In the Name of Allah; the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful
Continuing on the theme of Finality of Prophethood, Iqbal mentions the views of Ibn Arabi (d. 1240):
“It is further claimed on the authority of the great Muslim mystic, Muhyuddin ibn Arabi of Spain, that it is possible for a Muslim saint to attain, in his spiritual evolution, to the kind of experience characteristic of prophetic consciousness.” (Islam and Ahmadism; p. 23)
In fact, not only Ibn Arabi, but many Sufis or Muslim “mystics” advocate this view. One may even argue that it is a view that is essential to Sufism. The reader should keep in mind that Sufism focuses on the experiential. The Sufi is the person who wants to experience a living relationship with God remnicient of the ancient Prophets. However, Iqbal argues that: “the Qadiani argument is based on a complete misunderstanding of his exact position. The Shaikh [Ibn Arabi] regards it as a purely private achievement which does not, and in the nature of things cannot, entitle such a saint to declare that all those who do not believe in him are outside the pale of Islam.” (p. 24)
We have already satisfactorily responded to Iqbal’s false straw-man argument here that the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement expelled from Islam any Muslim who does not believe in him. Rather, he stated: “I do not declare anyone who rejects my claim to be either a disbeliever or dajjal.” (Ruhani Khaza’in; v. 15, p. 432)
As for Iqbal’s assertion that Ibn Arabi regards the saint’s attainment of “prophetic consciousness” as a “purely private achievement”, the fact of the matter is that none of the great Sufis, mystics, and saints in Islamic history were isolationists who did not have a calling to share the fruits of their spirituality and gnosis with the rest of the Ummah. On the contrary, they were people active in preaching and teaching the public, taking disciples, gathering circles of followers around them, and travelling from place to place in the capacity of missionaries. Major Ulama (learned divines) of the Ummah did the same, but the difference is that the Ulama were recognized for their academic knowledge, especially in the fields of theology, jurisprudence, and law, whereas the Sufis attracted people to themselves through their piety, asceticism, miracles, and strong connection with God. This is not to say that the two categories are mutually exclusive. In orthodox Ahlus Sunnati wal Jama’ah, the two categories were in fact blended together, since the ideal Sufi or mystic is also a person of deep knowledge concerning the outer aspects of the Religion, such as law and jurisprudence, and the ideal ‘Alim (academic) is likewise a person of great piety, asceticism, and spirituality, and having deep knowledge of the inner aspects of the Religion, such as purification of the heart.
Furthermore, the orthodoxy, or Ahlus Sunnati wal-Jama’ah, hold the eschatological figures of the promised Imam or Mahdi, and Jesus during his second advent, to be men of the highest spiritual calibre within the Ummah. They are regarded as superior in terms of spiritual attainment and “prophetic consciousness” than any other Muslim saint or mystic. And it is a given that the figure of the Mahdi, for example, will not restrict his “prophetic consciousness” to being a “purely private achievement”. He will be a major public figure within the Ummah, indeed its very Imam (leader and guide), to whom the Ummah will, as a religious duty, owe him the oath of allegiance. Hence, Iqbal is again proven wrong when he states: “while it is psychologically possible for a saint to attain to prophetic experience, his experience will have no socio-political significance making him the centre of a new organisation” (p. 24). How does Iqbal explain the orthodox Muslim conception of the Mahdi and Messiah, who will undoubtedly, according to their conception, have a great “socio-political significance” as a direct result of their “prophetic experience” and not in spite of it.
Of course, Iqbal personally rejected the “Messianic” idea, and even says concerning the view of Ibn Arabi now under discussion: “I personally believe this view of Shaikh Muhyuddin ibn Arabi to be psychologically unsound” (pp. 23 – 24). Indeed, as we have previously mentioned, Iqbal was anything but an orthodox Muslim. He was a materialist, naturalist, and modernist. Nevertheless, the foundation of Iqbal’s argument against Ahmadism is that, being an alleged rejection of a core doctrine of Islam, it represents an internal threat to the solidarity and social cohesion of the Ummah. Yet we have proven and continue to prove that Ahmadism, at least as expressed in the writings and teachings of its founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, does not at all diverge from Islamic orthodoxy concerning any principle of Islam. The only real difference boils down to either an acceptance or rejection of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as either a person truly attuned to God or not. The opposition that Ghulam Ahmad faced from the orthodox Ulama and Sufis, therefore, should be understood more as an opposition rooted in religious rivalry and not as opposition that is fundamentally doctrinal or theoretic. It is a common thing in the Sufi world for various orders and groups to oppose each other over personality, since personality reverence is a major aspect of Sufism. A Sufi or mystic making a grandiose claim concerning himself, such as that he is conversant with God, or that he receives inspiration through the Angels, or that he can produce extraordinary feats and miracles, may be attacked by his orthodox rivals not on the basis that such claims are tantamount to heresy, but on the basis that the claimant is a charlatan who seeks fame and glory for himself.