought within its fold peoples belonging to different creed-communities, such as Nestorians, Jews, Zoroastrians, whose intellectual outlook had been formed by the concepts of a culture which had long dominated the whole of middle and western Asia. This culture, on the whole Magian in its origin and development, has a structurally dualistic soul-picture which we find more or less reflected in the theological thought of Islam.4 Devotional Sufism alone tried to understand the meaning of the unity of inner experience which the Qur’an declares to be one of the three sources of knowledge,5 the other two being History and Nature. The development of this experience in the religious life of Islam reached its culmination in the well-known words of Hallaj – ‘I am the creative truth.’ The contemporaries of Hallaj, as well as his successors, interpreted these words pantheistically; but the fragments of Hallaj, collected and published by the French Orientalist, L. Massignon, leave no doubt that the martyr-saint could not have meant to deny the transcendence of God.6 The true interpretation of his experience, therefore, is not the drop slipping into the sea, but the realization and bold affirmation in an undying phrase of the reality and permanence of the human ego in a profounder personality. The phrase of Hallaj seems almost a challenge flung against the Mutakallimën. The difficulty of modern students of religion, however, is that this type of experience, though perhaps perfectly normal in its beginnings, points, in its maturity, to unknown levels of consciousness. Ibn Khaldën, long ago, felt the necessity of an effective scientific method to investigate these levels.7 Modern psychology has only recently realized the necessity of such a method, but has not yet been able to go beyond the discovery of the characteristic features of the mystic levels of consciousness.8 Not being yet in possession of a scientific method to deal with the type of experience on which such judgements as that of Hallaj are based, we cannot avail ourselves of its possible capacity as a knowledge-yielding experience. Nor can the concepts of theological systems, draped in the terminology of a practically dead metaphysics, be of any help to those who happen to possess a different intellectual background. The task before the modern Muslim is, therefore, immense. He has to rethink the whole system of Islam without completely breaking with the past. Perhaps the first Muslim who felt the urge of a new spirit in him was Shah WaliAllah of Delhi. The man, however, who fully realized the importance and immensity of the task, and whose deep insight into the inner meaning of the history of Muslim thought and life, combined with a broad vision engendered by his wide experience of men and manners, would have made him a living link between the past and the future, was Jamaluddân Afghani. If his indefatigable but divided energy could have devoted itself entirely to Islam as a system of human belief and conduct, the world of Islam, intellectually speaking, would have been on a much more solid ground today. The only course open to us is to approach modern knowledge with a respectful but independent attitude and to appreciate the teachings of Islam in the light of that knowledge, even though we may be led to differ from those who have gone before us. This I propose to do in regard to the subject of the present lecture.
In the history of modern thought it is Bradley who furnishes the best evidence for the impossibility of denying reality to the ego. In his Ethical Studies9 he assumes the reality of the self; in his Logic10 he takes it only as a working hypothesis. It is in his Appearance and Reality that he subjects the ego to a searching examination.11 Indeed, his two chapters on the meaning and reality of the self may be regarded as a kind of modern Upanishad on the unreality of the Jâvatma.12 According to him, the test of reality is freedom from contradiction and since his criticism discovers the finite centre of experience to be infected with irreconcilable oppositions of change and permanence, unity and diversity, the ego is a mere illusion. Whatever may be our view of the self – feeling, self-identity, soul, will – it can be examined only by the canons of thought which in its nature is relational, and all ‘relations involve contradictions’. Yet, in spite of the fact that his ruthless logic has shown the ego to be a mass of confusion, Bradley has to admit that the self must be ‘in some sense real’, ‘in some sense an indubitable fact’.13 We may easily grant that the ego, in its finitude, is imperfect as a unity of life. Indeed, its nature is wholly aspiration after a unity more inclusive, more effective, more balanced, and unique. Who knows how many different kinds of environment it needs for its organization as a perfect unity? At the present stage of its organization it is unable to maintain the continuity of its tension without constant relaxation of sleep. An insignificant stimulus may sometimes disrupt its unity and nullify it as a controlling energy. Yet, however thought may dissect and analyse, our feeling of egohood is ultimate and is powerful enough to extract from Professor Bradley the reluctant admission of its reality.
The finite centre of experience, therefore, is real, even though its reality is too profound to be intellectualized. What then is the characteristic feature of the ego? The ego reveals itself as a unity of what we call mental states. Mental states do not exist in mutual isolation. They mean and involve one another. They exist as phases of a complex whole, called mind. The organic unity, however, of these interrelated states or, let us say, events is a special kind of unity. It fundamentally differs from the unity of a material thing; for the parts of a material thing can exist in mutual isolation. Mental unity is absolutely unique. We cannot say that one of my beliefs is situated on the right or left of my other belief. Nor is it possible to say that my appreciation of the beauty of the Taj varies with my distance from ÿgra. My thought of space is not spatially related to space. Indeed, the ego can think of more than one space-order. The space of waking consciousness and dream-space have no mutual relation. They do not interfere with or overlap each other. For the body there can be but a single space. The ego, therefore, is not space-bound in the sense in which the body is space-bound. Again, mental and physical events are both in time, but the time-span of the ego is fundamentally different to the time-span of the physical event. The duration of the physical event is stretched out in space as a present fact; the ego’s duration is concentrated within it and linked with its present and future in a unique manner. The formation of a physical event discloses certain present marks which show that it has passed through a time-duration; but these marks are merely emblematic of its time duration; not time-duration itself. True time–duration belongs to the ego alone.
Another important characteristic of the unity of the ego is its essential privacy which reveals the uniqueness of every ego. In order to reach a certain conclusion all the premisses of a syllogism must be believed in by one and the same mind. If I believe in the proposition ‘all men are mortal’, and another mind believes in the proposition ‘Socrates is a man’, no inference is possible. It is possible only if both the propositions are believed in by me. Again, my desire for a certain thing is essentially mine. Its satisfaction means my private enjoyment. If all mankind happen to desire the same thing, the satisfaction of their desire will not mean the satisfaction of my desire when I do not get the thing desired. The dentist may sympathize with my toothache, but cannot experience the feeling of my toothache. My pleasures, pains, and desires are exclusively mine, forming a part and parcel of my private ego alone. My feelings, hates and loves, judgements and resolutions, are exclusively mine. God Himself cannot feel, judge, and choose for me when more than one course of action are open to me. Similarly, in order to recognize you, I must have known you in the past. My recognition of a place or person means reference to my past experience, and not the past experience of another ego. It is this unique interrelation of our mental states14 that we express by the word ‘I’, and it is here that the great problem of psychology begins to appear. What is the nature of this ‘I’?
To the Muslim school of theology of which Ghazzalâ is the chief exponent,15 the ego is a simple, indivisible, and immutable soul-substance, entirely different from the group of our mental states and unaffected by the passage of time. Our conscious experience is a unity, because our mental states are related as so many qualities to this simple substance which persists unchanged during the flux of its qualities. My recognition of you is possible only if I persist unchanged between the original perception and the present act of memory. The interest of this school, however, was not so much psychological as metaphysical. But whether we take the soul-entity as an explanation of the facts of our conscious experience, or as a basis for immortality, I am afraid it serves neither psychological nor metaphysical interest. Kant’s fallacies of pure reason are well known to the student of modern philosophy.16 The ‘I think’, which accompanies every thought is, according to Kant, a purely formal condition of thought, and the transition from a purely formal condition of thought to ontological substance is logically illegitimate.17 Even apart from Kant’s way of looking at the subject of experience, the indivisibility of a substance does not prove its indestructibility; for the indivisible substance, as Kant himself remarks, may gradually disappear into nothingness like an intensive quality or cease to exist all of a sudden.18 Nor can this static view of substance serve any psychological interest. In the first place, it is difficult to regard the elements of our conscious experience as qualities of a soul-substance in the sense in which, for instance, the weight of a physical body is the quality of that body. Observation reveals experience to be particular acts of reference, and as such they possess a specific being of their own. They constitute, as Laird acutely remarks, ‘a new world and not merely new features in an old world’. Secondly, even if we regard experiences as qualities, we cannot discover how they inhere in the soul-substance. Thus we see that our conscious experience can give us no clue to the ego regarded as a soul-substance; for by hypothesis the soul-substance does not reveal itself in experience. And it may further be pointed out that in view of the improbability of different soul-substances controlling the same body at different times, the theory can offer no adequate explanation of phenomena such as alternating personality, formerly explained by the temporary possession of the body by evil spirits.
Yet the interpretation of our conscious experience is the only road by which we can reach the ego, if at all. Let us, therefore, turn to modern psychology and see what light it throws on the nature of the ego. William James conceives consciousness as ‘a stream of thought’ – a conscious flow of changes with a felt continuity.19 He finds a kind of gregarious principle working in our experiences which have, as it were, ‘hooks’ on them, and thereby catch up one another in the flow of mental life.20 The ego consists of the feelings of personal life, and is, as such, part of the system of thought. Every pulse of thought, present or perishing, is an indivisible unity which knows and recollects. The appropriation of the passing pulse by the present pulse of thought, and that of the present by its successor, is the ego.21 This description of our mental life is extremely ingenious; but not, I venture to think, true to consciousness as we find it in ourselves. Consciousness is something single, presupposed in all mental life, and not bits of consciousness, mutually reporting to one another. This view of consciousness, far from giving us any clue to the ego, entirely ignores the relatively permanent element in experience. There is no continuity of being between the passing thoughts. When one of these is present, the other has totally disappeared; and how can the passing thought, which is irrevocably lost, be known and appropriated by the present thought? I do not mean to say that the ego is over and above the mutually penetrating multiplicity we call experience. Inner experience is the ego at work. We appreciate the ego itself in the act of perceiving, judging, and willing. The life of the ego is a kind of tension caused by the ego invading the environment and the environment invading the ego. The ego does not stand outside this arena of mutual invasion. It is present in it as a directive energy and is formed and disciplined by its own experience. The Qur’an is clear on this directive function of the ego:
‘And they ask thee of the soul. Say: the soul proceedeth from my Lord’s Amr [Command]: but of knowledge, only a little to you is given’ (17:85).
In order to understand the meaning of the word Amr, we must remember the distinction which the Qur’an draws between Amr and Khalq. Pringle-Pattison deplores that the English language possesses only one word – ‘creation’ – to express the relation of God and the universe of extension on the one hand, and the relation of God and the human ego on the other. The Arabic language is, however, more fortunate in this respect. It has two words: Khalq and Amr to express the two ways in which the creative activity of God reveals itself to us. Khalq is creation; Amr is direction. As the Qur’an says: ‘To Him belong creation and direction.’22 The verse quoted above means that the essential nature of the soul is directive, as it proceeds from the directive energy of God, though we do not know how Divine Amr functions as ego-unities. The personal pronoun used in the expression Rabbâ (‘my Lord’) throws further light on the nature and behaviour of the ego. It is meant to suggest that the soul must be taken as something individual and specific, with all the variations in the range, balance, and effectiveness of its unity. ‘Every man acteth after his own manner: but your Lord well knoweth who is best guided in his path’ (17:84). Thus my real personality is not a thing; it is an act. My experience is only a series of acts, mutually referring to one another, and held together by the unity of a directive purpose. My whole reality lies in my directive attitude. You cannot perceive me like a thing in space, or a set of experiences in temporal order; you must interpret, understand, and appreciate me in my judgements, in my will-attitudes, aims, and aspirations.
The next question is: how does the ego emerge within the spatio-temporal order?23 The teaching of the Qur’an is perfectly clear on this point:
‘Now of fine clay We have created man: Then We placed him, a moist germ, in a safe abode; then made We the moist germ a clot of blood: then made the clotted blood into a piece of flesh; then made the piece of flesh into bones: and We clothed the bones with flesh; then brought forth man of yet another make.
‘Blessed, therefore, be God – the most excellent of makers’ (23:12-14).
The ‘yet another make’ of man develops on the basis of physical organism – that colony of sub-egos through which a profounder Ego constantly acts on me, and thus permits me to build up a systematic unity of experience. Are then the soul and its organism two things in the sense of Descartes, independent of each other, though somehow mysteriously united? I am inclined to think that the hypothesis of matter as an independent existence is perfectly gratuitous. It can be justified only on the ground of our sensation of which matter is supposed to be at least a part cause, other than myself. This something other than myself is supposed to possess certain qualities, called primary which correspond to certain sensations in me; and I justify my belief in those qualities on the ground that the cause must have some resemblance with the effect. But there need be no resemblance between cause and effect. If my success in life causes misery to another man, my success and his misery have no resemblance with each other. Yet everyday experience and physical science proceed on the assumption of an independent existence of matter. Let us, therefore, provisionally assume that body and soul are two mutually independent, yet in some mysterious way united, things. It was Descartes who first stated the problem, and I believe his statement and final view of the problem were largely influenced by the Manichaean inheritance of early Christianity. However, if they are mutually independent and do not affect each other, then the changes of both run on exactly parallel lines, owing to some kind of pre-established harmony, as Leibniz thought. This reduces the soul to a merely passive spectator of the happenings of the body. If, on the other hand, we suppose them to affect each other, then we cannot find any observable facts to show how and where exactly their interaction takes place, and which of the two takes the initiative. The soul is an organ of the body which exploits it for physiological purposes, or the body is an instrument of the soul, are equally true propositions on the theory of interaction. Lange’s theory of emotion tends to show that the body takes the initiative in the act of interaction.24 There are, however, facts to contradict this theory, and it is not possible to detail these facts here. Suffice it to indicate that even if the body takes the initiative, the mind does enter as a consenting factor at a definite stage in the development of emotion, and this is equally true of other external stimuli which are constantly working on the mind. Whether an emotion will grow further, or that a stimulus will continue to work, depends on my attending to it. It is the mind’s consent which eventually decides the fate of an emotion or a stimulus.
Thus parallelism and interaction are both unsatisfactory. Yet mind and body become one in action. When I take up a book from my table, my act is single and indivisible. It is impossible to draw a line of cleavage between the share of the body and that of the mind in this act. Somehow they must belong to the same system, and according to the Qur’an they do belong to the same system.25 ‘To Him belong Khalq (creation) and Amr (direction),26 how is such a thing conceivable? We have seen that the body is not a thing situated in an absolute void; it is a system of events or acts.27 The system of experiences we call soul or ego is also a system of acts. This does not obliterate the distinction of soul and body; it only brings them closer to each other. The characteristic of the ego is spontaneity; the acts composing the body repeat themselves. The body is accumulated action or habit of the soul; and as such undetachable from it. It is a permanent element of consciousness which, in view of this permanent element, appears from the outside as something stable. What then is matter? A colony of egos of a low order out of which emerges the ego of a higher order, when their association and interaction reach a certain degree of coordination. It is the world reaching the point of self-guidance wherein the Ultimate Reality, perhaps, reveals its secret, and furnishes a clue to its ultimate nature. The fact that the higher emerges out of the lower does not rob the higher of its worth and dignity. It is not the origin of a thing that matters, it is the capacity, the significance, and the final reach of the emergent that matter. Even if we regard the basis of soul-life as purely physical, it by no means follows that the emergent can be resolved into what has conditioned its birth and growth. The emergent, as the advocates of the Emergent Evolution teach us, is an unforeseeable and novel fact on its own plane of being, and cannot be explained mechanistically. Indeed the evolution of life shows that, though in the beginning the mental is dominated by the physical, the mental, as it grows in power, tends to dominate the physical and may eventually rise to a position of complete independence. Nor is there such a thing as a purely physical level in the sense of possessing a materiality, elementally incapable of evolving the creative synthesis we call life and mind, and needing a transcendental Deity to impregnate it with the sentient and the mental. The Ultimate Ego that makes the emergent emerge is immanent in Nature, and is described by the Qur’an, as ‘the First and the Last, the Visible and the Invisible.’28
This view of the matter raises a very important question. We have seen that the ego is not something rigid. It organizes itself in time, and is formed and disciplined by its own experience. It is further clear that streams of causality flow into it from Nature and from it to Nature. Does the ego then determine its own activity? If so, how is the self-determination of the ego related to the determinism of the spatio-temporal order? Is personal causality a special kind of causality, or only a disguised form of the mechanism of Nature? It is claimed that the two kinds of determinism are not mutually exclusive and that the scientific method is equally applicable to human action. The human act of deliberation is understood to be a conflict of motives which are conceived, not as the ego’s own present or inherited tendencies of action or inaction, but as so many external forces fighting one another, gladiator-like, on the arena of the mind. Yet the final choice is regarded as a fact determined by the strongest force, and not by the resultant of contending motives, like a purely physical effect.29 I am, however, firmly of the opinion that the controversy between the advocates of Mechanism and Freedom arises from a wrong view of intelligent action which modern psychology, unmindful of its own independence as a science, possessing a special set of facts to observe, was bound to take on account of its slavish imitation of physical sciences. The view that ego-activity is a succession of thoughts and ideas, ultimately resolvable to units of sensations, is only another form of atomic materialism which forms the basis of modern science. Such a view could not but raise a strong presumption in favour of a mechanistic interpretation of consciousness. There is, however, some relief in thinking that the new German psychology, known as Configuration Psychology,30 may succeed in securing the independence of Psychology as a science, just as the theory of Emergent Evolution may eventually bring about the independence of Biology. This newer German psychology teaches us that a careful study of intelligent behaviour discloses the fact of ‘insight’ over and above the mere succession of sensations.31 This ‘insight’ is the ego’s appreciation of temporal, spatial, and causal relation of things – the choice, that is to say of data, in a complex whole, in view of the goal or purpose which the ego has set before itself for the time being. It is this sense of striving in the experience of purposive action and the success which I actually achieve in reaching my ‘ends’ that convince me of my efficiency as a personal cause. The essential feature of a purposive act is its vision of a future situation which does not appear to admit any explanation in terms of Physiology. The truth is that the causal chain wherein we try to find a place for the ego is itself an artificial construction of the ego for its own purposes. The ego is called upon to live in a complex environment, and he cannot maintain his life in it without reducing it to a system which would give him some kind of assurance as to the behaviour of things around him. The view of his environment as a system of cause and effect is thus an indispensable instrument of the ego, and not a final expression of the nature of Reality. Indeed in interpreting Nature in this way the ego understands and masters its environment, and thereby acquires and amplifies its freedom.32
Thus the element of guidance and directive control in the ego’s activity clearly shows that the ego is a free personal causality. He shares in the life and freedom of the Ultimate Ego who, by permitting the emergence of a finite ego, capable of private initiative, has limited this freedom of His own free will. This freedom of conscious behaviour follows from the view of ego-activity which the Qur’an takes. There are verses which are unmistakably clear on this point:
‘And say: The truth is from your Lord: Let him, then, who will, believe: and let him who will, be an unbeliever’ (18:29).
‘If ye do well to your own behoof will ye do well: and if ye do evil against yourselves will ye do it’ (17:7).
Indeed Islam recognizes a very important fact of human psychology, i.e. the rise and fall of the power to act freely, and is anxious to retain the power to act freely as a constant and undiminished factor in the life of the ego. The timing of the daily prayer which, according to the Qur’an, restores ‘self-possession’ to the ego by bringing it into closer touch with the ultimate source of life and freedom, is intended to save the ego from the mechanizing effects of sleep and business. Prayer in Islam is the ego’s escape from mechanism to freedom.
It cannot, however, be denied that the idea of destiny runs throughout the Qur’an. This point is worth considering, more especially because Spengler in his Decline of the West seems to think that Islam amounts to a complete negation of the ego.33 I have already explained to you my view of Taqdâr (destiny) as we find it in the Qur’an.34 As Spengler himself points out, there are two ways of making the world our own. The one is intellectual; the other, for want of a better expression, we may call vital. The intellectual way consists in understanding the world as a rigid system of cause and effect. The vital is the absolute acceptance of the inevitable necessity of life, regarded as a whole which in evolving its inner richness creates serial time. This vital way of appropriating the universe is what the Qur’an describes as Iman. Iman is not merely a passive belief in one or more propositions of a certain kind; it is living assurance begotten of a rare experience. Strong personalities alone are capable of rising to this experience and the higher ‘Fatalism’ implied in it. Napoleon is reported to have said: ‘I am a thing, not a person’. This is one way in which unitive experience expresses itself. In the history of religious experience in Islam which, according to the Prophet, consists in the ‘creation of Divine attributes in man’, this experience has found expression in such phrases as ‘I am the creative truth’ (Àallaj), ‘I am Time’ (Muhammad), ‘I am the speaking Qur’an’ (‘Ali), ‘Glory to me’ (BaYazâd). In the higher Sufism of Islam unitive experience is not the finite ego effacing its own identity by some sort of absorption into the infinite Ego; it is rather the Infinite passing into the loving embrace of the finite.35 As Rëmâ says:
‘Divine knowledge is lost in the knowledge of the saint! And how is it possible for people to believe in such a thing?’
The fatalism implied in this attitude is not negation of the ego as Spengler seems to think; it is life and boundless power which recognizes no obstruction, and can make a man calmly offer his prayers when bullets are showering around him.
But is it not true, you will say, that a most degrading type of Fatalism has prevailed in the world of Islam for many centuries? This is true, and has a history behind it which requires separate treatment. It is sufficient here to indicate that the kind of Fatalism which the European critics of Islam sum up in the word Qismat was due partly to philosophical thought, partly to political expediency, and partly to the gradually diminishing force of the life-impulse, which Islam originally imparted to its followers. Philosophy, searching for the meaning of cause as applied to God, and taking time as the essence of the relation between cause and effect, could not but reach the notion of a transcendent God, prior to the universe, and operating upon it from without. God was thus conceived as the last link in the chain of causation, and, consequently, the real author of all that happens in the universe. Now the practical materialism of the opportunist Umayyad rulers of Damascus needed a peg on which to hang their misdeeds at Karbala, and to secure the fruits of Amâr Mu’awâyyah’s revolt against the possibilities of a popular rebellion. Ma’bad is reported to have said to Àasan of BaÄra that the Umayyads killed Muslims, and attributed their acts to the decrees of God. ‘These enemies of God’, replied Àasan, ‘are liars.’36 Thus arose, in spite of open protests by Muslim divines, a morally degrading Fatalism, and the constitutional theory known as the ‘accomplished fact’37 in order to support vested interests. This is not at all surprising. In our own times philosophers have furnished a kind of intellectual justification for the finality of the present capitalistic structure of society. Hegel’s view of Reality as an infinitude of reason from which follows the essential rationality of the real, and Auguste Comte’s society as an organism in which specific functions are eternally assigned to each organ, are instances in point. The same thing appears to have happened in Islam. But since Muslims have always sought the justification of their varying attitudes in the Qur’an, even though at the expense of its plain meaning the fatalistic interpretation has had very far-reaching effects on Muslim peoples. I could, in this connexion, quote several instances of obvious misinterpretation; but the subject requires special treatment, and it is time now to turn to the question of immortality.
No age has produced so much literature on the question of immortality as our own, and this literature is continually increasing in spite of the victories of modern Materialism. Purely metaphysical arguments, however, cannot give us a positive belief in personal immortality. In the history of Muslim thought Ibn Rushd approached the question of immortality from a purely metaphysical point of view, and, I venture to think, achieved no results. He drew a distinction between sense and intelligence probably because of the expressions, Nafs and Rëh, used in the Qur’an. These expressions, apparently suggesting a conflict between two opposing principles in man, have misled many a thinker in Islam. However, if Ibn Rushd’s dualism was based on the Qur’an, then I am afraid he was mistaken; for the word Nafs does not seem to have been used in the Qur’an in any technical sense of the kind imagined by Muslim theologians. Intelligence, according to Ibn Rushd, is not a form of the body; it belongs to a different order of being, and transcends individuality. It is, therefore, one, universal, and eternal. This obviously means that, since unitary intellect transcends individuality, its appearance as so many unities in the multiplicity of human persons is a mere illusion. The eternal unity of intellect may mean, as Renan thinks, the everlastingness of humanity and civilization; it does not surely mean personal immortality.38 In fact Ibn Rushd’s view looks like William James’s suggestion of a transcendental mechanism of consciousness which operates on a physical medium for a while, and then gives it up in pure sport.39
In modern times the line of argument for personal immortality is on the whole ethical. But ethical arguments, such as that of Kant, and the modern revisions of his arguments, depend on a kind of faith in the fulfilment of the claims of justice, or in the irreplaceable and unique work of man as an individual pursuer of infinite ideals. With Kant immortality is beyond the scope of speculative reason; it is a postulate of practical reason, an axiom of man’s moral consciousness. Man demands and pursues the supreme good which comprises both virtue and happiness. But virtue and happiness, duty and inclination, are, according to Kant, heterogeneous notions. Their unity cannot be achieved within the narrow span of the pursuer’s life in this sensible world. We are, therefore, driven to postulate immortal life for the person’s progressive completion of the unity of the mutually exclusive notions of virtue and happiness, and the existence of God eventually to effectuate this confluence. It is not clear, however, why the consummation of virtue and happiness should take infinite time, and how God can effectuate the confluence between mutually exclusive notions. This inconclusiveness of metaphysical arguments has led many thinkers to confine themselves to meeting the objections of modern Materialism which rejects immortality, holding that consciousness is merely a function of the brain, and therefore ceases with the cessation of the brain-process. William James thinks that this objection to immortality is valid only if the function in question is taken to be productive.40 The mere fact that certain mental changes vary concomitantly with certain bodily changes, does not warrant the inference that mental changes are produced by bodily changes. The function is not necessarily productive; it may be permissive or transmissive like the function of the trigger of a crossbow or that of a reflecting lens.41 This view which suggests that our inner life is due to the operation in us of a kind of transcendental mechanism of consciousness, somehow choosing a physical medium for a short period of sport, does not give us any assurance of the continuance of the content of our actual experience. I have already indicated in these lectures the proper way to meet Materialism.42 Science must necessarily select for study certain specific aspects of Reality only and exclude others. It is pure dogmatism on the part of science to claim that the aspects of Reality selected by it are the only aspects to be studied. No doubt man has a spatial aspect; but this is not the only aspect of man. There are other aspects of man, such as evaluation, the unitary character of purposive experience, and the pursuit of truth which science must necessarily exclude from its study, and the understanding of which requires categories other than those employed by science.43
There is, however, in the history of modern thought one positive view of immortality – I mean Nietzsche’s doctrine of Eternal Recurrence.44 This view deserves some consideration, not only because Nietzsche has maintained it with a prophetical fervour, but also because it reveals a real tendency in the modern mind. The idea occurred to several minds about the time when it came to Nietzsche like a poetic inspiration, and the germs of its are also found in Herbert Spencer.45 It was really the power of the idea rather than its logical demonstration that appealed to this modern prophet. This, in itself, is some evidence of the fact that positive views of ultimate things are the work rather of Inspiration than Metaphysics. However, Nietzsche has given his doctrine the form of a reasoned out theory, and as such I think we are entitled to examine it. The doctrine proceeds on the assumption that the quantity of energy in the universe is constant and consequently finite. Space is only a subjective form; there is no meaning in saying that the world is in space in the sense that it is situated in an absolute empty void. In his view of time, however, Nietzsche parts company with Kant and Schopenhauer. Time is not a subjective form; it is a real and infinite process which can be conceived only as ‘Periodic’.46 Thus it is clear that there can be no dissipation of energy in an infinite empty space. The centres of this energy are limited in number, and their combination perfectly calculable. There is no beginning or end of this ever-active energy, no equilibrium, no first or last change. Since time is infinite, therefore all possible combinations of energy-centres have already been exhausted. There is no new happening in the universe; whatever happens now has happened before an infinite number of times, and will continue to happen an infinite number of times in the future. On Nietzsche’s view the order of happenings in the universe must be fixed and unalterable; for since an infinite time has passed, the energy-centres must have, by this time, formed certain definite modes of behaviour. The very word ‘Recurrence’ implies this fixity. Further, we must conclude that a combination of energy-centres which has once taken place must always return; otherwise there would be no guarantee for the return even of the superman.
‘Everything has returned: Sirius and the spider, and thy thoughts at this moment and this last thought of thine that all things will return . . . . Fellow-man! your whole life, like a sand-glass, will always be reversed, and will ever run out again. This ring in which you are but a gain will glitter afresh for ever.’47
Such is Nietzsche’s Eternal Recurrence. It is only a more rigid kind of mechanism, based not on an ascertained fact but only on a working hypothesis of science. Nor does Nietzsche seriously grapple with the question of time. He takes it objectively and regards it merely as an infinite series of events returning to itself over and over again. Now time, regarded as a perpetual circular movement, makes immortality absolutely intolerable. Nietzsche himself feels this, and describes his doctrine, not as one of immortality, but rather as a view of life which would make immortality endurable.48 And what makes immortality bearable, according to Nietzsche? It is the expectation that a recurrence of the combination of energy-centres which constitutes my personal existence is a necessary factor in the birth of that ideal combination which he calls ‘superman’. But the superman has been an infinite number of times before. His birth is inevitable; how can the prospect give me any aspiration? We can aspire only for what is absolutely new, and the absolutely new is unthinkable on Nietzsche’s view which is nothing more than a Fatalism worse than the one summed up in the word Qismat. Such a doctrine, far from keying up the human organism for the fight of life, tends to destroy its action-tendencies and relaxes the tension of the ego.49
Passing now to the teaching of the Qur’an. The Quranic view of the destiny of man is partly ethical, partly biological. I say partly biological because the Qur’an makes in this connexion certain statements of a biological nature which we cannot understand without a deeper insight into the nature of life. It mentions, for instance, the fact of Barzakh50 – a state, perhaps of some kind of suspense between Death and Resurrection. Resurrection, too, appears to have been differently conceived. The Qur’an does not base its possibility, like Christianity, on the evidence of the actual resurrection of an historic person. It seems to take and argue resurrection as a universal phenomenon of life, in some sense, true even of birds and animals (6:38).
Before, however, we take the details of the Quranic doctrine of personal immortality we must note three things which are perfectly clear from the Qur’an and regarding which there is, or ought to be, no difference of opinion:
(i) That the ego has a beginning in time, and did not pre-exist its emergence in the spatio-temporal order. This is clear from the verse which I cited a few minutes ago.51
(ii) That according to the Quranic view, there is no possibility of return to this earth. This is clear from the following verses:
‘When death overtaketh one of them, he saith, “Lord! send me back again, that I may do the good that I have left undone!” By no means These are the very words which he shall speak. But behind them is a barrier (Barzakh), until the day when they shall be raised again’ (23:99-100).
‘And by the moon when at her full, that from state to state shall ye be surely carried onward’ (84:18-19).
‘The germs of life – Is it ye who create them? Or are We their Creator? It is We Who have decreed that death should be among you; yet We are not thereby hindered from replacing you with others, your likes, or from creating you again in forms which ye know not!’ (56:58-61).
(iii) That finitude is not a misfortune:
‘Verily there is none in the heavens and in the earth but shall approach the God of Mercy as a servant. He hath taken note of them and numbered them with exact numbering: and each of them shall come to Him on the Day of Resurrection as a single individual’ (19:93-95).52
This is a very important point and must be properly understood with a view to secure a clear insight into the Islamic theory of salvation. It is with the irreplaceable singleness of his idividuality that the finite ego will approach the infinite ego to see for himself the consequences of his past action and to judge the possibilities of his future.
‘And every man’s fate have We fastened about his neck: and on the Day of Resurrection will We bring forthwith to him a book which shall be proffered to him wide open: “Read thy book: there needeth none but thyself to make out an account against thee this day” (17:13-14).
Whatever may be the final fate of man it does not mean the loss of individuality. The Qur’an does not contemplate complete liberation from finitude as the highest state of human bliss. The ‘unceasing reward’53 of man consists in his gradual growth in self-possession, in uniqueness, and intensity of his activity as an ego. Even the scene of ‘Universal Destruction’ immediately preceding the Day of Judgement54 cannot affect the perfect calm of a full-grown ego:
‘And there shall be a blast on the trumpet, and all who are in the heavens and all who are in the earth shall faint away, save those in whose case God wills otherwise’ (39:68).55
Who can be the subject of this exception but those in whom the ego has reached the very highest point of intensity? And the climax of this development is reached when the ego is able to retain full self-possession, even in the case of a direct contact with the all-embracing Ego. As the Qur’an says of the Prophet’s vision of the Ultimate Ego:
‘His eye turned not aside, nor did it wander’ (53:17).
This is the ideal of perfect manhood in Islam. Nowhere has it found a better literary expression than in a Persian verse which speaks of the Holy Prophet’s experience of Divine illumination:
‘Moses fainted away by a mere surface illumination of Reality. Thou seest the very substance of Reality with a smile!’56
Pantheistic Sufism obviously cannot favour such a view, and suggests difficulties of a philosophical nature. How can the Infinite and the finite egos mutually exclude each other? Can the finite ego, as such, retain its finitude besides the Infinite Ego? This difficulty is based on a misunderstanding of the true nature of the Infinite. True infinity does not mean infinite extension which cannot be conceived without embracing all available finite extensions. Its nature consists in intensity and not extensity; and the moment we fix our gaze on intensity, we begin to see that the finite ego must be distinct, though not isolated, from the Infinite. Extensively regarded I am absorbed by the spatio-temporal order to which I belong. Intensively regarded I consider the same spatio-temporal order as a confronting ‘other’ wholly alien to me. I am distinct from and yet intimately related to that on which I depend for my life and sustenance.
With these three points clearly grasped, the rest of the doctrine is easy to conceive. It is open to man, according to the Qur’an, to belong to the meaning of the universe and become immortal.
‘Thinketh man that he shall be left as a thing of no use? Was he not a mere embryo?
‘Then he became thick blood of which God formed him and fashioned him; and made him twain, male and female. Is not God powerful enough to quicken the dead?’ (75:36-40).
It is highly improbable that a being whose evolution has taken millions of years should be thrown away as a thing of no use. But it is only as an ever-growing ego that he can belong to the meaning of the universe:
‘By the soul and He Who hath balanced it, and hath shown to it the ways of wickedness and piety, blessed is he who hath made it grow and undone is he who hath corrupted it’ (91:7-9).
And how to make the soul grow and save it from corruption? By action:
‘Blessed be He in Whose hand is the Kingdom! And over all things is He potent, who hath created death and life to test which of you is the best in point of deed; and He is the Mighty and Forgiving’ (67:1-2).57
Life offers a scope for ego-activity, and death is the first test of the synthetic activity of the ego. There are no pleasure-giving and pain-giving acts; there are only ego-sustaining and ego-dissolving acts. It is the deed that prepares the ego for dissolution, or disciplines him for a future career. The principle of the ego-sustaining deed is respect for the ego in myself as well as in others. Personal immortality, then, is not ours as of right; it is to be achieved by personal effort. Man is only a candidate for it. The most depressing error of Materialism is the supposition that finite consciousness exhausts its object. Philosophy and science are only one way of approaching that object. There are other ways of approach open to us; and death, if present action has sufficiently fortified the ego against the shock that physical dissolution brings, is only a kind of passage to what the Qur’an describes as Barzakh. The records of Sufistic experience indicate that Barzakh is a state of consciousness characterized by a change in the ego’s attitude towards time and space. There is nothing improbable in it. It was Helmholtz who first discovered that nervous excitation takes time to reach consciousness.58 If this is so, our present physiological structure is at the bottom of our present view of time, and if the ego survives the dissolution of this structure, a change in our attitude towards time and space seems perfectly natural. Nor is such a change wholly unknown to us. The enormous condensation of impressions which occurs in our dream-life, and the exaltation of memory, which sometimes takes place at the moment of death, disclose the ego’s capacity for different standards of time. The state of Barzakh, therefore, does not seem to be merely a passive state of expectation; it is a state in which the ego catches a glimpse of fresh aspects of Reality, and prepares himself for adjustment to these aspects. It must be a state of great psychic unhingement, especially in the case of full-grown egos who have naturally developed fixed modes of operation on a specific spatio-temporal order, and may mean dissolution to less fortunate ones. However, the ego must continue to struggle until he is able to gather himself up, and win his resurrection. The resurrection, therefore, is not an external event. It is the consummation of a life-process within the ego. Whether individual or universal it is nothing more than a kind of stock-taking of the ego’s past achievements and his future possibilities. The Qur’an argues the phenomenon of re-emergence of the ego on the analogy of his first emergence:
‘Man saith: “What! After I am dead, shall I in the end be brought forth alive?” Doth not man bear in mind that We made him at first when he was nought?’ (19:66-67).
‘It is We Who have decreed that death should be among you.
Yet We are not thereby hindered from replacing you with others your likes, or from producing you in a form which ye know not! Ye have known the first creation: will you not reflect?’ (56:60-62).
How did man first emerge? This suggestive argument embodied in the last verses of the two passages quoted above did in fact open a new vista to Muslim philosophers. It was JaÁiz (d. 255 A.H.) who first hinted at the changes in animal life caused by migrations and environment generally.59 The association known as the ‘Brethren of Purity’ further amplified the views of JaÁiz.60 Ibn Maskawaih (d. 421 A.H.), however, was the first Muslim thinker to give a clear and in many respects thoroughly modern theory of the origin of man.61 It was only natural and perfectly consistent with the spirit of the Qur’an, that Rëmâ regarded the question of immortality as one of biological evolution, and not a problem to be decided by arguments of purely metaphysical nature, as some philosophers of Islam had thought. The theory of evolution, however, has brought despair and anxiety, instead of hope and enthusiasm for life, to the modern world. The reason is to be found in the unwarranted modern assumption that man’s present structure, mental as well as physiological, is the last word in biological evolution, and that death, regarded as a biological event, has no constructive meaning. The world of today needs a Rëmâ to create an attitude of hope, and to kindle the fire of enthusiasm for life. His inimitable lines may be quoted here:
First man appeared in the class of inorganic things,
Next he passed therefrom into that of plants.
For years he lived as one of the plants,
Remembering naught of his inorganic state so different;
And when he passed from the vegetive to the animal state
He had no remembrance of his state as a plant,
Except the inclination he felt to the world of plants,
Especially at the time of spring and sweet flowers.
Like the inclination of infants towards their mothers,
Which know not the cause of their inclination to the breast.
Again the great Creator, as you know,
Drew man out of the animal into the human state.
Thus man passed from one order of nature to another,
Till he became wise and knowing and strong as he is now.
Of his first souls he has now no remembrance.
And he will be again changed from his present soul.62
The point, however, which has caused much difference of opinion among Muslim philosophers and theologians is whether the re-emergence of man involves the re-emergence of his former physical medium. Most of them, including Shah WalâAllah, the last great theologian of Islam, are inclined to think that it does involve at least some kind of physical medium suitable to the ego’s new environment. It seems to me that this view is mainly due to the fact that the ego, as an individual, is inconceivable without some kind of local reference or empirical background. The following verses, however, throw some light on the point:
‘What! when dead and turned to dust, shall we rise again?
‘Remote is such a return. Now know We what the Earth consumeth of them and with Us is a book in which account is kept ‘ (50:3-4).63
To my mind these verses clearly suggest that the nature of the universe is such that it is open to it to maintain in some other way the kind of individuality necessary for the final working out of human action, even after the disintegration of what appears to specify his individuality in his present environment. What that other way is we do not know. Nor do we gain any further insight into the nature of the ‘second creation’64 by associating it with some kind of body, however, subtle it may be. The analogies of the Qur’an, only suggest it as a fact; they are not meant to reveal its nature and character. Philosophically speaking, therefore, we cannot go farther than this – that in view of the past history of man it is highly improbable that his career should come to an end with the dissolution of his body.
However, according to the teaching of the Qur’an the ego’s re-emergence brings him a ‘sharp sight’ (50:22) whereby he clearly sees his self-built ‘fate fastened round his neck.’65 Heaven and Hell are states, not localities. Their descriptions in the Qur’an are visual representations66 of an inner fact, i.e. character. Hell, in the words of the Qur’an, is ‘God’s kindled fire which mounts above the hearts’67 – the painful realization of one’s failure as a man. Heaven is the joy of triumph over the forces of disintegration. There is no such thing as eternal damnation in Islam. The word ‘eternity’ used in certain verses, relating to Hell, is explained by the Qur’an itself to mean only a period of time (78:23). Time cannot be wholly irrelevant to the development of personality. Character tends to become permanent; its reshaping must require time. Hell, therefore, as conceived by the Qur’an, is not a pit of everlasting torture68 inflicted by a revengeful God; it is a corrective experience69 which may make a hardened ego once more sensitive to the living breeze of Divine Grace. Nor is heaven a holiday. Life is one and continuous. Man marches always onward to receive ever fresh illuminations from an Infinite Reality which ‘every moment appears in a new glory’.70 And the recipient of Divine illumination is not merely a passive recipient. Every act of a free ego creates a new situation, and thus offers further opportunities of creative unfolding.