The gathering of the Iqbal study group on Friday, Nov 12, was particularly unique and special, due to Dr. Suheyl Umar who graced the occasion as the guest speaker. Dr. Suheyl Umar is the director of Iqbal Academy Pakistan, and one of the most important scholars on Iqbaliyat alive. His other areas of interest and expertise include Sufism, Philosophy, Theology, Islam, the Intellectual history of Muslims and much more.
The session was opened by the founding chairman of Iqbal Academy Scandinavia, Mr. Ghulam Sabir, with an introduction to the topic and planned format of the program, and a few words of gratitude to Dr. Suheyl Umar who had been particularly kind to grace the occasion despite his very arduous schedule.
The first part of the programme was planned for the open discussion, which began with a question from Mrs. Seema Kamil, a very senior and valuable member of the group, regarding Iqbal’s importance and relevance in today’s world, in particular from the viewpoint of a youngster, and more so for the one born and brought-up in the west. Dr. Suheyl Umar’s response to this very pertinent question was eloquent and detailed; he started off by explaining the different overarching roles that Iqbal played in his very meaningful and ambitious life, the three different dimensions of his struggle, the different fronts where he concentrated the best of his unusual literary, intellectual and political strengths. Dr. Umar highlighted that while Iqbal’s person and achievements remain formidable in multiple notable realms, his introduction has largely been tightly bound to the ideology of Pakistan, which despite its immense import, remains specific to a particular event in the past, with little universal significance and relevance in view of the challenges we face today, and less so yet for the ones born and brought up outside Pakistan. He explained in detail Iqbal’s roles as an articulate philosopher with a highly creative response to the western and modernistic intellect, and in terms of his wisdom poetry on the highest moral and intellectual grounds, where he tackles many questions of the universal import, including the meaning of life, the man, the God, the universe, and their relation with each other, and also challenges the threats that modernism posed to the religion, to spirituality, to the value systems and the humanity. Dr. Umar further elaborated the notion of modernism, its defining worldview, and the consequent intellectual paradigm shift, which would threat every civilisation based on the inspired ideals, upholding a divine system of values.
The above discussion conveniently led to the topic planned for the second part of the programme, “The knowledge, the religious experience, and Tasawuf”. Dr. Umar formally started the discussion by explaining the intended meaning of the terms ‘Knowledge’ and ‘religious experience’ as used in the first lecture of Reconstruction, in order to establish the context for the rest of the discussion. This was followed by Dr. Umar’s commentary on different parts of the first lecture of Reconstruction, explaining how it builds the argument in favour of the possibility of other means of knowledge than those approved by the physical sciences, namely the normal sense data and the logical analysis. He explained how religion has always been one of the core aspects of human social systems and affirmed and promoted by the best personalities of each era. In his answer to a question he explained how certain views of the religion, particularly the ones rendering it something of antiquity with no real current value, suffered from the persisting theories of social and transformist Darwinism, despite the sheer lack of evidence in their favour. In response to another question Dr. Umar commented that the main causes for the denial of religions in the modern age, particularly by the minds equipped with scientific knowledge, are more psychological than logical; they have written a blank-check to science, ignoring the vast regions and aspects of life where science has no access whatsoever. He concluded the very fulfilling session with the remarks that science has reached a point where it sees it limits very clearly, and also the clear evidence of an entire world outside its reach, but very often it is very arrogant to admit that, and this lack of humility causes the great division and imbalance amidst which humanity finds itself today.