Sir Mohammed Iqbal was born at Sialkot, India (now in Pakistan), on 9th November, 1877 of a pious family of small merchants and was educated at Government College, Lahore. He is commonly referred to as Allama Iqbal (علامہ اقبال, Allama meaning “Scholar”).
In Europe from 1905 to 1908, he earned his degree in philosophy from the University of Cambridge, qualified as a barrister in London, and received a doctorate from the University of Munich. His thesis, The Development of Metaphysics in Persia, revealed some aspects of Islamic mysticism formerly unknown in Europ On his return from Europe, he gained his livelihood by the practice of law, but his fame came from his Persian- and Urdu-language poetry, which was written in the classical style for public recitation. Through poetic symposia and in a milieu in which memorizing verse was customary, his poetry became widely known, even among the illiterate. Almost all the cultured Indian and Pakistani Muslims of his and later generations have had the habit of quoting Iqbal. Before he visited Europe, his poetry affirmed Indian nationalism, as in Naya shawala (“The New Altar”), but time away from India caused him to shift his perspective.
He came to criticize nationalism for a twofold reason: in Europe it had led to destructive racism and imperialism, and in India it was not founded on an adequate degree of common purpose. In a speech delivered at Aligarh in 1910, under the title “Islam as a Social and Political Ideal,” he indicated the new Pan-Islamic direction of his hopes. The recurrent themes of Iqbal’s poetry are a memory of the vanished glories of Islam, a complaint about its present decadence, and a call to unity and reform. Reform can be achieved by strengthening the individual through three successive stages: obedience to the law of Islam, self-control, and acceptance of the idea that everyone is potentially a vicegerent of God (na`ib, or mu`min). Furthermore, the life of action is to be preferred to ascetic resignation.
Three significant poems from this period, Shikwah (“The Complaint”), Jawab-e shikwah (“The Answer to the Complaint”), and Khizr-e rah (“Khizr, the Guide”), were published later in 1924 in the Urdu collection Bang-e dara (“The Call of the Bell”). In those works Iqbal gave intense expression to the anguish of Muslim powerlessness. Khizr (Arabic: Khidr), the Qur`anic prophet who asks the most difficult questions, is pictured bringing from God the baffling problems of the early 20th century.
Notoriety came in 1915 with the publication of his long Persian poem Asrar-e khudi (The Secrets of the Self). He wrote in Persian because he sought to address his appeal to the entire Muslim world. In this work he presents a theory of the self that is a strong condemnation of the self-negating quietism (i.e., the belief that perfection and spiritual peace are attained by passive absorption in contemplation of God and divine things) of classical Islamic mysticism; his criticism shocked many and excited controversy. Iqbal and his admirers steadily maintained that creative self-affirmation is a fundamental Muslim virtue; his critics said he imposed themes from the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche on Islam.
The dialectical quality of his thinking was expressed by the next long Persian poem, Rumuz-e bikhudi (1918; The Mysteries of Selflessness). Written as a counterpoint to the individualism preached in the Asrar-ekhudi, this poem called for self-surrender.
……………….. . Lo, like a candle wrestling with the night ……………….. . O’er my own self I pour my flooding tears ……………… I spent my self, that there might be more light, ……………….. .. More loveliness, more joy for other men.
The Muslim community, as Iqbal conceived it, ought effectively to teach and to encourage generous service to the ideals of brotherhood and justice. The mystery of selflessness was the hidden strength of Islam. Ultimately, the only satisfactory mode of active self-realization was the sacrifice of the self in the service of causes greater than the self. The paradigm was the life of the Prophet Muhammad and the devoted service of the first believers. The second poem completes Iqbal’s conception of the final destiny of the self. Later, he published three more Persian volumes. Payam-e Mashriq (1923; “Message of the East”), written in response to J.W. von Goethe’s West-östlicher Divan (1819; “Divan of West and East”), affirmed the universal validity of Islam. In 1927 Zabur-e ‘Ajam (“Persian Psalms”) appeared, about which A.J. Arberry, its translator into English, wrote: “Iqbal displayed here an altogether extraordinary talent for the most delicate and delightful of all Persian styles, the ghazal,” or love poem. Javid-nameh (1932; “The Song of Eternity”) is considered Iqbal’s masterpiece.
Its theme, reminiscent of Dante’s Divine Comedy, is the ascent of the poet, guided by the great 13th-century Persian mystic Jalal ad-Din ar-Rumi, through all the realms of thought and experience to the final encounter. Iqbal’s later publications of poetry in Urdu were Bal-e Jibril (1935; “Gabriel’s Wing”), Zarb-e kalim (1937; “The Blow of Moses”), and the posthumous Armaghan-e Hijaz (1938; “Gift of the Hejaz”), which contained verses in both Urdu and Persian. He is considered the greatest poet in Urdu of the 20th century.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
His philosophical position was articulated in The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (1934), a volume based on six lectures delivered at Madras, Hyderabad, and Aligarh in 1928-29. He argued that a rightly focused man should unceasingly generate vitality through interaction with the purposes of the living God. The Prophet Muhammad had returned from his unitary experience of God to let loose on the earth a new type of manhood and a cultural world characterized by the abolition of priesthood and hereditary kingship and by an emphasis on the study of history and nature. The Muslim community in the present age ought, through the exercise of ijtihad–the principle of legal advancement–to devise new social and political institutions. He also advocated a theory of ijma’–consensus. Iqbal tended to be progressive in adumbrating general principles of change but conservative in initiating actual change. During the time that he was delivering these lectures, Iqbal began working with the Muslim League. At the annual session of the league at Allahabad, in 1930, he gave the presidential address, in which he made a famous statement that the Muslims of northwestern India should demand status as a separate state.
After a long period of ill health, Iqbal died in April 1938 and was buried in front of the great Badshahi Mosque in Lahore. Two years later, the Muslim League voted for the idea of Pakistan. That the poet had influenced the making of that decision, which became a reality in 1947, is undisputed. He has been acclaimed as the father of Pakistan, and every year Iqbal Day is celebrated by Pakistanis. Aspects of his thought are explored in K.G. Saiyidain, Iqbal’s Educational Philosophy, 6th ed. rev. (1965), a standard analysis of the relevance of Iqbal’s ideas about education written by a distinguished Indian educationist; Annemarie Schimmel, Gabriel’s Wing, 2nd ed. (1989), a thorough analysis of Iqbal’s religious symbolism, including a comprehensive bibliography in English; Syed Abdul Vahid, Iqbal: His Art and Thought, new ed. (1959), a standard introduction; Hafeez Malik (ed.), Iqbal, Poet-Philosopher of Pakistan (1971), representative Pakistani views; and S.M.H. Burney (S.M.H. Barni), Iqbal, Poet-Patriot of India (1987), focusing on nationalism and secularism in his poetry.