It is with some diffidence that I have attempted writing an introduction to a commentary by Dr. Justice Javid Iqbal on his illustrious father's landmark Madras Lectures, also known as Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (1929). Two generations of profound thinkers on the Indian sub-continent across a span of seven decades, have attempted to come to grips with a rapidly and constantly changing milieu in which the world of Islam adamantly resists change for various reasons, some legitimate but others largely unwarranted. The curious thing is that Allama Iqbal was committed to precipitating a renaissance in Islamic culture to meet the onslaught of contemporary western thought; and seventy five years later his worthy son Dr. Justice Javid Iqbal remains preoccupied with the need for a renaissance. In these years Islamic culture has survived the absence of the awaited renaissance, several devastating wars, domestic trouble and severe upheavals in several important Islamic countries. In our own country the rise of Hindutva as an aggressive majoritarian "ideology" and the apparent withdrawal of Muslims to restricted enclaves of political action has raised serious questions about the future. A fresh look at the Madras lectures at this point would be immensely rewarding for persons interested in the future of Muslims in the world generally and in India more specifically.

The Madras lectures, chronologically and intellectually, precede such theses as the 'clash of civilizations' and ˜the end of history. In any case the clash thesis becomes somewhat of an over simplification when it applied to India-- for one, it does not provide for a third 'Hindu civilization' and furthermore conspicuously overlooks the unique model of India's secular ethos with its more than 120 million Muslims. Edward Said's Orientalism has brilliantly exposed the majoritarian attitude, which causes distortions and misinterpretation of ideas and events associated with the Orient. But to meet that challenge, the Orient (read Islam) must first rediscover itself in the 21st century context.

The fact is that very little has changed in the Muslim world since Allama Iqbal made his revolutionary plea for reconstruction of Islamic thought. The inherent tension between liberals and ultra-conservatives continues everywhere, but in India has acquired a unique complexity. Amongst Indian Muslims there are progressive Muslims and most of them speak the language of the majority; there are liberals who honestly seek to represent the aspirations of minorities but with the intention of imposing their own thinking on all Muslims; and finally, there are Muslims whose majority refuse to accept that there is a world beyond their villages and mohallas. Whilst the rest of the Islamic world debates within the millat, in India debates about Islamic Culture and aspirations of Indian Muslims inevitably spill over to, and are conducted in general fora. Not only in the Muslim world liberal reformers are accused of being kafirs (as indeed was a charge against Allama Iqbal himself) but in India also they are considered the collaborators of the kafirs' by the majority of Muslims. Also in India those liberals who genuinely endeavour”and without any political ambition and with a hidden agenda of being leaders” to build bridges with other communities in order to guide Muslims to an enlightened existence, are looked upon with suspicion and even accused of being ˜communal or 'secular' (read anti Muslims) by the Muslims themselves. Persons cannot be dubbed communal or anti Muslims simply because of conforming to and promoting their communitys aspirations on lines contrary to those prescribed by Mullahs. Unfortunately, these days those labeled progressives”who have been aspiring for a leadership role among Muslims on the grounds that they represent the modest face of Indian Muslims in plural India” are quite comfortable in the company of the RSS. They are the drawing- room progressives who never done anything to propagate the plural values among Muslims. In fact, they posed to the Muslim community by certain fascist forces. Having done no homework and presenting no credible vision, they cannot try and appropriate leadership roles.

Reform and reconstruction must for practical and moral reasons come from within the community. But since many aspects of reform in a plural society must per se rely upon and involve state institutions, it is important that they be sensitive to the sensibilities of Muslims. This includes encouraging and accommodating community institutions that can address these issues in a meaningful manner. Since the repudiation of the two-nation theory, many attempts have been made to conceive theoretical positions about the political role of Muslims in a secular India. There was an early congress model followed by the variants of the Janta Dal and that of Mulayam Singh Yadav. Syed Shahabuddin and various Muslim parties like the Indian Union Muslim League and Majlis-e Ittehad-ul Muslemeen have periodically offered political formulations, which have found no support amongst Muslims nation wide as well as among non Muslims. On the eve of every general election, groups fighting against communalism perceive a sense of desperation in the political system to capitalize on the insecurities of Muslims. This may be an opportunity to secure for them a place in the current scheme of things. Given the current political climate, an enlightened Muslim leadership will certainly develop. But Allama Iqbals requisite of Power would have to be satisfied by a collaborative effort involving an all party-all religions legislature, Muslim universities and institutions, community leaders and most of all, the ulema. The crucial question here is: why not a Muslim leader be a leader of all Indians and not just a leader of Indian Muslims? Ijma and ijtihad will equally have to be viewed in the light of the collaborative model.

Despite fifty-five years of educational progress in the country, the Muslim masses, especially in the north, remain educationally handicapped and their problems have not been addressed satisfactorily from the political angle. The impact of Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia has been inadequate to meet the enormity of the challenge. The southern states have made an impressive stride in education through the voluntary sector.

As long as modern educational opportunities are not available, the Muslim masses will perforce gravitate towards adulterated versions of Sufism and those engaged in political opportunism. The cultural aggression that they will encounter will be both western oriented as well as self-serving 'swadeshi'. They need reinforcement on both fronts, not only by providing them access to education but also to the finer aspects of composite modern Indian culture. Political manifestos will have vigorously to counter the restricted view of 'swadeshi' so as to associate with more than just a narrow political view of Hinduism.

Without resolving these political issues, no serious effort will be possible to begin an ambitious national project of reconstruction of religious thought in Islam by Indian Muslims. Perhaps a beginning can be made with a new set of lectures in tribute to the original author.