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An Indian Philosopher’s Quest for Islam

Christian W. Troll


The Muslims of India can take pride in a rich philosophical and theological literature. For roughly the last hundred to hundred and fifty years Urdu and English have replaced Arabic and Persian as the main languages of religious thought and expression in Muslim India. A number of Indian Muslims have attempted to reconstruct the traditional thought system as, for example, laid down in the works on the usul of tafsir, hadith, fiqh and din. But such efforts have been rare and remain so. For this reason alone, the work here presented merits attention.

The author, Jamal Khwaja, is Professor of Philosophy at Aligarh Muslim University. He was born in Delhi in 1926 and educated at Allahabad, Aligarh and Cambridge (England), where he studied under the guidance of such eminent British thinkers as C.D. Broad, J. Wisdom and I.T. Ramsey. After a short spell of active participation in political life from 1955-62 as a Congress member and Member of Parliament, he devoted himself to philosophy and constructive social work in his spare time.

In the preface to his work Khwaja vividly indicates the motive that finally pushed him to write the present book. His eldest son, not having received religious instruction at High School, needed upon entering University to be provided with “a systematic exposition of Islam in the light of the contemporary conceptual framework.” Such a work should enable him and other Muslims to combine “authentic commitment to Islam with secular democracy and a humanistic internationalism”, not in the spirit of apologetics but as “a quest for truth.” It seemed to be nowhere available. So Jamal Khwaja, the father and philosopher, sat down and realized the long-planned work.

The author is conscious of his handicap of not knowing Arabic and thus not being in touch with the first-hand sources of Islam. However, in his view this handicap, serious as it is, weighs less than “the ignorance of the language of contemporary thought” without which “there would have been no point in the present undertaking.”

The work addresses itself, above all, to intellectuals, yet its basic approach, the author thinks, “is most likely to appeal in the long run to a growing cross-section of the professional and educated Muslims who are being progressively exposed to the secularization process under the impact of contemporary industrialized society.” Muslims as a body, and especially the Indian Muslims “must be helped to liberate themselves from a rigid fixation upon the medieval gestalt of Islam as distinct from its essence as such.” They will finally wish to acquire “a unified Islamic perspective which should resolve the conflict between the traditional conception of Islam as a complete code of life and the Western secular revolution.”

In this effort Khwaja feels “a sense of belonging to the Aligarh Movement initiated by Sayyid Ahmad Khan,” whose approach “was more rational, secular and nationalist than that of most of his successors.” “It seems to me” he writes, “that in my own humble way I am trying to carry on the great task which it [i.e. the Aligarh Movement] initiated just one hundred years ago.” Certainly, there have been important Indian writers on Islamic hermeneutics after Sayyid Ahmad, like Iqbal, Abul Kalam Azad, Muhammad ‘Ali (of Lahore) – but none of them belongs to Aligarh.

After a substantial introduction discussion some basic terms and the methodology adopted in the light of (mainly) recent Muslim approaches, chapter one briefly describes the dominant traditional version of Islam. Chapter two to six contain the author’s own restatement of the tradition. The last chapter comes back to methodological issues discussed in the Introduction and deals with the attitude of a Muslim towards other religions.


A key phrase in Khwaja’s thinking is “existential/metaphysical interpretation/response.” It stands in contrast to the scientific explanation, which describes and interprets empirical data, arriving by interpretation at empirically verifiable and quantitative causal laws connecting different phenomena. “Existential interpretation” has to do with the depth-significance of the universe, and has some basic features which remain the same throughout history: for example law and order; pain and suffering; hope and joy; birth, growth, decay and death. The “existential interpretation” responds to the meaning of these features and determines “the person’s stable attitudinal adjustment or orientation to the universe as a whole, or to some significant aspect of it.” Thus the “existential/metaphysical interpretation” is neither a hypothesis nor a partly justifiable postulate. I can rather be described as “a motivational reinforce that integrates the individual’s thoughts and feelings into a stable inner way of life and mode of treating the universe…” Its aim is to give meaning and direction to life, its function is orientative rather than aesthetic.

An existential interpretation of the universe is by definition not verifiable. Yet there exist criteria for its value, for example viability: the interpretation must harmonize with the data and reliable conclusions of science. Khwaja states that for instance, the concept of “instant creation out of absolute nothingness” does not harmonize with the scientific concept of evolution. In the case of a lack of harmony like this, that is between an earlier existential interpretation and a more recent scientific conceptual scheme, a revision of the concrete sense of a given existential interpretation is needed by redefining, analyzing, explaining, making distinctions and comparisons. This is the job of the philosopher who “checks whether the actual data of human experience harmonize with the religious interpretation.” An existential interpretation, which is chosen by the philosopher, is functionally similar to, but genetically of a methodology different from, religious faith.

Khwaja defines the theologian as someone confining himself to the exploration of traditional concepts “in a spirit of defensive reverence to the tradition.” He is in line here with traditional Islam’s understanding of Kalam as a purely apologetic, defensive discipline.

In his diagnosis of the contemporary Muslim mind the author employs repeatedly two terms: “field isolation” and “field integration.” The former term “means the different fields of human culture are kept deliberately isolated from one another” which “leads to a painful sense of fragmentation and the fear of facing life as a whole…” Field integration, in contrast, “means a systematic dialogue between the different fields of human experience with a view of overcoming actual or possible tension between them.” This effort at field integration “is rooted in a concern for one’s intellectual integrity and disinterested search for truth instead of fragmented loyalties. In the final analysis field integration is more a search for authenticity than for intellectual curiosity.”

The “field of science” and the “field of religion” differ. Scientific certainty is obtained by inductive methods; religious certainty is existential. Nevertheless the fields do interact and cannot be totally segregated. “Concrete value judgments of religion can neither be justified nor realized without adequate factual information supplied by science.” The concrete re-interpretation of basic Islamic concepts thus becomes inevitable due to the constant growth in our factual knowledge and improved conceptual tools. This reinterpretation of the faith has to be done in the context of an ever-growing convergence or integration of the basic concepts of all the different natural, social and humanistic sciences.


The author shows by way of example how, in the more recent past, significant discoveries in the field of natural and social sciences have demanded and been met with “the reconstruction of basic religious concepts in the case of Christianity.” Such discoveries were, for example, Darwin’s theory of evolution; Marx’s concept of social evolution and Freud’s concept of un-conscious motivation. The function of such reconstruction, such “field integration” can be compared to that of psycho-analysis, the latter leading to an integration “of different languages and concepts of the different streams of human culture,” the former to the integration of the total human personality.

The author examines in more detail the attempts at field integration in the course of Islamic history, in the fields of falsafah and kalam, in Sufism and in 19th and 20th century Islamic thought. Roughly summarized, he thinks that whereas some of these thinkers have stressed the organic unity of Islam in such a way s to reject secularism (Muhammad Iqbal, Abul A’la Mawdudi) others, like Abul Kalam Azad, and Ali Abdul Raziq, stress an “essential Islam” which, freed from accretions and detail, goes well together with secularism. But do they not miss the essentially organic character of faith?

The task of reconstructing the basic concepts and values of Islam remains because changes advocated in the socio-political infrastructure of Islam “will never prove effective unless they are rooted in a systematic and consistent thought-system in the light of the ever-expanding frontiers of human knowledge.” The well being of the contemporary Muslim personality is at stake. The Muslim in India – and not only he – experiences a conflict between the contemporary concept of secularism underlying the present Indian polity, and the traditional concept of Islam as a revealed code of conduct for every facet of human life. Furthermore, he is not rarely suspected of trying “to convert non-Islamic states into Islamic ones,” in other words, “to convert, if not subvert, their ways of life.”

The Indian Muslim is also challenged to develop a true openness to the values of the Hindu tradition and to accept the deep relevance of the spiritual and religious history of the West. And this not for reasons of opportunism or political expediency but rather as a matter or “inner growth.” Muslims must realize “that all cultural tradition, including Islam, need ceaseless self-authentication if they are not merely to endure but also to prevail.” In all this he must not lose sight of the power and need of the symbols and images of his own tradition. It is a difficult task indeed to retain and at the same time reconstruct them.


The Concept of God: The traditional concept of God as the Creator, Sustainer and Beneficent Lord of the worlds, ever concerned with the welfare of His creation and responding to the supplication of His creates is, according to Khwaja, suggested and supported by the contemplation of order, harmony and regularity of the natural order of the universe. But other features of it – such as the fact and extent of pain and evil, and by-now established evolutionary world-view – contradict such a concept of God.

Countless instances and variations of pain and evil can be adduced. They culminate in cases of the suffering of innocent persons due to chance errors, miscarriages of justice and so on.

Now either God permits all the above instances of suffering or these instances occur against Divine will. The first supposition contradicts the love and mercy of God, while the second supposition contradicts the power of God.

Several common explanations do not satisfy. One line of reasoning, however, has been upheld by quite a number or serious religious thinkers: human freedom is logically necessary once God decides to foster “the good will” which, understood in the Kantian sense, is “the highest value after the Holy will or the self-existent God.” Social evils, it is argued, flow from man’s abuse of his free will. It is the latter that is to be blamed. Such a view, however, ignores the fact that in the concrete situations of life individuals are only potentially free. In countless cases the conditions, both internal and/or external, for the growth of a free human personality and the exercise of such freedom, are lacking.

Since man, Khwaja stresses, is unable to solve the dilemma rationally, he can only reaffirm the sense of mystery in a kind of “existentialist response.” The only measure of the truth of an existentialist response lies in the authenticity of the individual’s response to the mystery and in no way in its pragmatic utility or verifiability.

The evolutionary world-view, which implies blind alleys, mutations, enormous waste, biological strife, built-in ecological destruction etc., clashes with the ideas of an all-loving Creator cherishing the welfare of the meanest of his creatures. In face of the clash Khwaja writes:

What is crucially important is not which interpretations we profess or verbalize but which interpretation really evokes our authentic commitment.

Added to these is the semantic difficulty with the traditional conception of God. The problem is formulated in the simple dilemma: “If God-statements are adjudged as metaphorical, we distort the intention of the genuine theist, if God-statements are adjudged as factual, we distort the rules of ordinary language without specifying new rules for using ordinary expressions in religious contexts.”

Analogy as a key for metaphorical understanding, the author rejects almost off-hand. So, “perhaps the best approach to God is the wordless receptivity to the mystery of the macrocosm and the microcosm.”

Since, however, man seems to need to conceptualize his experience of the absolute mystery in some way, the best way is to conceive of it as “Primal Value Elan.” The Primal Value Elan is universally operative. “It is the aspiration or quest for the perfect, and it supplies the fuel for the motor of cosmic evolution. In man this Elan is more or less consciously felt and registered… It is this Value Elan that is called God in the language of religion.” The traditional conception of Divine Immanence may be regarded as the religious formulation of the primacy and universal presence of this Value Nisus from electron to the solar system, and from amoeba to man himself. This Elan evokes in man a sense of mystery and awe. Its status is not merely that of ontic primacy but also that of the Supreme Evocator of values in nature and history. “In other words, the First Cause also becomes the Source of all value, and in this sense, the highest Good… But this conception is neither theistic, nor deistic, nor naturalistic, nor materialistic… It is sui generis, though it may have points of contact with all of the above approaches.”

This Primal Value Elan may be and has been personified in a kind of “symbolic procedure” for deepening the communion between the individual and the Value Elan. An “existential personification” has to be seen as a “spiritual act whose justification should be sought in the quality of inner life of the individual rather than in any procedure of verification or justification.” Therefore personification of the Primal Value Elan should be “permissive” rather than “obligatory.” Insofar as an I-Thou relationship with the Primal Value Elan helps the individual to be receptive to his creative conscience, it is to be welcomed. “The concept of a personal God,” Khwaja opines, “performs the ontogenetic function more effectively [than that of an impersonal Value Elan], since men are at times liable to be overwhelmed by the surging waves of irrational and self-destructive impulses.”

Yet, when all is said and done, the “mystery of being” remains unresolved.

Every effort to reduce its mystery to a conceptual scheme, rooted in either science or philosophy or mystical experience, founders at the unfathomable depths and complexity of being… In the final analysis, mystical silence is the only proper response to the mystery of being. This silence is however, not the same as intellectual agnosticism or philosophical doubt, but an existential surrender to the mystery of being.

The concept of Revelation: The traditional conception of revelation gives rise to various serious intellectual difficulties. To mention only one here: the traditional conception of revelation implies an authoritarian ethic and character-structure for the pious Muslim. In case of any disparity between the injunctions of the Quran and one’s own authentic attitudes or moral judgments, the traditional conception of revelation clearly implies that the Muslim must abdicate his inner freedom at the altar of an absolute and unqualified submission to the Word of God. This poses a problem.

Furthermore, the Quran does not distinguish between eternal and temporal bindingness. Hence inevitable situational changes become a problem. Take the evidence Laws of the Quran which imply clearly discrimination between the value of a male and that of a female witness, or take the prohibition of interest. Pious contemporary Muslims who cannot surrender their individual judgment to revelation thus understood, are thrown into a deep existential conflict. Whether they surrender to such an injunction or not, they experience a tension in the depth of their being.

The acceptance of the Quran as revealed, therefore, has to be distinguished from the acceptance of the traditional theory of revelation. The Elan conception of revelation, in the author’s view, avoids such dilemmas. The Primal Value Elan, on the one hand, “ever pulsates in and informs every spatio-temporal system or gestalt.” At the same time it is, nevertheless, “clearly and distinctively registered in man alone.”

Viewed in this context “the revelatory process is one of the maximum attunement and inner receptivity to the pulsations of the Primal Value Elan which is pan-immanent, yet seldom comes to the range of attunement to finite beings…” The revelatory content, on its part, has to be conceived “as a complex deposit or crystallization of the Primal Value Elan in a particular individual placed in a concrete social space-time.” Therefore the revelatory content cannot be regarded as in fallible in the sense that it could totally transcend the “gravitational pull” of the conceptual framework of him to whom revelation is addressed.

The revelatory content can be declared “infallible” in the sense that its basic value system is valid, beyond the least shadow of doubt, and reflects the integration of the individual will with the Primal Value Elan. This may be termed “nuclear infallibility” as distinguished from “molecular infallibility.” Growth of Islamic thought and value would be conceived of as the emergence of new dimensions or molecular levels in the basic nuclear values or concepts of the revelatory text. The belief in khatm-i-nubuwwat thus does not involve the dilution or abdication of man’s spiritual autonomy and responsibility for growth.

It is essential, Khwaja stresses, to take seriously Muhammad’s claim not to be the author of the Quran.

In the final analysis, the crux of the faith in the Quranic revelation lies in faith in the veracity of the Prophet, and in experiencing the depths of one’s being a sense of profound mystery and wonder while hearing or reciting the verses of the Quran.

Life after Death: Basing himself again on his methodological principle of avoiding all unverifiable concretion of concepts (like God, creation, revelation and so on), the author singles out, as core of the belief in life after death not individual survival but rather the ultimate vindication of the truth and the majesty of the moral law.

“Consequently, all that is necessary for belief in life after death as an essential and integral part of the Islamic thought system is the belief in the ultimate continuity of life and the triumph of value over disvalue.” The suggested Islamic re-interpretation is thus different from the Hindu doctrine of Karma only in that it presupposes the serial conception of time while the Hindu view is cyclic.

Quran and Hadith; God and History: As to a relevant interpretation of the Quran today, many controversies and confusions can be avoided if (a) the different functions of language are not confused with each other; (b) the function and use of an expression is not confused with its prima facie grammatical form; and (c) the demand for validation or verification of the different types of statement take into account their functional peculiarities without trying to assimilate them to a rigid empirical scientific model.

The myths and stories in the Quran need to be taken seriously but not in their literal meaning. The criteria for their interpretation should be their consistency and ability to illumine our understanding of the complexities of man’s nature and the cosmos and to deepen our own insights.

The Quran for Khwaja is a “miracle.” This does not, however, imply accepting any metatheory of revelation over and above the authenticity of the Prophet and the sense of mystery in the face of the Quran.

In discussing Hadith the author confines himself to some general remarks as to what should be the respective importance attributed to Hadith by contemporary Muslims.

The sayings of the Prophet, to the extent that they are authentic, are certainly of the greatest interest to all Muslims, for the obvious reason that they reveal the Prophet’s understanding and interpretation of the spirit as well as the letter of the Quran.

Nevertheless, if the Prophet, according to the witness of the Quran itself, was not divine but mortal – albeit the recipient of divine revelation – then his interpretation of the revelation must be distinguished from the actual content of the revelation. The real import of following the example of the Prophet lies in a creative fidelity to the basic values he taught to mankind, rather than in a mechanical and rigid fixation upon the details of his daily life and behavior.

Khwaja tries to show how a sociological conception of history is compatible with the Elan conception of God. It is at the strictly historical level that “ethical factors enter into the causal nexus, though their degree of causal efficacy may be generally less than that of the economic.”

Man is only a partly free being. As such he…can either attune himself to the promptings of Primal Value Elan… To the extent that the historical process is shaped and guided by the authentic promptings of the immanent Primal Value Elan, history is regulated by God. The divine regulation should not be understood in the sense of interference by an external God or Divine will in the historical process. The power of Primal Value Elan works in and through the objective and concrete social conditions and facts.


A general shortcoming of the Islamic value system is that like its Christian and Jewish counterparts it lays a naïve stress on the good individual in the belief that the aggregate of good men automatically produces a good society. The determining impact of societal structure on the good life is generally not stressed sufficiently.

Most central Islamic values do not stand in need of revision if only they are understood in depth. Some of them are close to central Hindu values: ikhlas (sincerity to God) is close to “non-attachment” as defined in the Gita; dhikr close to the Hindu Ishwara Pranidhana (attentiveness to God); ihtiram-i-nafs (reverence for life) to the Hindu cosmic feeling, the sense of wonder at the contemplation of the living universe and the essential oneness of life; and rahmat (compassion), to the karma and ahimsa of Hindu and Buddhist ethics.

Other values such as faith (iman), piety (taqwa), Islamic brotherhood (millat) and justice (‘adl) need to be reinterpreted. Authentic faith is to be understood basically as a “joyful surrender before the mystery of the universe together with steadfast and ungrudging commitment to a set of values and to the duties of one’s state in life.” Only a consistent and persistent nihilist who has lost all faith in values is a kafir.

No religious interpretation can claim to penetrate the heart of the mystery and lay it bare to man. So there is no point in the belief of exclusive salvation for the followers of a particular “chosen” religion. All men who are authentically committed to spiritual and moral values are men of faith. The Quran nevertheless can be seen as “a unique revelation and the Prophet a unique exemplar or guide, since they bring about a quicker, richer, and more harmonious growth of the human spirit than do other guides.”

True Islamic piety should strive for “creative fidelity to basic values” rather than for “static conformity.”

In the traditional living-out of brotherhood “ideological brotherhood” has overshadowed “human brotherhood.” Today – beyond intra-Islamic oneness – intra-religious oneness and cooperation needs to be promoted.

Consequently Islamic justice (‘adl) needs to be interpreted in a less restricted sense. Equality of opportunity has to be created for all. All people (belonging to the various sexes, races, socio-economic and political groups) must be given equal opportunities for realizing their capacities for integrated human growth; equality is not sufficient. Khwaja accepts gradation in power, status or wealth but they should be earned, not inherited.


The Islamic precept-system is in no need for “any modification in any basic sense,” which does not mean that in its presentation new emphases here and there would be out of place. However, the author pleads for “a relatively permissive approach” towards it instead of “the traditional disciplinarian and rigorous approach.”


The Islamic institutional system, in contrast, does need to be viewed in a new way. The Muslim must be enabled to see Islamic secularism – taken here to imply essentially the delinking of the institutional system from the essence of Islam as spiritually legitimate and not politically useful. A distinction will have to be made between intrinsic and instrumental rules of conduct – in other words, between basic values and instrumental values. The latter are in fact beliefs concerning the most effective means for promoting the basic values. In the field of factual knowledge there is real change and progress. It follows that there is likewise change in the field of actual value, change in all that pertains to sets of instrumental rules. Thus changes in the traditional Islamic institutional system are un-avoidable if it wants to remain meaningful and effective. The most fundamental change needed here is:

the acceptance of (a) the complete legal equality of men and women, and (b) equality of opportunity for all human beings, as the essence of social justice. All the details of the reconstruction of the reconstructed institutional system concerning marriage, inheritance, political and economical matters follow from the acceptance of the equality and dignity of the human essence independently of any sex differentiation and equality of opportunity as the essence of social justice.

A Muslim following a secular approach in working out the best possible politico-economic structure of society will stress the need to learn from the experience of any society, past and present. In his view Islam, and religion in general, must not be conceived of as “a monolithic prescriptive system or total code of conduct, but rather a personal relationship between man and God, leaving man free to make his own independent choices in matters that are essentially social rather than transcendental.” This does not imply the abolition of religion from society. It implies:

…the rejection of those forms of religion which claim supreme regulative authority in all spheres of human life. Moreover it implies the affirmation of the spiritual autonomy of the individual and the sovereignty of society in all matters concerning the relations between man and man, as distinguished from man’s personal relationship with God. 

The function of religion in life has to be redefined in the face of a secular revolution, which essentially means that the state has substituted the all-comprehensive medieval religious community as “the primary unity of corporate life and of group-identity.” Religion in a modern set-up would put all its energy into bringing about an inner and free commitment of its adherents to basic ethical values, plus a mystical yearning to surrender oneself before some Power, Being, Presence, or Elan which is judge as the source of these values. Thus religion, instead of creating an all-comprehensive, detailed legal framework of life would inspire man to realize and help others realize their spiritual possibilities in a secular society.

The impact of a given religion will work though the democratic play of majority and minority in mutual respect. Ethical values as promoted by Islam will make their impact not through any external compulsion but rather through an authentic appeal to autonomous individuals:

The Indian Muslims should not fear that commitment to democracy would lead to their de-Islamisation or paganisation, etc. To the extent that the basic moral values of the Quran evoke the Muslim’s authentic commitment and actually shape his sensibility, his free decisions would conform with the Quran in the task of applying the Quran and the Sunnat to the present human situation. In this process Quranic values will acquire new dimension and depth and will not be ignored or rejected. To the extent of their inner power to convince and grip free mind, Quranic values, in the form of secular wisdom, would also permeate the institutions of secular democratic societies, whether professedly Islamic or not.


With his Quest for Islam Khwaja has made a weighty contribution to the debate on the reconstruction of Islam and to the rethinking of the Islamic thought-cum-value precept and institutional system.

Among the outstanding qualities of his work are succinctness, clarity of diction, the consistent use of carefully chosen and defined terms, and an intelligible sequence and structuring of this thought procedures. The work offers an incisive analysis of the predicament of the contemporary Muslim (and especially Indian Muslim) mind. The doctrines and belief patterns of traditional Islam, as well as individual efforts at restatement, have been depicted quite accurately. One senses the author’s protracted personal wrestling with his subject. The status question is thus put well. What about the attempted answer(s)? At this point it is essential to discuss those few areas of the work that seem to us to determine the viability of the author’s approach as a whole.

One such area is that where the author puts forward “semantic considerations” concerning any metaphorical concept or statement. Khwaja, in the line of the British school of analytical philosophy (especially Anthony Flew), rejects the concept of analogy as it is employed in scholastic philosophy. To him, this concept on closer examination turns out to be so imperfect as to be useless.

The moment we take the analogy seriously by trying to discover the parallelism or isomorphism between the two sides of the analogy, it breaks down; and to resurrect the analog we have to qualify it. This has been termed by a British philosopher [A. Flew] as the death of the analogy by a thousand qualifications.

In any case, human language and its concepts are held to be blind as far as metaphysical reality is concerned. They cannot claim to reach “being as such” and consequently they do not reach the reality of God himself. Hence, as Khwaja points out repeatedly in his work, “the only proper response” is mystical silence.

On the other hand he concedes freely: man inevitably has to conceptualize his awareness of the absolute mystery. He forms concepts like God, creation, divine guidance and so on. However, these cannot be called “true” in the sense of “expressing the reality signified by them.” Rather, they fulfill the important function of furthering the growth of ethical and spiritual values in man, such as love, compassion and veracity, and of removing negative elements from the psyche, such as fear, hatred and malice. Khwaja denotes this function as “onto-genetic,” as distinct from an “onto-aesthetic” function usually ascribed to these terms. He states categorically:

All claims of gnosis to know God and of reason to prove God commit the “naturalistic fallacy” of reducing faith in the unseen to objective and logical certainty.

It may be noted that the restriction of terms like truth and certainty to the realm of empirically verifiable reality does not correspond to the testimony of the Quran. The Quran appeals again and again to the reflective faculty of all men. It does not, of course, equate this faculty with the discursive reason of the sciences of even with mathematical reason. Yet it does ascribe to man the faculty enabling him to reach the existence of a personal God and Creator with certainty, and it reproaches men for willfully withholding acknowledgement of Him.

A critical philosophy of being (for instance in the line of J. Marechal and his disciples, the so-called school of transcendental philosophy), would claim that by reflecting on his own activities of willing and knowing, man can reach the knowledge of God who – in terms of the analogy of being – is holy, supreme, exalted above the world. God is absolutely. He possesses the principle of His existence in Himself, that is in His own nature.

A philosophical anthropology adopting this approach would affirm God as an incomprehensible and unfathomable mystery who is nevertheless accessible to human knowledge. It would view reason essentially as man’s capacity for the openness to this mystery. It would conceive of God as the principle and goal of the transcendental movement of the finite human spirit, which is open to the infinite. The affirmation of God’s being – in such thinking – is always (if un-thematically) included in the operations of that spirit. All positive analogical statements about God, as those made above, will only be understood if they are interpreted, in absolute union with their positive content, as referring us to the unutterable mystery and, at the same time, as protecting that mystery from being misrepresented or misconceived.

In real life such “natural” knowledge of God is, however, constantly in danger of turning weak and dull. When faced, for instance, with the fact of innocent suffering and pain or with the “cruelty” and waste involved in the evolutionary process, man is tempted to doubt altogether the existence of an all-powerful, personal, holy and all-loving God. The human response to the existence of God, in actual life, would seem always to be shaped already by the traces of God’s action, the divine Word in history and by man’s free response to it in the mode of acceptance or refusal.

A philosophical anthropology developed in the context of the philosophy of religion would define man – at the deepest level – as that being which, by virtue of his spiritual transcendence to all being, is open to God’s revelatory message. Man, a creature whose nature does not confine him to a particular sphere of existence, can become the recipient of God’s Word.

But is this Word of God, this revelation purely and merely “natural” something implicit in the spiritual nature of man? Does the experience behind the many prophetical revelations not have a dialogical character? Does revelation not make known to man more than what can be deduced at al times and in all places from the necessary reference of all earthly things to God? Could it not be that the absolute mystery we call God reveals to us His personal relationship with us, His spiritual creatures?

Khwaja seems to fail to account sufficiently for the distinction between what we have described here as “natural” revelation on the one and “historical, personal and verbal” revelation on the other hand. In the latter God is believed to address himself to man’s unique interior spiritual being. The concept of the Primal Value Elan as defined by Khwaja no only fails to account adequately for God’s transcendence and absolute personal freedom – it also cannot accommodate the fact of revelation(s) of a truly personal and dialogical character. It is significant too, in this context, that neither the experiences not the concepts of either sin, guilt or divine forgiveness are discussed or even mentioned anywhere in the present work.

Given the fact of Muslim belief in a historical, personal and verbal revelation, would it not rather be the task of a Muslim philosophy of religion to try to make explicit – by strictly philosophical means – the anthropological conditions of the possibility of man’s listening to the absolute mystery and of his possible receiving of a divinely gifted Word of revelation? It emerges here how much an effort to reconstruct Islam would need a carefully developed Quranic anthropology and theology. The purely philosophical inquires of an Islamic philosophy could and should find their direction and proposed goal in the exposition of such a theological anthropology. This would, we have said already, in no way mean a mixing up of philosophical and theological methodology and argument.

An Islamic philosophical anthropology thus conceived would speak about the essentially social nature of man and of the social dimension of language in ritual, symbol and word. It would clarify to what extent not only the Islamic precept-system but also – at least certain dimensions of – its institutional system may have to be viewed and, if and whenever possible, maintained as being necessary consequence of the specifically Quranic vision of man as an individual and as part of society.

Khwaja’s Quest for Islam is the approach of a philosopher. It is a truly professional philosophical effort, which laudably takes into account the widened scope and sharpened tools of contemporary (admittedly, mainly British) scholarship. Is it sufficiently permeated with the unique Quranic perspective and spirit?

True, philosophy will not, as theology does, base its arguments on Quranic evidence. But if the philosophy of a Muslim is to be an effort in Islamic philosophy and even in Islamic reconstruction, then it would seem to come into its own only by letting itself be inspired and guided at every step by the genuine Quranic spirit, without which there is no Islam, philosophical or otherwise. This is the challenge posed to Khwaja’s important contribution. This, at the same time, is the challenge that Quest for Islam presents to future efforts in this crucial field.

Past Books: Quest For Islam
Critical review

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