Dr. Sir. Allama Muhammad Iqbal
Allama Sir Muhammad Iqbal was a poet, philosopher and politician born in Sialkot, British India (now in Pakistan), whose poetry in Urdu, Arabic and Persian is considered to be among the greatest of the modern era and whose vision of an independent state for the Muslims of British India was to inspire the creation of Pakistan. He is commonly referred to as Allama Iqbal, Allama meaning “Scholar”. Iqbal was a strong proponent of the political and spiritual revival of Islamic civilisation across the world, but specifically in India; a series of famous lectures he delivered to this effect were published as The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. One of the most prominent leaders of the All India Muslim League, Iqbal encouraged the creation of a “state in northwestern India for Indian Muslims” in his 1930 presidential address. Iqbal encouraged and worked closely with Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and he is known as Muffakir-e-Pakistan (“The Thinker of Pakistan”), Shair-e-Mashriq (“The Poet of the East”), and Hakeem-ul-Ummat (“The Sage of Ummah”). He is officially recognized as the “national poet” in Pakistan.
1. Early life
Allama Muhammad Iqbal was born in Sialkot, Punjab, British India (now part of Pakistan); the eldest of five siblings in a Kashmiri family. Iqbal’s father Shaikh Nur Muhammad was a prosperous tailor, well-known for his devotion to Islam, and the family raised their children with deep religious grounding.
Iqbal was educated initially by tutors in languages and writing, history, poetry and religion. His potential as a poet and writer was recognized by one of his tutors, Syed Mir Hassan, and Iqbal would continue to study under him at the Scotch Mission College in Sialkot. The student became proficient in several languages and the skill of writing prose and poetry, and graduated in 1892. Following custom, at the age of 15 Iqbal’s family arranged for him to be married to Karim Bibi, the daughter of an affluent Gujrati physician. The couple had two children: a daughter, Mi’raj Begam (born 1895) and a son, Aftab (born 1899). Iqbal’s third son died soon after birth. The husband and wife were unhappy in their marriage and eventually divorced in 1916.
Iqbal entered the Government College in Lahore where he studied philosophy, English literature and Arabic and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree, graduating cum laude. He won a gold medal for topping his examination in philosophy. While studying for his masters’ degree, Iqbal came under the wing of Sir Thomas Arnold, a scholar of Islam and modern philosophy at the college. Arnold exposed the young man to Western culture and ideas, and served as a bridge for Iqbal between the ideas of East and West. Iqbal was appointed to a readership in Arabic at the Oriental College in Lahore, and he published his first book in Urdu, The Knowledge of Economics in 1903. In 1905 Iqbal published the patriotic song, Tarana-e-Hind (Song of India).
At Sir Thomas’s encouragement, Iqbal traveled to and spend many years studying in Europe. He obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from Trinity College at Cambridge in 1907, while simultaneously studying law at Lincoln’s Inn, from where he qualified as a barrister in 1908. In Europe, he started writing his poetry in Persian as well. Throughout his life, Iqbal would prefer writing in Persian as he believed it allowed him to fully express philosophical concepts, and it gave him a wider audience. It was while in England that he first participated in politics. Following the formation of the All-India Muslim League in 1906, Iqbal was elected to the executive committee of its British chapter in 1908. Together with two other politicians, Syed Hassan Bilgrami and Syed Ameer Ali, Iqbal sat on the subcommittee which drafted the constitution of the League. In 1907, Iqbal traveled to Germany to pursue a doctorate from the Faculty of Philosophy of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität at Munich. Working under the supervision of Friedrich Hommel, Iqbal published a thesis titled: The Development of Metaphysics in Persia.
2. Literary career
Upon his return to India in 1908, Iqbal took up assistant professorship at the Government College in Lahore, but for financial reasons he relinquished it within a year to practice law. During this period, Iqbal’s personal life was in turmoil. He divorced Karim Bibi in 1916, but provided financial support to her and their children for the rest of his life.
While maintaining his legal practice, Iqbal began concentrating on spiritual and religious subjects, and publishing poetry and literary works. He became active in the Anjuman-e-Himayat-e-Islam, a congress of Muslim intellectuals, writers and poets as well as politicians and in 1919 became the general secretary of the organization. Iqbal’s thoughts in his work primarily focused on the spiritual direction and development of human society, centered on experiences from his travel and stay in Western Europe and the Middle East. He was profoundly influenced by Western philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Henri Bergson and Goethe, and soon became a strong critic of Western society’s separation of religion from state and what he perceived as its obsession with materialist pursuits.
The poetry and philosophy of Mawlana Rumi bore the deepest influence on Iqbal’s mind. Deeply grounded in religion since childhood, Iqbal would begin intensely concentrating on the study of Islam, the culture and history of Islamic civilization and its political future, and embrace Rumi as “his guide.” Iqbal would feature Rumi in the role of a guide in many of his poems, and his works focused on reminding his readers of the past glories of Islamic civilization, and delivering a message of a pure, spiritual focus on Islam as a source for socio-political liberation and greatness. Iqbal denounced political divisions within and amongst Muslim nations, and frequently alluded to and spoke in terms of the global Muslim community, or the Ummah.
2.1 Works in Persian
Iqbal’s poetic works are written mostly in Persian rather. Among his 12,000 verses of poem, about 7,000 verses are in Persian. In 1915, he published his first collection of poetry, the Asrar-e-Khudi (Secrets of the Self) in Persian. The poems delve into concepts of ego and emphasize the spirit and self from a religious, spiritual perspective. Many critics have called this Iqbal’s finest poetic work. In Asrar-e-Khudi, Iqbal has explained his philosophy of “Khudi,” or “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.
In his Rumuz-e-Bekhudi (Hints of Selflessness), Iqbal seeks to prove 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 (Muslim Ummah). Also in Persian and published in 1917, this group of poems has as its main themes the ideal community, Islamic ethical and social principles and the relationship between the individual
and society. Although he is true throughout to Islam, Iqbal recognises also the positive analogous aspects of other religions.
The Rumuz-e-Bekhudi complements the emphasis on the self in the Asrar-e-Khudi and the two collections are often put in the same volume under the title Asrar-e-Rumuz (Hinting Secrets), and it is addressed to the world’s Muslims. Iqbal sees the individual and his community as reflections of each other. The individual needs to be strengthened before he can be integrated into the community, whose development in turn depends on the preservation of the communal ego. It is through contact with others that an ego learns to accept the limitations of its own freedom and the meaning of love. Muslim communities must ensure order in life and must therefore preserve their communal tradition. It is in this context that Iqbal sees the vital role of women, who as mothers are directly responsible for inculcating values in their children.
Iqbal’s 1924 publication, the Payam-e-Mashriq (The Message of the East) is closely connected to the West-östlicher Diwan by the famous German poet Goethe. 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. Iqbal styles his work as a reminder to the West of the importance of morality, religion and civilization by underlining the need for cultivating feeling, ardour and dynamism. He explains that an individual could never aspire for higher dimensions unless he learns of the nature of spirituality. In his first visit to Afghanistan, he presented his book “Payam-e Mashreq” to King Amanullah Khan in which he admired the liberal movements of Afghanistan against the British Empire. In 1933, he was officially invited to Afghanistan to join the meetings regarding the establishment of Kabul University.
The Zabur-e-Ajam (Persian Psalms), published in 1927, includes the poems Gulshan-e-Raz-e-Jadeed (Garden of New Secrets) and Bandagi Nama (Book of Slavery). In Gulshan-e-Raz-e-Jadeed, 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 denounces slavery by attempting to explain the spirit behind the fine arts of enslaved societies. Here as in other books, Iqbal insists on remembering the past, doing well in the present and preparing for the future, emphasising love, enthusiasm and energy to fill the ideal life.
Iqbal’s 1932 work, the Javed Nama (Book of Javed) is named after and in a manner addressed to his son, who is featured in the poems, and follows the examples of the works of Ibn Arabi and Dante’s The Divine Comedy, through mystical and exaggerated depiction across time. Iqbal depicts himself as Zinda 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. In a passage re-living a historical period, Iqbal condemns the Muslim traitors who were instrumental in the defeat and death of Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula of Bengal and Tipu Sultan of Mysore respectively by betraying them for the benefit of the British colonists, and thus delivering 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.”
His love to Persian language is evident in his works and poetry. He says in one of his poems:
گرچہ اردو در عذوبت شکر است
garche Urdu dar uzūbat shakar ast
لیک پارسی ام ز ہندی شیرینتر است
lék Pārsī-am ze Hindi shīrīntar ast
Even though in sweetness Urdu* is sugar – (but) My Persian is sweeter than Hindi*
Note: In Iqbal’s time the terms Hindi and Urdu were synonyms
2.2 Works in Urdu
Iqbal’s first work published in Urdu, the Bang-e-Dara (The Call of the Marching Bell) of 1924, was a collection of poetry written by him in three distinct phases of his life. The poems he wrote up to 1905, the year Iqbal left for England imbibe patriotism and imagery of landscape, and includes the Tarana-e-Hind (The Song of India), popularly known as Saare Jahan Se Achcha and another poem Tarana-e-Milli (Anthem of the (Muslim) Community), which was composed in the same metre and rhyme scheme as Saare Jahan Se Achcha. The second set of poems date from between 1905 and 1908 when Iqbal studied in Europe and dwell upon the nature of European society, which he emphasized had lost spiritual and religious values.
This inspired Iqbal to write poems on the historical and cultural heritage of Islamic culture and Muslim people, not from an Indian but a global perspective. Iqbal urges the global community of Muslims, addressed as the Ummah to define personal, social and political existence by the values and teachings of Islam. Poems such as Tulu’i Islam (Dawn of Islam) and Khizr-e-Rah (The Guided Path) are especially acclaimed.
Iqbal preferred to work mainly in Persian for a predominant period of his career, but after 1930, his works were mainly in Urdu.
The works of this period were often specifically directed at the Muslim masses of India, with an even stronger emphasis on Islam, and Muslim spiritual and political reawakening. Published in 1935, the Bal-e-Jibril (Wings of Gabriel) is considered by many critics as the finest of Iqbal’s Urdu poetry, and was inspired by his visit to Spain, where he visited the monuments and legacy of the kingdom of the Moors. It consists of ghazals, poems, quatrains, epigrams and carries a strong sense religious passion.
The Pas Cheh Bayed Kard ai Aqwam-e-Sharq (What are we to do, O Nations of the East?) includes the poem Musafir (Traveller). Again, Iqbal depicts Rumi as a character and an exposition of the mysteries of Islamic laws and Sufi perceptions is given. Iqbal laments the dissension and disunity among the Indian Muslims as well as Muslim nations. Musafir is an account of one of Iqbal’s journeys to Afghanistan, in which the Pashtun people are counseled to learn the “secret of Islam” and to “build up the self” within themselves. Iqbal’s final work was the Armughan-e-Hijaz (The Gift of Hijaz), published posthumously in 1938. The first part contains quatrains in Persian, and the second part contains some poems and epigrams in Urdu. The Persian quatrains convey the impression as though the poet is travelling through the Hijaz in his imagination. 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.
3. Political career
While dividing his time between law and poetry, Iqbal had remained active in the Muslim League. He supported Indian involvement in World War I, as well as the Khilafat movement and remained in close touch with Muslim political leaders such as Maulana Mohammad Aliand Muhammad Ali Jinnah. He was a critic of the mainstream Indian National Congress, which he regarded as dominated by Hindus and was disappointed with the League when during the 1920s, it was absorbed in factional divides between the pro-British group led by Sir Muhammad Shafi and the centrist group led by Jinnah.
In November 1926, with the encouragement of friends and supporters, Iqbal contested for a seat in the Punjab Legislative Assembly from the Muslim district of Lahore, and defeated his opponent by a margin of 3,177 votes. He supported the constitutional proposals presented by Jinnah with the aim of guaranteeing Muslim political rights and influence in a coalition with the Congress, and worked with the Aga Khan and other Muslim leaders to mend the factional divisions and achieve unity in the Muslim League.
3.1 Revival of Islamic polity
Iqbal’s second book in English, the Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, is a collection of his six lectures which he delivered at Madras, Hyderabad and Aligarh; first published as a collection in Lahore, in 1930. These lectures dwell on the role of Islam as a religion as well as a political and legal philosophy in the modern age. In these lectures Iqbal firmly rejects the political attitudes and conduct of Muslim politicians, whom he saw as morally-misguided, attached to power and without any standing with Muslim masses. Iqbal expressed fears that not only would secularism weaken the spiritual foundations of Islam and Muslim society, but that India’s Hindu-majority population would crowd out Muslim heritage, culture and political influence.
In his travels to Egypt, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey, he promoted ideas of greater Islamic political co-operation and unity, calling for the shedding of nationalist differences. He also speculated on different political arrangements to guarantee Muslim political power; in a dialogue with Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, Iqbal expressed his desire to see Indian provinces as autonomous units under the direct control of the British government and with no central Indian government. He envisaged autonomous Muslim provinces in India. Under one Indian union he feared for Muslims, who would suffer in many respects especially with regard to their existentially separate entity as Muslims.
Sir Muhammad Iqbal was elected president of the Muslim League in 1930 at its session in Allahabad, in the United Provinces as well as for the session in Lahore in 1932. In his presidential address on December 29, 1930, Iqbal outlined a vision of an independent state for Muslim-majority provinces in northwestern India:
“I would like to see the Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, Sind and Baluchistan amalgamated into a single state. Self-government within the British Empire, or without the British Empire, the formation of a consolidated Northwest Indian Muslim state appears to me to be the final destiny of the Muslims, at least of Northwest India.”In his speech, Iqbal emphasized that unlike Christianity, Islam came with “legal concepts” with “civic significance,” with its “religious ideals” considered as inseparable from social order:“Therefore, the construction of a policy on national lines, if it means a displacement of the Islamic principle of solidarity, is simply unthinkable to a Muslim.”Iqbal thus stressed not only the need for the political unity of Muslim communities, but the undesirability of blending the Muslim population into a wider society not based on Islamic principles. He thus became the first politician to articulate what would become known as the Two-Nation Theory — that Muslims are a distinct nation and thus deserve political independence from other regions and communities of India. However, he would not elucidate or specify if his ideal Islamic state would construe a theocracy, even as he rejected secularism and nationalism. The latter part of Iqbal’s life was concentrated on political activity. He would travel across Europe and West Asia to garner political and financial support for the League, and he reiterated his ideas in his 1932 address and during the Third Round-Table Conference, he opposed the Congress and proposals for transfer of power without considerable autonomy or independence for Muslim provinces. He would serve as president of the Punjab Muslim League, and would deliver speeches and publish articles in an attempt to rally Muslims across India as a single political entity. Iqbal consistently criticized feudal classes in Punjab as well as Muslim politicians averse to the League.
3.2 Relationship with Jinnah
Ideologically separated from Congress Muslim leaders, Iqbal had also been disillusioned with the politicians of the Muslim League owing to the factional conflict that plagued the League in the 1920s. Discontent with factional leaders like Sir Muhammad Shafi and Sir Fazl-ur-Rahman, Iqbal came to believe that only Muhammad Ali Jinnah was a political leader capable of preserving this unity and fulfilling the League’s objectives on Muslim political empowerment. Building a strong, personal correspondence with Jinnah, Iqbal was an influential force on convincing Jinnah to end his self-imposed exile in London, return to India and take charge of the League. Iqbal firmly believed that Jinnah was the only leader capable of drawing Indian Muslims to the League and maintaining party unity before the British and the Congress:
“I know you are a busy man but I do hope you won’t mind my writing to you often, as you are the only Muslim in India today to whom the community has right to look up for safe guidance through the storm which is coming to North-West India and, perhaps, to the whole of India.”There were significant differences between the two men — while Iqbal believed that Islam was the source of government and society, Jinnah was a believer in secular government and had laid out a secular vision for Pakistan where religion would have “nothing to do with the business of the state.” Iqbal had backed the Khilafat struggle; Jinnah had dismissed it as “religious frenzy.” And while Iqbal espoused the idea of partitioning Muslim-majority provinces in 1930, Jinnah would continue to hold talks with the Congress through the decade and only officially embraced the goal of Pakistan in 1940.
Some historians postulate that Jinnah always remained hopeful for an agreement with the Congress and never fully desired the partition of India. Iqbal’s close correspondence with Jinnah is speculated by some historians as having been responsible for Jinnah’s embrace of the idea of Pakistan. Iqbal elucidated to Jinnah his vision of a separate Muslim state in a letter sent on June 21, 1937:“A separate federation of Muslim Provinces, reformed on the lines I have suggested above, is the only course by which we can secure a peaceful India and save Muslims from the domination of Non-Muslims. Why should not the Muslims of North-West India and Bengal be considered as nations entitled to self-determination just as other nations in India and outside India are.”Iqbal, serving as president of the Punjab Muslim League, criticized Jinnah’s political actions, including a political agreement with Punjabi leader Sir Sikandar Hyat Khan, whom Iqbal saw as a representative of feudal classes and not committed to Islam as the core political philosophy. Nevertheless, Iqbal worked constantly to encourage Muslim leaders and masses to support Jinnah and the League.
Speaking about the political future of Muslims in India, Iqbal said:“There is only one way out. Muslims should strengthen Jinnah’s hands. They should join the Muslim League. Indian question, as is now being solved, can be countered by our united front against both the Hindus and the English. Without it, our demands are not going to be accepted. People say our demands smack of communalism. This is sheer propaganda. These demands relate to the defense of our national existence…. The united front can be formed under the leadership of the Muslim League. And the Muslim League can succeed only on account of Jinnah. Now none but Jinnah is capable of leading the Muslims.”
In 1933, after returning from a trip to Spain and Afghanistan, Iqbal’s health deteriorated. He spent his final years working to establish the Idara Dar-ul-Islam, an institution where studies in classical Islam and contemporary social science would be subsidized, and advocating the demand for an independent Muslim state. Iqbal ceased practicing law in 1934 and he was granted pension by the Nawab of Bhopal. After suffering for months from a series of protracted illnesses, Iqbal died in Lahore in 1938. His tomb is located in the space between the entrance of the Badshahi Mosque and the Lahore Fort.
Iqbal is commemorated widely in Pakistan, where he is regarded as the ideological founder of the state. His Tarana-e-Hind is a song that is widely used in India as a patriotic song speaking of communal harmony. His birthday is annually commemorated in Pakistan as Iqbal Day and is a national holiday. For a long time, Iqbal’s actual date of birth remained disputed, with many believing February 23 to be the date of Iqbal’s birth. On February 1, 1974 a Pakistani government committee officially declared Iqbal’s date of birth to be November 9. Iqbal is the namesake of many public institutions, including the Allama Iqbal Medical College,Lahore, Allama Iqbal Open University and the Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore — the second-busiest airport in the nation. Government and public organizations have sponsored the establishment of colleges and schools dedicated to Iqbal, and have established the Iqbal Academy to research, teach and preserve the works, literature and philosophy of Iqbal.
5. Influence and Legacy
Allama Iqbal is regarded as one of the most influential Muslim poet and scholar of the 20th century throughout the Muslim World. His concept of Islamic revival did not only lead to the creation of Pakistan, but also the Iranian Revolution which he had prophesied. His works were also influential during the breaking up of the central Asian former Soviet republics, most of which were Muslim majority. Allama Iqbal’s poetry has also been translated into several European languages where his works were famous during the early part of the 20th Century. He lives on through the various organizations dedicated to his works throughout the world. He lives among Iran as one of the greatest Persian Poets ever, in Pakistan as the greatest Urdu poet of all time and is regarded as the national poet and hero, who was the bases of the creation of the first Muslim Nation
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