A Brief Life Sketch of Allama Muhammad Iqbal


Iqbal was born on 9th November, 1877 at Sialkot. His father, Nur Muhammad was a deeply religious man with mystic knowledge. Iqbal’s mother Imam Bibi, was also a religious woman.

Iqbal began his education in a Maktab (Religious School). He was, however, fortunate to have a teacher in the person of Moulvi Syed Mir Hassan (1844-1929) who was an excellent teacher and a great scholar of Persian and Arabic. Syed Mir Hassan was quick to recognize Iqbal’s talent. It was under Mir Hasan that Iqbal developed interest in Persian and Arabic languages and literature. It was on Mir Hassan’s advice that Iqbal was sent to the Scotch Mission School at Sialkot. He passed his matriculation in 1893, and joined the Scotch Mission College (now called Murray College) for his intermediate examination.

It was about this time that Iqbal sent some of his verses, mostly lyrics to the well-known Urdu poet Dagh for correction. After correcting some poems, Dagh wrote back to Iqbal that his poem did not need any revision. It may be mentioned that Dagh lived long enough to see young Iqbal acquire countrywide popularity and he often used to refer with pride to the fact that at one time he had corrected Iqbal’s poems. When Iqbal passed intermediate with honour he was awarded a scholarship from the Scotch Mission College. The same year, Iqbal shifted to Lahore and joined the Government College. The subjects Iqbal studied for the bachelor of arts degree included Arabic and English literature and philosophy. He graduated cum-laude and was also awarded a scholarship for further study leading towards a master’s degree in Philosophy. Two years later in 1899, he won a gold medal for the unique distinction of being the only candidate who passed the final comprehensive examination. Iqbal obtained his master’s degree in 1899. He was recognized as a promising young poet in the literary circles of Lahore. By far the most pervasive influence on Iqbal’s intellectual development at Government College came from Sir Thomas Arnold, an accomplished scholar of Islam and modern Philosophy. Unlike most western missionaries, who presented Islam as the religion of the sword, Sir Thomas wrote at Aligarh a monumental study, the Preaching of Islam, emphasizing the peaceful "propagation of the Muslim faith". In Arnold, Iqbal found a loving teacher, who combined in himself a profound knowledge of western philosophy and a deep understanding of Islamic culture and Arabic literature. This happy mélange of the East and West, Arnold helped to develop in Iqbal. Also Arnold became a bridge of friendship between Shibli Numani and Iqbal. In 1904, when Arnold left Lahore for London, Iqbal composed a beautiful poem Nala-i-Firaq (Lament of Separation) indicating the student’s devotion to his teacher and his determination to follow Arnold to England in quest of knowledge.

In May 1899 a few months after Iqbal’s graduation with a master’s degree in Philosophy, he was appointed Macleod - Punjab reader of Arabic at the University Oriental College of Lahore. However, he resigned from the position of reader and taught as assistant professor of English at Islamia College and at the Government College at Lahore.

The first period of Iqbal’s poetic career ended in 1905, when he left for higher studies in Europe. During his three years of residence in Europe, Iqbal composed twenty-four small poems and lyrics. Iqbal studied in both Britain and Germany. In London, he studied at Lincoln’s Inn in order to qualify at the Bar, and at the Trinity College of Cambridge University, he enrolled as an undergraduate student to earn a bachelor of arts degree. This enrollment was unusual since he already had a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of the Punjab, Lahore, and was simultaneously preparing to submit a doctoral dissertation in philosophy to Munich University. The German University not only allowed him to submit his dissertation in English, but also exempted him from a mandatory stay of two terms on the campus before submitting his dissertation, titled: "The Development of Metaphysics in Persia". After his successful defence of the dissertation, Iqbal was awarded Doctorate Degree. This dissertation, which was published the following year in London, was dedicated to T.W. Arnold.

Philosophy being first love, Iqbal probably wanted to benefit from the lectures of the neo-Hegelians, John McTaggart and James Ward, who lectured at Cambridge to the undergraduates. Moreover, the two outstanding orientlists, E.L. Browne and Reynold A. Nicholson, were also at Cambridge lecturing on Persian literature. In view of this, Iqbal’s admission as an undergraduate at Cambridge, though unusual, is understandable. Iqbal’s intellect was sharpened and his mental horizon widened under these eminent scholars who admired him and recognized his philosophic and poetic talent.

In 1915, Iqbal published his major Persian philosophical Poem "Asrar-i-Khudi". Its continuation, Rumuz-i-bekhudi (Mysteries of the selflessness) appeared in 1918. These poems initiated a series that included Payam-i-Mashriq (The message of the East, 1923) a response to Goethe’s West Ostriches Divan; Zubur-i-Ajam (Iranian Psalms, 1927); and Javid Nama (1932) which has been called "an Oriental Divine Comedy". His generally shorter, more lyrical Urdu poems were also published in several collections, notably Bang-e-Dara (The Sound of the Bell, 1924) and Bal-e-Jabril (Gabriel’s wing, 1936). A collection of his English lectures on Islamic philosophy was published titled: The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (1930). At his best, Iqbal is one of the great Urdu poets and a great Indo-Persian Poet as well.

A few critics who clearly ignore the anti-Muslim aspect of European expansion in Asia have claimed that the message of Iqbal was meant, above all, for the Muslim world and that it would not have a universal value. The poet himself has explained very clearly his point of view on this fundamental question. He said:

"The object of my Persian masnavis is not to attempt an advocacy of Islam. My real purpose is to look for a better social order and to present a universally acceptable ideals (of life and action) before the world, but it is impossible for me, in this effort to outlive this ideal, to ignore the social system and values of Islam whose most important objective is to demolish all the artificial and pernicious distinctions of caste, creed, colour and economic status... when I realized that the conception of nationalism based on the differences of race and country was beginning to overshadow the world and that the Muslims also were in danger of giving up the universality of their ideal in favour of a narrow patriotism and false nationalism, I felt it my duty as a Muslim and a well-wisher of humanity to recall them back to their true role in the drama of human evolution. No doubt, I am intensely devoted to Islam but I have selected the Islamic Community as my starting point not because of any national or religious prejudice, because it is the most practicable line of approach".

A poet of deep, reflective wisdom and delicate sensitivity, Iqbal occupies a very distinguished position among the men of letters. His poems, apart from their philosophic content, are full of concentrated emotion. The poems have a drama-like quality that penetrates the unconscious, a haunting quality which characterizes all true Poetry. They are a record of his deepened insight and his experienced visions, a marvel of suggestiveness. Iqbal joined the keen intellect of the philosopher and the transcendental vision of the mystic, the exquisite expression of the artist.

Iqbal’s dream of a society in which true brotherhood would exist, and the social rank of man would not be determined by his caste, his colour or his fortune, but by the kind of life he leads. Iqbal always condemned the nationalism of the West as founded on mere animal ties of blood, instead of on harmony of ideals. Iqbal is a seer and a humanist who has pondered deeply over all the social, political and economic problems facing the East and examined them in the light of his Quranic ideology. A poet without a strong conviction can never conquer his milieu. In this sense, Iqbal was a great conqueror. He had a purpose before him. It was a high purpose. Iqbal had his own way. All his life, Iqbal toiled hard to make others see and feel what he saw and felt. For rising higher than animal level, a person has first to subjugate the animal within him. To overpower ordinary, selfish desires is not an easy undertaking. To make one’s capabilities conform to one’s ideas and ideals is another difficulty to surmount. To live according to the dictates of intellect and faith is to be truly human. It is to become master in one’s own house such a master is a genuine "self".

Iqbal was a "self" power with a will and an unfaltering faith, he composed poem after poem to mirror the position and condition in which the Muslims stood at that time. He tried to make them realize their shortcomings and regain their self-confidence as a nation. He had started as a nationalist poet, since the major portion of poetry concerns the Muslims and Islam. But Iqbal was not only a poet but also a philosopher too. The Nation calls him even Hakimul Ummat, which means the philosopher of the nation.

Iqbal represents that moderation which is enjoined by Islam. Almost all of his basic ideas are derived form Islam but he has presented them not only for the Muslims but for the entire world. He maintains that the best solutions of the world problems lie in the Islamic way of life.

Iqbal maintained that every human being has been endowed by nature various kinds of abilities and capabilities. The first duty of a person is to know himself or herself. By knowing oneself he means to know the nature of one’s capabilities.

Life is meant for action. This world is a field for the action. The best of thought is meaningless if it is not translated into action. It is action which makes life good or bad. Iqbal says:

(Action makes life a Paradise or a hell. Man in his origin is concerned neither with light nor life).

Iqbal has compared the relationship between the individual and the society with the relationship that exists between the wave and river:

The individual stands on his relation with his nation. As a solitary figure, he is nothing. The wave is in the river. Beyond the river there is nothing.)

A Philosopher by temperament he was not interested in politics although he had been associated with the Muslim League from his London Years. He was elected a member of the Executive Committee of the London branch of the Muslim League in 1908. However, political circumstances of the last decade of his life forced him to take part in politics. In 1926, he was elected as a member of the Punjab Legislative Council; three years later he was chosen President of the All-India Muslim League which met for its annual session at Allahabad in 1930.

Earlier, a spilt leading to two factions of the All-India Muslim League had occurred in 1927 which forced Iqbal to side with one of these. This rift continued up to February 1930. Thereafter, the Fourteen Points of the Quaid became a charter of unification between the two factions. On 28 February, 1930, Sir Muhammad Shafi and Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah met in Delhi by which the two factions of the All-India Muslim League were merged. Thus the League again became united making Quaid as its President.

At that juncture of Muslim political struggle in India, one group of the Muslim intelligentsia favoured the struggle for the independence of a united India and had bound its fate with the Indian National Congress, whereas the other shared a belief in the necessity of Muslim’s self- determination and supported the All-India Muslim League, who later spread the movement for the creation of Pakistan. On the eve of the Round Table Conference in London when Federal Scheme was being discussed, the All-India Muslim League held its annual session at Allahabad on 29-30 December 1930, with Allama Iqbal presiding the Session. During the course of his Presidential Address, he emphasized that India comprised of different races, religion and languages which militated against the creation of organic national unity. Since persistent and patient efforts to forge communal harmony had proved fruitless and all out to be useless, the best solution of the intractable Hindu-Muslim confrontation lay in the division of the Sub-continent. On this occasion, Allama Iqbal presented the idea of Muslim India within India. He said:

"Punjab, N.W.F.P., Sind and Balochistan should be amalgamated into a single state. Self-government within the British Empire, or without the British Empire, the formation of consolidated North-West Indian Muslim state appears to me to be the final destiny of the Muslims at least of North-West India".

Two years later, Allama Iqbal presided over the meeting of the Executive Board of the Conference on 5 March, 1933. Prior to that, he had proposed the amalgamation of various Muslim organizations into one political body which should have its branches every where in British India. In this meeting of the Executive Board of the India Muslim Conference, the proposed amalgamation was approved.

It was Allama Iqbal who, as Chairman of the India Committee, said in August 1934, in an appeal to the Muslims of the whole sub-continent, that they should observe 14th August, 1934 as ‘Kashmir Day’ and said that the dream of Muslim India would be incomplete without the freedom of the Islamic State of Kashmir.

It may be recalled that when Allama Iqbal proposed the idea of a separate Muslim State, the Muslim politicians and intellectuals failed to measure up to Iqbal’s prescient views and remained bogged down in the stereotypic politics. At that time, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had withdrawn from politics for the time being. Allama Iqbal was the dreamer of Pakistan and well-wisher of Muslim nation. He was a Muslim Leaguer and great admirer of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. In his opinion the Quaid was the only Muslim in India to whom the community had a right to look for safe guidance through the storm which was coming to North-west India and perhaps to the whole of India.

In March 1938, Iqbal fell ill very seriously. Despite the best medical help and the most careful nursing, the poet-philosopher of Islam died in the early hours of 21st April, 1938.

He was given a funeral which kings might envy and his remains were buried near the gate of the historic Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, late in the evening, in the presence of thousands of mourners.

A few days before his death he had told his brother:

"I am a Muslim and I am not afraid to die."

Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah issued the following statement on the death of Allama Mohammad Iqbal:-

"I am extremely sorry to hear the sad news of the death of Sir Muhammad Iqbal. He was a remarkable poet of worldwide fame and his work will live for ever. His services to his country and the Muslims are so numerous that his record can be compared with that of the greatest Indian that ever lived. He was an ex-President of the All-India Muslim League and a president of the Provincial Muslim League of the Punjab till very recent time when his unforeseen illness compelled him to resign. But he was the staunchest and the most loyal champion of the policy and programme of the All-India Muslim League."

“To me he was a friend, guide and philosopher and during the darkest moments through which the Muslim League had to go he stood like a rock and never flinched one single moment and as a result just only three days ago he must have read or been informed of the complete unity that was achieved in Calcutta of the Muslim leaders of the Punjab, and today I can say with pride that the Muslims of the Punjab are wholeheartedly with the League and have come under the flag of the All-India Muslim League, which must have been a matter of greatest satisfaction to him. In the achievement of this unity Sir Muhammad Iqbal played a most signal part. My sincerest and deepest sympathy go out to his family at this moment in their bereavement in losing him, and it is a terrible loss to India and the Muslims particularly at this juncture."

On the death of Iqbal, Tagore remarked "the death of Iqbal creates a void in literature that, like a mortal wound, will take a very long time to heal. India whose place in the world is too narrow can ill afford to miss a poet whose poetry had such universal value".

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru held the view that Iqbal was a poet, an intellectual and philosopher of a great order. He writes in his Discovery of India that:

"Iqbal opposed, any society that seemed to him without a religious foundation". The vision of Iqbal is not very different from the ideal of democracy as understood in the West. ...

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 practise 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 practise, 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 organisation. Iqbal's thoughts in his work primarily focused on the spiritual direction and development of human society, centred around 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.

1908, in LondonThe 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.

Works in Persian

Iqbal's poetic works are written mostly in Persian rather than Urdu. Among his 12,000 verses of poem, almost more than 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 emphasise 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 vicegerent 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. Man cannot realise the "Self" out of society. 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-o-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.

1929, with his son Javid IqbalThe 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."

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

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.[6] 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 of religious passion.

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:

Iqbal with Choudhary Rahmat Ali and other Muslim activists."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 emphasised 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. 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 criticised feudal classes in Punjab as well as Muslim politicians averse to the League.

External Links