Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Two perceptions about Islam

I have received very encouraging response to the emails about spiritual democracy. Before I share my understanding of this concept, I would like to clarify a basic point. There are two different perceptions about Islam today, and spiritual democracy is relevant only to the first.

The first version dominated the Muslim thought from 1887 to 1953. Its followers included Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Syed Jamaluddin Afghani, Muhammad Ali Jauhar, Iqbal, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and many others. On their behalf, Iqbal summarized the purpose of Islam in these words:

“Give man a keen sense of respect for his own personality, let him move fearless and free in the immensity of God’s earth, and he will respect the personalities of others and become perfectly virtuous.” (Iqbal, 1909)
This, according to Iqbal, was the unique idea which Islam contributed to human thought and which did not exist before the advent of Islam.

Since 1953, a different perception has gradually become dominant in Muslim thought and has also been recognized by the academia in the West. We may call it conservative Islam, but whatever name it is given, the basic idea behind it is that a human being cannot be let alone and needs to be constantly supervised by authority figures.

This is actually an antithesis of the spirit of Islam. It is a recycling of the pre-Islamic worldview, if we are to believe Iqbal, who said:

“The opposite view, the doctrine of the depravity of man held by the Church of Rome, leads to the most pernicious religious and political consequences. Since if man is elementally wicked, he must not be permitted to have his own way: his entire life must be controlled by external authority. This means priesthood in religion and autocracy in politics.”
It should not surprise us that this pre-Islamic “doctrine of the depravity of man held by the Church of Rome” manifested itself in the Muslim world soon after independence: some of our religious elite must have been influenced by the European masters during the long night of colonialism (and Iqbal anticipated this as “the religion of slaves” in 1927, in Persian Psalms).

The difference between these two perceptions of Islam is important to be remembered. “Spiritual democracy” is “the ultimate goal of Islam” only according to the first perception. This needs to be clarified before any meaningful discourse on this issue can take place.


  1. Greetings,

    Thank you very much for this post.

    This addresses the significant issue of how colonialism influenced the colonized, and not just politically. I believe it is very significant to think of these two different models of democracy as not only political models, but also, and just as importantly, as two different psychologies, even mythologies.

    By myth, here, I am not referring to something that is considered "just belief" or false. Rather, the psycho-mythology of a people includes the collectively shared *stories* by and through which persons and societies live and evolve.

    Through story (oral & written) and arts (often wrapped in the context of cultural philosophy and religion), attitudes, values, and all manner of understandings are effectively passed from one generation to the next. Pass on a story of one's origin and creation coming from a context of depravity and inherently flawed nature, and outer reality will manifest such. On the other hand, pass on a story of one's inherent essence being unsullied and evolvable, and it's a very different world.

    It is amazing to me just how significant this is. First we conceive; then we achieve.

    Thank you again for this post.

    All good wishes,


  2. This is perhaps the most critical distinction which deserves to be understood for getting to the core and fundamental paradigm of the Spirit of Islam by Iqbal or the true Sufi Concepts.
    The original and absolute authority of judgment rests only with God. Benevolence and Forgiveness (Rehman & Raheem) or Tolerance in more contemporary terms, is essential to a society if it aspires to provide an environment which is conducive for the development of human Selves (Nafs) to their true and full potential. Short of it, the human societies could only provide for an equitable distribution of resources or wealth, which could secure the basic needs (Food, Clothing & Shelter) of humans, while the development of “Self” or “Khudi” which feeds on “Will” or “Niat” will remain starved.

  3. Please see Robert's post for my comments on this enlightening post here.

  4. I don't know how comfortable you would be about writing this, but I am curious about your thoughts and analysis on the recent developments in Turkey with the Prime Minister Erdogan and his AKP party & protests, and in Egypt with (now ex) President Moursi and the Muslim Brotherhood & protests.