Indian poet and philosopher, known for his
influential efforts to direct his fellow Muslims toward the establishment of a
separate Muslim state, an aspiration that was eventually realized in the country
of Pakistan. He was knighted in 1922.
Early life and career
born in 1877 at Sialkot, India (now in Pakistan), 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
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.
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.
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-e
khudi, this poem called for self-surrender.
like a candle wrestling with the night
O'er my own self I pour my flooding tears.
More loveliness, more joy for other men.
(Eng. trans. by A.J. Arberry.)
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
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.
[Traditional Events] [Celebrities] [Iranian Names]