Muhammad Iqbal and the issue of fate in Islam

Muhammad Iqbal (1875-1938) is proposed, in turn, to breathe new creative energy to religious thought in Islam. To do this, he mobilized all its energy in the sense of encouraging the Muslim man to take the initiative to transform his reality experienced in the desired reality.

The historical context of his thought

The context in which born and matures the thought of Muhammad Iqbal (1873-1938) is the colonization of much of Muslim societies, especially the English occupation of India.

Before Mr. Iqbal Ahmad personalities like Sirhindî (1564-1624), Shah Wali Allah al-Dihlawî (1703-1762) and Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-1898) and others had engaged in their time, a reflection deep to meet the challenges which presented themselves to the Muslim community of India. A community that faced at least two major challenges:

 British occupation   : beginner in the eighteenth century with the Treaty of Paris (1763) who placed India under the control of the British. The English domination took place in two stages: the first was the placement of India under the control of the British India Company, the second was speaking following the violent uprising of  sepoys  in 1857  (the first great insurrection against an Empire European colonial)  , the country was directly attached to the power of the Crown and the British Empire.

-an Islamic minority   : facing Hinduism and its various trends, the minority of Islam had led in the seventeenth century, the Mughal Emperor Jalal al-Din Muhammad Akbar (m.1605), of Muslim origin, to embark on a draft summary of major religious doctrines of his empire. This syncretism was underpinned by essentially political reasons, particularly in order to reap the  favors  of the Hindu majority of his empire.

The project was Akbar fought vigorously, particularly by the Sufi aware of Naqshbandiyya whose main figure was the Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindî, nicknamed at the time  mudjaddid al-alf al-Thani (Renovator of the second millennium). Facing Akbar Naqshbandiyya emphasized Muslim identity and the fundamental character of  Tawheed  (oneness and absolute transcendence of God) that could not be negotiated, on behalf of a synthesis of religious doctrines.

It is, as we said, in this context of political and religious turmoil, after Ahmad Sirhindî, as figures such as Shah Wali Allah al-Dihlawî and more, Sayyid Ahmad Khan attempted, through the teaching and writing, awaken consciences of Muslim India falling gradually, into fatalism or waiting for better days.

Sayyid Ahmad Khan, for example, embarked on a profound reflection after the Indian Mutiny repressed in blood by the English, on the appropriate way to deal with the British occupation. He was led, in thought, the finding that the majority of Muslims in their refusal to collaborate with the English, let Hindus occupy the upper echelons of the administration of a country that was also theirs and contained on it -even instead to work towards ending the occupation, with the Hindu majority.

It is in this context that Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Sir Sayyid as it was called at the time, directed his thoughts on the issue of liability of the Muslim, the need for action in Islam and the relationship that must exist between the Muslim community and other religious communities in India. Questions that he tried to make theological solutions  (kalamiyya)  through his  Tafsir al-Qur’an  and its journal Tahdhîd akhlaq al . One of the objectives of Sir Sayyid was to establish and prove the compatibility and consistency between Islamic morality and what he called the  “natural right.”

It is in this sense that it stated that:  “the test of religious truth is in compliance with the standards of natural reason”  (1). Thus, working on this agreement between Islamic teaching and natural reason, Ahmad Khan wanted to show the news of the Qur’anic revelation: a news that was, consequently, lead Muslims to engage, too, in the way of the pursuit of knowledge and open, with a critical spirit, science and wisdom can come from elsewhere, including the West. To spread his ideas, he founded the  Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College, Aligarh,  usually called the “College of Aligarh.”

A college whose foundation was carried out in two stages. In 1875 he founded a “High School” and in 1878 a “Second Grade College”  The College of Aligarh largely contributed to the revival of Islam in India, and this although his teaching was the subject of harsh criticism from Afghani (1838 / 39-1898) (2).

Beyond the Muslim community in India, the revival of dynamism of the nineteenth century, in which was part of the College Aligarh, had reached the entire Muslim world, especially through the actions:

 Mr. Abduh and Afghani, for the Arab world, Iran and Turkey (1905 m.).

 of  Al-Hajj Umar  (3) for West Africa.

Whatever one may think or “gloss” on these  movements  that have undertaken here and there from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, actions to revitalize Islamic societies, we must recognize the many influences (4) they have exercised on later generations of reformers, this until today. And armed with this  reformist legacy  of Indian Islam (5) Muhammad Iqbal (1875-1938) is proposed, in turn, to breathe new creative energy in  religious thought  in Islam.

To do this, he mobilized all its energy in the sense of encouraging the Muslim man to take the initiative to transform his reality experienced in the desired reality. For Iqbal, decadence (and colonization) of Islamic societies was the result of inaction and wait, and his priority was to tackle this decadence with an attempt to  Reconstruction  (6) of Islamic teaching .

It is in this context that, leaving the verse:  “No! I swear by the twilight, through the night and all that it envelops, and by the moon when it reaches its fullness, you are called to go through successive trials!   (LXXXIV Quran, 16-19), he opposed the preachers of  fatalism and learned to wait and  who advised the faithful Muslims waiting for better days. For Iqbal, one of the fundamental teachings of the Quranic revelation corresponding to the following idea: if man, breathing the breath of life, stops taking the initiative to face  trial if he continues to develop the inner riches of his being, if he ceases to feel the inner impulse to move forward in life, then it creates, through inaction and resignation, the conditions of his abandonment by God.

God is with the living, that is to say those who act to transform reality that is theirs to shape a reality conforms to divine principles. Such is his interpretation of the verse:  “Verily, God change the condition of a people until the men who compose it will not change what is in themselves” (Quran XIII , 11).


(1) Quoted by Majid FAKHRY, History of Islamic Philosophy, trans. the Englishman by Marwan NASR. Paris: Cerf, 2007.

(2) Homa Pakdaman Djamal-Ed-Din Afghani Assad Abadi said. Paris: Maisonneuve and Larose, 1969. 385p.

(3) Al-Hajj Umar is a character ignored in most history textbooks published on Islamic thought and the liberation struggles of Muslim societies of the nineteenth century. But his actions from 1852 to 1864 for the revival of Islam in West Africa have greatly contributed in part to the spread of Islam and, secondly, to the fight against the French occupation of the Mali Empire … In the history of Islam in this period, there remains  other locks  and  other key  to discover.  Intelligenti pauca .

For a first approach to its actions and ideas, see his book translated into French by Mr. Sidi MAHOBOU and John L. TRIAUD under the title:  This is what happened: Bayan mâ waqa’a. Plea for a holy war in West Africa.  Paris: Editions du CNRS, 1983 261p (with the manuscript in Arabic). See also the book by David Sacher,  The holy war of al-Hajj Umar: Western Sudan in the mid nineteenth century. Paris   : Editions KARTHALA 1985, 419P.

(4) See on this subject the excellent article by Fazlur Rahman:  Renewal Movements and reform Islam,  in general Encyclopaedia of Islam. Editions ICES 1985, p.235 – 262.

(5) See the works of Denis MATRINGE,  Islam debates  –  A non-Arab Islam: Indian and Pakistani backgrounds . Paris: Editions Téraèdre, 2005, 176p.

(6)  Rebuilding the religious thought of Islam , trans. in English by Eva de Vitray-Meyerovitch. Paris: Rock 1996 207p.

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