Iqbal was an heir to a very rich literary, mystic, philosophical and religious tradition.
He imbibed and assimilated all that was best in the past and present Islamic and Oriental
thought and culture. His range of interests covered Religion, Philosophy, Art, Politics,
Economics, the revival of Muslim life and universal brotherhood of man. His prose, not
only in his national language but also in English, was powerful. His two books in English
demonstrate his mastery of English. But poetry was his medium par excellence of expression.
Everything he thought and felt, almost involuntarily shaped itself into verse.
His first book Ilm ul Iqtisad/The knowledge of Economics was written in Urdu in 1903. His
first poetic work Asrar-i Khudi (1915) was followed by Rumuz-I Bekhudi (1917). Payam-i
Mashriq appeared in 1923, Zabur-i Ajam in 1927, Javid Nama in 1932, Pas cheh bayed kard
ai Aqwam-i Sharq in 1936, and Armughan-i Hijaz in 1938. All these books were in Persian.
The last one, published posthumously is mainly in Persian: only a small portion comprises
Urdu poems and ghazals.
His first book of poetry in Urdu, Bang-i Dara (1924) was followed by Bal-i Jibril in 1935
and Zarb-i Kalim in 1936.
Bang-i Dara consist of selected poems belonging to the three preliminary phases of Iqbal's
poetic career. Bal-i Jibril is the peak of Iqbal's Urdu poetry. It consists of ghazals,
poems, quatrains, epigrams and displays the vision and intellect necessary to foster sincerity
and firm belief in the heart of the ummah and turn its members into true believers. Zarb-i
Kalim was described by the poet himself "as a declaration of war against the present era".
The main subjects of the book are Islam and the Muslims, education and upbringing, woman,
literature and fine arts, politics of the East and the West. In Asrar-i Khudi, Iqbal has
explained his philosohy of "Self". He proves by various means that the whole universe obeys
the will of the "Self". Iqbal condemns self-destruction. For him the aim of life is self-relization
and self-knowledge. He charts the stages through which the "Self" has to pass before finally
arriving at its point of perfection, enabling the knower of the "Self" to become the viceregent
of Allah on earth/Khalifat ullah fi'l ard. In Rumuz-i Bekhudi, Iqbal proves that Islamic way
of life is the best code of conduct for a nation's viability. A person must keep his individual
characteristics intact but once this is achieved he should sacrifice his personal ambitions for
the needs of the nation. Man cannot realize the "Self" out of society. Payam-i Mashriq is an
answer to West-Istlicher Divan by Goethe, the famous German peot. Goethe bemoaned that the West
had become too materialistic in outlook and expected that the East would provide a message of
hope that would resuscitate spiritual values. A hundred years went by and then Iqbal reminded
the West of the importance of morality, religion and civilization by underlining the need for
cultivating feeling, ardour and dynamism. He explained that life could, never aspire for higher
dimensions unless it learnt of the nature of spirituality.
Zabur-i Ajam includes the Mathnavi Gulshan-i Raz-i Jadid and Bandagi Nama. In Gulshan-i Raz-i
Jadid, he follows the famous Mathnavi Gulshan-i Raz by Sayyid Mahmud Shabistri. Here like Shabistri,
I qbal first poses questions, then answers them with the help of ancient and modern insight and
shows how it effects and concerns the world of action. Bandagi Nama is in fact a vigorous
campaign against slavery and subjugation. He explains the spirit behind the fine arts of enslaved
societies. In Zabur-i Ajam, Iqbal's Persian ghazal is at its best as his Urdu ghazal is in Bal-i Jibril.
Here as in other books, Iqbal insists on remembering the past, doing well in the present and
preparing for the future. His lesson is that one should be dynamic, full of zest for action and
full of love and life. Implicitly, he proves that there is no form of poetry which can equal the
ghazal in vigour and liveliness. In Javid Nama, Iqbal follows Ibn-Arabi, Marri and Dante. Iqbal
depicts himself as Zinda Rud (a stream, full of life) guided by Rumi the master, through various
heavens and spheres and has the honour of approaching Divinity and coming in contact with divine
illuminations. Several problems of life are discussed and answers are provided to them. It is an
exceedingly enlivening study. His hand falls heavily on the traitors to their nation like Mir
Jafar from Bengal and Mir Sadiq from the Deccan, who were instrumental in the defeat and death
of Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula of Bengal and Sultan Tipu of Mysore respectively by betraying them for
the benefit of the British. Thus, they delivered their country to the shackles of slavery. At
the end, by addressing his son Javid, he speaks to the young people at large and provides guidance
to the "new generation".
Pas Cheh Bay ed Kard ai Aqwam-i Sharq includes the mathnavi Musafir. Iqbal's Rumi, the master, utters
this glad tiding "East awakes from its slumbers" "Khwab-i ghaflat". Inspiring detailed commentary on
voluntary poverty and free man, followed by an exposition of the mysteries of Islamic laws and sufic
perceptions is given. He laments the dissention among the Indian as well as Muslim nations. Mathnavi
Musafir, is an account of a journey to Afghanistan. In the mathnavi the people of the Frontier (Pathans)
are counseled to learn the "secret of Islam" and to "build up the self" within themselves.
Armughan-i Hijaz consists of two parts. The first contains quatrains in Persian; the second contains
some poems and epigrams in Urdu. The Persian quatrains convey the impression as though the poet is
travelling through Hijaz in his imaginatin. Profundity of ideas and intensity of passion are the salient
features of these short poems. The Urdu portion of the book contains some categorical criticism of the
intellectual movements and social and political revolutions of the modern age.
Iqbal's English Works
Iqbal wrote two books in English. The first being The Development of Metaphysics in Persia in which
continuity of Persian thought is discussed and sufism is dealt with in detail. In Iqbal's view true
Islamic Sufism awakens the slumbering soul to a higher idea of life.
The second book, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, is the collection of Iqbal's six
lectures which he delivered at Madras, Hyderabad and Aligarh. These were first published from Lahore
in 1930 and then by Oxford University Press in 1934. Some of the main subjects are "Knowledge and
Religious Experience," "The Conception of God and the Meaning of Prayer," "The Human Ego," "Predestination
and Free Will," "The Spirit of Muslim Culture," "The Principle of Movement in Islam (Ijtihad)." These
issues are discussed pithily in a thought provoking manner in the light of Islam and the modern age.
These lectures were translated into Urdu by Sayyid Nazir Niazi.
In addition to these books he wrote hundreds of letters in Urdu and English. Urdu letters have been
published in ten different books. He issued statements pertaining to the burning topics of the day
relating to various aspects of social, religious, cultural and political problems of India, Europe
and the world of Islam. For a few years he served as a Professor of Philosophy and Oriental Learning
at the government College, Lahore and the Punjab University Oriental College. Many of his speeches
and statements have been compiled and published in book form. Except for the last four years of his
life he practised at the Lahore High Court Bar. All his life he was easily accessible to all and
sundry and evening sessions at his home were a common feature.
In Spite of his heavy political and social commitments he had time for poetry, a poetry which made
philosophy sing. A.K Brohi says:
Dr. Iqbal is undoubtedly a renowned poet-philosopher of Islam and may have in his writings a never
failing source of inspiration, delight and aesthetic wonder. He has made signal contribution to our
understanding of the Holy Writ of Islam and offered his evaluation of the remarkable example of which
the life of the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) has presented to the world at large and the high water-mark of
excellence, it provides of how best our earthly lives can be lived here below.
Iqbal The Visionary
Iqbal joined the London branch of the All India Muslim League while he was studying Law and Philosophy
in England. It was in London when he had a mystical experience. The ghazal containing those divinations
is the only one whose year and month of composition is expressly mentioned. It is March 1907. No other
ghazal, before or after it has been given such importance. Some verses of that ghazal are:
At last the silent tongue of Hijaz has
announced to the ardent ear the tiding
That the covenant which had been given to the
desert-dwelles is going to be renewed
The lion who had emerged from the desert and
had toppled the Roman Empire is
As I am told by the angels, about to get up
again (from his slumbers.)
You the dwelles of the West, should know that
the world of God is not a shop (of yours).
Your imagined pure gold is about to lose it
standard value (as fixed by you).
Your civilization will commit suicide with its
A nest built on a frail bough cannot be
The caravan of feeble ants will take the rose
petal for a boat
And inspite of all blasts of waves, it shall cross
I will take out may worn-out caravan in the
pitch darkness of night.
My sighs will emit sparks and my breath will
For Iqbal it was a divinely inspired insight. He disclosed this to his listeners in December 1931, when
he was invited to Cambridge to address the students. Iqbal was in London, participating in the Second
Round Table Conference in 1931. At Cambridge, he referred to what he had proclaimed in 1906:
I would like to offer a few pieces of advice to the youngmen who are at present
studying at Cambridge ......I advise you to guard against atheism and
materialism. The biggest blunder made by Europe was the separation of Church
and State. This deprived their culture of moral soul and diverted it to the atheistic
materialism. I had twenty-five years ago seen through the drawbacks of this
civilization and therefore had made some prophecies. They had been delivered by
my tongue although I did not quite understand them. This happened in 1907.....
After six or seven years, my prophecies came true, word by word. The European
war of 1914 was an outcome of the aforesaid mistakes made by the European
nations in the separation of the Church and the State.
It should be stressed that Iqbal felt he had received a spiritual message in 1907 which
even to him was, at that juncture, not clear. Its full import dawned on him later. The
verses quoted above show that Iqbal had taken a bold decision about himself as well.
Keeping in view that contemporary circumstances, he had decided to give a lead to
the Muslim ummah and bring it out of the dark dungeon of slavery to the shining vasts
of Independence. This theme was repeated later in poems such as "Abdul Qadir Ke Nam,"
"Sham-o-Sha'ir," "Javab-i Shikwa," "Khizr-i Rah," "Tulu-e Islam" etc. He never lost heart.
His first and foremost concern, naturally, were the Indian Muslims. He was certain that the
day of Islamic resurgence was about to dawn and the Muslims of the South Asian subcontinent
were destined to play a prominent role in it.
The Holy Prophet has said:
Beware of the foresight of the believer for he sees with Divine Light.