Muhammad Iqbal biography

Muhammad Iqbal



Muhammad Iqbal
           Muhammad Iqbal was born on 9 November 1877 at Sialkot, West Punjab. His ancestors were Kashmiri Brahmins who had been converted to Islam some generations earlier due to unknown reasons. Iqba1’s grandfather, Sheikh Muhammad Rafiq, migrated to Sialkot from Srinagar early in the nineteenth century. Iqbal’s parents, father Sheikh Noor Muhammad and mother Imam Bibi, were almost illiterate but had a religious bent of mind. Iqbal had one brother Ata Muhammad. It was a middle-class family devoid of any intellectual pursuits.

         Iqbal’s initial education was in the traditional maktab (school). One of his teachers was Sayyid Mir Hasan, the famous Oriental scholar. Iqbal learnt Urdu, Persian and Arabic there. He started composing Urdu poems while still studying at the maktab. After completing his education at the maktab, Iqbal joined the Sialkot Mission School from where he passed matriculation examination. For higher studies, he joined the Government College, Lahore, from where he passed B.A. in 1897 and then Master’s degree in philosophy in 1899, topping the list of successful candidates, thus demonstrating his intellectual acumen. He was appointed as a lecturer in Arabic at the local Oriental College. But soon he shifted to Government College, his alma mater, as assistant professor of Philosophy. Here he was influenced by Thomas Arnold` who was working as professor of Philosophy in the College. All these years till 1905, he had been writing beautiful Urdu poetry without any trace of fanatacism or pan-Islamism which is reflected in his later poetry. His Tran-e-Hindi (Sare Jahan se achha Hindustan hamara), Naya Shiwala and Aftab (translation of Gayatri) were all composed by him before 1905. He also wrote beautiful Urdu poems for children, which remain unrivalled to this day.1
Professor Arnold, impressed by the talents of Iqbal, advised him to go to England for higher studies. He joined the Trinity College, Cambridge and did research under Mac Taggart and James Ward, and was greatly influenced by these two thinkers. He also studied law and was called to the Bar in 1908. He must have worked very hard those three years in Europe because besides getting a degree from Cambridge and qualifying as a beirrister1 he also got a Ph.D. from Munich University, Germany in 1907. The topic of his dissertation was, The Development of Metaphysics in Persia.
He came back to Lahore in 1908 and was appointed a part-time lecturer of Philosophy and English literature at the Government College. He was allowed to practice as a barrister as Well. However, Iqbal’s heart was not in the legal practice and thus he could not be a successful lawyer. After his return from Europe, there was a complete transformation in his thinking. He was deeply concerned with the fate of Islam in the world and almost all his writings during this period are devoted to that sentiment. He now stopped singing praises of ‘Hindustan’ and instead wrote on pan Islamism. He also condemned nationalism. His Tran-e-Milli, starts with Chino-Arab Hamam, Hindustan hamara; Muslim hain hum watan hain Sara Jahan Hamara (China and Arabia are ours and India is ours; for we Muslims the whole world is our country). Was he the same Iqbal who wrote Tran-e-Hindi only four years earlier? About nationalism, he expressed his views in a short poem Vasniyat. He wrote: “Among the newly discovered gods, the greatest is the country; but the apparel of this god is the shroud of religion”. Was he referring to Bande Matram? His two poems Shikwa and jwab-e-Shikwa depicts the sorry state of Muslims who had drawn sword in the name of true God and spread His message (Quran) in the world. The second poem jwab-e-Shikwa is the reply of God who tells the Muslims that they had forgotten the message of Muhammad the Prophet. Iqbal exhorts the Muslims to go back to early Islam and shed timidness. In his famous mathnvi Asrar-e-Khudi (The secrets of self), he tells the Muslims to have confidence in themselves and know their intrinsic powers. It was translated by Prof. R.A. Nicholson, the famous Orientalist of Cambridge. As a result, Iqbal came to be discussed in the Western academic circles. He was conferred knighthood in 1922, ‘for his literary eminence’. By 1928, he had earned a reputation as a great Muslim philosopher and was invited to deliver lectures at Hyderabad, Aligarh and Madras. These lectures were later published as The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, which is his major prose Work. In it, he makes an attempt, as he himself` says, “to construct Muslim religious philosophy with due regard to the philosophical traditions of Islam and the more recent developments in the various domains of human knowledge”.
As his legal practice dwindled, which had never been lucrative any way, Iqbal decided to try his luck in politics. In the 1926 elections, he stood as a candidate and was elected to the Punjab Legislative Council. After that he became an active member of the Muslim League and in a way its policy maker. He joined Aga Khan and Jinnah to denounce the Nehru Report (1928), putting forward ‘demands’ for the safeguards of Muslim interests. In that year he was elected as secretary of the All India Muslim League. He presided at the 1930 session of the Muslim League at Allahabad. His presidential address marks the formal beginning of the demand for a separate home for the Muslims and deserve quoting: “Communalism, in its higher aspects, is indispensable to the formation of a harmonious whole in a country like India. The units of Indian society are not territorial as in European countries. India is a continent of human groups belonging to different races, speaking different languages, and professing different religions. The principle of European democracy cannot be applied to India without recognizing the presence of communal groups. The Muslim demand for the creation of a Muslim India within India is, therefore, perfectly justified. I would like to see Punjab, the North-West Frontier Province, Sind and Baluchistan amalgamated into a single state, Self-governing 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 in Northwest India”. Iqbal’s selection of the north-west as the most appropriate region for the establishment of a Muslim state had an interesting history behind it. Apart from its being a compact Muslim majority area, it was the geographical link between India and the Muslim world of Central and Western Asia. The memory of the Wahabi state founded in this region by the advocates of Dar-ul-Islam like Syed Ahmed Brelvi was still fresh in the minds of the fanatical Muslims.
      Iqbal attended the Second and Third Round Table Conferences (London) in 1931 and 1932, “where his only contribution was to oppose every suggestion for the introduction of joint-electorates and the formation of federation in India”.
     Iqbal’s last years were not happy. He was keeping indifferent health and two deaths in the family shattered his equanimity. Still, his mind was active. He was worried about the future of Islam and of Muslims in India. Daily, his admirers gathered at his residence and he discussed with them what was foremost in his mind. During these Sittings Iqbal censured territorial nationalism and the doctrine of separation of Church and State. He categorically asserted that narrow nationalism was the antithesis of Islam, which believed in an international brotherhood of Muslims (Pan-Islarnism). He criticised the concept of a common Indian nationality.4 Iqbal believed that Islam was perfect and eternal as a guide for social and political life. Thus the ‘philosophy’ of Iqbal comes down almost to the level of a fundamentalist clergy.
      He remained as the president of the Provincial Muslim League of Punjab, though he could not take active part in its activities. He regularly corresponded with M.A. Jinnah, expressing his views about the political developments in India vis-a-vis Muslims. In a letter to Jinnah in 1937, Iqbal wrote, “The construction of a polity on Indian national lines, if it means the displacement of the Islamic principle of solidarity, is simply unthinkable to a Muslim”.
He died in Lahore on 21 April 1938 at the age of sixty-one, and was buried in the backyard of Badshahi mosque, built by Aurangzeb.
It is difficult to assess Iqbal. “He was too contradictory and unsystematic to permit a systematic assessment”. The fact that he put forth his philosophy in poetic form, adds to the confusion. “He was very far from being a mass leader; he was a poet, an intellectual and a philosopher with affiliations to the old feudal order. He supplied in poetry, which was written both in Persian and Urdu` a philosophic background to the Moslem intelligentsia and thus diverted its mind in a separatist direction. His popularity was, no doubt, due to the quality of his poetry, but even more so, it was due to his having fulfilled a need when the Moslem mined was searching for some anchor to hold on to”.

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