Allama Iqbal: The man with endless erudition

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Ideas and poetry
Iqbal Academy Pakistan / Public domain

“Ah! Who will now be waiting for me in the homeland?

Who will become restless by not getting my letter?

I will come to your grave carrying this lament

To whose thoughts will I come in the midnight prayers?”

The verses are from an elegiac poem Allama Iqbal wrote in 1914 on his mother’s, Imam Bibi’s death on November 9th. Coincidentally Iqbal’s birth anniversary falls on the same date. The man who gifted the famous Tarana-e-Hind “Saare Jahan Sey Acha” to the people of subcontinent leaves behind a rich legacy of philosophical and mystic thoughts. His poetic and intellectual flair was acknowledged by King George V who knighted him in 1922.

A Brief Life Sketch

Mohammad Iqbal was a famous poet, philosopher and lawyer from British era. Iqbal later took an active part in the freedom struggle of Pakistan. He was called Allama, meaning scholar for his immense literary proficiency. He was born in 1877 in Sialkot, a city located in the part of Punjab, now in Pakistan. Iqbal as a young child, went to a Madrassa, and was a student of Syed Mir Hassan, a scholar of the Qur’an, Hadith, Sufism, and the Arabic language.

Later, during his years at Government College, Lahore, Allam Iqbal developed a strong leaning towards Philosophy and English Literature. He completed his Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, English literature and Arabic in 1897. From the same college did his Masters in 1899. His fondness for literature and philosophy is attributed to Sir Thomas Arnold, who was a scholar of Islam and modern philosophy at the college.

It was around this time, Iqbal familiarised himself with Western culture and ideas. In 1905, he left for Europe to chase his dream to take up Neo-Hegelian philosophical studies. There he did his Bachelors from Cambridge University while studying law at Lincoln’s Inn. In 1907, he joined Ludwig Maximilian University; Heidelberg, Germany to furnish his Ph.D. in Philosophy with a thesis entitled The Development of Metaphysics in Persia in 1908.

The same year he returned to Lahore and at his alma mater, Oriental College taught Philosophy and English Literature. Simultaneously, he put his Law degree to use and practised Law at the Chief Court of Lahore; however, he gave up Law and immersed himself completely in literary pursuits. He passed away on 21 April 1938, and is buried in a mausoleum beside the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore.

Allama Iqbal, Poet or a Philosopher?

Iqbal’s accomplishments are many; however, poetry stands out as his main forte.

He used his poetry, mainly in Persian, as a vehicle to carry forth ideas deeply embedded in Islamic studies and Sufism. Since he also made forays into politics, he used his verses to spread the message to shun western ideologies and embrace the path of Islamic and Sufi beliefs. The symbol of Eagle is synonymous with his thoughts about youth whom he wanted to see soaring high and making discovery about self.

His works also show considerable influence of European philosophers like Leibniz,, Hegel, and Nietzsche. His outstanding philosophical stance is presented in the book

“The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam“- a volume based on six lectures delivered at Madras and Aligarh in 1928-29. “To exist in pure duration is to be a self, and to be a self is to be able to say ‘I am’.” (The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam p.56)

The Trail of Titles

He is called “Mufakkir-e-Pakistan” (The Thinker Of Pakistan) and “Hakeem-ul-Ummat” (The Sage Of The Ummah) and “Shayer-e-Mashriq” (poet of the East). Germany remembers him through a street named after him in Heidelberg; besides the house he stayed in honours him with a plaque.

His Books

Iqbal predominantly wrote in Persian and it is estimated out of his 12,000 verses about 7,000 verses are in Persian. His first major work “Asrār-e ḵᵛhudi” (The Secrets of the self.) was published in 1915, Titles of some of his famous books are…Javed Nama (dedicated to his son) ‘Payam-i-Mashriq’, ‘“‘Bal-i-Jibril”, and “Zarb-i-Kalim”.


(Written by: Shazman Shariff, freelance writer based in Bangalore, available at [email protected].)

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