Iqbal, Muhammad

views updated May 23 2018


IQBAL, MUHAMMAD (1877–1938), Indian poet and philosopher. Muhammad Iqbal was born on 9 November 1877 at Sialkot, a border town of the Punjab. Iqbal's grandfather, Shaykh Muhammad Rafiq, had left Kashmir not long after 1857, as part of a mass migration of Kashmiri Muslims fleeing repression from the British-backed Hindu Dogra rulers installed in Kashmir in 1846. Although the family never returned to Kashmir, the memory of the land and its people never left Iqbal, and he remained dedicated to the principle of self-determination for the people of Kashmir.


Iqbal's parents raised him in a deeply Islamic environment. After Iqbal finished high school, he enrolled in the Scotch Mission College (later renamed Murray College). After two years he went on to the Government College in Lahore. By this time, Iqbal had mastered Urdu, Arabic, and Farsi under the guidance of Sayyid Mir Hasan (1844–1929), who had been markedly influenced by the Aligarh Movement of Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan (1817–1898). Under Sayyid Mir Hasan, Iqbal studied classical Urdu and Persian poetry, and his own poetic genius blossomed early. Iqbal then found a master of Urdu poetry in Navab Mirza Khan Dagh (1831–1905). Iqbal was on the creative path that was to bring him success and international fame; however, his personal life was marred by unhappiness that was to follow him for much of his life. In 1892 his parents had arranged his marriage to Karim Bibi, the daughter of an affluent physician in the city of Gujarat. Two children were born to the couple, but soon differences developed, and they separated. Iqbal married again and also had two children with his second wife.

Iqbal graduated cum laude from the Government College at Lahore and was also awarded a scholarship for further study toward a master's degree in philosophy. During his studies at the Government College, Iqbal was strongly influenced by Sir Thomas Arnold, an accomplished scholar who combined a profound knowledge of Western philosophy with a deep understanding of Islamic culture and Arabic literature. Arnold helped to instill a blending of Eastern and Western sensibilities in Iqbal, and inspired him to pursue higher graduate studies in Europe. In May 1899, a few months after Iqbal received a master's degree in philosophy, he was appointed the Macleod-Punjab Reader of Arabic at the University Oriental College in Lahore. From January 1901 to March 1904, he taught English intermittently at Islamia College at the Government College of Lahore.

In 1905 Iqbal went to Europe, studying in both Britain and Germany. In London he studied law at Lincoln's Inn. There he received the Bar-at-Law degree on 1 July 1908. At Trinity College of Cambridge University, he enrolled as a student of philosophy while simultaneously preparing a doctoral dissertation in philosophy for Munich University. The German university exempted him from a mandatory stay of two terms on campus before submitting his dissertation, "The Development of Metaphysics in Persia," and he was awarded a doctorate in philosophy on 4 November 1907. Iqbal's dissertation was published the following year in London. In Cambridge, Iqbal came under the influence of the neo-Hegelians John McTaggart and James Ward. Two outstanding Orientalists at Cambridge, E. G. Brown and Reynold A. Nicholson, also became his mentors; the latter translated Iqbal's Persian masterpiece Asrar-i Khudi when it was first published in 1915.

Iqbal never felt at home in politics, but he was invariably drawn into it. In May 1908 he joined the British Committee of the All-India Muslim League, to which he belonged for most of this life. Iqbal was elected a member of the Punjab Legislative Assembly from 1926 to 1930. In 1930 the All-India Muslim League invited him to preside over its annual meeting, and his presidential address became a landmark in the Muslim national movement anticipating the creation of Pakistan. Iqbal called for "the formation of a consolidated North-West Indian Muslim state" as "the final destiny of the Muslims, at least of North-West India."

Iqbal returned to England to attend the second (1931) and third (1932) London Round Table Conferences, called by the British government to consult with Indian leaders on constitutional reforms for India. In February 1933 Iqbal was back in Lahore. Seven months later, Muhammad Nadir Shah, the king of Afghanistan, invited him to visit Kabul to advise the Afghani government concerning the establishment of a new university utilizing the best of modern Western and traditional Islamic values.

After his return from Afghanistan, Iqbal's health steadily deteriorated. His intellect remained sharp, however, and during this time he conceived many new projects, including proposed studies on Islamic jurisprudence and the study of the Qur'an. During this period Iqbal also invited a younger Muslim scholar, Sayyid Abu al-A`la Mawdudi, to the Punjab, where he began to publish his well known journal, Tarjuman al-Qur'an. Iqbal had hoped that Mawdudi would become a modernist scholar who would update Islamic ideas. Just before the creation of Pakistan in 1947, Mawdudi established Jamat-i-Islami; after 1947, he moved to Lahore and involved himself in the struggle for power in Pakistan, presenting a very conservative paradigm of Islamic polity.

By 1938 Iqbal's health had sharply declined, and he died on 20 April. He was buried to the left of the steps leading to the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore; construction of the mausoleum over his grave was started in 1946, its marble provided by the government of Afghanistan.

Religious and Political Thought

Iqbal lived exclusively under British colonial rule, a period during which Muslims in the Indian subcontinent were profoundly influenced by the religious thought of Shah Wali Allah (1703–1762) and Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan. Shah Wali Allah was the first Muslim thinker to realize that Muslims were encountering a modern age in which old religious assumptions and beliefs would be challenged. His monumental study Hujjat Allah albalighah provided the intellectual foundations for updating Islam. Sir Sayyid, who lived through the life of the last Mughal emperor, was profoundly influenced by British political culture. He engendered an intellectual movement that came to be known as the Aligarh movement; it attempted to update Islam, popularize Western education, modernize Muslim culture, and encourage Muslims to cooperate with the British government in order to gain a fair share in the administration and political framework of India. This was the intellectual legacy inherited by Iqbal.

Iqbal's most notable philosophical and political prose works were: The Development of Metaphysics in Persia (Cambridge, U.K., 1908); The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (Lahore, 1930); and his Presidential Address to the Annual Meeting of the All-India Muslim League, 1930. Iqbal here expounded the concept of two nations in India. Subsequently, his address came to be known as the conceptual basis for the state of Pakistan, although he did not use the name "Pakistan." The emphasis was on Muslim nationalism, giving shape and content to the national liberation movement of Muslims in India. Iqbal stressed the necessity of self-determination for the Muslims: "I'd like to see the Punjab, North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), Sindh and Baluchistan amalgamated into a single state. Self-government within the British empire or without the British empire, and the formation of a consolidated North-West Muslim Indian State appears to be the final destiny of the Muslims, at least of North-West India."

Intellectually, however, Iqbal was not an enthusiastic supporter of nationalism, and especially nationalism among Muslims. He attempted to resolve this dilemma in a letter to Jawaharlal Nehru, his younger contemporary, writing:

Nationalism in the sense of love of one's country and even readiness to die for its honor is part of the Muslim faith; it comes into conflict with Islam only when it begins to play the role of a political concept and claims ..that Islam should recede to the background of a mere private opinion and cease to be a living factor in the national life. Nationalism was an independent problem for Muslims only in those countries where they were in the minority. In countries with a Muslim majority, nationalism and Islam are practically identical, but in countries where Muslims are in the minority, their demands for self-determination as cultural unification is completely justified. ("Reply to Questions Raised by Jawaharlal Nehru," in S. A. Vahid, ed., Thoughts and Reflections of Iqbal, Lahore, 1964)

Iqbal composed his poetry in both Persian and Urdu. His six Persian works include: Asrar-i khudi wa Rumuz-i Bikhudi (Secrets of the self and mysteries of selflessness, 1915); Payam-i Mashriq (Message of the East, 1923); Zabur-i ʿAjam (Scripture of the East, 1927); Javid-namah (Book of eternity, 1932); Pas chih bayad kard, ay aqvam-i sharq (What should be done, oh nations of the East, 1926); and Armaghan-i Hijaz (A gift of the Hejaz, 1938). His Urdu works, which are primarily responsible for his popularity in Pakistan as well as in India, are: Bang-i dara (Voice of the caravan, 1924); Bal-i Jibril (Gabriel's wing, 1935); and Zarb-i Kalim (The rod of Moses, 1936). Poetry, like visual art, is susceptible to varied interpretations; consequently his admirers, relying primarily on his poetry, have variously attempted to prove him a Pakistani nationalist, a Muslim nationalist, a Muslim socialist, and even a secularist.

Relations with Jinnah and the Emergence of Pakistan

Iqbal remained a steady supporter of the founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. During 1936 and 1937, Iqbal wrote eight letters to Jinnah, emphasizing the partition of India into two states; earlier, during the 1920s, Jinnah was still groping for coexistence with the Indian National Congress, and Iqbal had opposed Jinnah's policies.

Reluctantly but steadily, Iqbal had supported the establishment of a separate Muslim identity in the Indian subcontinent, while to the British and the Congress he often extended tactical cooperation. In the 1920s, Jinnah was willing to compromise with the Congress by abolishing separate electorates for Muslims in the provincial legislatures. Jinnah had agreed with the president of the Congress on 20 March 1927 to accept the joint electorates under certain conditions. Muslim seats in the central legislature were to be no less than one-third of the total seats. This agreement came to be known as the Delhi Proposals. In May 1927 the Punjab Muslim League, under the leadership of Mian Muhammad Shafi, Mian Fazl-i-Husein, and Iqbal, denounced the Delhi Proposals. The Punjab's opposition seriously weakened Jinnah's bargaining position with the Congress, which nevertheless participated in the All Parties Conference from 12 February to 15 March 1928, which produced the revisions of the Nehru Report. This proposal granted Muslims only 25 percent of the legislative representation. The Congress adopted the Nehru Report and decided to initiate a policy of nonviolent noncooperation against the British if they did not accept it by 31 December 1929.

This reflected the Congress's determination to defy the British government for not including an Indian in the Simon Commission, which was established to make recommendations for future constitutional reforms in India. The appointment of the Simon Commission split the All-India Muslim League into two factions, one led by Jinnah and Saif-ud-Din Kitchlew and the other by Mian Muhammad Shafi and Iqbal. The Shafi League met in 1928 in Lahore, rejected the Delhi Proposals, and offered cooperation to the Simon Commission.

At Calcutta in 1928, the Jinnah League disavowed the Punjab Muslim League, adopting the Delhi Proposals and accepting the Nehru Report, subject to four amendments; all four proposed amendments were rejected by the Congress. The Jinnah League was thus repudiated by the Congress and simultaneously alienated from significant Muslim opinion. The split in the ranks of the Muslim League did not end until 1934, when Jinnah was finally elected president of the united Muslim League.

In the interim period, 1930 to 1934, Iqbal provided ideological leadership, articulating the Muslims' demand for a separate Muslim state. It is in light of this political split within the ranks of the League that Iqbal's presidential address of 1930 should be examined. That Allahabad address formulated the two-nation theory, which Jinnah finally accepted when he presided over the Muslim League's annual meeting in Lahore in 1940. He then demanded that India should be partitioned. Even though Iqbal was by no means a skillful politician, he nevertheless may thus be seen as a political guide of Jinnah in regard to the creation of Pakistan.

Hafeez Malik

See alsoJinnah, Mohammad Ali ; Pakistan ; Sayyid Ahmed Khan and the Aligarh Movement


Aziz, Ahmad. Studies in Islamic Culture in the Indian Environment. Oxford and New York: Clarendon, 1964.

Beg, Abdullah Anwar. The Poet of the East: The Life and Works of Dr. Sir Muhammad Iqbal. Lahore: Quami Kutub Khana, 1939.

Iqbal, Javid. Zindah-Rud, Lahore: Shaikh Gulam Ali, 1979.

Iqbal, Muhammad. The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. 1934. Reprint, Lahore: Institute of Islamic Culture, 1986.

Malik, Hafeez, ed. Iqbal: Poet-Philosopher of Pakistan. New York: Columbia University Press, 1971.

Schimmel, Annemarie. Gabriel's Wing: A Study into the Religious Ideas of Sir Muhammad Iqbal. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1963.

Williams, L. F. Rushbrook, ed. Great Men of India. Delhi: Shubhi, 1999.

Muhammad Iqbal

views updated Jun 08 2018

Muhammad Iqbal

Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938) was an Indian Moslem poet and political philosopher. His fame rests on both his poetry and his formulation of ideas that were influential in the creation of Pakistan.

Muhammad Iqbal was born in Sialkot, Punjab, probably in 1877, although there is some uncertainty about the year of his birth. He graduated from Government College, Lahore, in 1899 with a master's degree in philosophy. He taught there until 1905, while establishing his reputation as an Urdu poet. During this period his poetry expressed an ardent Indian nationalism, but a marked change came over his views between 1905 and 1908, when he was studying for his doctorate at Cambridge University, visiting German universities, and qualifying as a barrister.

The philosophies of Nietzsche and Bergson influenced Iqbal deeply, while he became extremely critical of Western civilization, which he regarded as decadent. He turned to Islam for inspiration and rejected nationalism as a disease of the West. He argued that Moslems must find their destiny through a pan-Islamic movement that ignored national boundaries. He also denounced the mystical trend of Indian Islam, blaming it for weakening the Moslem community and leading to its political downfall. These ideas found vigorous expression in the long poems Asrar-i-Khudi (The Secrets of the Self) in 1915 and Rumuz-i-Bekhudi (The Mysteries of Selflessness) in 1918. These were written in Persian, not Urdu, presumably to gain his ideas an audience in the Moslem world outside India.

Iqbal was knighted by the British in 1922, and his fame drew him increasingly into public life. Although he was not an active politician, he was elected to the Punjab legislature in 1926, and in 1930 he was made president of the Moslem League. By this time the dream of a pan-Islamic world no longer appealed to him. His statement in his presidential address that the "final destiny" of Indian Moslems was to have a "consolidated Northwest Indian Moslem state" is regarded as one of the earliest expressions of the idea of Pakistan.

Becoming convinced that Moslems were in danger from the Hindu majority if India should become independent, Iqbal gave his powerful support to Mohammad Ali Jinnah as the leader of India's Moslems. In his last years Iqbal returned to Urdu as his poetic medium, publishing Bal-i-Jibril (Gabriel's Wing) in 1935 and Zarb-i-Kalim (The Rod of Moses) in 1936. They have been criticized as lacking the energy and inspiration of his early work. He died in Lahore on April 21, 1938.

Further Reading

The most convenient source for a study of Iqbal's religious and political thought is his The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (1934). For translations of Iqbal's major works see R. A. Nicholson, The Secrets of the Self (1944); A. J. Arberry, The Mysteries of Selflessness: A Philosophical Poem (1953); V. G. Kiernan, Poems from Iqbal (1955); and Annemarie Schimmel, Gabriel's Wing (1963). Most of these have introductory comments on his style. S. A. Vahid, Iqbal: His Art and Thought (1959), discusses most of Iqbal's work. S. M. Ikram, Modern Muslim India and the Birth of Pakistan, 1858-1951 (1950; rev. ed. 1965), includes a perceptive study of Iqbal.

Additional Sources

Hasan, Masudul, Life of Iqbal: general account of his life, Lahore: Ferozsons, 1978.

Hasan, Mumtaz, Tribute to Iqbal, Lahore: Iqbal Academy Pakistan, 1982.

Hussain, Riaz, The politics of Iqbal: a study of his political thoughts and actions, Lahore: Islamic Book Service, 1977.

Iqbal, Muhammad, Sir, Mementos of Iqbal, Lahore: All-Pakistan Islamic Education Congress, 1976.

Munawwar, Muhammad, Iqbal: poet-philosopher of Islam, Lahore; Islamic Book Foundation: distributors, al-Marif, 1982.

Qadir, Abdul, Sir, Iqbal, the great poet of Islam, Lahore: Sang-e-Meel Publications, 1975.

Tributes to Iqbal, Lahore: Sangemeel Publications, 1977.

Zakaria, Rafiq, Iqbal: the poet and the politician, New Delhi, India; New York: Viking, 1993. □

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