Thursday, February 2, 2012

Tips for reading the Reconstruction

There are several ways of reading the Reconstruction. Firstly, it may help to remember that it's a very strange book.

I do not remember how many times I must have read it from cover to cover - and i have got three different copies of the Reconstruction filled with my notes on the margins - but even then, somebody quotes a passage from it and I feel as if I have never heard it. I look it up, and I realize that it now means something entirely different from what it seemed earlier.

So, it is a book which keeps changing its meanings according to our states of mind. I think that is its purpose, too. 

If you find difficulty understanding this book, do not think that this is your problem alone: Iqbal had the same problem too. His student Syed Nazeer Niazi, who started translating the book into Urdu soon after its publication, has written that sometimes he would ask Iqbal about the meaning of a certain passage and Iqbal would look puzzled; and say that he himself cannot fully explain the meanings of certain passages and doesn't remember in what intuitive mode he wrote them.

I have found that there are three best approaches for reading this book. 
  1. The first is to read it as if it was a book of quotations. Browse through it, mark anything which you find interesting and consider it the reward for the day. Spend a good deal of time reflecting on it.
  2. Another approach could be to quickly determine what is the basic purpose of a lecture - its theme. Then link everything else in the lecture to that theme or purpose.
  3. Third approach, well, is to read it as a commentary on Javid Nama. You will see that the seven lectures of the Reconstruction are parallel to the seven chapters of Javid Nama. Try to compare each chapter of Javid Nama with the corresponding lecture in the Reconstruction, and see what you get. 

By the way, go to the last page of the Reconstruction: what are the two last words in that book?


  1. I think Reconstruction is the book of archetypes, those models which exist , those which are set as standard and those which must be adhered, followed, perused. I have read history, religion, philosophy, psychology, literature and art through this unique book.

  2. Is that passage from Javaid Nama Iqbal's own rendering of it into English?

    I tend to read it as I read most books of this kind as a crib on The Holy Quran. Seeing it as a commentary of the verses referred to and then coming back to it as a text with verses quoted in support of its argument. By turning the meanings around in this way I seem to grasp something that Iqbal may have intended for his readers. It is nevertheless, one of the greatest books on Islam of the from the last century. Iqbal states quite correctly that he intended it as a study of Islam with reference to western trends of criticism which had not been done before in English in this way.

  3. @Rehan Qayoom: Yes, that translation of lines from Javid Nama is supposed to be Iqbal's own rendering.

  4. Greetings,

    Thank you very much for this. It comes to me at a unique time for me characterized by reading lots of works of Iqbal and grasping to comprehend them.

    Your description is of a kind of book - and I've encountered only a few in my life like this - that has a certain "presence" about it, unlike others.

    Somehow I missed this post, though it indicates a date of February of this year.


    All good wishes,


  5. Sir, thank you for the tip. I will read it accordingly. :)