Home Columns Iqbal, Philosophy, Science, and Hoodbhoy

Iqbal, Philosophy, Science, and Hoodbhoy


Pervaiz Hoodbhoy, a physicist by claim and a social philosopher by acclaim, contended in a recent lecture that Allama Iqbal was neither a philosopher nor a deep thinker. To him, Iqbal’s understanding of science and scientific movements is rather too meek to deliberate upon. The Professor in his talk available on youtube supports his stance with selective excerpts from Iqbal’s prose and verse serving a purpose apparently dear to the learned professor. The transcript of this talk is also available on this link.


This write-up aims to discuss an objective account of Iqbal’s stature as a genuine philosopher and an advocate of scientific efforts.

At the outset, Prof Hoodbhoy challenges Iqbal’s acclaim as a philosopher on the ground that he had not published papers in journals of international repute. Though this statement is innately disputed, paradoxically he does not have any issue with the statures of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Ibn e Khaldun’s paucity of research papers in HEC recognised journals. The following list of around 34 publications, however, disproves him in categorical terms:

Research Papers:

  1. “The Doctrine of Absolute Unity as Expounded by Abdul Karim al-Jilani, Indian Antiquary, Bombay, September 1900, pp. 237-46.
  2. “Islam as a Moral and Political Ideal”, The Hindustan Review, Allahabad, Issues for July and December 1909.
  3. The Muslim Community—a Sociological Study”, originally delivered in the Strachi Hall, of the MAO College, Aligarh, with extracts appearing in the Report on the Census in India, 1911, Vol. XIV, Punjab, Part 1, 1912, pp. 162-64.
  4. Political Thought in Islam, originally published in Sociological Review, London, 1908, with title Caliphate in Islam and reproduced with present title in Hindustan Review of Allahabad, 1910, pp. 527-33.
  5. Islam and Mysticism, The New Era, Lucknow, 1917, pp. 250-51.
  6. Muslim Democracy, The New Era, Lucknow, 1917, p. 251.
  7. Our Prophet’s Criticism of Contemporary Arabian Poetry, The New Era, Lucknow, July, 1917, p. 251.
  8. Touch of Hegelianism in Lisanul ‘AsrAkbar, The New Era, Lucknow, 1917, p. 300.
  9. Nietzsche and Jalal-ud-Din Rumi, The New Era Lucknow, August 1917, p. 300.
  10. The Inner Synthesis of Life, The Indian Review, Madras, XXVII, No. 1 (January 1926), p. 2.
  11. Khūshāl Khān Khaṭṭak—The Warrior Afghan Poet, Islamic Culture, Hyderabad-Deccan, 1927.
  12. Divine Right to Rule, Light, Lahore, 1928.
  13. A Plea for Deeper Study of the Muslim Scientists, Islamic Culture, Hyderabad-Deccan, April 1929, pp. 201-09.
  14. McTaggart’s Philosophy, Indian Art and Letters, London, first issue for 1932, pp. 25-31.
  15. Corporeal Resurrection, Muslim Revival, September 1932. Also reproduced by Civil and Military Gazette, Lahore 21st April, 1952.
  16. Position of Women in the East, Liverpool Post, 1932, as reproduced from Light, Lahore, 1933.
  17. Qadianism and Orthodox Muslims, The Statesman, 1935.
  18. Jewish Integrity under Roman Rule, Islam, 1935, p. 3.
  19. Islam and Ahmadism, Modern Review of Calcutta, 1936.

Prose books in Urdu

  1. Ilm ul Iqtisad (1903)[10]

Prose books in English

  1. Stray Reflections: The Private Notebook of Muhammad Iqbal, Also includes: ‘Stray Thoughts’ 1910. Edited with Afterword by Dr. Javid Iqbal, Revised and annotated by Khurram Ali Shafique
  2. The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (1930)
  3. Development of Metaphysics in Persia, (1908) (PhD thesis), published by Iqbal Academy Pakistan, 2018.

Poetic books in Persian

  1. Asrar-i-Khudi (1915)
  2. Rumuz-i-Bekhudi (1917)
  3. Payam-i-Mashriq (1923)
  4. Zabur-i-Ajam (1927)
  5. Javid Nama (1932)
  6. Pas Cheh Bayed Kard ai Aqwam-e-Sharq (1936)
  7. Armughan-e-Hijaz – Persian- (1938)

Poetic books in Urdu

  1. Bang-i-Dara (1924)
  2. Bal-i-Jibril (1935)
  3. Zarb-i Kalim (1936)
  4. Armaghan e Hejaz -Urdu- (1938)

In minutes 21 to 24 of the video, Prof. Hoodbhouy quotes a few fragments from pages 32 to 38 of Iqbal’s Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, and maliciously attributes a statement to Iqbal, which at least I could not find in the entire work. He claims that “Iqbal ke khayal men Einstein aur Russell ghalati par haen” (In Iqbal’s view, Einstein and Russell are at fault). One cannot find even an iota of an implicit hint towards such claim in the contextual text. Same is true of Professor Hoodbhouy’s quoted sentence fragment. The context can be developed only if the reader benefits from the relevant text as given below:

“Thus, Bertrand Russell proves the reality of movement on the basis of Cantor’s theory of continuity. The reality of movement means the independent reality of space and the objectivity of Nature. But the identity of continuity and the infinite divisibility of space is no solution of the difficulty. Assuming that there is a one-on-one communication between the infinite multiplicity of instants in a finite interval of time and an infinite multiplicity of points in a finite portion of space, the difficulty arising from the divisibility remains the same. The mathematical conception of continuity as infinite series applies not to movement regarded as an act but rather to the picture of movement as viewed from the outside. The act of movement, i.e., movement as lived and not as thought, does not admit of any divisibility. The flight of the arrow observed as a passage in space is divisible, but its flight regarded as an act apart from its realization in space is one and incapable of partition into a multiplicity. In partition lies its destruction.

With Einstein, space is real, but relative to the observer. He rejects the Newtonian concept of an absolute space. The object observed is variable; it is relative to the observer; its mass, shape, and size change as the observer’s position and speed change.

Thus physics, finding it necessary to criticize its own foundations, has eventually found reason to break its own idol, and the empirical attitude which appeared to necessitate scientific materialism has finally ended in a revolt against matter. Since objects, then, are not subjective states caused by something imperceptible called matter, they are genuine phenomena which constitute the very substance of Nature and which we know as they are in Nature. But the concept of matter has received the greatest blow from the hand of Einstein – another eminent physicist, whose discoveries have laid the foundation of a far-reaching revolution in the entire domain of human thought.

‘The theory of Relativity by merging time into spacetime ‘, says Mr. Russell has damaged the traditional notion of substance more than all the arguments of the philosophers. Matter, for common sense, is something which persists in time and moves in space. But for modern relativity-physics, this view is no longer tenable. A piece of matter has become not a persistent thing with varying states but a system of inter-related events. The old solidity is gone, and with it the characteristics that, to the materialist, made matter seem more real than fleeting thoughts. Nothing is permanent, nothing endures; the prejudice that the real is the persistent must be abandoned.” (Reconstruction, pp. 35-26)

Even a layman can understand the instinctive origin of these discussions in a work, titled as Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, a compilation of Iqbal’s lectures. The discourse is obviously purposed at finding out the intrinsic flaws in the atomic theory propounded by the pre-Socratic physicist, Democritus, laughing philosopher (c. 460 BC – c. 370 BC), who claimed that:

  • Atoms and the vacuum were the beginning of the universe; and that everything else existed only in opinion. (trans. Yonge 1853)
  • The first principles of the universe are atoms and empty space; everything else is merely thought to exist. (trans. by Robert Drew Hicks 1925)
  • In reality there is nothing but matter and void.

His theory’s paradoxical aspect ruled the realm of knowledge for more than 24 hundred years. He opined that what cannot be ascertained through five senses does not exist and in the same breath he stated that atom was the indivisible and ‘invisible” constituent of matter, that cannot be seen. His theory was an explicit attempt at proving that there is no possibility of the existence of God because of invisibility. This flawed doctrine was disputed by Rumi when he said:

“Everything has an opposite by means of which it is manifested; God alone, Whose being includes all things, has no opposite, and therefore He remains hidden.” (Nicholson, Idea of Personality in Sufism. p. 55).

Ghalib has expounded the same thought in his oft-quoted verse:

اسے کون دیکھ سکتا، کہ یگانہ ہے وہ یکتا

جو دوئی کی بو بھی ہوتی تو کہیں دو چار ہوتا

It is in this context that Iqbal credits the scientists of the 20th century for their iconoclastic views and theories on the matters of matter and atom. He is neither attempting to appear a scientist nor is he trying to fully rely on their theories. He finds their thoughts important also in the sense that if the centuries-old theories of the likes of Democritus and of Newton did not hold permanent ground, it is obvious that physical laws do not govern metaphysical aspects of the universe.

In the following poem, Iqbal speaks very high of Einstein:

حکیم آئنسٹائن

جلوہ ئی میخواست مانند کلیم ناصبور

تا ضمیر مستنیر او گشود اسرار نور

از فراز آسمان تا چشم آدم یک نفس

زود پروازی کہ پروازش نیاید در شعور

خلوت او در زغال تیرہ فام اندر مغاک

جلوتش سوزد درختی را چو خس بالای طور

بی تغیر در طلسم چون و چند و بیش و کم

برتر از پست و بلند و دیر و زود و نزد و دور

در نہادش تار و شید و سوز و ساز و مرگ و زیست

اہرمن از سوز او و ساز او جبریل و حور

من چہ گویم از مقام آن حکیم نکتہ سنج

کردہ زردشتی ز نسل موسی و ہارون ظہور…

Prof Hoodbhouy criticizes Iqbal for one of the verses in a ghazal of Iqbal:

جو دُونیِ فطرت سے نہیں لائقِ پرواز

اُس مُرغکِ بیچارہ کا انجام ہے اُفتاد

ہر سینہ نشیمن نہیں جبریلِ امیں کا

ہر فکر نہیں طائرِ فردوس کا صیّاد

اُس قوم میں ہے شوخیِ اندیشہ خطرناک

جس قوم کے افراد ہوں ہر بند سے آزاد

گو فکرِ خدا داد سے روشن ہے زمانہ

آزادیِ افکار ہے اِبلیس کی ایجاد

The very context offered by the first verse explicitly negates his attempt to prove Iqbal as an enemy of freedom of thought. A letter of Iqbal, quoted in the talk also does not disprove Iqbal’s stature as a philosopher of great standing.

The following Persian verses further elaborate Iqbal’s taste for independent thought:

ھمای علم تا افتد بدامت

یقین کم کن گرفتار شکی باش

عمل خواہی یقین را پختہ تر کن

یکی جوی و یکی بین و یکی باش

It is asserted by the professor that Iqbal did not have a positive opinion of Ibne Sina and Al-Farabi’s contributions:

يوں ہاتھ نہيں آتا وہ گوہر يک دانہ
يک رنگی و آزادی اے ہمت مردانہ
يا سنجر و طغرل کا آئين جہاں گيری
يا مرد قلندر کے انداز ملوکانہ
يا حيرت فارابی يا تاب و تب رومی
يا فکر حکيمانہ يا جذب کليمانہ
يا عقل کی روباہی يا عشق يد اللہی
يا حيلہ افرنگی يا حملہ ترکانہ
يا شرع مسلمانی يا دير کی دربانی
يا نعرہ مستانہ ، کعبہ ہو کہ بت خانہ
ميری ميں فقيری ميں ، شاہی ميں غلامی ميں
کچھ کام نہيں بنتا بے جرأت رندانہ

کرم کتابی

شنیدم شبی در کتب خانۂ من

بہ پروانہ می گفت کرم کتابی

بہ اوراق سینا نشیمن گرفتم

بسی دیدم از نسخۂ فاریابی

نفہمیدہ ام حکمت زندگی را

ہمان تیرہ روزم ز بی آفتابی

نکو گفت پروانۂ نیم سوزی

کہ این نکتہ را در کتابی نیابی

تپش می کند زندہ تر زندگی را

تپش می دہد بال و پر زندگی را


روح حکیم سنائی از بہشت برین جواب میدہد

رازدان خیر و شر گشتم ز فقر
زندہ و صاحب نظر گشتم ز فقر
یعنی آن فقری کہ داند راہ را
بیند از نور خودے اﷲ را
اندرون خویش جوید لاالہ
در تہ شمشیر گوید لاالہ
فکر جان کن چون زنان بر تن متن
ہمچو مردان گوی در میدان فکن
سلطنت اندر جہان آب و گل
قیمت او قطرہ ئی از خون دل
مؤمنان زیر سپہر لاجورد
زندہ از عشقند و نی از خواب و خورد
می ندانی عشق و مستی از کجاست ؟
این شعاع آفتاب مصطفی است
زندہ ئی تا سوز او در جان تست
این نگہدارندۂ ایمان تست
با خبر شو از رموز آب و گل
پس بزن بر آب و گل اکسیر دل
دل ز دین سر چشمۂ ہر قوت است
دین ہمہ از معجزات صحبت است

دین مجو اندر کتب ای بیخبر
علم و حکمت از کتب ، دین از نظر

بوعلی دانندۂ آب و گل است
بیخبر از خستگیہای دل است
نیش و نوش بوعلی سینا بہل
چارہ سازیہای دل از اہل دل
مصطفی بحر است و موج او بلند
خیز و این دریا بجوی خویش بند
مدتی بر ساحلش پیچیدہ ئی
لطمہ ہای موج او نادیدہ ئے
یک زمان خود را بہ دریا در فکن
تا روان رفتہ باز آید بتن
ای مسلمان جز براہ حق مرو
ناامید از رحمت عامی مشو
پردہ بگذار آشکارائی گزین
تا بلرزد از سجود تو زمین
دوش دیدم فطرت بیتاب را
روح آن ہنگامۂ اسباب را
چشم او بر زشت و خوب کائنات
در نگاہ او غیوب کائنات
دست او با آب و خاک اندر ستیز
آن بھم پیوستہ و این ریز ریز
گفتمش در جستجوی کیستی ؟
در تلاش تار و پوے کیستی ؟
گفت از حکم خدای ذوالمنن
آدمی نو سازم از خاک کہن
مشت خاکی را بصد رنگ آزمود
پی بہ پی تابید و سنجید و فزود
آخر او را آب و رنگ لالہ داد
لاالہ اندر ضمیر او نہاد
باش تا بینی بہار دیگری
از بہار پاستان رنگین تری
ہر زمان تدبیرہا دارد رقیب
تا نگیری از بہار خود نصیب
بر درون شاخ گل دارم نظر
غنچہ ھا را دیدہ ام اندر سفر
لالہ را در وادی و کوہ و دمن
از دمیدن باز نتوان داشتن
بشنود مردی کہ صاحب جستجوست
نغمہ ئی را کو ہنوز اندر گلوست


Iqbal is a modern man in all connotations of the term “modernity.” It is interesting to see that Iqbal’s work is characterized by strong association with modern and new phenomena in philosophy, and trends/developments/discoveries in the physical sciences. One can even see in his work references to the Theory of Relativity, put forward by Einstein.

Iqbal is an enlightened philosopher, and he seeks to ignite the youth with the spirit to explore new horizons for themselves and for the world. He encourages them to always set their targets higher than their reach and look beyond the world of stars and the moon.

Iqbal believes in consistent movement. He despises inertia—inertia of all kinds. He dismisses complacency and stagnation. In his view, destiny is an enemy of man’s desire and perseverance. He advocates action against withdrawal and contentment. Iqbal is a strong proponent of continuous struggle to achieve goals. He reiterates the need to have a broader vision and to set higher targets with strong determination to utilize one’s capacity and potential to the fullest.

فروغِ آدمِ خاکی زتازہ کاری ہاست

مہ و ستارہ کنند آنچہ پیش ازیں کردند

(The luminosity (progress and growth) of the man of mud and clay derives essence from fresh (new) doings (inventiveness/creativity/innovativeness);

The moon and the stars but do only what they have been doing all along)

In his work, Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, he writes: “The teaching of the Qur’an that life is a process of progressive creation necessitates that each generation, guided but unhampered by the work of its predecessors, should be permitted to solve its own problems.”[1]

Annemarie Schimmel, in the second edition of her book Gabriel’s Wing: A Study into the Religious Ideas of Sir Muhammad Iqbal, republished in 1988 after its first publication in 1962 writes:

“Re-reading and studying Iqbal as I have continued during the time after Gabriel’s Wing appeared first, constantly opens new insights. At this very moment, studying the Javidnama with my students at Harvard, we find with great delight expressions in his poetry, which twenty-five years ago, would have been taken as utopic, and certainly not as relevant for humanity as they are now. I refer to the scene where Zinadurd is led into the presence of the Sage in the Sphere of Mars, who tells him about the use of what is now called solar energy, speaks of the danger of air pollution, while the false prophetess that was imported from Europe is a typical product of some ultra-feminist movement….”, pp. XI-XII.

بہ بحر رفتم و گفتم بہ موج بیتابی
ہمیشہ در طلب استی چہ مشکلی داری؟
ہزار لولوی لالاست در گریبانت
درون سینہ چو من گوہر دلی داری؟
تپید و از لب ساحل رمید و ہیچ نگفت
بہ کوہ رفتم و پرسیدم این چہ بیدردیست؟
رسد بگوش تو آہ و فغان غم زدہ ئی
اگر بہ سنگ تو لعلی ز قطرۂ خونست
یکی در آبہ سخن با من ستم زدہ ئی
بخود خزید و نفس در کشید و ہیچ نگفت
رہ دراز بریدم ز ماہ پرسیدم
سفر نصیب ، نصیب تو منزلی است کہ نیست
جہان ز پرتو سیمای تو سمن زاری
فروغ داغ تو از جلوۂ دلی است کہ نیست
سوی ستارہ رقیبانہ دید و ہیچ نگفت
شدم بحضرت یزدان گذشتم از مہ و مہر
کہ در جہان تو یک ذرہ آشنایم نیست
جہان تہی ز دل و مشت خاک من ہمہ دل
چمن خوش است ولی درخور نوایم نیست
تبسمی بلب او رسید و ہیچ نگفت

One can only say to Hoodbhouy:

بر سماعِ راست ہر کس چِیر نیست

طعمۂ ہر مُرغکے انجیر نیست

[1] The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, p. 202.

Facebook comments