Poet Of The East

Qasim Khan

Ancestry and Birth:

The Sikhs were taking over the rule of Kashmir in the early nineteenth century. This was a life-threatening problem for a family who had then recently converted to Islam from their former status of being Kashmiri Pandits, belonging to the Brahmins of the Sapru clan. After covering a seemingly unending journey, the Muslim family settled in Sialkot, Punjab. Due to financial constraints and other problems which had arisen because of the family’s migration, the former Pandit could not formally educate his son, Sheikh Noor Muhammad, though he turned out to be a religious man.

Noor Muhammad entered an arranged marriage with a polite and humble girl named Imam Bibi. The couple was blessed with a son on November 9, 1877. The respected father and the lovesome mother named him as Sheikh Muhammad Iqbal at a very propitious moment, as the name would later prove to be appropriate in all intensions.


Despite being a tailor, Noor Muhammad keenly focused on his son’s education. At four years of age, Iqbal was admitted to a local mosque in Sialkot to learn the Holy Qur’an. The head and professor of Arabic language at Scotch Mission College Sialkot assisted him in learning the Arabic language. Iqbal received his matriculation certificate from the aforementioned college in 1893. Two years later, he gained his Intermediate certificate with the Faculty of Arts from Murray College Sialkot. He graduated in philosophy, Arabic and English literature from Government College Lahore in 1897, and was also awarded with Khan Bahadurddin F. S. Jalaluddin medal on earning the highest numbers in Arabic class. In 1899, he stood on the first position in Punjab University rankings on receiving his Master of Arts degree from the college he graduated.

While studying philosophy from Sir Thomas Arnold in his alma mater, he had made up his mind of pursuing his higher education in the West. As a result, he travelled to England in 1905. Next year, he qualified for a scholarship from Trinity College in Cambridge University and obtained Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy. He was called to the bar as a barrister from Lincoln’s Inn the same year Iqbal then moved to Germany in 1907 in order to study doctorate and earned his PhD degree in 1908 from the Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich. His doctoral thesis was published the same year by the name of “The Development of Metaphysics in Persia”.

He expended the opportunity to know about Friedrich Nietzche, Henry Bergson and Goethe’s Faust from his German teacher, Emma Wegenast, during his stay in Germany. Inspired much, Iqbal began to write poetry in Persian. This marked the beginning of the long list of Iqbal’s works which later inspired the Muslim youth in the process of achieving a separate homeland.

Spousal Relationships:

While studying Bachelor of Arts in 1895, he had his first marriage with Karim Bibi through an arranged matrimony. She was the daughter of Khan Bahadur Ata Muhammad Khan, a Gujrati physician. She bore him a daughter, Miraj Begum, and a son, Aftab Iqbal. HE later married Sardar Begum and the union resulted in a son who was named Javid. Javid Iqbal is a renowned Pakistani philosopher and former senior justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan, who is also an internationally acclaimed writer on philosophy of law and modern Islamic philosophy. Allama Iqbal also married Mukhtar Begum in December 1914.

Iqbal as an Academician:

Before leaving for Europe, he initiated his career immediately after completing his Master of Arts degree in 1899. He was elected as a lecturer of Arabic at Oriental College and became a junior professor of philosophy at Government College Lahore before long. He worked there until 1905, when he left for England. Resplendently, after returning from England in 1908, he joined his alma mater as a senior professor of English literature and philosophy.

Iqbal simultaneously started practising law at Chief Court Lahore. His passion and dedication for literature can be judged by the fact that he soon fully devoted himself in literary works. He also emerged as an active member of Anjuman-e-Himayat-e-Islam. His commitment was appreciated by the organisation in 1919 when he was made its General Secretary.

Poesy and Knighthood:

Allama Iqbal is more befittingly renowned as a poet, taking his inspiration from the Holy Qur’an. He also learnt from his experiences and travelling in Western Europe and the Middle East. He was deeply influenced by Western philosophers, the reflection of which is seen in his work. He was, however, most profoundly charmed by the works of Rumi, as he had spent his formative years in a religious family. He intensely concentrated on an extensive study of Islam and the culture and history of Islamic civilisation.

Iqbal’s poetry reminded the readers of the past glories and fortunes of Islamic civilisation and also focused on the reasons for its decline. He staunchly disapproved of political divisions amongst Muslim nations and highlighted the importance to realise the status of being a single Ummah in his poetry. He wrote poetic books in Persian and Urdu, the two languages being among the easily understood by the common populace of the Indian subcontinent. These include Asrar-i-Khudi (1915), Rumuz-i-Bekhudi (1917), Payam-i-Mashriq (1923), Bang-i-Dara (1924), Zabur-i-Ajam (1927), Javid Nama (1932), Bal-i-Jibril (1935), Zarb-i-Kalim (1936) and Armughan-e-Hijaz (1938).

In 1922, Iqbal was awarded by knighthood by the British in recognition of his high standard poetry. His metrical verses were specially penned to awaken the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent to realise the reasons behind their decline and the need to work hard in order to improve their status in society. Due to his dedication and mania for philosophy and poetry, Allama Iqbal has been called “the philosopher-poet” and has also been recognised as the “Poet of the East”.

Political Contributions:

Despite being knighted by the British, he completely deterred the British rule in India which was reflected in his poetry from the use of terms such as:

“Poor helpless India… mortgaged to the alien, soul and body too… enslaved to Britain.”

Iqbal remained active in the Muslim League. He opposed Indian involvement in World War I and always remained in touch with lading political leaders such as Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Maulana Muhammad Ali Johar. He closely observed the behaviour of the Indian National Congress during the 1920s and concluded that the British and the Hindus offered equal resistance to the Muslim cause. He also staunchly supported the Two Nation Theory first posed by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and, therefore, Iqbal is also described as the Architect of Pakistan.

On convincing encouragement by close friends and aides, Iqbal contested for and won a seat in the Punjab Legislative Assembly in November 1923 from the Muslim district of Lahore. He soon strengthened his roots by handling new laws skilfully and supporting the constitutional proposals presented by Jinnah. He was appointed General Secretary of the Muslim League Sir Muhammad Shafi group. He was also granted the honour of presiding over the All-India Muslim League meeting in Allahabad in 1930, where he demanded for a federation for Muslims in which they were to be given political autonomy:

“European democracy cannot be applied to India without recognising the fact of communal groups. The Muslim demand for the creation of a Muslim India within India is perfectly justified. I would like to see the Punjab, NWFP, Sind and Baluchistan amalgamated into a single State. Self-government 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 of North-West India.”

While Iqbal supported the above-mentioned idea, Jinnah still struggled to make harmony between the Congress and the League. Iqbal’s correspondence with Jinnah is often conjectured to have convinced the latter to espouse the idea of Pakistan. It was clarified in a letter sent by Iqbal to Jinnah on June 21, 1937:

“A separate federation of Muslim Provinces, reformed on the lines I have suggested above, is the only course by which we can secure a peaceful India and save Muslims from the domination of Non-Muslims. Why should not the Muslims of North-West India and Bengal be considered as nations entitled to self-determination just as other nations in India and outside India are?”

Untimely Demise:

Iqbal suffered from an inscrutable throat illness after his return from a tour to Spain and Afghanistan in 1933. He stopped practising law in 1934 and made frequent visits to the tomb of Sufi Hazrat Ali Hajveri in Lahore for spiritual enlightenment. He could not live to see the emergence of his separate nation for Muslims and, after suffering from a fatal illness, died on April 21, 1938. He rests in a red-brick tomb located in Hazuri Bagh, a garden between the entrances of the Lahore Fort and the Badshahi Mosque. 

Because of his great influence on other Muslim leaders, Jinnah remembered Iqbal’s poetry in under-mentioned words:

“Immortal as it is, Iqbal’s poetry is always there to guide us and inspire us.”

- Article by Aminah Suhail Qureshi