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Allama Iqbal - a brief life sketch

Selfhood can demolish the magic of this world

Selfhood can demolish the magic of this world;
But our belief in The One is not comprehended by all.
Have a seer’s eye, and light will dawn on thee;
As a river and its waves cannot remain apart.

The light of God and knowledge are not in rivalry,
But so the pulpit believes, afraid of Hallaj’s rope.
Contentment is the shield for the pure and the noble
A shield in slavery, and a shield in power.

In the East the soul looks in vain for light;
In the West the light is a faded cloud of dust.
The fakirs who could shatter the power and pelf of kings
No longer tread this earth, in climes far or near.

The spirit of this age is brimful with negations,
And drained to the fast drop is the power of faith.
Muted is Europe’s lament on its crumbling pageant,
Muted by the delirious beats, the clangour of its music.

A sleepy ripple awaits, to swell into a wave
A wave that will swallow up monsters of the sea.
What is slavery but a loss of the sense of beauty?
What the free call beautiful, is beautiful indeed.

The present belongs to him who explores, in their depths,
The fathomless seas of time, to find the future’s pearl.
The alchemist of the West has turned stone into glass
But my alchemy has transmuted glass into flint

Pharaohs of today have stalked me in vain;
But I fear not; I am blessed with Moses’ wand.
The flame that can set afire a dark, sunless wood,
Will not be throttled by a straw afloat in the wind.

Love is self-awareness; love is self-knowledge;
Love cares not for the palaces and the power of kings.
I will not wonder if I reach even the moon and the stars,
For I have hitched my wagon to the star. of all stars.

First among the wise, last of the Prophets,
Who gave a speck of dust the brightness of the Mount.
He is the first and last in the eyes of love;
He is the Word of God. He is the Word of God.

For a person to be remembered and honoured every year he must be a genius and extraordinary personality. Dr Muhammad Iqbal of Pakistan was one such person who touched the pinnacle of fame. Iqbal was one of the best articulated Muslim reformers that the Islamic world produced in the 20th century and was commonly referred to as Allama “scholar” Iqbal.

Allama Iqbal the Poet Philosopher whohelped liberate Pakistan

Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938) was one of the preeminent writers of the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent. Indeed, the attention he has received from numerous writers, translators, and critics from Western as well as Islamic countries testifies to his stature as a world literary figure. While his primary reputation is that of a poet, Iqbal has not lacked admirers or his philosophical thought. He has in fact been called “the most serious Muslim philosophical thinker of modern times.” The frequently used appellation of “poet-philosopher” is thus well deserved.

Allama Muhammad Iqbal was born on the 9th of November, 1877 in Sialkot, Punjab, British India (now part of Pakistan) and passed away on 21st April, 1938. Iqbal was a great poet and a philosopher. His writings were mainly in Persian and Urdu languages.

Iqbal was educated initially by tutors in languages, history, poetry and religion. His potential as a poet and writer was recognized by one of his tutors, Syed Mir Haassan, and Iqbal would continue to study under him at the Scotch Mission College in Sialkot, now known as Murray College. He became proficient in several languages and the skill of writing prose and poetry, and graduated in 1892.

Subsequently, Iqbal entered the Government College in Lahore where he studied philosophy, English literature and Arabic and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree. He won a gold medal for topping his examination in philosophy. While studying for his masters, degree, Iqbal came under the wing of Sir Thomas Arnold, a scholar of Islam and modern philosophy at the college. Arnold exposed Iqbal to Western culture and ideas, and served as a bridge for Iqbal between the ideas of East and West. Iqbal was appointed to a readership in Arabic at the Oriental College in Lahore, and he published his first book in Urdu, The Knowledge of Economics in 1903. He obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from Trinity College at Cambridge in 1907; and qualified as a barrister at Lincoln’s Inn in 1908.

Allama Iqbal’s verses on CD

After studying in Cambridge, Munich and Heidelberg Iqbal started practising law, and at the same time he concentrated on writing scholarly works on politics, economics, history, philosophy and religion.

The poetry and philosophy of Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi bore the deepest influence on Iqbal’s mind. Deeply grounded in religion since childhood, Iqbal would begin intensely concentrating on the study of Islam, the culture and history of Islamic civilization and its political future, and embrace Rumi as “his guide.”

He is best known for his poetic works.

Asrar-i-Khudi (“The Secrets of the Self”; published in Persian, 1915 was the first philosophical poetry book and Rumuz-e-Bekhudi “Secrets of Selflessness” also in Persian, published in 1918 for which he was Knighted.

Dr Iqbal preferred writing in Persian as he believed it allowed him to fully express philosophical concepts, and it gave him a wider audience. Among his 12,000 verses of poem, about 7,000 verses are in Persian. In Iran and Afghanistan he is highly regarded for his Persian works.

Allama Iqbal International Airport

Dr Iqbal, in one of his poems, says:

Even though in sweetness Urdu is sugar – (but) My Persian is sweeter than Urdu

Allama Iqbal preferred to work mainly in Persian for a predominant period of his career, but, after 1930, his works were mainly in Urdu. The works of this period were often specifically directed at the Muslim masses of India, with an even stronger emphasis on Islam and Muslim spiritual and political reawakening. Iqbal urges the global community of Muslims, addressed as the Ummah to define personal, social and political existence by the values and teachings of Islam. Poems such as Tulu’i Islam (Dawn of Islam) and Khizr-e-Rah (Guide of the Path) are especially acclaimed.

In India, Allama Iqbal is widely regarded for the patriotic song, “Saare Jahan Se Achcha”.

This song has remained popular in India for over a century. Mahatma Gandhi is said to have sung it number of times when he was imprisoned at Yerawada Jail in Pune in the 1930.

Allama Iqbal’s Tomb

The poem was set to music in the 1950s by sitar maestro Ravi Shankar and sung by Lata Mangeshkar which became an unofficial national anthem in India and was also turned into the official quick march of the Indian Armed Forces. Rakesh Sharma, the first Indian cosmonaut, employed the first line of the song “saare jahan se accha hindostan hamara” in 1984 to describe to then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi how India appeared from outer space. Current Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, also quoted the poem at his first press conference after assuming power.

It was while in England Iqbal first participated in politics. Following the formation of the All India Muslim League in 1906, he was elected to the executive committee of its British chapter in 1908. While dividing his time between law and poetry, Iqbal had remained active in the Muslim League and became one of the most prominent leaders of the league.

He supported Indian involvement in World War 1, as well as the Khilafat movement and remained in close touch with Muslim political leaders such as Maulana Mohammad Ali and Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

Iqbal was a strong proponent of the political and spiritual revival of Islamic Civilization and encouraged the creation of a “state in northwestern India for Muslims” in 1930. He denounced political divisions within and amongst Muslim nations, and frequently alluded to and spoke in terms of the global Muslim community.

His works focused on reminding his readers of the past glories of Islamic civilization, and delivering a message of a pure, spiritual focus on Islam as a source for socio-political liberation and greatness.

In November 1926, with the encouragement of friends and supporters, Iqbal contested for a seat in the Punjab Legislative Assembly from the Muslim district of Lahore, and comfortably won the seat. He supported the constitutional proposals presented by Muhammad Ali Jinnah with the aim of guaranteeing Muslim political rights and influence in a coalition with the Congress.

In his travels to Egypt, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey, he promoted ideas of greater Islamic political co-operation and unity, calling for the shedding of nationalist differences.

Iqbal’s book in English, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, is a collection of his six lectures which he delivered at Madras, Hyderabad and Aligarh; first published as a collection in Lahore, in 1930.

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 Muslim masses. Iqbal expressed fears that not only would secularism weaken the spiritual foundations of Islam and Muslim society, but that India’s Hindu majority population would crowd out Muslim heritage, culture and political influence.

Dr Iqbal envisaged autonomous Muslim provinces in India. Under one Indian union he feared for Muslims, who would suffer in many respects especially with regard to their existentially separate entity as Muslims. In his presidential address on December 29, 1930, Iqbal outlined a vision of an independent state for Muslim-majority provinces in northwestern India. He thus became the first politician to articulate what would become known as the Two-Nation Theory.

Evaluating the contribution of Iqbal to the creation of Pakistan and modernization of Islam writes Sailen Debnath, “The concept of Islamic nationalism was theorized by Mohammad Iqbal. A philosopher and poet, Iqbal blended Islamic philosophy with the classical and modern philosophy of the West.

He brought Islam at the door of modernism even retaining its purity and worked out an ideological paradigm of pan-Islamism and Islamic nationalism in India. ...Thus his theory brought together the majority of the Muslims from Bengal to the North Western frontier provinces, and this made the Indian Muslims to feel their identity with ... Islam...and this in course of time paved the path to the creation of Pakistan”.)

Discontent with factional leaders like Sir Muhammad Shafi and Sir Fazl-ur-Rahman, Iqbal to believe that only Muhammad Ali Jinnah was a political leader capable of preserving this unity and fulfilling the League’s objectives on Muslim political empowerment.

Building a strong, personal correspondence with Jinnah, Iqbal was an influential force on convincing Jinnah to end his self-imposed exile in London, return to India and take charge of the League. Iqbal firmly believed that Jinnah was the only leader capable of drawing Indian Muslims to League and maintaining party unity.

Iqbal worked constantly to encourage Muslim leaders and masses to support Jinnah and the League. Speaking about the political future of Muslims in India, Iqbal said:

”There is only one way out. Muslims should strengthen Jinnah’s hands. They should join the Muslim League..... The united front can be formed under the leadership of the Muslim League. And the Muslim League can succeed only on account of Jinnah. Now none but Jinnah is capable of leading the Muslims.”

The “Guide of the Era” Iqbal had envisaged in 1926, was found in the person of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The “Guide” organized the Muslims of India under the banner of the Muslim League. Through their united efforts under the able guidance of Quaid-I Azam Muslims succeeded in achieving their independent homeland-Pakistan.


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