Sir Mohammad Iqbal, commonly known as Allama Iqbal, was born on November 9, 1877 in Sialkot, in the Punjab province of British India now in Pakistan. According to scholar Bruce Lawrence, Iqbal’s Brahmin ancestors from Kashmir had converted to Islam during the reign of Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan. Around the turn of the nineteenth century, when the Kashmir region was coming under Sikh rule, his grandfather’s family migrated to the Punjab.

Mohammad Iqbal’s father, Noor Mohammad, was a tailor, who lacked formal education, but had great devotion to Islam. Iqbal’s mother was known in the family as a wise, generous woman who quietly gave financial help to poor and needy women and arbitrated in neighbor’s disputes. After his mother’s death in 1914, Iqbal wrote an elegy for her.

Iqbal started reading Quran at the age of four in nearby mosque. He became a student of Syed Mir Hassan, the then head of the Madrassa in Sialkot, and later to become a widely known Muslim scholar. Meer Hassan was advocate of secular European education for the Muslim’s of British India, in the tradition of Sir Sayed Ahmad Khan. He convinced Iqbal’s father to send him to Sialkot’s Scotch Mission College. Iqbal obtained the Faculty of Arts diploma from the college in 1895.

Iqbal was married to Karim Bibi, the daughter of an affluent Gujrati physician. The couple had two children, a daughter and a son. Iqbal’s third child, a son, died soon after birth. Husband and wife were unhappy in their marriage and eventually divorced in 1916, but Iqbal provided financial support to her and their children for the rest of his life.

Iqbal joined the Government College in Lahore where he studied Philosophy, English literature and Arabic and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree. He won a gold medal for placing first in the examination in Philosophy. While studying for his Master’s degree, Iqbal came under the influence of Sir Thomas Arnold, a scholar of Islam and modern philosophy. 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).

Iqbal travelled to Europe at Sir Thomas’s encouragement, and spent many years studying there. 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 preferred 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. Iqbal, together with two other politicians, Syed Hassan Bilgrami and Syed Ameer Ali, sat on the subcommittee which drafted the constitution of the League. In 1907, Iqbal travelled to Germany to pursue a doctorate from the Faculty of Philosophy of the Ludwig-Maximilians-University at Munich. Working under the supervision of ‘Friedrich Hommel’, Iqbal published a thesis titled, “The Development of Metaphysics in Persia”.

After his return to India in 1908, Iqbal took up an Assistant Professorship at Government College in Lahore, but relinquished it within a year to practice law. 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. In 1919, he became the general secretary of the organization.

A very strong supporter of the revival of Islam around the world, he advocated for the cause that the spiritual and political resurgence of Islam. He delivered a famous set of lectures in India that was compiled and published as ‘Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’. Iqbal worked in close collaboration with Mohammad Ali Jinnah. He is honored as the national poet of Pakistan 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 the Ummah).

Iqbal was deeply influenced by the poetry and philosophy of “Maulana Roomi”. Strong believer of religion since childhood, Iqbal intensely concentrated on the study of Islam, the culture and history of Islamic civilization and its political future. Iqbal’s works focus on reminding his readers of the past glories of Islamic civilization, and delivering the 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.

Most of his poetic works are in Persian than Urdu. His works mainly revolved around the betterment of mankind and the present society. He took inspiration from real life incidents while he stayed in Europe and Middle East. He wanted to tell the West that their materialistic outlook will not last long and that they should take inspiration from the East and gain knowledge from spirituality to seek real happiness. 

Work in Persian

Iqbal’s poetic works are written primarily in Persian rather than Urdu. Among his 12,000 verses of poetry, 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 emphasize the spirit and self from a religious, spiritual perspective.

“Rumuz-e-Bekhudi” (Hints of Selflessness), was published in 1917, in Persian. In “Rumuz-e- Bekhudi”, Iqbal seeks to prove that the 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. 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. 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).

“Payam-e-Mashriq” (The Message of the East) was published in 1924. In his first visit to Afghanistan, he presented his book “Payam-e Mashreq” to ‘King Amaanullah 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.

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. In a passage re-living a historical period, Iqbal condemns the Muslims 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.

Work in Urdu

Iqbal’s first work in Urdu, the “Bang-e-Dara” (The Call of the Marching Bell) was published in 1924. This was a collection of poetry and includes the ‘Tarana-e-Hind’ (The Song of India), popularly known as “Saare Jahan Se Achcha Hindustan Hamara”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

Iqbal preferred to work mainly in Persian, but after 1930, his works were mainly in Urdu. Published in 1935, the “Baal-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). 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.

His Tarana-e-Hind is a song that is widely used in India as a patriotic song speaking of communal harmony. 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. Iqbal's Asrar-e-Khudi and Javed Nama were translated into English by R A Nicholson and A J Arberry respectively

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 Ali and 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. 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.

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. 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

Patron of The Journal 'Tuloo-e-Islam'

He was the first patron of the historical, political, religious, cultural journal of Muslims of British India and Pakistan, “Tuloo-e-Islam”. In 1935, according to his instructions, Syed Nazeer Niazi initiated and edited, Tuloo-e-Islam. For a long time Sir Muhammad Iqbal wanted a journal to propagate his ideas and the aims and objective of Muslim league. It was Syed Nazeer Niazi, who also made Urdu translation of “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam”, by Sir Iqbal. The early contributors to this journal were eminent Muslim scholars like Maulana Aslam Jairajpuri, Ghulam Ahmed Pervez, Dr. Zakir Hussain Khan, Syed Naseer Ahmed, Raja Hassan Akhtar, Maulvi Ghulam Yezdani, Ragheb Ahsan, Sheikh Suraj ul Haq, Rafee ud din Peer, Prof. fazal ud din Qureshi, Agha Muhammad Safdar, Asad Multani, Dr. Tasadaq Hussain, Prof. Yusuf Saleem Chisti. This journal is still published by Idara Tolu-e-Islam, Lahore.

Final Years & Death

In 1933, after returning from a trip to Spain and Afghanistan, Iqbal began suffering from a mysterious throat illness. Iqbal ceased practising law in 1934 and he was granted pension by the Nawab of Bhopal. After suffering for months from his illness, Iqbal died in Lahore on 21 April 1938. His tomb is located in Hazuri Bagh, the enclosed garden between the entrance of the Badshahi Mosque and the Lahore Fort.

Iqbal is commemorated widely in Pakistan. 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, a national holiday. Iqbal is the namesake of many public institutions, including the Allama Iqbal Medical College, Allama Iqbal Open University, the Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore, and Gulshan-e-Iqbal Town in Karachi and in Lahore. 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. Allama Iqbal Stamps Society established for the promotion of Iqbaliyat in philately and in other hobbies. His son Javed Iqbal has served as a justice on the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Iqbal was a philosopher poet, not a pure poet and he freely borrowed ideas from different schools and systems in accordance with the demand of his poetry. His poetry is pure inspiration, a thing of lightness, melody and grace. His ideas are incomparable. He remains a philosopher poet, the greatest that sub-continent or perhaps the modern East has produced. There is no doubt that Iqbal's poems represent the highest achievement of philosophical poetry.


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