Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education

The Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education (NFIE) is a non-profit, tax exempt, religious and educational organization dedicated to serve Islam with a special focus on Tasawwuf(Sufism),

Friday, April 30, 2021

The Rational & Metaphysical Notions of Prophethood & the Prophet Muhammad (saws) in the thoughts of Said Nursi & Muhammad Iqbal- Mahsheed Ansari


 Mahsheed Ansari MA Sydney University, BA/LLB UWS-A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at Monash University in 2015

INTRODUCTION This research compares the ideas of two outstanding Muslim scholars of the twentieth century, Said Nursi (1877-1960) and Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938). Although they were both contemporaries, two points differentiate them: firstly, they came from opposite ends of the Muslim world; and secondly, they used two different genres to express their views. Nursi’s works offer a theological exegesis of the Qur’ān. Iqbal’s works are literary compositions in his poetry but also include his essays and speeches. While Iqbal was known in his native country and in the West, Western academics as well as the scholars of the Turkish Republic have ignored Nursi until recent times.1 The influence of Nursi on Turkish society and thought is staggering. A figure such as Nursi, whose thoughts have shaped and will continue to shape a plethora of Muslim communities, and the founder of arguably one of the largest faith based social movements today, ought to be considered in greater depth. This study acknowledges recent academic interest in Nursi, and hopes to introduce Nursi, his life and works in light of these recent studies, while surveying the construction of his views of prophethood (nubuwwa) in Islam focusing on his works. There have been greater studies in South Asia and Western academia discussing Iqbal’s life and works. However, these are lacking a thorough assessment and hence some key ideas of Iqbal are still only partially understood or remain unassessed.2 Even more rarely has a comparative study been undertaken on great Islamic thinkers, particularly of the twentieth century. Certainly no comparative study of Nursi and Iqbal has been attempted on the notion of prophethood. It is certain that these two influential thinkers require particular study. However, this begs the questions: why should these two scholars be studied and what is the importance of such a study in relation to prophethood?Comparative studies provide the opportunity to assess each thinker against a contemporary. Both Nursi and Iqbal were dwellers of the modern age, and thus a comparative analysis of how they responded to their changing contexts theologically, politically, individually and philosophically will be also assessed. The question of why one should study their views of prophethood as opposed to other topics still remains open. Firstly, in Islamic theology, after the central notion of divinity and Oneness of God (tawḥīd), lies the notion of prophethood (nubuwwa).3 The Islamic creedal statement mentions Muḥammad’s name (as a messenger) second only to that of God. It thus holds a paramount significance in Islamic theology (kalām). It is therefore surprising that of the current studies on Nursi and Iqbal, much has been discussed of their notion of religion in general, as well as their sociopolitical views; however, this very important concept of nubuwwa and the Prophet Muḥammad has been largely ignored. Secondly, this is a topic that has not been researched at all in the recent emerging studies on Iqbal or Nursi. It is the intention of this comparative study to bring to light, not only their life and work, but also importantly their conceptualisation of prophethood and Muḥammad in the twentieth century. The similarities and differences will illustrate the impact of these thinkers upon their respective audiences, as well as the understanding of Islam in the modern age.This research is a significant contribution to contemporary theological studies in Islam since Prophet Muḥammad is central after God to Islam and Muslims; how they understand him is therefore crucially important, especially in order to address contemporary problems. Since this study takes a comparative approach towards two distinct Islamic intellectuals living in the same period (Nursi and Iqbal), the research will also examine the influence of the two thinkers on their respective societies: the Turkish society in the post-Ottoman era and the society of Indo-Pakistan in the post-Mughal and pre-partition era. Thus, it will shedfurther light on the nature of revivalist movements in these regions resulting from their views on prophethood. The research will also explain how a Muslim society is shaped, by examining the views on prophethood of the two thinkers and their relations with the context of their communities. The study is important in order to understand the Islamic concept of prophethood and the significance and vital role of Prophet Muḥammad according to Nursi and Iqbal. That is, if Muḥammad is understood properly with the ‘binoculars’ of today’s context, then Muslims may reconcile his example with modern life and his conditions, and a lot of the existing gaps between mainstream Muslims and the existence of extremists in Muslim societies due to a ‘misreading’ of the Prophet, will be addressed. The research will therefore examine whether Nursi and Iqbal achieved this proper understanding and analyse where their ideas are aligned and/or diverge. The study is also significant for it has the potential to propose additional methods that can be implemented to contribute towards understanding prophethood today in mainstream Islam. Thus, this study will also contribute to mainstream Islamic theology.

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