Book Review
Ma wa Iqbal: Dr. Shariati’s Masterpiece on Allama Iqbal

By Dr Ahmed S. Khan
Chicago, IL


Allama Dr. Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938) is one of the pioneers of contemporary Islamic resurgence. Hundreds of books have been written on Iqbal’s thought in all major languages. Although Allama Iqbal used both Urdu and Farsi (Persian) languages to express his thoughts, his intellectual output in Persian is more voluminous than Urdu. Javednama his magna opus, has been acclaimed as a classic of Persian literature. But until 1970s most of the readers of Persian literature remained unaware of his message. Dr. Ali Shariati’s (1933-1977) scholarly work on Iqbal helped the readers of Persian literature gain insight into the message and thought of Dr. Muhammad Iqbal (Iqbal Lahouri).

Dr. Ali Shariati’s scholarly work on Iqbal in Persian has been published in the form of a book titled Ma wa Iqbal (We and Iqbal). It is based on his lectures at a conference on Iqbal (Husainiyah Irshad) and the text Dr. Shariati wrote before his death in 1977. His scholarly work has been published in English as “Iqbal: Manifestation of the Islamic Spirit” translated by Mahliqa Qara’i and Laleh Bakhtiar. The first part presents the views of Ayatullah  Sayyid Ali Khamene’i  in the form of his speech titled “Iqbal: The Poet-Philosopher of Islamic Resurgence,”  delivered at the first International Conference on Iqbal, held in Tehran, March 10-12, 1986. It has been translated into English by Mahliqa Qara’i. And the second part consists of speeches delivered by Dr. Ali Shariati in April-May, 1970 at the conference Husainiyah Irshadheld on Iqbal Lahouri, and the scholarly text he wrote on Iqbal. 

The book consists of a preface, an introduction and four chapters covering various facets of Iqbal’s philosophy and message. In the preface, describing the greatness of Iqbal, Dr. Shariati observes, “What distinguishes Iqbal from the line of other great men is the fact that this man appears like a tall, fruitful tree, bears leaves, and fruit during an age when the pasture land of Islam and Islamic culture had been infected by pests and had sunk into the sorrowful and death-like silence of autumn. The uprooting flood and storm of Western colonialism had fallen upon it while its calamity-stricken farmers were fast asleep and its so-called guards had become its plunderers…In such a season and from such a ruined pasture, there suddenly emerges a man who, like a free-standing cypress tree, caught the eye of friend and foe alike. He speaks to the feeble bushed, to the yellow and trembling willows, to the tender and ripe twigs, as well as to the thousands of seeds containing hundreds of blossoming and blooming passions and emotions, their head rising out of the earth, and their faces turning toward the heavens, all of whom remain buried under the feet of the enemy, all of whom, out of fear of this evil season and disastrous flood, submit to the fate of ‘dying secretly and rotting silently.’ Iqbal proclaimed: Within this parched and pest–infected pasture land, the Islamic spirit continues to surge. Hidden within this soil is a cultural source overflowing with the essence of life. ”

Describing the persona and message of Iqbal, Dr. Shariati writes, “Iqbal is a multi-faceted individual…he thinks like Bergson. He loves like Rumi. He plays the songs of his faith like Nasir Khusraw. He fights with colonialism for the liberation of Muslim nations as Sayyid Jamal had done. He endeavors to save civilization as Tagore had tried to do from the tragedy of calculating reason and the pest of ambition. Like Carrel, he holds the hope and the aspiration to be able to revive love and the spirit in harsh life of modern man. Like Luther and Calvin, he makes his goal the revival of his religious thought and an Islamic Renaissance in this age.”

In the introduction, Dr. Shariati poses the question: “How can we, in truth, speak about Iqbal?” Then he answers it, “We must first find our ‘self’? Jalaluddin Rumi once said: I  put forth fourteen reasons to prove the existence of God to a group of people. Shams Tabrizi responded by thanking me on behalf of God and adding that I should, instead, prove my own existence as God needed no proof!” Dr. Shariati observes that Shams’ advise is a general and lasting rule for understanding our “self” and  “who we are” and “what we seek,” before speaking about God, religion, civilization, culture, ideology, knowledge, responsibility, ways, ideals, rights, great men and schools of our world, and history and how all these constructs effect the needs of a generation.

Pondering over the agonies and questions Muslims have in this day and age, Dr. Shariati observes, “I speak on behalf of a multitude of persons who ponder their own destiny, their present and future situation, and who are obliged to seek solutions and salvation…I am a human being, a part of this nature and this great world. I must have answers: Who am I? How should I live? What is my future? What was my past? What is my nature? Why have I come? Why must I live? What is the meaning of creation? What does spirit mean? What is the power which rules over nature? What do I believe? What should the basis for my thoughts be in relation to life, in relation to being, in relation to my society and my time? Who should I be? All these questions have been left unanswered. If religions , in the total sense of the word, do not adjust themselves to present attitudes and do not respond to the anguishes and afflictions of today, they will, undoubtedly, distance themselves from today’s humanity, as they have done.”

Dr. Shariati asks the question: “Who can answer these questions?” Then he answers, “Let me ask someone who is conscious and responsible, at the same time, Muslim and Easterner. While I consider Sayyid Jamal to be the great founder and initiator of the Islamic movement, yet I also believe that this great movement has reached Iqbal in its evolutionary path. Iqbal can answer my questions, not only with his thoughts, but with his very being.” Dr. Shariati considers Iqbal as a person like Ali but with qualitative and quantitative dimensions proportions to the attitudes of the 20 th century.

In the first chapter titled “A Manifestation of Self-reconstruction and Reformation,” Dr. Shariati observes, “If one were to reconstruct the form of Islam which has been made to degenerate in the course of history, re-assemble it in such a way that the spirit could return to a total body, transform the present dazed elements into that spirit as if the trumpet of Israfil were to blow in the 20 th century over a dead society and awaken its movement, power, spirit, and meaning, it is, then, that exemplary Muslim personalities will be reconstructed and reborn like Mohammad Iqbal.” Describing the traits of Iqbal, Dr. Shariati observes, “He is a great mystic, with a pure spirit, delivered of materiality and, at the same time, a man who respects and honors science, technological progress, and the advancement of human reason in our age…he regards reason and science in the very sense they are understood today as allies of love, emotion, and inspiration in the evolution of the human spirit, but he does not accept their goal.”

Discussing the advice of Iqbal to humanity, Dr. Shariati writes, “The greatest advice of Iqbal to humanity is: Have a heart like Jesus, a thought like Socrates, and a hand like the hand of a Caesar but all in one human being, in one creature of humanity, based upon one spirit in order to attain one goal. That is, Iqbal himself: A man who attains the height of political awareness of his time to the extent that some people believe him to be solely a political figure and a liberated, nationalist leader who is a 20 th century anti-colonist. A man who, in philosophical thought, rises to such a high level that he is considered to be a contemporary thinker and philosopher of the same rank as Bergson in the West today or of the same level as Ghazzali in Islamic history.”

In the second Chapter titled “Not deceived by the West,” Dr. Shariati expounds on the influence of the West on Iqbal. Dr. Shariati points out that Iqbal understood the West from close quarters, he became familiar with the civilization, culture, society, and history of the West, yet he escaped from being captured by the West. Dr. Shariati observes, “Iqbal ascends to the highest intellectual summit in the West and understands the value of European science and technology…the nature of Iqbal’s thought is derived from a nation which is historically and culturally characterized by fineness of sentiments, tenderness of imagination, purity of spirit, idealism of heart, illumination, and inspiration. With such an intellectual background, spirit and outlook, Iqbal has turned to Islam and he is competent enough to reassemble and reconstruct the dispersed and disintegrated elements of Islamic intellectual schools.”

Commenting on Iqbal’s masterpiece “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam,” Dr. Shariati observes, “But his greater masterpiece is in realizing his full and multi-dimensional self, that is, the integration of a total Muslim, in his own person.” Commenting on Iqbal’s message Dr. Shariati  writes, “Iqbal’s message is this --- we should light a fire in our hearts, rekindle the flame of faith, gnosticism, and great human love in our soul in order to become better acquainted with the essence of existence, the meaning of soul, the secret of nature, and the ultimate objective of being.”

Describing  Iqbal’s aspirations about Pakistan, Dr. Shariati observes, “Iqbal wished Pakistan to be a new, great experiment in the 20 th century Islam. He wanted it to be an India that has brought European civilization within itself. This is an ideal Islamic society. He himself was such a man, an Eastern heart with a Western-trained mind, that is, a knowledgeable and reconstructed Muslim!’”

In Chapter three titled “Ideology,” Dr. Shariati discussing Iqbal’s ideology, observes, “It is he who gave ideological consistency to Sayyid Jamal’s revolutionary uprising. He gave deep, intellectual roots to his fertile and sturdy tree. Return to the East? After becoming familiar with our age, after moving through the highest horizons of Western thought, and after years of mixing and learning in schools of thought whose masters were wondrous genius’ of the new culture such as Hegel, Nietzsche, Kant, and Goethe, this invulnerable hero of European thought, philosophy, and culture, threw it all down at the feet of the Rustom of poetry --- Rumi --- to blind him with the dazzling light of the arrow of love.”

In Chapter four titled “World View,” Dr. Shariati  analyzes the foundations of Iqbal’s message. He observes that one of the most fundamental characteristics of Iqbal’s world view is his anti-philosophical aggressiveness and that Iqbal’s intellectual orientation rests on a solid foundation in the history of Islamic culture. Dr. Shariati writes, “Iqbal’s anti-philosophical position represents such an original and profound attitude which, throughout our history, has characterized intellectual disputes and ideological wars. However, it is not the mere repetition of his predecessor’s work but the evolution of it into an intelligent, vital, and constructive position, based upon what is happening to us in our age that is unique. That is, an authentic plan of resistance against the hellenization of the past in the form of a genuine, Islamic intellectual and cultural resistance in the struggle with Westernization with which we are confronted today and which threatens us with obliteration and metamorphosis.”

Comparing the Western world view with Iqbal’s, Dr. Shariati observes, “Unlike the Western world view, which consists of rigid, intellectual forms, passive reflections upon the universe as well as abstract and spiritless images of nature, our world view is in direct touch with reality…Our world view is not science, that is ‘information about external phenomenon’ but it is intuition, mystical unveiling, and experiencing wonder vis-à-vis the glory of existence and the beauty of nature. It is restlessness, self-denial, asceticism, annihilation, the flight toward union with the Source of Life, with the very Heart of existence and the Spirit whose image is reflected in this great nature!”

Comparing philosophical awareness with Iqbal’s mystic awareness, Dr. Shariati observes, “Philosophical awareness is merely ‘fact’, superficial information about things whereas mystic awareness out-maneuvers the causes and pierces the outer shell. Its gaze delves deep inside things as if it were a lance. It fills the soul of beings. It is a kind of a gaze which is not contented with appearance. It does not remain idle with the superficial. It does not get involved in philosophical vanity. Its thirst is not quenched by a mass of ‘acts.’” Dr. Shariati explains that a mystic is a lucid and pious person who opens his eyes to the world of light and things head on, and gets satisfied only when ‘seeing things as they really are.’” Dr. Shariati observes that when Iqbal says:

In our age it is thought that

reason is the light of our way

Who knows? Insanity may possess

perception as well

Reason’s only talent is information


The only cure for your pain

is in your view

Iqbal put the question to Rumi, the leader of caravan of love, who answers:

Man is how he sees; the rest is shell

and outer covering.

How he sees is that which is seen

by the Friend.

Dr. Shariati believes that in order to understand the secret of Iqbal’s ‘self’, one has to know the limits of philosophical-scientific consciousness, and realize that it stops at the boundary of ‘facts.’ Whereas Gnostic-religious consciousness embodies three elements: anguish, love and action.  Furthermore, he states that Hegel’s complicated philosophy and Francis Bacon’s rigid scientific eyes have been deprived of these three elements. Dr. Shariati observes that unlike Western culture where action implies mechanical and conventional arrangements bred by clever, crafty tricks directed at utilization and  gain, Iqbal has defined action as ‘intoxication of deeds.’ For Iqbal, one who drinks the intoxicating wine of deeds is a mujahid:

In the Sufi spiritual path,

there is only the state of intoxication.

In the mullah’s Divine Law,

only words intoxicate.

I see not the intoxication of deeds

in the song of a dead, dejected, foolish poet

who is neither asleep nor awake.

I do not see that mujahid

In whose veins there is only

the intoxication of deeds.

Dr. Shariati explains that these states of intoxication, words of intoxication, intoxication of thoughts and intoxication of deeds, characterize four distinct types of intellectuals with four different world views: Sufi, jurisprudent, poet, and mujahid respectively.

Ma wa Iqbal (We and Iqbal) is Dr. Shariati’s masterpiece on Iqbal’s philosophy and thought. His scholarly work enables readers to understand Iqbal’s message in the context of historical perspective and relate it to the contemporary world. Like Dr. Annemarie Schimmel’s scholarship on Iqbal, Dr. Shariati has also used a holistic approach in analyzing Iqbal’s work.  Dr. Shariati has delved deep into Iqbal’s mind and soul and presented his message in simple and lucid form for readers to understand Iqbal’s pivotal role as the leader of contemporary Islamic resurgence.

 ( Dr. Ahmed S. Khan ( ) is a professor in the College of Engineering & Information Sciences, DeVry University, Addison, IL 60101)



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.