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. 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 Europe.
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
..................... 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
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.
Philosophical position and influence.
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.
Iqbal's grave in Lahore
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