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Muhammad Iqbal Lahori

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

Iqbal was 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 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-e khudi, this poem called for self-surrender.

Lo, 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.)

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 encounter.

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.
He died April 21, 1938, in Lahore, Punjab.

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