'Life of Iqbal'
Muhammad Iqbal was
born on November 9, 1877, at Sialkot, Punjab. His grandfather Shaikh
Rafiq, a Kashmiri, had joined a wave of migration to Sialkot, where
he made a living peddling Kashmiri shawls. Shaikh Rafiq had two
sons, Shaikh Ghulam Qadir and Shaikh Nur Muhammad, Iqbal's father.
Shaikh Nur Muhammad was a tailor whose handiwork was quite well
known in Sialkot. But it was his devotion to Islam, especially its
mystical aspects, that gained him respect among his Sufi peers and
other associates. His wife, Imam Bibi, was also a devout Muslim. The
couple instilled a deep religious consciousness in all their five
With the defeat of the Sikhs
in Punjab by the British army, Western missionaries wasted no time
in establishing centres of learning in Sialkot. 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
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.
It was also in 1892 that Iqbal was married off to
Karim Bibi, the daughter of an effluent Gujerati physician.
According to some sources, this was the beginning of many years of
unhappiness. They separated in 1916, but Iqbal provided financial
support to Karim Bibi until he died. The couple had three children.
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, graudating
cum 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 in Europe.
Iqbal studied in Europe for
three years from 1905 and acquired a law degree at Lincoln'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 in Britain 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.
Upon his return from Europe
in 1908, Iqbal embarked on a career in law, academics and poetry,
all at once. Of the three pursuits, he excelled in what was his true
calling and first love--poetry. There is a widely held belief that
had the Government College in Lahore been more generous with their
monthly stipend and academic freedom, he would have been as
brilliant an academician as he was a poet. In fact, it was financial
considerations that forced him to relinquish his assistant
professorship in 1909 to take up a fulltime law career.
did not earn much as a lawyer either, although he could have.
Instead of concentrating on the profession, he preferred to divide
his time between the law and his own spiritual development.
spite of a promise he made to his father-- that he would not make
any profit out of his poetry--he sold copies of them and used the
proceeds to supplement his small income. Already a famous poet by
now, Iqbal received a knighthood from the British Government in
honour of the brilliant Asrar-i Khudi.
While dividing his
time between the law and poetry, Iqbal, with the encouragement of
friends and supporters, decided once more to enter the political
arena. In November 1926, he contested a seat in the Muslim District
of Lahore and beat his opponent by a wide margin of 3,177 votes.
Sojourns in Europe
In 1931, Iqbal made a second visit to Europe to renew old acquaintances and
make new ones and to reflect and write. He attended conferences in
Britain and met various scholars and politicians, including the
French philosopher Henri Louis Bergson and the Italian dictator
Mussolini. A visit to Spain inspired three beautiful poems, which
were later incorporated into a major composition, Bal-I
Jibril (Gabriel's Wing).
After returning from a trip to
Afghanistan in 1933, Iqbal's health deteriorated. But his religious
and political ideas were gaining wide acceptance and his popularity
was at its peak. One of the last great things he did was to
establish the Adarah Darul Islam, an institution where studies in
classical Islam and contemporary social science would be subsidized.
It was perhaps the last wish of a great man who was fascinated with
the yoking of modern science and philosophy to Islam, to create
bridges of understanding at the highest intellectual level. This
thought he expressed thus:
In the West, Intellect is the source of
In the East, Love is the basis of life.
Love, Intellect grows acquainted
Intellect gives stability to the work of
lay the foundations of a new world,
By wedding Intellect to
Iqbal was an heir to a very rich literary, mystic,
philosophical and religious tradition. He imbibed and assimilated
all that was best in the past and present Islamic and Oriental
thought and culture. His range of interests covered Religion,
Philosophy, Art, Politics, Economics, the revival of Muslim life and
universal brotherhood of man. His prose, not only in his national
language but also in English, was powerful. His two books in English
demonstrate his mastery of English. But poetry was his medium par
excellence of expression. Everything he thought and felt, almost
involuntarily shaped itself into verse.
His first book Ilm ul Iqtisad/The knowledge of
Economics was written in Urdu in 1903 . His first poetic work
Asrar-i Khudi (1915) was followed by Rumuz-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, and Armughan-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 and
His first book of poetry in Urdu, Bang-i
Dara (1924) was followed by Bal-i Jibril in 1935 and
Zarb-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
of ghazals, 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. In
Asrar-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-relization 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. In
Rumuz-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 to West-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 Mathnavi
Gulshan-i Raz-i Jadid and Bandagi Nama. In
Gulshan-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. In Zabur-i
Ajam, Iqbal's Persian ghazal is at its best as his Urdu ghazal
is in Bal-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. In Javid Nama, Iqbal follows Ibn-Arabi, Marri and
Dante. 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. 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 from Bengal 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
Pas Cheh Bay ed Kard ai Aqwam-i Sharq
includes the mathnavi Musafir. 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. Mathnavi Musafir, 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
wrote two books in English. The first being The 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 at Madras, Hyderabad and
Aligarh. These were first published from Lahore 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. 1111>