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  • 7/10/2003

n xstyle="font-family: tahoma">Muhammad Iqbal
A Poet and Reformer of Islam

(1877 - 1938)

Muhammad Iqbal was one of the last Muslim thinkers of the colonial era whose life, thought and work deeply influenced the course of history.
He was born inSialkot (on February 22, 1873), a small town in thePunjab, (then in India), at a time when the British Raj inIndia was at its zenith. His ancestors, who were Kashmiri Brahmins, had embraced Islam two hundred years earlier. Iqbal’s own father was a devout Muslim with Sufistic bent of mind.
With the defeat of the Sikhs inPunjab by the British army, Western missionaries wasted no time in establishing centres of learning inSialkot. One of these, the Scotch Mission College, founded in 1889, offered courses in the liberal arts, several of them in Arabic and Persian, although by this time English had supplanted Persian as the medium of instruction in most schools. This was where Iqbal had his first secular education.
Iqbal's potential as a poet was first recognized by one of his early tutors, Sayyid Mir Hassan, from whom he learned classical poetry. Mir Hassan never learned English, but his awareness of the merits of Western education and his appreciation of modernity ensured him a position as Professor or Oriental Literature at Scotch Mission. He was Iqbal's tutor until his graduation in 1892.
In 1885, after completing his studies at Scotch Mission, Iqbal entered the Government College in Lahore, where he studied Philosophy and Arabic and English Literature for his Bachelor of Arts degree. He was an excellent student, graduatingcum laude and winning a gold medal for being the only candidate who passed the final comprehensive examination. Meanwhile, he continued writing poetry. When he received his Master's degree in 1899, he had already begun to make his mark among the literary circles of Lahore.
While reading for his Master's degree, Iqbal became acquainted with a figure who was to have a strong influence on his intellectual development. Sir Thomas Arnold, an erudite scholar of Islam and modern philosophy, became for Iqbal a bridge between East and West. It was Arnold who inspired in him the desire to pursue higher studies inEurope.

In Europe

Iqbal studied in Europe for three years from 1905 and acquired a law degree atLincoln's Inn, a Bachelor of Arts at Cambridge and a Doctor of Philosophy at Munich University. At Cambridge, he crossed paths with other great scholars who further influenced his scholastic development. Under their guidance, Iqbal refined his already considerable intellect and widened his mental horizon.
It was while inBritain that he first went into politics. Following the formation of the All-India Muslim League in 1906, Iqbal was elected to the executive committee of the league's British chapter. Together with two other leaders, Sayyid Hassan Bilgrami and Sayyid Amir Ali, he also sat on the subcommittee which drafted the league's constitution.
Iqbal obtained his Ph.D. from the Munich University (1907); his PhD thesis, Development of Metaphysics in Persia, remains a major work in that field. After a short stay in England, he returned to India where a short teaching career was interrupted by major political involvement in the movement for freedom from the British Raj.

Back in India

Iqbal returned to India in 1908. The poet had won all these academic laurels by the time he was 32 or 33. He practiced as a lawyer from 1908 to 1934, when ill health compelled him to give up his practice. In fact, his heart was not in it and he devoted more time to philosophy and literature than to legal profession.

The turning point in Iqbal’s Life

Iqbal was shaken by the tragic events of World War I and the disaster the Muslims had to face. The genius had passed through the formative period. He had attained maturity as a poet, thinker, seer and crusader who could read the signs of tomorrow in the happenings of today, make predictions, present hard facts and unravel abstruse truths through the medium of poetry and ignite the flame of faith, Selfhood and courage by his own intensity of feeling and force of expression.


In 1927 the poet was elected to the Punjab Legislative assembly. In 1930, he was elected to preside over at the annual session of Muslim League. In his presidential address at Allahabad, Iqbal for the first time introduced the idea of Pakistan. In 1930-31, he attended the Round Table conference, which met in London to frame a constitution for India.

Iqbal’s Death

The last phase of Iqbal’s life was embittered with constant illness. But as regards his creative activities this product was most productive. He kept in touch with every question of the day and continued composing beautiful verses.
A few minutes before his death he recited these touching lines:

The departed melody may return or not!
The zephyr from Hijaz may blow again or not!
The days of this Faqir has come to an end,
Another seer may come or not!

Although Iqbal’s was long and protracted the end was sudden and very peaceful. He breathed his last in the early hours of April 21, 1938, in the arms of his old and devoted servant, leaving behind a host of mourners all over the Islamic world. There was a faint smile playing on his lips, which irresistibly reminded one of the last criterions, which he laid down for a truthful Muslim.

I tell you the sign of a Mumin-

When death comes there is smile on his lips.

Iqbal's Works

His first bookIlm ul Iqtisad/The knowledge of Economics was written in Urdu in 1903 . His first poetic workAsrar-i Khudi (1915) was followed byRumuz-I Bekhudi (1917).Payam-i Mashriq appeared in 1923,Zabur-i Ajam in 1927,Javid Nama in 1932,Pas cheh bayed kard ai Aqwam-i Sharq in 1936, andArmughan-i Hijaz in 1938. All these books were in Persian. The last one, published posthumously is mainly in Persian: only a small portion comprises Urdu poems andghazals.
His first book of poetry in Urdu,Bang-i Dara (1924) was followed byBal-i Jibril in 1935 andZarb-i Kalim in 1936.
Bang-i Dara consist of selected poems belonging to the three preliminary phases of Iqbal's poetic career.Bal-i Jibril is the peak of Iqbal's Urdu poetry. It consists ofghazals, poems, quatrains, epigrams and displays the vision and intellect necessary to foster sincerity and firm belief in the heart of the ummah and turn its members into true believers.Zarb-i Kalim was described by the poet himself "as a declaration of war against the present era". The main subjects of the book are Islam and the Muslims, education and upbringing, woman, literature and fine arts, politics of the East and the West.
 InAsrar-i Khudi, Iqbal has explained his philosohy of "Self". He proves by various means that the whole universe obeys the will of the "Self". Iqbal condemns self-destruction. For him the aim of life is self-realization and self-knowledge. He charts the stages through which the "Self" has to pass before finally arriving at its point of perfection, enabling the knower of the "Self" to become the viceregent of Allah on earth/Khalifat ullah fi'l ard. InRumuz-i Bekhudi, Iqbal proves that Islamic way of life is the best code of conduct for a nation's viability. A person must keep his individual characteristics intact but once this is achieved he should sacrifice his personal ambitions for the needs of the nation. Man cannot realize the "Self" out of society. Payam-i Mashriq is an answer toWest-Istlicher Divan by Goethe, the famous German peot. Goethe bemoaned that the West had become too materialistic in outlook and expected that the East would provide a message of hope that would resuscitate spiritual values. A hundred years went by and then Iqbal reminded the West of the importance of morality, religion and civilization by underlining the need for cultivating feeling, ardour and dynamism. He explained that life could, never aspire for higher dimensions unless it learnt of the nature of spirituality.

Zabur-i Ajam includes the MathnaviGulshan-i Raz-i Jadid andBandagi Nama. InGulshan-i Raz-i Jadid, he follows the famous Mathnavi Gulshan-i Raz by Sayyid Mahmud Shabistri. Here like Shabistri, Iqbal first poses questions, then answers them with the help of ancient and modern insight and shows how it effects and concerns the world of action.Bandagi Nama is in fact a vigorous campaign against slavery and subjugation. He explains the spirit behind the fine arts of enslaved societies. InZabur-i Ajam, Iqbal's Persian ghazal is at its best as his Urdu ghazal is inBal-i Jibril. Here as in other books, Iqbal insists on remembering the past, doing well in the present and preparing for the future. His lesson is that one should be dynamic, full of zest for action and full of love and life. Implicitly, he proves that there is no form of poetry which can equal the ghazal in vigour and liveliness. InJavid Nama, Iqbal follows Ibn-Arabi, Marri and Dante. Iqbal depicts himself asZinda Rud (a stream, full of life) guided by Rumi the master, through various heavens and spheres and has the honour of approaching Divinity and coming in contact with divine illuminations. Several problems of life are discussed and answers are provided to them. It is an exceedingly enlivening study. His hand falls heavily on the traitors to their nation like Mir Jafar fromBengal and Mir Sadiq from the Deccan, who were instrumental in the defeat and death of Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula of Bengal and Sultan Tipu of Mysore respectively by betraying them for the benefit of the British. Thus, they delivered their country to the shackles of slavery. At the end, by addressing his son Javid, he speaks to the young people at large and provides guidance to the "new generation".
Pas Cheh Bay ed Kard ai Aqwam-i Sharq includes the mathnaviMusafir. Iqbal's Rumi, the master, utters this glad tiding "East awakes from its slumbers" "Khwab-i ghaflat". Inspiring detailed commentary on voluntary poverty and free man, followed by an exposition of the mysteries of Islamic laws and sufic perceptions is given. He laments the dissention among the Indian as well as Muslim nations. MathnaviMusafir, is an account of a journey to Afghanistan. In the mathnavi the people of the Frontier (Pathans) are counseled to learn the "secret of Islam" and to "build up the self" within themselves.
Armughan-i Hijaz consists of two parts. The first contains quatrains in Persian; the second contains some poems and epigrams in Urdu. The Persian quatrains convey the impression as though the poet is travelling through Hijaz in his imaginatin. Profundity of ideas and intensity of passion are the salient features of these short poems. The Urdu portion of the book contains some categorical criticism of the intellectual movements and social and political revolutions of the modern age.

Iqbal's English Works

Iqbal wrote two books in English. The first beingThe Development of Metaphysics in Persia in which continuity of Persian thought is discussed and sufism is dealt with in detail. In Iqbal's view true Islamic Sufism awakens the slumbering soul to a higher idea of life.
The second book,The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, is the collection of Iqbal's six lectures which he delivered atMadras, Hyderabad and Aligarh. These were first published fromLahore in 1930 and then by Oxford University Press in 1934. Some of the main subjects are "Knowledge and Religious Experience," "The Conception of God and the Meaning of Prayer," "The Human Ego," "Predestination and Free Will," "The Spirit of Muslim Culture," "The Principle of Movement in Islam (Ijtihad)." These issues are discussed pithily in a thought provoking manner in the light of Islam and the modern age. These lectures were translated into Urdu by Sayyid Nazir Niazi.


In addition to these books he wrote hundreds of letters in Urdu and English. Urdu letters have been published in ten different books. He issued statements pertaining to the burning topics of the day relating to various aspects of social, religious, cultural and political problems of India, Europe and the world of Islam.
Many of his speeches and statements have been compiled and published in book form.

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