“Alif. Lam. Mim. This is the Scripture whereof there is no doubt, a guidance unto those who ward off (evil). Those who believe in the Unseen, establish daily prayer, and spend out of what We have given them.”
This is a translation of the first three verses of the second chapter of the Quran. In my humble opinion, any attempt at understanding Iqbal’s approach to Quran can be much more fruitful if it begins with these verses, and how he interpreted them – especially the third verse.
In his doctoral thesis (written between 1905 and 1908), Iqbal cited the third verse as the Quran’s definition of Muslims: “Those who believe in the Unseen, establish daily prayer, and spend out of what We have given them.” He then went on to explain what is meant by “the Unseen”, in which one has to believe in order to be a Muslim.
“The Quran replies that the Unseen is in your own soul,” Iqbal wrote. To support his argument, he quoted the verses 20-21 from Chapter 51: “And in the earth there are signs to those who believe, and in yourself; What! Do you not then see!”
The Unseen is in your own soul. This is the central theme not only in Iqbal’s understanding of the Quran, but even in his overall philosophy. Latern on, he discarded many of the other observations presented in his doctoral thesis, yet he retained this one to the very end. We find it repeated endlessly, in his English prose, and in his poetry written in Urdu and Persian.
So, how do we discover this Unseen in our souls? In my understanding, Iqbal has given us a proper and systematic method for this, which I shall try to share in the next few posts.
To be continued, tomorrow.