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 covered Religion, Philosophy, Art, Politics, Economics, and the revival of Muslim life and universal brotherhood of man - a representative in many ways of the interaction of eastern and western civilisation. His prose, not only in his national language but also in English, was powerful. But poetry was his medium par excellence. Everything he thought and felt, almost involuntarily shaped itself into verse.
click round radio button below for an mp3 clip - extract from 'Shikwa Jawab-e-Shikwa'
In his three years in Europe, he studied philosophy at Cambridge and Law at London's Lincoln Inn. He also wrote a dissertation on Persian metaphysics for which Munich University awarded him a doctorate. Europe's vitality had impressed Iqbal and he wrote. 'The western nations are pre-eminent among the nations of the world. For this reason, and in order to appreciate the secret of life, their literature and ideas are the best guides for the nations of the east.' Iqbal probed Bergson's notions of dynamism and Nietzsche's philosophy of self-assertion. What he did not like was the West's merciless competition between man and man, and nation and nation. Though socialism of the west, rejecting competition, appealed to Iqbal to some extent but its integral part was atheism. The biggest blunder made by Europe, according to Iqbal, was the separation of Church and State. 'Love is dead in the West,' Iqbal wrote, 'because thought has become irreligious.'
Iqbal mental quest was a model for a new world without destruction, and cohesion instead of nationalistic competition. The answer he found was, 'not, despite all its energy, in Europe, but in Islam.' His genius lay in the direction of developing a mystical interpretation of Islam as the final form both for the development of human personality and for working out of a great and eternal state coexistence with the whole of humanity. Iqbal's lasting pride in Islam's past was not 'the magnificent empires of Damascus, Baghdad and Spain' but 'the simple democratic community under the first four caliphs.' He realised that 'modern Western thoughts is a direct descendant of the glorious medieval intellectual culture of Islam, disseminated through Spain and Sicily.' He looked upon political and economic stability, peace, and justice as essential elements in religions, but thought that Europe had deserted them in this couplets as a specimen:
The glitter of modern civilisation dazzles the sight;
But is only a clever piecing together of false gems.
Iqbal's vision is summed up in the following verses of his well known ghazal, as follows:
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-dwellers 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 dweller 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 civilisation 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 in spite of all blasts of waves, it shall cross
I will take out my worn-out caravan in the
pitch darkness of night.
My sighs will emit sparks and my breath will
Iqbal did not see the heterogeneous Indian society with its oft-conflicting communities as a great example but, after his European sojourn, his focus shifted from Indians to the global community of Muslims. 'I have myself been of the view that religious differences should disappear from this country and even now act on this principle in my private life,' he explained after his return to India from Europe and went on. 'But now I think that the preservation of their separate national entities is desirable for both the Hindus and Muslims. The vision of a common nationhood for India is a beautiful ideal and has a poetic appeal…but appears incapable of fulfilment.' 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. His vision of a separate Muslim state, Pakistan, eventually came true in 1947.
The secret of all growth, according to Iqbal, lies in the development of Khu'di, ego, self or personality. In his first poetic work (1915), Asrar e Khudi ('Secrets of Self') he said: 'The idea of Khudi gives us a standard value. It settles the problem of good and evil. That which fortifies Khudi is good, that which weakens it is bad.' Iqbal clarified that his khudi was not vanity or arrogance but 'self-realisation and self-assertion.' It was a deep impulse within man, 'a silent force anxious to come into action.' Since Iqbal admired Nietzsche critics believed the latter might have influenced the former. However, Iqbal claimed that it was the Sufi concept of the perfect man rather than Nietzsche's superman - where God is absent - that had influenced him.
Among his collections of works in Persian: Rumuz e Bekhudi (1917), where 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. Payam e Mashriq (1923) is an answer to the West. Iqbal reminded the West of the importance of morality, religion and civilisation 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. In Zabur-e- Ajmam (1927), Iqbal's Persian ghazal is at its best as his Urdu ghazal is in Bal-e-Jibril. He 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. In Javid Nama (1932), Iqbal follows Ibn-Arabi, Marri and Dante. He 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 his last years he returned to Urdu poetry such as first part of Bang e Dara in 1905 (though Bang e Dara was published in 1924), a selection of poems belonging to the three preliminary phases of Iqbal's poetic career. Bal e Jibril (1935) is the peak of his Urdu poetry that consists of ghazals, poems, quatrains, and epigrams and displays the vision and intellect necessary to foster sincerity and firm belief in the heart of ummah and turn its member into true believers. Zarb e Kalim (1936) was declared 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. Tarana is the widely popular song Saare Jahaan Se Achha - it would not be wrong to call it India's unofficial national anthem.
Iqbal's two books in English include The Development of Metaphysics in Persia in which continuity of Persian thought is discussed and Sufism is dealt with in detail. In his view true Islamic Sufism awakens the slumbering soul to a higher idea of life. The second book, The Reconstruction of religious Thought in Islam, (1930) is the collection of Iqbal's six lectures, which he delivered at Madras, Hyderabad and Aligarh. Some of the main subjects discussed pithily in a thought provoking manner in the light of Islam and the modern age 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)' and etc.
In addition to these books Iqbal wrote hundreds of letters in Urdu and English. 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. Many of his speeches and statements have been compiled and published in book form.
Muhammad Iqbal was born in Sialkot though his forefathers came from Kashmir. In his early days of his career he was connected with Punjab education. 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. He was knighted in 1922 by the British government. His activities were many-sided. He took interest in current politics, having presided over the All-India Muslim League at Allahabad (December 1930). 'Indian Muslims,' he had said before, 'who happen to be a more numerous people than Muslims of all other Asiatic countries put together, ought to consider themselves the greatest asset of Islam.' In 1931 and 1932 he took part in Round Table conferences held in London to discuss political reforms for India. He 'summoned the sleeping Muslims to awake.'
Iqbal was more of a philosopher than a practical statesman - a visionary than a politician. But his vision was a poet's vision. His intense concern with God, man and the world was a poet's concern. He was one of the century's great poets. Iqbal the poet of the universe spoke from the Lahore station of All India radio on New Year's Day in 1938: 'Only one unity is dependable, and that unity is the brotherhood of man, which is above race, nationality, colour or language…So long as men do not demonstrate by their actions that they believe that the whole world is the family of God…the beautiful ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity will never materialise.'