Iqbāl, Muḥammad

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IQBĀL, MUAMMAD (18771938), influential Muslim poet-philosopher of the Indian subcontinent. Born at Sialkot (presently a Pakistani town on the border of India), Iqbāl received his early schooling in his native town and his college education at Lahore (where he studied philosophy with the British Islamicist T. W. Arnold). In 1905 he went to Europe, where he followed MʾTaggart's lectures in philosophy, took his doctorate from Munich with a thesis on the development of metaphysics in Persia, and was called to the bar from Lincoln's Inn in London in 1908. In the same year he returned to Lahore where he taught for a while at the Government College and pursued a hectic but unsuccessful law practice. He was knighted in 1922 for his contributions to poetry (about 60 percent of which is in Persian and 40 percent in Urdu). In 1927 he was elected to the Punjab Legislative Assembly, and in 1930 he gave the historic presidential address to the annual session of the Muslim League at Allahabad, wherein he suggested that the solidly Muslim areas of northwest India might be given autonomy so that Muslims could run their affairs according to Islamic norms, the idea that later took the shape of Pakistan. During his last years he was often ill and did not appear in public after April 1936. He died on April 21, 1938, and was buried in the complex of the Imperial Mosque of Lahore. Iqbāl's commitment to the creation of Pakistan was a direct result of his philosophic thought, which was so powerfully expressed in his poetry.

Iqbāl had displayed his unusual talent as a moving and eloquent poet with a "grand style" even in his college days. Before going to Europe he had been a Platonic idealist, an Indian nationalist, and a romanticist of the past who sang hymns to the Himalayas, to intercommunal understanding, and to universal love. In Europe, he discovered Islam with a vengeance, having been shocked by his experience of the European double standards that combined liberal morality and democracy at home with colonial exploitation abroad and, even at home, with the capitalistic exploitation of the working classes. Coupled with this disillusionment he saw the increasing dilapidation of human values in the machine age and the decline of the family institution. But looking at the Eastern and particularly the Muslim societies, he found them in deep somnolence. At this point, he discovered the "true Islam" of the Qurʾān and of Muammad, an Islam that was dynamic and not static; in its dynamism he discovered a creative impulse that directed the raw materials of history into a positive moral channel. The modern West, unlike the world of Islam, was industrious enough, but it lacked a positive moral direction for the uplift of humanity; it was inventive but not creative and was, in fact, destructive to the human moral fiber. Henceforth, he invited the whole world, both Muslim and non-Muslim, to join this energizing and ethically positive Islam.

In the development of this dynamic philosophy, which is expressed in Bergsonian vitalistic terms (although unlike Bergson, Iqbāl regards God as being outside the process of history), the key role is played by the twin terms khudī ("self") and ʿishq ("absorbing love," or élan vital). The goal of this ethical dynamism is to expand and fortify the self (which is the only way to individual survival after death), since only when an enlarged and fortified self is realized can a meaningful community of the faithful be launched on earth as the prophet Muammad was able to do. Although in the early years of his intellectual development after his discovery of Islam Iqbāl was not optimistic about a similar reawakening on the part of the Muslim community at large, he did eventually come to place his faith in such a development. Through both his poetry and his major prose work, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (chapter 5), he tried to urge Muslims to create a new future through ijtihād, literally "exerting oneself," a Muslim legal term for independent reasoning, which Iqbāl used to describe the exercise of new creative thought within the framework of Islam.

Iqbāl, who had been known as a good poet in Urdu early on, first indicated his concern with the Muslim cause in the two great poems Shikwah (Complaint) and Jawāb (Answer, that is, God's response to the complaint), but he subsequently turned to Persian in order to reach a larger group of educated Muslims. His As-rār-i khudī (Secrets of the self), first published in 1915, speaks of that individual human core that should be strengthened until it reaches its highest fulfillment. The duties of this "self" in the community were discussed two years later in the Rumūz-i bīkhudī (Mysteries of selflessness). The Persian collection Payām-i mashriq (Message of the East) acknowledges Iqbāl's spiritual debt to Goethe, who was his Western guide as much as Mawlānā Rūmī was his Eastern master. His major Persian work is the Jāvīd-nāmah (Jāvīd's book), written for his son in 1932. In this spiritual journey through the spheres in Rūmī's company, he discusses religious, political, and social problems with Muslim and non-Muslim poets and thinkers alike. Among his Urdu poetry, Bāl-i Jibrīl (Gabriel's wing) is outstanding.

The titles of Iqbāl's works point to his understanding of himself: he wanted to use "the rod of Moses" (z̤arb-i kalīm ) and assumed the role of "the sound of the camelbell" (bāng-i darā ) that had led the Muslims in the caravan of the Prophet back to Mecca. The general impression among Westerners that Iqbāl indulged in romanticization of the past glory of Islam is not correct. While he did show romanticizing tendencies before his "conversion," after his discovery of the dynamic nature of Islam, he was anything but a romanticist of the past. He continually called for the creation of a new future, although he singled out, for the sake of inspiration, certain past achievements of the Muslims, as, for example, in his poem The Mosque of Cordoba, which appears in Bāl-i Jibrīl.


Iqbāl's collected Persian poetic works have been published in Tehran (1964) and in Pakistan (1973), while his collected Urdu poetic works were published in Pakistan in 1975 and reproduced in India in 1980. The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam has had (like his poetic works) a number of printings, including a recent one from Lahore in 1960. A major part of his Urdu poetry has been translated into English by V. G. Kiernan under the title Poems from Iqbal (London, 1955); some of his Persian poetic works have been translated by Reynold A. Nicholson and A. J. Arberry, although several still await translation.

Translations into German by Annemarie Schimmel include Payām-i Mashriq as Botschaft des Ostens (Wiesbaden, 1963); Jāvīd-nāmah as Das Buch der Ewigkeit (Munich, 1967); and Muhammad Iqbal, Persischer Psalter (Cologne, 1968), with selected poetry and prose. Iqbāl's Urdu poetry has also been translated into German by Johann Christoph Bürgel as Steppe im Staubkorn (Bern, 1983). Italian translations by Alessandro Bausani include "Il ʿGulšan-i raz-i ğadidʾ di Muhammad Iqbāl," Annali Istituto Universitario Orientale di Napoli, n. s. 8 (1958): 125172; Il poema celeste (Rome, 1952); and Poesie di Muhammad Iqbal (Parma, 1956). There are also French, Czech, Dutch, Arabic, and Russian translations available, and much of his work has been translated into the regional languages of Pakistan.

There has been a plethora of works on Iqbal, not all of good quality. The following three should give a comprehensive introduction to Iqbāl's thought as well as his biography and bibliographies: Syed Abdul Vahid's Iqbal: His Art and Thought (Lahore, 1944); Annemarie Schimmel's Gabriel's Wing: A Study into the Religious Ideas of Sir Muhammad Iqbal (Leiden, 1963); and Iqbal: The Poet-Philosopher of Pakistan, edited by Hafeez Malik (New York, 1971).

New Sources

Biswas, Lakshmi. Tagore and Iqbal: A Study in Philosophical Perspective. Delhi, 1991.

Hyder, Syed Akbar. "Iqbal and Karbala: Re-Reading the Episteme of Martyrdom for a Poetics of Appreciation." Culture Dynamics, 13 (November 2001): 339363.

Maruf, Mohammed. Iqbal's Philosphy of Religion. Lahore, 1988.

Masud, Muhammad Khalid. Iqbal's Reconstruction of Ijitihad. Lahore, 1995.

Siddiqi, Nazir. Iqbal and Radhakrishnan: A Comparative Study. New Delhi, 1989.

Fazlur Rahman (1987)

Revised Bibliography