Born on November 9, 1877, in Sialkot Allama Muhammad Iqbal’s poetry was first published in the Urdu magazine Makhzan which was launched in 1901. Gradually, his readership grew, and he published his first Persian poetry collection, Asrar-i-Khudi (Secrets of the Self), in 1915 and his first Urdu poetry collection, Bang-e-Dara (The Call of the Marching Bell) in 1924, becoming one of the biggest names in the literary sphere of the Indian subcontinent.
Growing up in a Kashmiri Muslim family and attending a madrassa since the age of four, Iqbal was educated on traditional Islamic lines and grew fascinated with early Islamic history and the power of religion in motivating people. This can be seen in his early works, such as Tulu-i-Islam (the Rise of Islam) which he wrote in 1900 (it was first published in the Urdu newspaper Akhtar in 1902 and later edited and published in Bang-e-Dara). The poem touches on the three premises of Muslim brotherhood, the concept of “khuudi” (selfhood), and on Western imperialism and capitalism, as will be discussed below. (The translated of Tulu-i-Islam is by D.J. Matthews).
This is the destiny of nature; this is the secret of Islam-
World-wide brotherhood, an abundance of love!
Break the idols of colour and blood and become lost in the community.
Let neither Turanians, Iranians nor Afghan remain.
It was this message of Muslim solidarity that Iqbal continued to spread throughout his poetic career, inspiring the Muslims of the subcontinent to unite to fight against their oppressors. He gave Muslims motivation.
The certainty of individuals is the capital for building the community;
This is the power which draws the portrait of the fate of the community.
You are the secret of creation, see yourself in your eyes;
Share the secret of your own self, become the spokesman of God.
Although mainly seen in his Persian poetry, Iqbal had a philosophy of “khuudi”, a term he used as a synonym to “rooh”. He condemned self-destruction, saying that the aim of life is self-realisation and self-knowledge. By verses such as this, Iqbal asked the Muslims of the subcontinent to turn inwards in their time of strife and face their obstacles with the inner strength that is built by having faith. Like this, he gave Muslims a method to overcome their challenges.
Even now, mankind is the miserable prey to imperialism;
How distressing that man is hunted by man!
The glitter of modern civilisation dazzles the sight;
But this clever craftsmanship is a mosaic of false jewels.
That science, in which the scholars of the West took pride,
Is the sword of warfare held in the bloody grip of greed.
That civilisation of the world, which is founded on capitalism,
Can never be become strong by spellbinding schemes.
At the mere age of 22, Iqbal had the social consciousness to not be beguiled by the British Raj’s concept of “civilising the barbaric Indian society.” He was well aware that the British were oppressors and that their rule of the subcontinent had to come to an end. He spread this understanding among not just the Muslims, but all the locals of the subcontinent. This fact is reiterated in his 1904 poem, Saare Jahan Se Acha, published in the Urdu newspaper Ittehad.
While the ideas of a separate homeland were in incubation, the more pressing problem for the Muslims of India was the suffering they were facing under the hands of colonisation, being stripped of their cultural identity to the point of not being allowed to study their own language in school. It was because of this that Iqbal grew up fluent in English (besides his fluency in Urdu, Farsi, and Arabic). He attended the Government College University, Lahore, where his philosophy teacher encouraged him to pursue higher education in the West. Earning a scholarship for Trinity College, Cambridge, he began pursuing his BA in England in 1906. Despite completing an impressive dissertation on the interplay of Eastern and Western systems of philosophy, this is the time period where Iqbal almost gave up on poetry. In the preface of Bang-e-Dara, Sheikh Abdul Qadir, a close friend of Iqbal and the editor of Makhzan narrated an incident where Iqbal firmly decided to abandon writing poetry. He is known to have said: “...Nations that have work to do have no time to indulge in literary pursuits...” [Kulliyat-e-Iqbal]. Abdul Qadir argued that Iqbal’s poetry wasn’t one that could be abandoned, saying his poetry had “the potential of curing the malady of our backward nation and unfortunate country...it would be inappropriate to waste such a useful divinely bestowed capability.” In the end, it was Thomas Arnold, a professor of Arabic and a historian of Islamic art, who convinced Iqbal that his poetry was too important to abandon.
From England, Iqbal travelled to Germany in 1907 to pursue his doctoral studies. His professor there, Emma Wegenast, taught him about the German philosophers and poets: Goethe, Kant, Spinoza, Schopenhauer, Hegel, Heine, Nietzsche, etc. He also mastered German in three months. Most importantly though, this was the first time in Iqbal’s life where he got to experience life without feeling the weight of colonial subjugation hanging over him. This had a profound impact on him, turning his poetry’s arguably narrower nationalistic themes of brotherhood into more visionary themes, demanding radical changes. The best example of this is the highly controversial poem Shikwa (The Complaint), published in 1909 and its follow up poem Jawab-e-Shikwa (the Answer to the Complaint). These poems act as a conversation between the poet and God; the first one has the poet complain to Allah about the sufferings the Muslims are currently facing, and the second one is Allah’s response. This is when Iqbal’s poetry began to talk about Muslims having to struggle against both the British colonisers and the non-Muslims of India, instead of just the locals of the subcontinent having a united front against the British. The seeds of the idea of a separate nation for Muslims had been planted.
Iqbal believed that Islam contained all the knowledge needed for how to live life. Gradually, he spoke more and more openly about “a Muslim India within India”, all of it coming to a head on his speech in Allahabad. In the annual session of the All-India Muslim League (AIML), on December 29, 1930, he clearly stated: “I would go farther than the demands embodied in it [the resolution of the All-Parties Muslim Conference at Delhi]. I would like to see the Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, Sindh and Balochistan amalgamated into a single State. Self-government within the British Empire, or without the British Empire, the formation of a consolidated North-West Indian Muslim State appears to me to be the final destiny of the Muslims, at least of North-West India.” The Allahabad Address became a hallmark moment for the growing two-nation theory.
On the 23rd of March 1940, the Lahore Resolution was drawn up by the AIML. The resolution stated: “That geographically contiguous units are demarcated regions which should be constituted, with such territorial readjustments as may be necessary that the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority as in the North Western and Eastern Zones of (British) India should be grouped to constitute ‘independent states’ in which the constituent units should be autonomous and sovereign.” As such, two years after his passing in 1938, Iqbal’s vision for a separate self-determined homeland for Muslims came to fruition. The work he did for the Pakistan Movement remains incomparable, truly earning his title as the “Spiritual Father” of the nation.
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