Biography: Allama Iqbal
Allama 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 ghazals.
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 “new generation”.
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
Iqbal 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.
In addition to these books he wrote hundreds of letters in Urdu and English. Urdu letters have been published in ten different books. He issued statements pertaining to the burning topics of the day relating to various aspects of social, religious, cultural and political problems of India, Europe and the world of Islam. For a few years he served as a Professor of Philosophy and Oriental Learning at the government College, Lahore and the Punjab University Oriental College. Many of his speeches and statements have been compiled and published in book form. Except for the last four years of his life he practised at the Lahore High Court Bar. All his life he was easily accessible to all and sundry and evening sessions at his home were a common feature.
In Spite of his heavy political and social commitments he had time for poetry, a poetry which made philosophy sing. A.K Brohi says:
Dr. Iqbal is undoubtedly a renowned poet-philosopher of Islam and may have in his writings a never failing source of inspiration, delight and aesthetic wonder. He has made signal contribution to our understanding of the Holy Writ of Islam and offered his evaluation of the remarkable example of which the life of the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) has presented to the world at large and the high water-mark of excellence, it provides of how best our earthly lives can be lived here below.
Iqbal The Visionary
Iqbal joined the London branch of the All India Muslim League while he was studying Law and Philosophy in England. It was in London when he had a mystical experience. The ghazal containing those divinations is the only one whose year and month of composition is expressly mentioned. It is March 1907. No other ghazal, before or after it has been given such importance. Some verses of that ghazal are:
At last the silent tongue of Hijaz has
announced to the ardent ear the tiding
That the covenant which had been given to the
desert-dwelles is going to be renewed
The lion who had emerged from the desert and
had toppled the Roman Empire is
As I am told by the angels, about to get up
again (from his slumbers.)
You the dwelles of the West, should know that
the world of God is not a shop (of yours).
Your imagined pure gold is about to lose it
standard value (as fixed by you).
Your civilization will commit suicide with its
A nest built on a frail bough cannot be
The caravan of feeble ants will take the rose
petal for a boat
And inspite of all blasts of waves, it shall cross
I will take out may worn-out caravan in the
pitch darkness of night.
My sighs will emit sparks and my breath will
For Iqbal it was a divinely inspired insight. He disclosed this to his listeners in December 1931, when he was invited to Cambridge to address the students. Iqbal was in London, participating in the Second Round Table Conference in 1931. At Cambridge, he referred to what he had proclaimed in 1906:
I would like to offer a few pieces of advice to the youngmen who are at present studying at Cambridge …… I advise you to guard against atheism and materialism. The biggest blunder made by Europe was the separation of Church and State. This deprived their culture of moral soul and diverted it to the atheistic materialism. I had twenty-five years ago seen through the drawbacks of this civilization and therefore had made some prophecies. They had been delivered by my tongue although I did not quite understand them. This happened in 1907….. After six or seven years, my prophecies came true, word by word. The European war of 1914 was an outcome of the aforesaid mistakes made by the European nations in the separation of the Church and the State.
It should be stressed that Iqbal felt he had received a spiritual message in 1907 which even to him was, at that juncture, not clear. Its full import dawned on him later. The verses quoted above show that Iqbal had taken a bold decision about himself as well. Keeping in view that contemporary circumstances, he had decided to give a lead to the Muslim ummah and bring it out of the dark dungeon of slavery to the shining vasts of Independence. This theme was repeated later in poems such as “Abdul Qadir Ke Nam,” “Sham-o-Sha’ir,” “Javab-i Shikwa,” “Khizr-i Rah,” “Tulu-e Islam” etc. He never lost heart. His first and foremost concern, naturally, were the Indian Muslims. He was certain that the day of Islamic resurgence was about to dawn and the Muslims of the South Asian subcontinent were destined to play a prominent role in it.
Iqbal, confident in Allah’s grand scheme and His aid, created a new world and imparted a new life to our being. Building upon Sir Sayyid Ahmed’s two-nation theory, absorbing the teaching of Shibli, Ameer Ali, Hasrat Mohani and other great Indian Muslim thinkers and politicians, listening to Hindu and British voices, and watching the fermenting Indian scene closely for approximately 60 years, he knew and ultimately convinced his people and their leaders, particularly Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah that:
“We both are exiles in this land. Both longing for
our dear home’s sight!”
“That dear home is Pakistan, on which he harpened like a flute-player, but whose birth he did not witness.”
Many verses in Iqbal’s poetry are prompted by a similar impulse. A random example, a ghazal from Zabur-i Ajam published in 1927 illustrates his deepseated belief:
The Guide of the Era is about to appear from a
corner of the desert of Hijaz.
The carvan is about to move out from this far
I have observed the kingly majesty on the
faces of the slaves.
Mahmud’s splendour is visible in the dust of
Life laments for ages both in the Ka’bah and
So that a person who knows the secret may
The laments that burst forth from the breasts
of the earnestly devoted people. Are going
to initiate a new principle in the conscience of
Take this harp from my hand. I am done for.
My laments have turned into blood and that
blood is going to trickle from the strings of the
The five couplets quoted above are prophetic. In the first couplet Allama Iqbal indicates that the appearance of the Guide of the Era was just round the corner and the Caravan is about to start and emerge from “this” valley. Iqbal does not say that the awaited Guide has to emerge from the centre of Hijaz. He says he is going to appear from a far flung valley. For the poet the desert of Hijaz, at times, serves as a symbol for the Muslim ummah. This means that Muslims of the Indian sub-continent are about to have a man who is destined to guide them to the goal of victory and that victory is to initiate the resurgence of Islam.
In the second couplet, he breaks the news of the dawn which is at hand. the slaves are turning into magnificent masters. In the third couplet he stresses the point that the Seers come to the world of man after centuries. He himself was one of those Seers. In the fourth couplet he refers to some ideology or principle quite new to the world which would effect the conscience of all humanity. And what else could it be, if it were not the right of self-determination for which the Muslims of the sub-continent were about to struggle. After the emergence of Pakistan this right became a powerful reference. It served as the advent of a new principle and continues to provide impetus to Muslims in minority in other parts of the world such as in the Philippines, Thailand and North America.
In the fifth couplet Iqbal indicates that he would die before the advent of freedom. He was sure that his verses which epitomized his most earnest sentiments would stand in good stead in exhorting the Muslims of the sub-continent to the goal of freedom.
Iqbal and Politics
These thoughts crystallised at Allahabad Session (December, 1930) of the All India Muslim League, when Iqbal in the Presidential Address, forwarded the idea of a Muslim State in India:
I would like to see the Punjab, North-West Frontier Provinces, Sind and Baluchistan into a single State. Self-Government within the British Empire or without the British Empire. The formation of the consolidated North-West Indian Muslim State appears to be the final destiny of the Muslims, at least of the North-West India.
The seed sown, the idea began to evolve and take root. It soon assumed the shape of Muslim state or states in the western and eastern Muslim majority zones as is obvious from the following lines of Iqbal’s letter, of June 21, 1937, to the Quaid-i Azam, only ten months before the former’s death:
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.
There are some critics of Allama Iqbal who assume that after delivering the Allahbad Address he had slept over the idea of a Muslim State. Nothing is farther from the truth. The idea remained always alive in his mind. It had naturally to mature and hence, had to take time. He was sure that the Muslims of sub-continent were going to achieve an independent homeland for themselves. On 21st March, 1932, Allama Iqbal delivered the Presidential address at Lahore at the annual session of the All-India Muslim Conference. In that address too he stressed his view regarding nationalism in India and commented on the plight of the Muslims under the circumstances prevailing in the sub-continent. Having attended the Second Round Table Conference in September, 1931 in London, he was keenly aware of the deep-seated Hindu and Sikh prejudice and unaccommodating attitude. He had observed the mind of the British Government. Hence he reiterated his apprehensions and suggested safeguards in respect of the Indian Muslims:
In so far then as the fundamentals of our policy are concerned, I have got nothing fresh to offer. Regarding these I have already expressed my views in my address to the All India Muslim League. In the present address I propose, among other things, to help you, in the first place, in arriving at a correct view of the situation as it emerged from a rather hesitating behavior of our delegation the final stages of the Round-Table Conference. In the second place, I shall try, according to my lights to show how far it is desirable to construct a fresh policy now that the Premier’s announcement at the last London Conference has again necessitated a careful survey of the whole situation.
It must be kept in mind that since Maulana Muhammad Ali had died in Jan. 1931 and Quaid-i Azam had stayed behind in London, the responsibility of providing a proper lead to the Indian Muslims had fallen on him alone. He had to assume the role of a jealous guardian of his nation till Quaid-i Azam returned to the sub-continent in 1935.
The League and the Muslim Conference had become the play-thing of petty leaders, who would not resign office, even after a vote of non-confidence! And, of course, they had no organization in the provinces and no influence with the masses.
During the Third Round-Table Conference, Iqbal was invited by the London National League where he addressed an audience which included among others, foreign diplomats, members of the House of Commons, Members of the House of Lords and Muslim members of the R.T.C. delegation. In that gathering he dilated upon the situation of the Indian Muslims. He explained why he wanted the communal settlement first and then the constitutional reforms. He stressed the need for provincial autonomy because autonomy gave the Muslim majority provinces some power to safeguard their rights, cultural traditions and religion. Under the central Government the Muslims were bound to lose their cultural and religious entity at the hands of the overwhelming Hindu majority. He referred to what he had said at Allahabad in 1930 and reiterated his belief that before long people were bound to come round to his viewpoint based on cogent reason.
In his dialogue with Dr. Ambedkar Allama 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.
Allama Iqbal’s statement explaining the attitude of Muslim delegates to the Round-Table Conference issued in December, 1933 was a rejoinder to Jawahar Lal Nehru’s statement. Nehru had said that the attitude of the Muslim delegation was based on “reactionarism.” Iqbal concluded his rejoinder with:
In conclusion I must put a straight question to punadi Jawhar Lal, how is India’s problem to be solved if the majority community will neither concede the minimum safeguards necessary for the protection of a minority of 80 million people, nor accept the award of a third party; but continue to talk of a kind of nationalism which works out only to its own benefit? This position can admit of only two alternatives. Either the Indian majority community will have to accept for itself the permanent position of an agent of British imperialism in the East, or the country will have to be redistributed on a basis of religious, historical and cultural affinities so as to do away with the question of electorates and the communal problem in its present form.
Allama Iqbal’s apprehensions were borne out by the Hindu Congress ministries established in Hindu majority province under the Act of 1935. Muslims in those provinces were given dastardly treatment. This deplorable phenomenon added to Allama Iqbal’s misgivings regarding the future of Indian Muslims in case India remained united. In his letters to the Quaid-i Azam written in 1936 and in 1937 he referred to an independent Muslim State comprising North-Western and Eastern Muslim majority zones. Now it was not only the North-Western zones alluded to in the Allahabad Address.
There are some within Pakistan and without, who insist that Allama Iqbal never meant a sovereign Muslim country outside India. Rather he desired a Muslim State within the Indian Union. A State within a State. This is absolutely wrong. What he meant was understood very vividly by his Muslim compatriots as well as the non-Muslims. Why Nehru and others had then tried to show that the idea of Muslim nationalism had no basis at all. Nehru stated:
This idea of a Muslim nation is the figment of a few imaginations only, and, but for the publicity given to it by the Press few people would have heard of it. And even if many people believed in it, it would still vanish at the touch of reality.
Iqbal and the Quaid-i Azam
Who could understand Allama Iqbal better than the Quaid-i Azam himself, who was his awaited “Guide of the Era”? The Quaid-i Azam in the Introduction to Allama Iqbal’s lettes addressed to him, admitted that he had agreed with Allama Iqbal regarding a State for Indian Muslims before the latters death in April, 1938. The Quaid stated:
His views were substantially in consonance with my own and had finally led me to the same conclusions as a result of careful examination and study of the constitutional problems facing India and found expression in due course in the united will of Muslim India as adumbrated in the Lahore Resolution of the All-India Muslim League popularly known as the “Pakistan Resolution” passed on 23rd March, 1940.
Furthermore, it was Allama Iqbal who called upon Quaid-i Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah to lead the Muslims of India to their cherished goal. He preferred the Quaid to other more experienced Muslim leaders such as Sir Aga Khan, Maulana Hasrat Mohani, Nawab Muhammad Isma il Khan, Maulana Shaukat Ali, Nawab Hamid Ullah Khan of Bhopal, Sir Ali Imam, Maulvi Tameez ud-Din Khan, Maulana Abul Kalam, Allama al-Mashriqi and others. But Allama Iqbal had his own reasons. He had found his “Khizr-i Rah”, the veiled guide in Quaid-i Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah who was destined to lead the Indian branch of the Muslim Ummah to their goal of freedom. Allama Iqbal stated:
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.
Similar sentiments were expressed by him about three months before his death. Sayyid Nazir Niazi in his book Iqbal Ke Huzur, has stated that the future of the Indian Muslims was being discussed and a tenor of pessimism was visible from what his friends said. At this Allama Iqbal observed:
There is only one way out. Muslim 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 defence 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.
Matlub ul-Hasan Sayyid stated that after the Lahore Resolution was passed on March 23, 1940, the Quaid-i Azam said to him:
Iqbal is no more amongst us, but had he been alive he would have been happy to know that we did exactly what he wanted us to do.
But the matter does not end here. Allama Iqbal in his letter of March 29, 1937 to the Quaid-i Azam had said:
While we are ready to cooperate with other progressive parties in the country, we must not ignore the fact that the whole future of Islam as a moral and political force in Asia rests very largely on a complete organization of Indian Muslims.
According to Allama Iqbal the future of Islam as a moral and political force not only in India but in the whole of Asia rested on the organization of the Muslims of India led by the Quaid-i Azam.
The “Guide of the Era” Iqbal had envisaged in 1926, was found in the person of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The “Guide” organized the Muslims of India under the banner of the Muslim League and offered determined resistance to both the Hindu and the English designs for a united Hindu-dominated India. Through their united efforts under the able guidance of Quaid-I Azam Muslims succeeded in dividing India into Pakistan and Bharat and achieving their independent homeland. As observed above, in Allama Iqbal’s view, the organization of Indian Muslims which achieved Pakistan would also have to defend other Muslim societies in Asia. The carvan of the resurgence of Islam has to start and come out of this Valley, far off from the centre of the ummah. Let us see how and when, Pakistan prepares itself to shoulder this august responsibility. It is Allama Iqbal’s prevision.
The Holy Prophet (PBUH) has said:
Beware of the foresight of the believer for he sees with Divine Light