Sunday, 16 May 2010

Arberry's Mistake

In his preface to the translation of Iqbal's Mysteries of Selflessness in 1953, the Cambridge scholar A. J. Arberry proposed a course of action for the Western academia which appeared very desirable on its face value:
If the threatening and so unnecessary conflict is to be avoided, it is imperative that we should make a renewed and unremitting effort to understand each other’s viewpoint, and to study what possibilities exist for, first, a diminishing of tension, next, a rational compromise, and, ultimately, an agreement to work together towards common ideals.
Who would not agree with such an idea? Arberry was asking to (a) understand each other's viewpoint; (b) study the possibilities for (i) diminishing of tension; (ii) rational compromise; and (iii) working together towards common ideals.

Unfortunately, before arriving on this proposition in the preface, Arberry practically demolished the entire intellectual premise on which the Muslim society was standing in those days, not only in Pakistan but also elsewhere. The premise was what I have tried to explain in some other posts as "Philosophy of Muslim Nationalism." Arberry discarded it rather hastily as an "apologist" reaction and considered it to be even a threat to world peace. According to him, Iqbal was a reactionary whose thought was not to taken seriously except as an example of typical mistakes made by bonafide representatives of modern Muslim thought.

Could this summary condemnation of the entire intellectual output of Islam in the preceding one hundred years be regarded a first step towards "a renewed and unremitting effort to understand each other’s viewpoint"? In what ways was Arberry helping his reader "to study what possibilities exist for... an agreement to work together towards common ideals?" Far from that, he had actually preached that no common ideals existed between Islam and the West in the first place.

1 comment:

Connie L. Nash said...

Your piece here is a "tour de force" in terms of clarity and resolution of the argument with the way you begin. Not only do we each need to "be careful for what we pray for"-- we also need to be careful for the lists of requirements which we lay out for others as these same may find us coming up short or doing the opposite as you show here.