Allama Iqbal: The Poet of the East

As a poet, Iqbal represented in perhaps the most sensitive manner, the collective consciousness of his people during a certain period of their history. He was able to do so because he maintained constant and direct contact with his audience at all levels. In the old days, the institution of the ‘Mushaira’ helped the poet to maintain such a contact. But the ‘Mushaira’ was an exclusive club of the literary and the social elite. By the time Iqbal appeared on the seene poetry was no longer the monopoly of a tiny minority. Iqbal was not a poet of the ‘Mushaira’. He was instead a poet of the ‘Jalsa’. His participation in the annual general meeting of the Anjuman-i-Himayat-i-Islam – a great forum for all the eminent Muslims of those day – was a regular feature for many years His audience was not the social elite but the common folks. Unlike the modern Urdu poet who followed him, Iqbal was not writing for a public he did not know, nor was his public listening to a poet it did not understand. There was excellent rapport between Iqbal and his public.

Allama Iqbal belonged to a family of Kashmiri Brahmans whose ancestors embraced Islam long ago had taken residence in Sialkot town. His father (Sh. Nur Muhammad), though not himself a man with any modern education, believed in giving education to his children. He had two sons Ata Muhammad and Muhammad Iqbal. The elder one (Ata Muhammad), after completing his education, qualified as an engineer and served in that capacity in the Military Department till he retirement and the younger exceptionally son became Allama Sir Dr. Muhammad Iqbal.

With the dawn of the twentieth century there rose, on the sky of Indian literature, a star that has just passed out of our sight, after having shone with the lustre peculiarly its own. He was born on 9 November 1877, at Sialkot, a wellknown town on that border of the Punjab which adjoins Jammu, the winter capital of the Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Iqbal received his early education in the town of his birth. His father, though not very learned, had great love for learning and had many scholar friends. Among them was Maulvi Sayyid Mir Hassan, whose ripe scholarship was recognized later by the title of Shamsul Ulema (The Grand Scholar) conferred upon him by the British Government. Sayyid Mir Hassan was the teacher of Arabic and Persian at the Murray College, Sialkot, and it was from him that Iqbal got his love for these languages and their literature.[the_ad id=”17141″]

In 1895, Iqbal migrated to the Government College Lahore, to study for his B.A. and M.A. While there, he had the good fortune of being a pupil of Professor Sir Thomas Arnold. He showed a special aptitude for philosophy, which was appreciated by Sir Arnold, and thus rose an affection between them which lasted all their lives. Soon after taking M.A. degree, Iqbal was awarded the Mcleod Arabic Readership at the Oriental College Lahore. A few years later he was appointed as a Lecturer of Philosophy in the Government College, where he worked with great success.

He made up his mind in 1905 to go to England to qualify for the Bar and to work as an advanced student of philosophy at Cambridge. Professor Arnold was in England at that time and with his advice Iqbal carried on research on Persian mysticism an write a thesis of this subject which earned for him, not only a degree from Cambridge, but also a Ph.D. from the University of Munich. He had to put in a short residence of Munich to show that he had acquired a knowledge of the German Language.

He was called to the Bar in 1908, and on his return to India he started practice as an advocate at Lahore. His old College offered him a professor-ship of Philosophy, but he was advised by some of his friends to stick to the legal profession, and accepted that advice. His taste for Philosophy and literature, however, continued to absorb his attention. The law, being a jealous mistress, did not smile on him to the extent which his ability and gifts demanded, but the loss to law was the gain of literature.

The poems of Iqbal may be divided into three different periods, as follows:

  • Those written before he went to England in 1905
  • Those written in Europe, till 1908
  • Those written after 1908

An inclination to write Urdu verse was shown by him at a very early stage of his student life. Before he come to Lahore he had written some Ghals in Urdu, which he sent for correction to the famous poet Dagh, of Dehli, who was then a shining light of the court of the late Nizam of Hyderabad. After seeing Iqbal’s poems a few times, Dagh is said to have written to him that his verses did not need correction. At Lahore, Iqbal took part in a Mushaihra where some well known poets were present and his verses at once elicited praise for them. Sometime after that he recited a poem on the natural beauties of the Himalayas at a meeting of an Urdu literary society, where it was greeted with unanimous applause. As soon as he became known in literary circles as a rising poet, he was invited every year to the great annual gatherings of the Anjuman Himayat-iIslam of Lahore, an institution responsible for religious and educational work among the Muslims of the Punjab. The recitation of his poems like the Taswir-idard (“The Picture of Pain “), the Shikwa “A complaint address of God”), and the Jawab-e-shikwa (” Answer to the complaint”), brought him into great prominence as a writer of Urdu poetry.[the_ad id=”17142″]

All his Urdu poems, covering the work of his first ten years of his literary life were collected and published under the name of Bang-i-Dara’ “Tinkering of Caravan Bell”.

Second Era was a short period during which the poet visited Europe. It lasted from 1905 to 1908, when he qualified for Bar, in addition to widening his knowledge at Cambridge. The brief period of three years spent by Iqbal in England proved a turning point in his history and in the history of literature produced by him. The spark that there was in him was kindled into a flame by the intensive study to which he devoted himself at Cambridge.

The poems written by Iqbal during this era reflected his hate for Western civilization and materialism prevailed there. Iqbal studied weak points of Western civilization while his stay in Europe. The most important aspect of this era is to make Iqbal a poet of Persian language. It was chance that Iqbal discovered that he could express his thoughts in Persian verse with the same facilities as in Urdu. This discovery was made when he once asked in England to compose verses in Persian. That suggestion resulted in a few fine verses the next day, and thus the genius of iqbal found a vehicle better suited than Urdu for the expression of his philosophic ideas.

After the return of Iqbal as a Lawyer and Ph.D. began third and most important period of his literary life. After his return, he started poetry in Persian and gave the most famous book ‘Asrar-i-Khudi (“The secrets of the Self”). Then came his Persian poems in swift succession. In these poems his thought became bolder, and he gave a message of hope to the people of the East in general, and the followers of Islam, in particular. It for this reason that he is often called ” Poet of Islam”.

Other famous Persian works of Iqbal are Rumuz-i-Bekhudi (Hints of Selflessness), Payam-i-Mashriq (The Message of The East), Zabur-i-Ajam, Javaid Nama and Pas Chih Bayd Kard Ai Aqwam-i-Sharq (What are we to do, O Nation of the East?)[the_ad id=”17150″]

During the last few years, Igbal was persuaded to use Urdu once more as the vehicle of his verse, by the pressing demands of Indian public, as Persian read and understood by a small portion of people in the country the ‘Bal-i-Jibril (The Wings of Gabriel), and the ‘Zarb-i-Kalim’ (The Stroke of the rod of Moses) are his latest Urdu poems. In these books, some of the favourite themes of his Persian poems have been given to the readers of Urdu including the invertible conflict between labour and capital in the present day world, the sympathetic heart of the poet beating in sympathy with the troubles of the labourer. Armughan-i-Hijaz (The Present to Hijaz) is another Urdu work of Iqbal.

Besides poetical works, Iqbal made some valuable contributions to religious and philosophic thought, among which his book ‘The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’ deserves special mention. In this book seven lectures in English delivered by him before a society in Madras (and elsewherehave been put together. They have been widely appreciated by western scholars, as presenting some phrases of the philosophy of Islam that had not been brought out before. It was probably as the author of this book that Sir Muhammad Iqbal was invited by the Oxford University in 1935 to deliver a series of lectures as a Rhodes Memorial Lecturer, but he was unfortunately presented by ill health from doing so much to the disappointment of his admirers in this country.[the_ad id=”17144″]

Though literature always remained the main occupation of Iqbal, yet for a time he took part in politics as well. By his temperament and constitution he was not much suited to politics. Left to himself, perhaps, he would not have cared to step into this thorny field. Some of his admirers, however, obliged him to stand for the Legislative Council as a representative of Lahore, and he did so. Without much effort on his part he was elected, as he was popular, and his friends exerted themselves earnestly on his behalf. This success, however, did not lead to any tangible result and his connection with the Council ceased after the expiry of the term of three years. On two other occasions he had a contact with politics, firstly when he was called upon to preside over the annual Session of the AllIndia Muslim League, and other when he went to England as a Member of the Second Round Table Conference in 1931.

Of these two occasions the Muslim League Session at Allahabad in 1930 deserves a special mention, because it was in his address there that the idea of two separate administrative areas in India, one for Muslims and one for Hindus, was offered as a solution of the differences between the two Nations.

The last few years of his life were spent under the shadow of deep sorrow caused by the death of his wife, followed by a long spell of bad health. His weakened health, though a handicap, was not allowed by him to interfere with his literary pursuits of his excessive visitors. The end came somewhat unexpectedly after a short illness, on 21 April 1938. His last resting place is near the Shahi Mosque, at Lahore. Iqbal is no longer with us but his work lives and will be source of inspiration for generations to come.

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