Biography of Muhammad Iqbal
Sir Muhammad Iqbal (/ˈɪkbɑːl/; Urdu: محمد اِقبال) – Indian poet, philosopher, politician, barrister, and scholar.
Name: Allama Muhammad Iqbal
Date of Birth: 9 November 1877
Place of Birth: Sialkot, Punjab Province (British India), British India (now in Punjab, Pakistan)
Date of Death: 21 April 1938 (aged 60)
Place of Death: Lahore, Punjab, British Raj (now in Punjab, Pakistan)
Occupation: Poet, Philosopher, Politician, Barrister, and Scholar
Father: Shaikh Noor Mohammad
Mother: Imam Bibi
Spouse/Ex: Karim Bibi, Mukhtar Begum, Sardar Begum
Children: Miraj Begum, Aftab Iqbal, Javed Iqbal, Muneera Bano
A poet and philosopher, known for his influential efforts to direct his fellow Muslims in British-administered India toward the establishment of a separate Muslim state, an aspiration that was eventually realized in the country of Pakistan, Sir Muhammad Iqbal was born on 9 November 1877 in an ethnic Kashmiri family in Sialkot within the Punjab Province of British India (now in Pakistan). He is called the “Spiritual Father of Pakistan.” He is considered one of the most important figures in Urdu literature, with literary work in both Urdu and Persian.
Iqbal is admired as a prominent poet by Indians, Pakistanis, Iranians and other international scholars of literature. Though Iqbal is best known as an eminent poet, he is also a highly acclaimed “Muslim philosophical thinker of modern times”. His first poetry book, The Secrets of the Self, appeared in the Persian language in 1915, and other books of poetry include The Secrets of Selflessness, Message from the East and Persian Psalms. Amongst these, his best known Urdu works are The Call of the Marching Bell, Gabriel’s Wing, The Rod of Moses and a part of Gift from Hijaz. Along with his Urdu and Persian poetry, his Urdu and English lectures and letters have been very influential in cultural, social, religious and political disputes.
Iqbal is believed to be the inspiration behind the historical ‘Pakistan Movement’, in which he was one of the few leaders who first conceived the idea of Pakistan as a different nation for the Muslims. Iqbal was a very learned man who did a considerable part of his studies in India and some in England and Germany, where he was introduced to the philosophies of Goethe, Heine, and Nietzsche. While studying abroad, he became a member of the London branch of the All India Muslim League. Iqbal practiced law in India for sometime after returning and later entered politics and was known for his legal expertise, political ideologies, and groundwork and philosophical theories – he is fondly remembered as a great poet and scholar. With his books like, ‘Rumuz-i-Bekhudi’, ‘Zabur-i-Ajam’, etc. he became one of the most important contributors to the Urdu literature.
In much of South Asia and the Urdu-speaking world, Iqbal is regarded as the Shair-e-Mashriq (Urdu: شاعر مشرق, “Poet of the East”). He is also called Mufakkir-e-Pakistan (Urdu: مفکر پاکستان, “The Thinker of Pakistan”), Musawar-e-Pakistan (Urdu: مصور پاکستان, “Artist of Pakistan”) and Hakeem-ul-Ummat (Urdu: حکیم الامت, “The Sage of the Ummah”). The Pakistan government officially named him “National Poet of Pakistan”. His birthday Yōm-e Welādat-e Muḥammad Iqbāl (Urdu: یوم ولادت محمد اقبال), or Iqbal Day, is a public holiday in Pakistan. For his talents and extraordinary personality, he was knighted by King George V in 1922.
Childhood, Family and Educational Life
Sir Muhammad Iqbal, also spelled Muhammad Ikbal (Urdu:محمد اقبال), widely known as Allama Muhammad Iqbal, was born on 9 November 1877 in Sialkot, in the Punjab Province of British India to Sheikh Noor Muhammad and Imam Bibi. His father was not an educated man and worked as a tailor while his mother was a homemaker. His family was Kashmiri Brahmin Sapru which had converted to Islam. In the 19th century, when the Sikh Empire was conquering Kashmir, his grandfather’s family migrated to Punjab. Iqbal often mentioned and commemorated his Kashmiri lineage in his writings.
At the age of 4, Iqbal was introduced to religious studies and was sent to a mosque to learn Qur’an. He learned the Arabic language at Scotch Mission College in Sialkot and pursued his intermediate from the Faculty of Arts, Murray College. He received Intermediate with the Faculty of Arts diploma in 1895. The same year he enrolled at Government College University, where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts in philosophy, English literature and Arabic in 1897, and won the Khan Bahadurddin F.S. Jalaluddin medal as he performed well in Arabic. In 1899, Iqbal received his Master of Arts degree from the same college and had the first place in University of Punjab.
In Europe from 1905 to 1908, Iqbal 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.
In 1907 Iqbal had a close friendship with the writer Atiya Fyzee in both Britain and Germany. Atiya would later publish their correspondence. While Iqbal was in Heidelberg in 1907 his German professor Emma Wegenast taught him about Goethe’s Faust, Heine, and Nietzsche. During his study in Europe, Iqbal began to write poetry in Persian. He preferred to write in this language because doing so made easier to express his thoughts. He would write continuously in Persian throughout his life. Iqbal had a great interest in Islamic studies, especially Sufi beliefs. In his poetry, apart from independence ideologies, he also explores concepts of submission to Allah and following the path of Prophet Muhammad.
Sir Muhammad Iqbal married three times in his life: his first marriage (1895) was with Karim Bibi. His bride Karim Bibi was the daughter of a physician, Khan Bahadur Ata Muhammad Khan. Iqbal had two children with her – Miraj Begum and Aftab Iqbal. Another son is said to have died after birth in 1901.
Iqbal’s second marriage was with Mukhtar Begum and it was held in December 1914, shortly after the death of Iqbal’s mother the previous November. They had a son, but both the mother and son died shortly after birth in 1924. Later, Iqbal married Sardar Begum and they became the parents of a son, Javed Iqbal, who was to become a judge, and a daughter Muneera Bano (b. 1930). One of Muneera’s sons is the philanthropist-cum-socialite Yousuf Salahuddin.
Career and Works
On his return from Europe, Sir Muhammad Iqbal 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.
Iqbal returned to India and became an assistant professor at Government College, Lahore but the job did not provide enough financial support which is why he decided to turn to the practice of law. He practiced as a lawyer from 1908 to 1934. In 1919, he became the general secretary of Anjuman-e-Himayat-e-Islam, an Islamic intellectual and political organization based in Lahore, Pakistan, which he was an active member of many years before gaining this position.
The poetry and philosophy of Mawlana Rumi bore the deepest influence on Iqbal’s mind. Deeply grounded in religion since childhood, Iqbal began concentrating intensely on the study of Islam, the culture and history of Islamic civilization and its political future, while embracing Rumi as “his guide”. Iqbal would feature Rumi in the role of guide in many of his poems. Iqbal’s works focus on reminding his readers of the past glories of Islamic civilization and delivering the message of a pure, spiritual focus on Islam as a source for socio-political liberation and greatness. Iqbal denounced political divisions within and amongst Muslim nations, and frequently alluded to and spoke in terms of the global Muslim community or the Ummah. Iqbal’s poetry was translated into many European languages in the early part of the 20th century when his work was famous. Iqbal’s Asrar-i-Khudi and Javed Nama were translated into English by R. A. Nicholson and A. J. Arberry, respectively.
Iqbal’s thoughts in his work primarily focused on the spiritual direction and development of human society centered around experiences from his travel and stay in Western Europe and the Middle East. He was profoundly influenced by Western philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Henri Bergson, and Goethe, and soon became a strong critic of Western society’s separation of religion from state and what he perceived as its obsession with materialist pursuits. He was especially influenced by Alfred North Whitehead, whom he frequently cited, adapting his process thought to interpret Islam in dynamic terms and to describe Muslims as always progressing towards ‘ever-fresh illuminations from an Infinite Reality’ that ‘every moment appears in new glory’. Muslims, said Iqbal, is destined to become ‘co-workers with God’ provided that they ‘take the initiative’ within the eternal “process of progressive change”.
In 1927, Iqbal was elected to the Punjab Legislative assembly and was later elected to preside over the session of the Muslim League. It was in these positions that he for the first time introduced the idea of ‘Pakistan’. Iqbal, serving as president of the Punjab Muslim League, criticized Jinnah’s political actions, including a political agreement with Punjabi leader Sir Sikandar Hyat Khan, whom Iqbal saw as a representative of feudal classes and not committed to Islam as the core political philosophy. Nevertheless, Iqbal worked constantly to encourage Muslim leaders and masses to support Jinnah and the League.
In 1915, Iqbal published his first collection of poetry, the Asrar-i-Khudi (Secrets of the Self) in Persian. The poems delve into concepts of ego and emphasize the spirit and self from a religious, spiritual perspective. Many critics have called this Iqbal’s finest poetic work. In Asrar-i Khudi, Iqbal explains his philosophy of “Khudi,” or “Self,” arguing that the whole universe obeys the will of the “Self.” Iqbal condemns self-destruction. For him, the aim of life is self-realization and self-knowledge. He charts the stages through which the “Self” has to pass before finally arriving at its point of perfection, enabling the knower of the “Self” to become the viceregent of Allah.
Before he visited Europe, his poetry affirmed Indian nationalism, as in Nayā shawālā (“The New Altar”), but time away from India caused him to shift his perspective. Iqbal 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 (nāʾib, or muʾmin). Furthermore, the life of action is to be preferred to ascetic resignation.
Iqbal’s six English lectures were published in Lahore in 1930, and then by the Oxford University Press in 1934 in a book titled The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. The lectures had been delivered at Madras, Hyderabad, and Aligarh. These lectures dwell on the role of Islam as a religion as well as a political and legal philosophy in the modern age. In these lectures Iqbal firmly rejects the political attitudes and conduct of Muslim politicians, whom he saw as morally misguided, attached to power and without any standing with the Muslim masses. He was elected president of the Muslim League in 1930 at its session in Allahabad in the United Provinces, as well as for the session in Lahore in 1932.
Iqbal’s Three significant poems, Shikwah (“The Complaint”), Jawāb-e shikwah (“The Answer to the Complaint”), and Khizr-e rāh (“Khizr, the Guide”), were published later in 1924 in the Urdu collection Bāng-e darā (“The Call of the Bell”). In those works, Iqbal gave intense expression to the anguish of Muslim powerlessness. Khizr (Arabic: Khiḍr), the Qurʾānic prophet who asks the most difficult questions, is pictured bringing from God the baffling problems of the early 20th century. He wrote in Persian because he sought to address his appeal to the entire Muslim world. 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 Zabur-i Ajam (Persian Psalms), published in 1927, includes the poems Gulshan-i Raz-i Jadid (New Garden of Secrets) and Bandagi Nama (Book of Slavery). In Gulshan-i Raz-i Jadid, Iqbal first poses questions, then answers them with the help of ancient and modern insight, showing how it affects and concerns the world of action. Iqbal’s 1932 work, the Javid Nama (Book of Javed) is named for his son, who is featured in the poems, following the examples of the works of Ibn Arabi and Dante’s The Divine Comedy, through mystical and exaggerated depiction across time. Iqbal depicts himself as Zinda Rud (“A stream full of life”) guided by Rumi, “the master,” through various heavens and spheres, and has the honor of approaching divinity and coming in contact with divine illuminations. In a passage re-living a historical period, Iqbal condemns the Muslim traitors who were instrumental in the defeat and death of Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula of Bengal and Tipu Sultan of Mysore respectively by betraying them for the benefit of the British colonists, thus relegating their country into the shackles of slavery. In the end, by addressing his son Javid, he speaks to the young people as a whole, providing guidance to the “new generation.”
Due to his failing health, Iqbal stopped practicing law altogether in 1934 and was honored with a pension by the Nawab of Bhopal. He dedicated his life to his own spiritual upliftment and contributing to the Persian and Urdu literature. Some of the books written by Iqbal are: ‘Payam-i-Mashriq (1923)’, ‘The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (1930)’, ‘Javid Nama (1932)’, ‘Pas Cheh Bayed Kard ai Aqwam-e-Sharq (1936)’, ‘Bal-i-Jibril (1935)’, ‘Zarb-i-Kalim (1936)’, Armaghān-e Hijāz (1938; “Gift of the Hejaz”), which contained verses in both Urdu and Persian.
His philosophical position was articulated in The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (1934), a volume based on six lectures delivered at Madras (now Chennai), 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 the 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 ijtihād the principle of legal advancement to devise new social and political institutions. He also advocated a theory of ijmāʿ consensus. Iqbal tended to be progressive in adumbrating general principles of change but conservative in initiating actual change.
Awards and Honor
For his talents and extraordinary personality, Sir Muhammad Iqbal was knighted by King George V in 1922.
Iqbal is regarded as the ‘Shair-e-Mashriq’ in most of Southeast Asia. He is also called ‘Muffakir-e-Pakistan’ and ‘Hakeem-ul-Ummat’.
Death and Legacy
After a long period of ill health, Sir Muhammad Iqbal died in 21st April 1938 and was buried in front of the great Badshahi Mosque in Lahore. His tomb is located in Hazuri Bagh, the enclosed garden between the entrance of the Badshahi Mosque and the Lahore Fort, and official guards are provided by the Government of Pakistan.
Iqbal was known for his legal expertise and political ideologies, but it was as a poet that he is still fondly remembered. With books like, ‘Rumuz-i-Bekhudi’, ‘Zabur-i-Ajam’, etc. his contribution to Urdu literature is immense. He has been acclaimed as the father of Pakistan, and every year Iqbal Day is celebrated by Pakistanis.
Iqbal is commemorated widely in Pakistan, where he is regarded as the ideological founder of the state. His Tarana-e-Hind is a song that is widely used in India as a patriotic song speaking of communal harmony. Iqbal is the namesake of many public institutions, including the Allama Iqbal Campus Punjab University in Lahore, the Allama Iqbal Medical College in Lahore, Iqbal Stadium in Faisalabad, Allama Iqbal Open University in Pakistan, Iqbal Memorial Institute in Srinagar, Allama Iqbal Library in University of Kashmir, the Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore, Iqbal Hostel in Government College University, Lahore, the Allama Iqbal hall in Nishtar Medical College in Multan, Gulshan-e-Iqbal Town in Karachi, Allama Iqbal Town in Lahore, and Allama Iqbal Hall at Aligarh Muslim University.
Iqbal’s house is still located in Sialkot and is recognized as Iqbal’s Manzil and is open for visitors. His other house where he lived most of his life and died is in Lahore, named as Javed Manzil. The museum is located on Allama Iqbal Road near Lahore Railway Station, Punjab, Pakistan. It was protected under the Punjab Antiquities Act of 1975 and declared a Pakistani national monument in 1977.