Iqbal was born in the Punjab on February 22, 1873. His ancestors, who were Kashmiri Brahmins, had embraced Islam two hundred years earlier. Iqbal’s own father was a devout Muslim with Sufistic bent of mind.
He received his early education in Sialkot. After passing the entrance examination, he joined Intermediary College. Mir Hassan, a great oriental scholar, had a special aptitude for imparting his own literary taste and to his students. Under his influence, Iqbal was drawn towards Islamic studies, which he regarded to be an outstanding favor that he could not forget it all his life.
Passing on to the Government College of Lahore, Iqbal did his graduation with English Literature, Philosophy and Arabic as his subjects. At the college he met Prof. Arnold and Sir Abdul Qadir. Iqbal’s poem, Chand (moon) and other early poems appeared in the journal (which belonged to Sir Abdul Qadir) in 1901 and were acclaimed by critics as cutting a new path in Urdu poetry.
It did not take him long to win recognition as a rising star on the firmament of Urdu literature.
In the mean time he had done his MA in Philosophy and was appointed as a Lecturer in History, Philosophy and Political science at Oriental College, Lahore. He then moved to Government College to teach Philosophy and English Literature.
Wherever Iqbal worked or thought his versatility and scholarship made a deep impression on those around him.
Iqbal proceeded to Europe for higher studies in 1905 and stayed there for three years. He took the Honors Degree in Philosophy and taught Arabic at the Cambridge University in the absence of Prof. Arnold. From England, he went to Germany to do his doctorate in Philosophy from Munich and then returned to London to qualify for the bar. He also served as a teacher in the London school of Commerce and passed the Honors Examination in Economics and Political Science. During his stay in Europe Iqbal not only read voraciously but also wrote and lectured on Islamic subjects which added to his popularity and fame in literary circles.
Back in India
Iqbal returned to India in 1908. The poet had won all these academic laurels by the time he was 32 or 33. He practiced as a lawyer from 1908 to 1934, when ill health compelled him to give up his practice. In fact, his heart was not in it and he devoted more time to philosophy and literature than to legal profession.
He attended the meetings of Anjuman Himayat-I-Islam regularly at Lahore. The epoch making poems, Shikwa and Jawab-e-Shikwa, which he read out in the annual convention of it one year after another, sparkled with the glow of his genius and made him immensely popular. They became the national songs of Millet.
Iqbal’s other poems Tarana-e-Hind (The Indian anthem) and Tarana-e-Milli (the Muslim Anthem) also became very popular among masses and used to be sung as symbols of National or Muslim identity at public meetings.
The spirit of Change
The Balkan wars and the Battle of Tripoli, in 1910, shook Iqbal powerfully and inflicted a deep wound upon his heart. In his mood of anger and frustration, he wrote a number of stirring poems, which together with portraying the anguish of Muslims were severely critical of the West.
The spirit of change is evident in poems like Bilad-e-Islamia (the lands of Islam), Wataniat (Nationalism), Muslim, Fatima Bint Abdullah (who was killed in the siege of Cyrainca, Siddiq, Bilal, Tahzib-e-Hazir (Modern civilization) and Huzoor-e-Risalat Maab Mein (in the presence of Sacred Prophet).
In these poems, Iqbal deplores the attitude of Muslim leaders who lay a claim to Islamic leadership and yet are devoid of a genuine spiritual attachment to the blessed Prophet.
The turning point in Iqbal’s Life
Iqbal was shaken by the tragic events of World War I and the disaster the Muslims had to face. The genius had passed through the formative period. He had attained maturity as a poet, thinker, seer and crusader who could read the signs of tomorrow in the happenings of today, make predictions, present hard facts and unravel abstruse truths through the medium of poetry and ignite the flame of faith, Selfhood and courage by his own intensity of feeling and force of expression. Khizr-e-Raah (The Guide) occupies the place of pride among the poems he wrote during this period. Bang-e-Dara (The caravan bell) published in 1929 has held a place of honor in Urdu poetry and world poetry.
Iqbal preferred Persian for poetic expression because its circle was wider than that of Urdu in Muslim India. His Persian works, Asrar-e-khudi (Secrets of the self), Rumuz-e-Bekhudi (Mysteries of Selflessness), Payam-e-Mashriq (Message of the East), Javed Nama (The Song of Eternity) belong to the same period of his life. And so is Reconstruction of Religious Thoughts in Islam, which was extensively appreciated and translated into many languages. Academies were set up in Italy and Germany for the study of Iqbal’s poetry and philosophy.
In 1927 the poet was elected to the Punjab Legislative assembly. In 1930, he was elected to preside over at the annual session of Muslim League. In his presidential address at Allahabad, Iqbal for the first time introduced the idea of Pakistan. In 1930-31, he attended the Round Table conference, which met in London to frame a constitution for India.
While in England, Iqbal accepted the hospitality of Spain. He also went to Cordoba and had the distinction of being the first Muslim to offer prayers at its historical mosque after the exile of Moors. Memories of the past glory of Arabs and their 800-year rule over Spain were revived in his mind and his emotions were aroused by what he saw.
Meeting with Mussolini
In Italy Iqbal was received by Mussolini who had read some of his works and was aquatinted with his philosophy. They had long meetings and talked freely to each other.
The Universities of Cambridge, Rome and Madrid and the Roman Royal society organized meetings in his honor. On his way back he also went to Jerusalem to attend the International Conference of Motamar-i-Isalami.
At the invitation of King Nadir Shah, Iqbal visited Afghanistan in 1932. The king received the poet with great honor and met hi privately, as well during which he laid bare his heart. The two talked and wept.
The last phase of Iqbal’s life was embittered with constant illness. But as regards his creative activities this period was most productive. He kept in touch with every question of the day and continued composing beautiful verses.
A few minutes before his death he recited these touching lines:
The departed melody may return or not!
The zephyr from Hijaz may blow again or not!
The days of this Faqir has come to an end,
Another seer may come or not!
Although Iqbal’s illness was long and protracted the end was sudden and very peaceful. He breathed his last in the early hours of April 21, 1938, in the arms of his old and devoted servant, leaving behind a host of mourners all over the Islamic world. There was a faint smile playing on his lips, which irresistibly reminded one of the last criterions, which he laid down for a truthful Muslim.
I tell you the sign of a Mumin-
When death comes there is smile on his lips.