Allama Iqbal: A Poet of Eternal Relevance

By Dr. Basheer A. Khan
Los Angeles , CA


When a civilization was on decline because of its heedlessness, and was heading towards its doom, Allah swt out of His mercy sent His prophets to guide it and to give it a fresh lease of existence. With the advent of Prophet Muhammad SA who brought the final book of guidance for mankind, the door of prophet-hood was closed. When Muslims continued to suffer the ignominy by deriding and denying the guidance of the last prophet, their redemption demanded that merciful Allah send his special servants whom we call philosophers, thinkers, poets and leaders. Allama Iqbal was one such thinker, philosopher, poet and leader. To make sure that believers do not reject the poetry of poets like Allama Iqbal  Allah swt kept this caveat “those who believe in Him, do good deeds and remember Him excessively” are exempt from His ridicule of poets and poetry in verse 224-226 of chapter 36.

Indian Muslims were demoralized with the fall of the Mogul Empire in1857; and the demise and division of the Ottoman Empire in 1922 added more to their feeling of insecurity. Allama Iqbal’s birth in between these two tragedies in 1877 was a divine providence which gave Muslims the much needed support and inspiration to rebuild their lives. He led Muslims out of the abyss into which they had fallen through his essays, poetry and leadership. He helped them to get a correct understanding of themselves and their religion which was sullied by neglect over several millennia.

It was a time when the elite amongst the Muslims were busy indulging in the frivolities of life, and the commoners with little opportunities to look up to, were glued to their fatalistic lifestyle. The religious scholars who were the inheritors of the inheritance of prophets had largely divorced religion of its intellectual bases and were blindly following its practices as laid out for them by their predecessors. In their zeal of self-purification some of them excluded themselves from the realities of life around them; and others were pursuing foolhardy resistance against the much powerful forces that were colonizing their lands and threatening their religious and cultural identity. In doing so, they were totally oblivious to the lack of human and material resources at their command. To top it all, the division of the Muslim community on the basis of ideology, personal interests and national prejudices made the task of the colonial invaders a lot easier, and the lot of the Muslims more pitiable. 

Allah has told in the Qur’an that when the traditional believers turn away from sincere practice of His message He replaces them with others who love Him and He loves them, and they struggle in His cause (Ch. 5 V 54). Allama Iqbal was sent as proof of these prophesies. He was from the 4 th generation in the family of a Kashmiri Brahmin who had embraced Islam not long ago. He had his first lessons in Arabic and Persian at his home in Sialkot with a renowned teacher, Syed Mir Hasan. He completed his college education at Lahore and went to England to study law. Subsequently he obtained his doctorate in philosophy from Munich University with his research on “evolution of metaphysical thoughts in Persia.”

His education gave him an opportunity to understand the best and the worst of both the Oriental and Occidental thought that was shaping the destiny of mankind. His study of economics made him see through the game which the capital was playing against the labor. After diving deep and long in the turbulent ocean of philosophy he found his solace and peace in the message of the Holy Qur’an and the life of Prophet Muhammad SA.

When his teacher Prof. Nicholson translated one of the collections of his Persian poems “Asrar e Khudi” into English, Iqbal was introduced to the Western world. A Western journalist came to interview him. When the journalist requested Allama Iqbal to show his library he showed him the Qur’an which was on a side table. Like any one else who is unaware of the treasure hidden in this book, this journalist was also surprised at this.

Those who were close to him have observed that while studying the Qur’an, emotions would change the color of Allama’s face, he would immerse into deep thought and cry profusely at times. The following couplets from his collection Pas Che Bayad Kard shows his understanding of the Qur’an and the esteem in which he held its message.

Bar khor az Qur’an gar khwahi sabaat

Dar zameerash deeda-am aabe Hayat

Me dahad ma ra payam-e la thakhaf          

Me rasanad bar mukhame la thakhaf

Khuw-wate sultan o meer az La ilah           

Hai-bate Marde Fakheer az La ilah

Qur’an reveals upon you the nectar of life and leads you to eternity

Its message of fearlessness leads you to safety

King gets his power, Fakir his dread through its message:

That none except Him deserves to be worshiped, and praised.

In the following couplet Allama has summarized the advice in Qur’an that one should be determined in executing carefully made decisions and pin hope about its success with Allah swt (V159 of Ch.3), and cautions about slipping into infidelity by indetermination and pessimism.

Momin az azmo tawak-kul kha-her ast

Gar na darad yin do jowhar kafar ast

Stressing the importance of religion in one’s life Iqbal says: Heart gets its strength from religion.  While knowledge can be obtained through books, company of a noble teacher is essential to experience the miracles of religion.

Dil ze deen sar-chashma-e har Khuw-wat ast

Deen hama az mo-jizate suh-bat ast

Deen Majo andar kutub ai be-khabar

Ilm o hikmat az kutub deen az nazar

His love of the prophet SA is evident from the following couplet.

Thoo agar daani hisabam na-guzeer           

Az nigahe Mustafa pinhan be-geer

Allama Iqbal says in the above couplet: If you have to take my account on the day of judgment take it away from the sight of Propeht SA as I do not want to cause any anguish to Prophet SA because of my misdeeds.

With his deep consciousness of religious heritage and an awareness of contemporary trends in science and philosophy Allama Iqbal could create the literature which uplifted the declining morale of Muslims and gave them new hope and energy to shed the shackles of colonialism in a matter of 90 years. No wonder that Mrs. Hillary Clinton went to the Mausoleum of Allama Iqbal to pay her respect to this great poet, philosopher and leader during her recent visit to Pakistan.

Muslims today are in the same precarious situation which their ancestors faced when Allama was born. Unfortunately for us we do not have leaders of his stature to guide us out of the present situation. Our only recourse now is to revisit his creative writings to understand ourselves, our world and our role in it so that we can rejuvenate our spirits through it. His work in Urdu itself is monumental, but his work in Persian is fantastic. Unfortunately, most of the people from the Indian Subcontinent can’t benefit from his Persian poetry.

The happy news is that Syed Ahmed Isar, a retired director of Forest Department, Government of Karnataka, Bangalore, has put tremendous effort to translate all the eight volumes of his Persian poetry into Urdu poems and published them with great care. He has received great accolades from literary circles for it. It is a great experience to read this Urdu translation in the same rhyme and rhythm as the original Persian poem which is placed by its side. Besides, it helps one in improving his proficiency of Persian language. More importantly, the preface by the translator is very informative and helps immensely in understanding the context and the content of Allama’s message. If one needs these books he may contact Mr. Syed Ahmed at 91- 802-227-5786.


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