IQBAL(The Poet of East) Biography

On the death of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707 A.C., there set in the process of disintegration of Muslim power in India which touched its lowest depths during the second half of the 19th century, when the British rulers, along with the Hindus conspired to oust the Muslims from the political and economic life of the country. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and his worthy companions successfully planned to stem the deterioration in the politicoeconomic life of Muslim India. But the awakening of Muslim masses in the subcontinent owes primarily to the poetry of Iqbal, the writings of Maulana Muhammad Ali and Sulaiman Nadvi and the selfless services of Maulana Hasrat Mohani, Maulana Muhammad Ali, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Nawab Bahadur Yar Jang, Maulana Shaukat Ali, Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, and Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani. It was they who, through Muslim mass contact movement, prepared the ground for Pakistan which was ultimately established under the capable and inspiring leadership of Quaid-e-Azam Muhamınad Ali Jinnah.

Iqbal, the poet of Islam is, in fact, the poet of humanity in the wider sense, as Islam transcends all political, sectarian, and color barriers. He was born in a middle-class family of Sialkot on November 9, 1877. His grandfather, Muhammad Rafiq had migrated from his ancestral home in Kashmir to settle down in Sialkot. His father, Sheikh Noor Muhammad was a Sufi and a man who attached considerable importance to spiritual values. It was under the spiritual guidance of his learned father and the inspiring supervision of his celebrated teacher Maulvi Mir Hasan that the initial growth of Iqbal’s mind had taken place. From the very inception, Iqbal was an abnormal child. He was an exceptionally bright student. He started writing verses even during his school days and sent some of his earlier lyrics to the celebrated Urdu poet, Dagh for correction. But after some time, Dagh wrote back to Iqbal that his verses needed no correction.

In 1895, after passing his first University Examination from the Scotch Mission College, Sialkot, Iqbal migrated to Lahore, the intellectual center of north-western India, for higher studies. Here he came into contact with Sir Thomas Arnold, who introduced him to all that was best and noblest in Western thought. Iqbal obtained his M.A. in Philosophy in 1898.

During this period he recited his well-known poem, “Himala” at a literary gathering of Lahore. It was published in the “Makhzan” in 1901. It introduced him to the outside world. His recital of “Nala-i- Yateem” (Wails of an Orphan) at an annual function of Anjuman-i-Himayat-i-Islam created a stir in literary circles of Lahore and acclaimed him as a rising poet on the literary horizon of the subcontinent whose brilliance, later, dazzled the eyes of people living in distant countries and won for him an honorable place amongst the galaxy of immortal poets of the world.

Iqbal later became a Reader in Philosophy in the Government College, Lahore. In 1905, he went to Europe for higher studies. His three years of stay in Europe greatly contributed to the development of his thought. He joined the Lincoln’s Inn for Bar. He was admitted as an advanced student of Philosophy at Cambridge University and wrote his thesis on the Development of Metaphysics in Persia. The University of Munich (Germany) conferred on him the degree of Ph.D. for this thesis. He was called to Bar in 1908. He returned home in August 1908. The same year he joined the Government College, Lahore, as a part-time Professor of Philosophy and English Literature. He was allowed to practice law. But, later, he resigned his Professorship and wholly concentrated on Law.

Iqbal’s stay in Europe enabled him to study Western learning and civilization closely and he formulated an outlook on life, modern as well as ancient. Contrary to the westernized persons of the East, who are dazzled by the glamour of Western civilization, he could see it in all its nakedness and instead of being an admirer, became its critic. His study of Western nationalism totally changed his views on the subject. Hitherto, he was a great exponent of Indian nationalism. But now he became its opponent and an exponent of Internationalism and Pan-Islamism.

During his stay in Europe, Iqbal wrote some excellent romantic poems in which he depicted romantic scenes giving in them imaginative touches which brought him very close to the celebrated English poet Wordsworth. There is a personal note in his treatment of Nature, Describing the advent of the Spring he states :

“Arise ! for on hills and dales
The Spring has arrived
Mad in singing are nightingales
Cuckoos, partridges, and quails,
Along the banks of the brook
Have sprung roses and poppy,
Come out and see,
Arise! for on hills and dales
The spring has arrived”

(Translated by S. A. Vahid).

Like Wordsworth, Iqbal was a lover and worshipper of Nature in the beginning. He says:

In each thing glows some spark of beauty immortal:
Mankind has speech, and buds with all hues dazzle;
A secret union lurks within dispersal;
One are the firefly’s glitter, the flower’s sweet phial

(Translated by V. G. Kiernan).

A common theme of Iqbal’s lyrics of this period is his concept of beauty and love. He sees beauty in everything which is powerful and perfect. For him, beauty is a mental experience. His concept of beauty has cultivated a robust vitality in his poem which is conspicuous by its absence in the oriental lyrical poetry. He widened the scope of Urdu “ghazal” (lyric) and made it a vehicle of expressing his diverse ideas. His lyrics are distinguished for lucidity of expression and musical harmony.

Some of his well-known romantic and Nature poems of this period are :

Love. End of Beauty. The Star of Dawn. The Bud. A Glimpse of Beauty. An Evening and Separation.

But it was the transitory period of Iqbal’s poetic career. His ideas were being matured.

It was after his return from Europe that started his real poetic career. His transitory period was over. His ideas had matured in Europe and he had formulated his outlook on different aspects of life that lasted throughout his life. He composed his epoch-making poems “Shikwa” (Complaint) and “Jawab-e-Shikwa” (Reply of the Complaint) within a few years of his return from Europe. In 1915 he wrote his long Persian poem “Asrar-i-Khudi” (Secrets of Self) which thrilled the literary circles of the East and the West. It deals with the fundamental principles leading to the development of human personality. It was translated into English by Professor R. A. Nicholson of the Cambridge University. Writing in the introduction of the book, Professor Nicholson remarks:

“The artistic quality of the book is remarkable when we consider that the language is not the author’s own.”

Hailing the development of ego, Iqbal states:

“Appear, O rider of Destiny
Appear, O light of the dark realm of Change!
Silence the tumult of the nations,
Imparadise our ears with thy music!
Arise and tune the harp of brotherhood.
Give us back the cup of the wine of love!
Bring once more days of peace to the world
Give a message of peace to them that sue out battle!
Mankind are the corn-field, and thou the harvest,
Thou art the goal of Life’s Caravan”

(Translated by R. A. Nicholson).

The book created a storm in the pseudo-mystic circles. Iqbal vehement: attacked the so-called mystic philosophy and its exponents like Hafiz who preached a life of inaction. He was deadly opposed to the negative and pessimistic Platonic philosophy which he considered as against the spirit of Islam. In 1917, Iqbal wrote his another well-known Persian poem “Rumuz-i-Bekhudi” (Mysteries of Selflessness) the counterpart of his first poem Secrets of Self.

These two poems deliver the message he has for mankind. The Asrar-eKhudi, deals with the doctrine of the development of individual self, while the Rumuz-i-Bekhudi deals with problems an individual faces as a member of the society. In formulating his outlook about self, society, and life, he was much influenced by the teachings of Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi who, in his well-known Mathnavi, preached the Islamic mysticism. His mysticism did not preach a life of idleness but a dynamic life full of vitality and activity. His robust optimism was opposed to the pessimistic Platonic and inactive mystic philosophy.

In the meantime, Iqbal published a collection of his Urdu poems, Bang-e-Dara (Call of the Caravan) containing some of his well-known Urdu poems which created a stir throughout the Subcontinent. This was followed by his another Persian poem, Payam-i-Mashriq (The Message of the East) which was written in response to Goethe’s West-Ostlicher Divan. Two years later he wrote “Zubur-e-Azam” containing his “mystic, vitalizing and ennobling” Persian verses. This was followed by Javed Nama, a long Persian poem, universally acknowledged as the masterpiece of Iqbal. This is a counterpart of Dante’s Divine Comedy, in which Iqbal has traveled through Heavens accompanied by Rumi meeting there some of the historical personalities who express their views on diverse problems confronting humanity in the present-day world. The Hindu sage Setan Dost (Vishwamitra) tells that the salvation of humanity today lies in the synthesis of Eastern and Western Cultures. East has been concentrating too much on spiritualism neglecting materialism, while the West is concentrating on materialism caring little for spiritualism. He says :

“The East saw God but failed to see the world of matter The West got embroiled in the world and neglected God”.

(Translated by S. A. Vahid).

Jamaluddin Afghani asks the poet to inform the communists that without God their progress will come to naught.

Ahmad Shah Abdali was alarmed at the growing tendency of blind imitation of the West in Eastern countries. Thus Iqbal’s Javed Nama ranks among the world classics.

In 1935 appeared another collection of his Urdu poems, Bal-i-Jibreel which vibrates with dynamism. Another such collection, “Zarb-i-Kalim” was published in 1936. He published a Persian poem, Musafir (Traveller) in 1934 another Persian poem Pas Che Bayad Kard in 1936. His best, collection of Urdu as well as Persian poems entitled, Armughan-i-Hejaz, appeared after his death. His monumental work in English, Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, a collection of six lectures delivered by him in Madras, Hyderabad, and Aligarh, was published by the Oxford University Press. In this book, he elucidates the dynamic philosophy of Islam which is the only religion that has preached a healthy practical life. In it, he exposed the pessimistic Platonic and inactive mystic philosophy as the very negation of the teaching of Islam. On the basis of this book he was invited by the Oxford University to deliver the Rhodes Lectures, but his failing health did not permit him to complete this assignment.

Iqbal suffered from a prolonged illness between 1934 and 1938. He breathed his last on April 21, 1938. His death cast a gloom all over the East.

Iqbal was, undoubtedly, the greatest Islamic thinker of modern times and one of the greatest of all times. He was, in fact, a versatile genius-poet, philosopher, lawyer, educationist, politician, and reformer. As a thinker and philosopher, he has made a lasting contribution to human thought. Through his immortal poetic works, he has earned an honorable place amongst the greatest poets of the world. As a politician, he was the dreamer of Pakistan, and in 1930 elaborated his scheme of an independent Muslim state in the Subcontinent in his Presidential Address of the All India Muslim League Session at Allahabad. His views on education have been creditably explained by Mr. K. G. Saiyidain in his well-known work, Iqbal’s Educational Philosophy.

Iqbal gave a message of hope and action to mankind. “For Iqbal”, observes Mr. S. A. Vahid in his work, An Introduction to Iqbal, “the two powerful impulses to artistic expression are his faith in the human capacity for limitless development and man’s unique position in the Universe; and both these impulses serve to impart an unparalleled charm to his poetry. … …. Life, according to Iqbal, is nothing but a progressive succession of fresh ends, purposes, and values”.

The patriotic poetry of Hali, Shibli, Akbar, Chakbast, Jauhar, and Hasrat found its culmination in the poetical works of Iqbal. There are two phases of Iqbal’s patriotic poetry-Indian and Islamic. Young Iqbal was highly impressed by the Indian National Movement waged against the domination of a Foreign Power over the Subcontinent. In those days Muslims and Hindus worked side by side for the liberation of their country from the alien yoke. During this period of his poetic career, Iqbal! wrote some beautiful poems depicting the Indian scenes, pleading for communal harmony and reminding the people of their past glory. In Himala, he has painted fascinating landscapes of the mountains giving imaginative touches here and there. He concludes this poem with a beautiful couplet.

“Han dekha de ai tasawwar phir woh subho sham tu
Daur peeche ki taref taref aiy gardish-i-ayyam tu.”

The poet yearns for the good old days. His another immortal poem, Taswir-i-Dard (The Picture of Agony) is a masterpiece in which he has made an impassioned appeal to his countrymen to sink their differences and fight unitedly against the common enemy. At places, he has used allegorical language to bring home his view-point which has added to the charm of the verses. He warns the people not to be lethargic but beware of the machinations of the West, which is bent upon their annihilation.

“Ghhupa kar aastin men bijlian rakkhi hain gardoon ne
Anadil bagh ke ghafil na bathen ashiyanon men.”

The similes and metaphors, the excellent setting of words, the unique tum of phrases, and the fine touches of imagination, have made this poem one of the masterpieces of Urdu poetry.

His National Anthem is still the most popular poem sung in India. He paints some lively pictures of the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent. Its running streams, its verdant meadows, its emerald mountains crowned with milky white peaks have been immortalized in this poem through the masterly pen of Iqbal.

His Naya Shiwala (New Temple) marks the culmination of his national feelings. He is a worshipper of his country and, therefore, preaches communal harmony.

Being an idealist, he wants to build a temple in his heart, which would be the highest place of worship and whose pinnacles would reach the sky :

“Sooni pari hui hai muddat se dil ki basti
Aa ik naya shiwala is des me banaden
Duniya ki teerathon se uncha ho upna teerath
Daman-e-asman se iska kalas miladen.”

Iqbal was profoundly influenced by his environments. His change over from the Indian nationalism to Islamic poetry marks the growth of his poetic career and the growth of his personality. In Europe, his ideas on nationalism had undergone a great change. It was but natural. His first-hand knowledge of modern nationalism in Europe exposed it in all its nakedness. He saw with his own eyes that nationalism had divided into warring nationalities which resulted in two of the bloodiest wars in living history. This mad passion for nationalism has contributed to international conflicts and instead of being a blessing has proved a curse for humanity. He had to change his views. Moreover, his foresight enabled him to realize the dangers of Hindu dominated nationalism in India. The advent of such nationalism in the subcontinent would have amounted to delivering a death blow to Islamic culture and civilization in the subcontinent. He had to dissociate himself from such a nationalism which was far from being the panacea for the ills of humanity.

Wordsworth, the celebrated English poet was, at one time, a great admirer of French Revolution. But, when he studied it fully and from close quarters, he totally changed his views and became its opponent. Iqbal’s stay in Europe greatly contributed towards the maturity of his political ideas on the subject. A learned European critic has said that Laws of Nature are universal and not national, hence nationalism is against Nature. Another Western writer says that God has created man while Satan has divided them into nationalities. According to Renan, Islam frees humanity from nationalism, caste, creed, and color bars. All such divisions based on national and color bars are, therefore, un-Islamic in character. Islam transcends all geographical and sectarian barriers and Muslims residing in any part of the globe are Muslims first and last. Iqbal realized the dangers of modern nationalism and found in Islam the solution of all problems facing humanity. He became a poet and preacher of Islamic patriotism. Now he began to say about modern nationalism.

“Akwam men makhlooq-i-Khuda bat-ti hai is se,
Kaumiyati-Islam ki jar Kat-ti hai is se.”

(Nationalism divides the creation of God into groups and strikes at the root of Islamic brotherhood).

Realizing the futility of modern nationalism which was responsible for many tragedies and strifes during the present times, Iqbal became a preacher of Pan-Islamism. Islam which transcends all barriers, according to him, is the panacea of all ills facing humanity today. Thereafter, Iqbal devoted himself to write his classical poems on Islam, reminding its followers of their past glory and their virtues which enabled them to bring about in a short span of 30 years, the most amazing political and social revolution recorded in the annals of mankind. He wants Muslims to read the same old lesson of truth, justice, and valor which had made them the leaders of the world. He strikes an optimistic note when he says that Muslims would once again lead the world.

“Sabaq phir parh sadaqat ka, adalat ka, shujat ka,
Liya jayega tujh se kaam duniya ki imamat ka.”

He wants to restore the same self-confidence among Muslims which led them to the heights of glory in the past.

A true Muslim, in his eyes, is all-powerful and none can visualize the strength of his arms as well as the depth of his character. His inner self is so bright that his mere look can change human destinies.

“Koi andaza kar sakta hai uske zore bazu ka
Nigah-i-marde momin se badal jati hain takdirein.”

(Who can visualize the strength of a Momin’s arms whose mere look changes human destinies).

While returning from Europe in 1908, he was moved at the sight of Sicily, once the cradle of Arab civilization and their important naval base.

“Role ab dil khol kar ai deedai khoonaba bar
Woh nazar aata hai tahzib-e-Hejazi ka mazar.”

(My eyes . . ! shed tears of blood as I behold before me the ruins of Hejazi civilization).

“Ghalgalon se Jinki Lazzat geer abtak gosh hai
Kiya woh takbir ab hamesha ke liye khamosh hai.”

(Has the cry of Allah-o-Akbar been silenced forever which is still resounding in my ears).

He implores the land of Sicily to disclose its agony to the poet:

“Dard apna mujh se kah main bhi sarapa dard hoon
Jiski too manzil tha main us karwan ki gard hoon.”

(Divulge your agony to me as I am too full of anguish. I am the last dust of the Caravan whose destination you were).

On his return from Europe, his message took a definite shape. He gave the message of action, hope and struggle to suffering humanity.

“Razi hayat poonch le Khizri khajasta gam se|
Zinda har ek chiz hai koshish-e-natamam se.”

(Ask the secret of life from Khizr, the untiring traveler. Everything lives by vainly and constantly striving for it).

His Islamic Anthem is rather the most popular poem sung by the Muslims of the subcontinent. In a very impressive language, the poet recalls the past glory of Islam. Islam is a universal religion and the entire world is the native land of Muslims.

“Cheeno Arab hamara Hindostan hamara
Muslam hain hani watan hai sara jahan hamara.”

(Ours is China, India, and Arabia. We are Muslims and the whole world is our native land).

Then he recalls the great achievements of Muslim arms.

“Maghrib ki wadiyan men goonji Azan Hamari
Thamta na tha kisi se sail-e-rawan hamara.”

(Our call for prayer echoed in the valleys of the West and none could check the current of our storm.)

A Muslim, according to him, can never be cowed down by falsehood.

“Batil se dabne wale ai aasman nahin ham
Sao bar karchuka hai tu imtehan hamara.”

(We are not among those who can bow down to falsehood. In this respect we have been tested hundreds of times).

His poems “Shikwa” (Complaint),” Jawab-e-Shikwa” (Reply of the Complaint), and “Tuloo-i-Islam” (The Dawn of Islam) provide the culmination of Iqbal’s poetry. In Shikwa, the poet boldly complains to God for the decadence of Islam in the present-day world. He reminds God that it was the Muslims who carried His true faith to the four comers of the world.

“They Hameen ek tere marka aaraon men
Khushqion men kabhi larte kabhi dariyaon men
Din Azanen kabhi Europe ke kalisaon men
Kabhi Africa ke tapte hue saharaon men
Shan Aankhon men na junchti thi jahandaron ki
Kalima parhte the hami chhaon men talwaron ki.”

(We were the sole warriors of Yours. We fought for You on land and rivers. We sounded the call of Your prayer in the churches of Europe and the hot deserts of Africa. We were never impressed by the pomp of the rulers and recited the ‘Kalima’ even under the shadow of sword).

In “Jawab-e-Shikwa” (Reply to the Complaint) God replies to the Complaints of the poet and gives reasons for the decline of Muslims. But a ray of hope illuminates the somber picture. The poem ends on an optimistic note in which God reminds the poet that the Muslims can regain their past glory by faithfully following the principles of Islam.

In his immortal poem, Shara-o-Shair (The Candle and the Poet) Iqbal gives the message of hope. It vibrates with healthy optimism.

“Aasman hoga saher ke noor se aaina posh
Aur zulmat rat ki seemab pa hojaye gi.”

(The Sky will be brightened by the first streaks of Dawn and the darkness of the night will disappear).

He wants to revive the self-confidence of Muslims which they have lost.

“Kivun giriftar-i-tiiiseme hech miqadari hai tu
Dekh to poshida tujh men shaukat-i-toofan bhi hai”

(Why are you suffering from an inferiority complex? Behold, you have the power to raise a storm).

His other patriotic poem is “Tuloo-i-Islam” (The Dawn of Islam) in which he preaches a life of action for Muslims. He gives a message of hope and puts forward certain invaluable principles which may lead Muslims to regain their past glory.

“Yaqeen mohkem, amal paiham, mohabbat fatahe alam
Jihad-e-zindgani men hain yeh mardon ki shamsheeren.”

(Iron Faith, Incessant action and the all-conquering love are the means of the valiant in the struggle of life).

He wants to restore self-confidence among the Muslims.

“Gulami men na kam aati hain shamsheerain na tadbirain
Jo ho zauq-e-yaqeen paida to kat jati hain zangirain.

(The swords and plans are of no avail in slavery. The chains break up if one possesses self-confidence).

The chief distinction of Iqbal’s patriotic poetry lies in the spirit of optimism which runs through his verses. He is an idealist who takes the reader to dreamland, the land of his glorious past. He is the chief herald and embodiment of the national renaissance of Muslim India.

Iqbal’s patriotic poetry deeply influenced the younger generations of today and produced a host of Urdu poets who tried to follow him and wrote some patriotic poems, relating to Islam and Pakistan. Among such poets are Josh Malihabadi, Zafar Ali Khan, Faiz, Mahir, Asad Multani, Nazar, and Anwar Sabri.

Iqbal’s fame transcended the national barriers during his lifetime and reached the distant corners of the civilized world. Articles were written on his life and works in almost all the progressive languages of the world. His well-known poetic works were translated into Arabic, English, Turkish, Latin, French, German, and Russian languages by well-known scholars. Professor R. A. Nicholson of Cambridge University translated his “Asrar-i-Khudi” into English. Professor A. J. Arberry translated his “Rumuz-i-Bekhudi” into the English language. His well-known Urdu poems “Shikwa” and “Jawab-e-Shikwa” were translated into English by Mr. Altaf Hussain, Dr. Abdul Wahab Azzam, Professor of Al Azhar University, Cairo, translated his “Payam-i-Mashriq” and “Zarb-i-Kalim” into Arabic. “Payam-i-Mashriq” was translated into the Turkish language by Dr. Ali Ganjeli. Mr. Bahrum Rangkuti rendered his “Asrar-i-Khudi” into Indonesian Language. The Quotations of Payam-i-Mashriq were translated into the German language by Professor Hell, of Erlangen University. Madame Eva Meyerovitch of Paris has translated Iqbal’s Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam in French. His well-known work, “Javed Nama” was translated into Italian by Professor Alessandro Busani under the title “II Poema Celeste” and into English by Professor Arberry.

Iqbal was one of the greatest thinkers and intellectuals of modern times. Like Goethe, he was a seer and humanist. His poetry has a mission behind it. His dynamic philosophy will continue to inspire mankind to hope and action.

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