Time and Space - Muhammad Allama Iqbal

Time and Space

There is neither time nor space;
Nothing exists absolutely except God.

Time and space are some important yet controversial age-old topics that Iqbal has also dealt with in his writings. Iqbal deeply believed in the spiritual basis of the universe, he did not attribute a materialistic interpretation to time and space. For him both time and space are the creative actions of God through which He expresses His complete supremacy and penetrative wisdom. The quintessence of the universe is its unity, yet as human beings observe its external manifestation, it appears to them as multiplicity. To the human intellect, the universe seems to be static yet in fact it is in constant motion throughout its journey in time and space. Thus Iqbal pertinently states:

Every atom throbs with life;
Rest is an illusion;
Life’s journey pauses not
For every moment is new glory.

Inertia is impossible in the universe; Nothing is constant but change. Iqbal is appreciative of Albert Einstein’s (1879–1955) Theory of Relativity as it demolished the ancient concept of materialism. However, he criticized his theory for considering time as the fourth dimension, the length, breadth and depth being the other three. Iqbal maintained if time is to be the fourth dimension then just as the past is considered determined and fatalistic, the future will be considered the same. Thus he observed that if time is to be considered the fourth dimension then it loses the importance of its creative action.

According to Iqbal, God’s creative activity may appear outwardly as a process of change in serial time. In reality, this change is the unceasing act of God in durational time. God wants to test humanity’s creative ability, hence if creative acts are performed by a dynamic and strong personality they live as permanent forces across serial time. Otherwise, all human acts are doomed to perish. According to Iqbal this concept is nothing less than “permanence in change”. He explained this concept beautifully in his poem Masjid-i-Qur~ubah (The Mosque of Cordova). He wrote this whilst visiting the mosque and reflecting upon the lost splendour of Islamic Spain. Here one finds Iqbal’s exposition of his concept of time and the world’s transitory nature. The opening lines are as follows:

The succession of day and night is the contriver of events.
The succession of day and night is the essence of life and death.

The succession of day and night is two-tone silken threads,
That weaves the cloak displaying Divine attributes.

And the concluding couplet of this stanza is:

The beginning and the end, hidden or manifest – all annihilation;
Be it old or new, the final destination of all is annihilation.

This is Iqbal’s description of the destructive power of serial time which perishes all human efforts. However, in the latter part of the poem, Iqbal maintains that if man is inspired by the courageous power of love and dedication, this cannot be destroyed by time. Iqbal’s visit to the Mosque and its magnificent architecture inspired him to foresee that if Muslims realized their ego both individually and collectively they would attain the heights of perfection again. He believed that the Muslim world was ready for such a revolution which would change its destiny.

We come across his poem The Guide. Here Iqbal’s concept of time is of ceaseless duration. For him life cannot be measured in serial time as it is ever flowing:

Measure it not by the scale of day today,
Eternal, overflowing and evergreen is life.

As regards his philosophy of space Iqbal believes that God is the First and the Last. We with our limited knowledge are unable to comprehend His mysteries. Hence space–time is only an intellectual frame for us to comprehend God’s creative activity. As such, he expressed this concept in many verses:

God is the essence of space and spacelessness,
Space is nothing but a mode of His expression.

In one of his lectures on The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam Iqbal stated: Nature is not static fact situated in an a-dynamic void, but a structure of events possessing the character of a continuous creative flow which thought cuts up into isolated immobilities out of whose mutual relations arise the concepts of space and time. Thus, according to Iqbal, space, time and matter express the free creative energy of God. They are not independent realities existing per se, but only intellectual modes of apprehending the life of God. Reality is eternal and spaceless Say not that the universe is limitless It is empty within from top to bottom Yet it is expanding from without.


Excerpt is from 'A Treasury of Iqbal' 

9781847741653 - HB - Kube Publishing