Iqbal’s Cambridge Centenary

By Sir Oxon
Oxford, UK

A hundred years ago, a 28-year-old South Asian man arrived in Cambridge for higher studies. Call him “Sir”, “Dr”, or “Allama”, Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938) attained the popular status of the poet-philosopher of the East. Pakistanis selfishly claim him as theirs but he was far more than that. Iqbal’s works remain popular and continue to inspire people in the East as well as the West.
Iqbal had strong links with Cambridge and, as we commemorate his death anniversary (April 21), let us also celebrate his special association with this city, especially since this year is the centenary of his link with the university town. Iqbal was at the University of Cambridge from 1905-1907 for his BA degree in philosophy.
Imagine what it would have been like for young Iqbal to arrive from Lahore and to join Trinity College, the college of Sir Isaac Newton, Lord Byron, Lord Tennyson, Sir Francis Bacon, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Bertrand Russel. He certainly joined an illustrious list of alumni.
While it is disappointing that Trinity College does not have any significant collection of Iqbal studies, it has paid tribute by putting a commemorative plaque at one of his student addresses. The plaque at 17 Portugal Place, reads: “Allama Muhammad Iqbal/Born 1877 Died 1938/Poet-Philosopher of Pakistan/Lived here 1905-6 while at Trinity College”.
A few years ago, at the instance of the Iqbal Academy, the college also placed a portrait of Iqbal in its Dining Hall.
Cambridge is renowned for its Arabic and Persian scholars such as EG Brown, RA Nicholson and AJ Arberry. These scholars constitute another link Iqbal enjoyed with the University. Iqbal’s works have been translated by Professor Nicholson and Professor Arberry.
Nicholson, an authority on Islamic literature and mysticism, translated Iqbal’s Asrar-i-Khudi (1915, The Secrets of the Self). Arberry translated Iqbal’s Rumuz-i Bekhudi (1918, The Mysteries of Selflessness) and Zabur-i Ajam (1927, Persian Psalms). The translations popularized Iqbal’s works in the West.
Having left Cambridge in 1907, Iqbal re-visited the city in the winter of 1931 at the invitation of a student body, the International Muslim Association of Cambridge, of which Choudhary Rahmat Ali was a prominent member.
Iqbal’s name continues to be associated with the University through the joint Cambridge-Pakistan Allama Iqbal Fellowship. To date, the following Pakistani scholars have been the recipients of this award: M Muizuddin, Akbar S Ahmed, Tahir Amin, and Dushka Saiyid. The latter, with the collaboration of The Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad and Wolfson College, has organized a two-day conference in Cambridge on “Pakistan after 9/11: the turnaround” to commence on Iqbal’s death anniversary.
Iqbal’s final connection with Cambridge is by way of the local Pakistani community. The Cambridge Pakistani community has a fair representation from Sialkot and Lahore. It may be remembered that Iqbal was born in Sialkot on November 9, 1877. His early schooling, too, was in Sialkot.
He pursued higher studies in Lahore, where he also lived and worked till his death on April 21, 1938. There is also an extra link with the Kashmiri community since Iqbal was of Kashmiri origin.
These brief points highlight the special bond between Allama Muhammad Iqbal and the city of Cambridge. Let Lahore and Sialkot also celebrate the centenary of Iqbal’s arrival, and flowering, in Cambridge.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.