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13 November 2012

Remembering Allama Iqbal: Poet of the East

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By Rohail A. Khan

He is a legendary poet, a philosopher and a politician. His poetry in Urdu, Arabic and Persian is considered as magnum opuses in this era. His literary works and achievements have mesmerized people for decades.

Considered a close friend of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, he is officially known as the “national poet” of Pakistan. He is also regarded as the Mufakkir-e-Pakistan (Thinker of Pakistan), Shaayir-e-Mashriq (Poet of the East), and Hakeem-ul-Ummat (Sage of Ummah). He is Allama Muhammad Iqbal.

One of the prominent leaders of All India Muslim League, Iqbal encouraged the creation of an “Islamic state in India” in his 1930 presidential address. His vision of an independent state for the Muslims of British India was to inspire the creation of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Born on November 9, 1877 in Sialkot, Pakistan, Iqbal’s ancestors were Kashimiri Pundits who accepted Islam in the 18th century and later settled in Sialkot.

Iqbal graduated from the Government College, Lahore, and was awarded a gold medal for being the only candidate to pass the M.Phil degree in 1899.

By this time, Iqbal had acquired a good command of Urdu, Arabic and Persian languages under the guidance of Syed Mir Hassan (1844-1929), who had been profoundly influenced by the Aligarh Movement of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (1817-1898). Under Syed Mir Hassan’s care, Iqbal’s poetry blossomed.

The most pervasive influence on Iqbal’s mind at Government College was that of Sir Thomas Arnold, an accomplished scholar of Islam and modern philosophy. In Arnold, Iqbal found a loving teacher who combined in his scholarship a profound knowledge of western philosophy and a deep understanding of Islamic Culture and Arabic literature. Arnold helped to instill this dynamic blend of east and west in Iqbal as well.

Arnold also inspired Iqbal to pursue his higher studies in Europe.

In 1905, Iqbal went to Europe, where he studied both in Britain and Germany. In London, he studied at the Trinity College in Cambridge. In the same year, Iqbal was also called called to the bar as a barrister from Lincoln’s Inn. He then went to pursue philosophy, while simultaneously preparing to submit a doctoral dissertation to Munich University. The German university exempted him from a mandatory stay of two terms on the campus and he submitted there his dissertation “The Development of Metaphysics in Persia”.

When Iqbal came back from Europe in early 1908, he joined the British Committee of All-India Muslim League. With three professional degrees in hand, he embarked three professional careers side by side: an attorney, a college professor, and a poet. However, the poet and philosopher won at the expense of the professor and attorney. By 1925, Iqbal was also known as a seasoned political leader.

Iqbal was elected as a member of the Punjab Legislative Assembly for a period of four years from 1926 to 1930, and he soon emerged as a political thinker among the Unionist politicians led by Sir Fazl-e-Hussain. In 1930, the All India Muslim League invited him to deliver a presidential address, which became a landmark in the Muslim nationalist movement in the sub-continent, leading to the creation of Pakistan.

Iqbal had started writing poetry from his school days but it reached its zenith during the freedom movements in India. He rose to fame through his poetic symposia, becoming well-known even among the illiterate masses.

From 1930-1934, Iqbal provided ideological leadership by articulating the Muslims’ demands for a separate state. It was in light of the political split within the ranks of the Muslim League that Iqbal’s presidential address of 1930 at Allahabad should be viewed. The Allahabad address formulated the two-nation theory, which Jinnah finally accepted when he presided over the Muslim League’s annual meeting in Lahore in 1940.

Creation of Pakistan was, in this sense, Iqbal’s dream which was actualized by Jinnah.

Iqbal was a strong proponent of the political and spiritual revival of Islamic civilization across the world, for which he delivered lectures at length across the region. His famous speeches have been published under the title “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam,” which is a collection of esoteric lectures delivered between 1928-1930. Iqbal expected the younger generation to follow him in fresh interpretation of the Qur’an and the Sunnah and discover mutual harmonies that would enable Muslims to learn modern science and use technology to improve their existence.

Rohail A. Khan
Iqbal’s whole life was spent under the British colonial rule, during which Muslims in India were profoundly influenced by the religious thought of Shah Wali Allah (1703-1762) and Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-1898). Shah Wali Allah was the first Muslim thinker to realize that Muslims had entered a new age in which old religious assumptions and beliefs would be challenged.

His monumental study Hujjat Allah al-Balighah provided the intellectual foundations for updating Islamic literature.

After 1857, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s Aligarh Movement attempted to update Islam, popularize Western education, modernize Muslim culture and encourage Muslims to cooperate with the British government in order to gain a fair share in the administration and political framework of India. The intellectual legacy of Shah Wali Allah and Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was naturally inherited by Iqbal.

Iqbal passed away on April 21, 1938. He is buried alongside the stairs of the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore.

[Rohail Khan, senior banker and finance director, is working in KSA since 1993. He is actively developing communities through literature, culture, and philanthropy. He can be reached at rohailkhan00@gmail.com]

(Courtesy: Saudi Gazette)

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