Iqbal’s Cambridge Centenary
By Sir Oxon
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
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
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
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.