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IQBAL, MUHAMMAD (1877-1938), Indo-Pakistani political and religious writer and poet. The poetphilosopher of Islam and Pakistan was born on 9 November 1877 at Sialkot, a border town of the Punjab. Iqbal’s grandfather, Shaykh Muhammad Rafiq, had left his ancestral village of Looehar in Kashmir not long after 1857, as part of a mass migration of Kashmiri Muslims fleeing brutal repression under the Britishbacked Hindu Dogra rulers installed in Kashmir in 1846. Although the family never returned to Kashmir, the memory of the land and its people was never erased from the mind of Iqbal, and he remained dedicated to the principle of self-determination for the people of Kashmir.

Life. Iqbal’s father was born in Sialkot and worked as a tailor and embroiderer. His parents raised Iqbal in a profoundly Islamic environment. His older brother, `Ata’ Muhammad, married the daughter of a retired soldier who secured his son-in-law a position in the army, and after a few years he entered the engineering school at Rurki. He then rejoined the army as an engineer. `Ata’ Muhammad’s success paved the way for Iqbal’s progress later.

In Sialkot Iqbal finished high school and then joined the Scotch Mission College, subsequently named Murray College. He completed two years there and then went on to the Government College in Lahore, fifty miles away.

By this time Iqbal had acquired a good education in Urdu, Arabic, and Farsi under the guidance of Sayyid Mir Hasan (1844-1929), who had been profoundly influenced by the Aligarh Movement of Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-1898). Under Sayyid Mir Hasan’s care, Iqbal’s poetic genius blossomed early. He taught Iqbal the mechanics of classical Urdu and Persian poetry; Iqbal then found a master of Urdu poetry in Navab Mirza Khan Dagh (1831-1905), a fine poet who was poetic preceptor to Nizam Mir Mahbub ‘Ali Khan of Hyderabad. Iqbal was now on the road that was destined to bring him success and international fame; however, the year of his high school graduation laid the foundation of the personal unhappiness that was to mar much of his life. In 1892 his parents married him to Karam Bib!, the daughter of an affluent physician in the city of Gujerat. Two children were born to the couple, but soon differences began to develop and finally became intolerable. Iqbal married again and also had two children with his second wife; they were Dr. Justice Javid Iqbal and Munirah Banu.

At the Government College in Lahore Iqbal graduated cum laude and was also awarded a scholarship for further study toward a master’s degree in philosophy. Two years later (1899) he won a gold medal for the unique distinction of being the only candidate to pass the final examination. By far the most pervasive influence on Iqbal’s intellect at the Government College was that of Sir Thomas Arnold, an accomplished scholar of Islam and modern philosophy. In Arnold, Iqbal found a loving teacher who combined a profound knowledge of Western philosophy and a deep understanding of Islamic culture and Arabic literature and helped to instill this blending of East and West in Iqbal Arnold also inspired in Iqbal the desire to pursue higher graduate studies in Europe.

In May 1899, a few months after Iqbal received the master’s degree in philosophy, he was appointed the Macleod-Punjab Reader of Arabic at the University Oriental College of Lahore. From January igoi to March 1904 Iqbal taught intermittently as assistant professor of English at Islamia College and at the Government College of Lahore.

In 1905 Iqbal went to Europe, where he studied in both Britain and Germany. In London he studied at Lincoln’s Inn in order to qualify at the bar, and at Trinity College of Cambridge University, where he enrolled as a student of philosophy while simultaneously preparing to submit a doctoral dissertation in philosophy to Munich University. The German university exempted him from a mandatory stay of two terms on the campus before submitting his dissertation, “The Development of Metaphysics in Persia.” After his successful defense of the dissertation, Iqbal was awarded a doctorate in philosophy on 4 November 1907. The dissertation, which was published the following year in London, was dedicated to Sir Thomas Arnold, his former teacher. In Cambridge, Iqbal came under the influence of the neoHegelians John McTaggart and James Ward. Two outstanding Orientalists at Cambridge, E. G. Brown and Reynold A. Nicholson, also became his mentors; the latter translated Iqbal’s Persian masterpiece Asrar-i Khudi when it was first published at Lahore in 1915.

Iqbal was never at home in politics, but he was invariably drawn into it. In May 1908 he joined the British Committee of the All-India Muslim League. With one brief interruption Iqbal maintained his relationship with the All-India Muslim League throughout his life.

When Iqbal came back from Europe in 1908 after earning three degrees in Britain and Germany, he embarked simultaneously on three professional careers as an attorney, college professor, and poet. At length, however, the poet and philosopher won out at the expense of the professor and attorney, although he continued to be active to some degree as a political leader.

Iqbal was elected a member of the Punjab Legislative Assembly for a period of four years from 1926 to 1930 and soon emerged as the political thinker among the unionist politicians led by Sir Fazal-i Hussain. In 1930 the All-India Muslim League invited him to deliver a presidential address, which became a landmark in the Muslim national movement for the creation of Pakistan.

The opportunity for another journey to the West was provided by the second (1931) and third (1932) London Round Table Conferences, called by the British government to consult with Indian leaders on the problems of constitutional reforms for India. In February 1933 Iqbal was back in Lahore. Seven months later Muhammad Nadir Shah, the king of Afghanistan, invited. him to visit Kabul along with Sayyid Sulaiman Nadvi and Sir Sayyid Ross Masood. The Afghan king wanted him to advise his government in the establishment of a new university and in utilizing the best of modern Western and traditional Islamic values in the reorganization of higher education; however, not much is known about the educational recommendations of lqbal and his associates.

After his return from Afghanistan, Iqbal’s health steadily deteriorated. His intellect remained sharp, however, and during this time he conceived many new projects, including proposed studies on Islamic jurisprudence and the study of the Qur’an. During this period Iqbal also invited a younger Muslim scholar, Sayyid Abu al-A’la Mawdudi, to the Punjab, where he began to publish his well known journal, Tarjuman al-Qur’an. Iqbal had hoped that Mawdudi would become a modernist scholar who would update Islamic ideas. After 1947 Mawdudi moved to Lahore and involved himself in the struggle for power in Pakistan.

By 1938 Iqbal’s health had sharply declined, and he died on 2o April. He was buried to the left of the steps leading to the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore; construction of the present mausoleum on his grave was started in 1946, the marble being provided by the government of Afghanistan.

Religious and Political Thought. Iqbal’s life was spent exclusively under British colonial rule, during which Muslims in the Indian subcontinent were profoundly influenced by the religious thought of Shah Wall Allah (1703-1762) and Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-1898). Shah Wall Allah was the first Muslim thinker to realize that Muslims were encountering a modern age in which old religious assumptions and beliefs would be challenged. His monumental study Hujjat Allah al-balighah provided the intellectual foundations for updating Islam. Sir Sayyid, who lived through the life of the last Mughal emperor and then survived the unsuccessful war for independence in 1857, also profoundly influenced forty-one years of British rule when in 1858 the British East India Company was abolished and the British Crown assumed responsibility for the administration of the Indian empire.

After 1857 Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan’s movement came to be known as the Aligarh Movement. It attempted to update Islam, popularize Western education, modernize Muslim culture, and encourage Muslims to cooperate with the British government in order to gain a fair share in the administration and political framework of India under British guidance. This intellectual legacy of Shah Walt Allah and Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan was inherited by Iqbal.

Iqbal’s philosophical and political prose works are actually very few. Most notable among them are the following three works. The Development of Metaphysics in Persia (Cambridge, 1908) was originally a dissertation submitted to Munich University. The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (Lahore, 1930) was a collection of seven lectures delivered in December 1928 in Madras. Iqbal took three years to compose these lectures and considered them reflective of his mature philosophical and rational approach to Islam. He expected the younger generations to follow him in a responsible ijtihad, the interpretation of the Qur’an and the sunnah and the formation of an entirely new opinion by applying analytical deduction. Iqbal had hoped to lay the groundwork for religion and science to discover mutual harmonies that would enable Muslims to learn modern sciences and use technology to improve their material existence. Finally, his Presidential Address to the Annual Meeting of the All-India Muslim League, 1930 is a very extensive review of the interaction among the British, the All-India National Congress, and the AllIndia Muslim League, from the perspective of a Muslim thinker who was anxious about the political and cultural future of Muslims in the Indian subcontinent. Iqbal here expounded the concept of two nations in India. Subsequently this address came to be known as the conceptual basis for the state of Pakistan, although the name “Pakistan” is not used by Iqbal. On the contrary, Muslim nationalism is emphasized, giving shape and content to the national liberation movement of Muslims in India. Iqbal stressed the necessity of self-determination for the Muslims: “I’d like to see the Punjab, Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), Sindh and Baluchistan, amalgamated into a single state. Self government within the British empire or without the British empire, and the formation of a consolidated Northwest Muslim Indian State appears to have to be the final destiny of the Muslims, at least of Northwest India.”

Intellectually, however, Iqbal was not an enthusiastic supporter of nationalism, and especially nationalism among Muslims. He attempted to resolve this dilemma in a letter to Jawaharlal Nehru, his younger contemporary, writing:

Nationalism in the sense of love of one’s country and even readiness to die for its honor is a part of the Muslim faith; it comes into conflict with Islam only when it begins to play the role of a political concept and claims . . . that Islam should recede to the background of a mere private opinion and cease to be a living factor in the national life. Nationalism was an independent problem for Muslims only in those countries where they were in the minority. In countries with a Muslim majority, nationalism and Islam are practically identical, but in countries where Muslims are in the minority, their demands for self-determination as cultural unification is completely justified. (“Reply to Questions raised by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru,” in S. A. Vahid, ed., Thoughts and Reflections of lqbal, Lahore, 1964.)

Iqbal composed his poetry in both Persian and Urdu. His six Persian works include Asrdr-i khudi wa Rumuz-i bikhudi (Secrets of the Self and Mysteries of Selflessness, 1915), Payam-i Mashriq (Message of the East, 1923), Zabur-i `Ajam (Scripture of the East, 1927), javid-namah (Book of Eternity, 1932), Pas chih bayad kard, ay aqvam-i sharq (What Should Be Done, O Nations of the East, 1926), and Armaghdn-i Heaz (A Gift of the Hejaz, 1938). His Urdu works, which are primarily responsible for his popularity in Pakistan as well as in India, are Bang-i dara (Voice of the Caravan, 1924), Bal-i jibril (Gabriel’s Ring, 1935), and Zarb-i Kalim (The Rod of Moses, 1936). Poetry, like visual art, is susceptible to varied interpretations; consequently his admirers, relying primarily on his poetry, have variously attempted to prove him a Pakistani nationalist, a Muslim nationalist, a Muslim socialist, and even a secularist.

Before Iqbal Indian Muslim political thought was primarily concerned with their own community. For instance, to Sir Sayyid love was like a pyramid; at the top was the noblest form of love-love for the universe. This kind of love, however, “was unattainable.” In the middle was love for those who “share human qualities with us.” For Sir Sayyid, this was far too elusive a quality to be comprehended. He reasoned that at the bottom of the pyramid is placed the love of nation, “which I understand and I am capable of.” Iqbal’s intellectual evolution was the reverse of Sir Sayyid’s. In his early works, Iqbal was absorbed in himself, agonizing over his personal disappointments. His emotional horizons then expanded to include India, particularly the Indian Muslims and the larger world of Islam. Then his love enveloped mankind, and at a still later stage it changed into a passionate involvement with the universe. Despite his commitment to the concept of a separate Muslim state, he remained a philosophical humanist, and humanism was truly his message.

Relations with Jinnah and Emergence of Pakistan. Iqbal remained a steady supporter of the founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. During 1936-1937 Iqbal wrote eight letters to Jinnah, emphasizing the partition of India into two states; however, during the 19206 when Jinnah was still groping for coexistence with the All-India National Congress, Iqbal opposed Jinnah’s policies.

Reluctantly but steadily Iqbal had supported the establishment of a separate Muslim identity in the Indian subcontinent, while to the British and the Congress he often extended tactical cooperation. In the 19206 Jinnah was willing to compromise with the Congress by abolishing separate electorates for Muslims in the provincial legislatures. Jinnah had agreed with the President of the Congress on 20 March 1927 to accept the joint electorates under certain conditions. Muslim seats in the central legislature were to be no less than one-third of the total seats. This agreement came to be known as the Delhi Proposals. In May 1927 the Punjab Muslim League, under the leadership of Mian Muhammad Shafi`, Mian Fazl-i Husain, and Iqbal, denounced the Delhi Proposals. The Punjab’s opposition seriously weakened Jinnah’s bargaining position with the Congress, who nevertheless participated in the All Parties Conference from 12 February-15 March 1928, which produced the revisions of the Nehru Report. This granted Muslims only 25 percent of the legislative representation. The Congress adopted the Nehru Report and decided to initiate a policy of nonviolent noncooperation with the British if they did not accept it by 31 December 1929.

This reflected the Congress’s determination to defy the British government for not including an Indian in the Simon Commission, which was established to make recommendations for future constitutional reforms in India. The appointment of the Simon Commission split the All-India Muslim League into two factions, one led by Jinnah and Kitchlew and the other by Mian Muhammad Shafi` and Iqbal. The Shafi` League met in 1928 in Lahore, rejected the Delhi Proposals, and offered cooperation to the Simon Commission.

At Calcutta in 1928, the Jinnah League disavowed the Punjab Muslim League, adopting the Delhi Proposals and accepting the Nehru Report subject to four amendments; all four proposed amendments were rejected by the Congress. The Jinnah League was thus in a position of being repudiated by the Congress and simultaneously alienated from significant Muslim opinion. The split in the ranks of the Muslim League did not end until 1934, when Jinnah was finally elected president of the united Muslim League.

In the interim period, 1930-1934, Iqbal provided the ideological leadership articulating the Muslims’ demand for a separate Muslim state. It is in light of this political split within the ranks of the League that Iqbal’s presidential address of 1930 should be examined. The Allahabad address formulated the two-nation theory, which Jinnah finally accepted when he presided over the Muslim League’s annual meeting in Lahore in 1940. He then demanded that India should be partitioned and that Muslim states should be created in the northwest and the east. Even though Iqbal was by no means a skillful politician, he nevertheless must be seen as a political mentor of Jinnah in regard to the creation of Pakistan.

[See also Aligarh; All-India Muslim League; India; Muslim League; Pakistan; and the biographies of Ahmad Khan, Jinnah, Mawdudi, and Wali Allah. ]


Aziz Ahmad. Studies in Islamic Culture in the Indian Environment. Oxford and New York, 1964.

Beg, Abdulla Anwar. The Poet of the East: The Life and Work of Dr. Sir Muhammad Iqbal. Lahore, 1939

Iqbal, Muhammad. The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (1930). Lahore, 1960.

Malik, Hafeez. Iqbal: Poet-Philosopher of Pakistan. New York, 1971. Rushbrook, William L. F., ed. Great Men of India. Bombay, 1941. Saiyidain, Khwaja Ghulam. Iqbal’s Educational Philosophy. Lahore, 1945

Schimmel, Annemarie. Gabriel’s Wing. Leiden, 1963.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/iqbal-muhammad/

  • writerPosted On: May 25, 2014
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