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Iqbal, the Poet-Philosopher of Islamic Resurgence

I infer from these lines that he had been composing his Urdu poetry for quite a long time and was known to all Urdu-knowing people of the Subcontinent . But in my view Iqbal’s Persian poetry is to be regarded as one of the miracles of poetry. We have a large number of non-Persian-speaking poets in the history of our literature, but I cannot point out any of them whose poetry possesses the qualities of Iqbal’s Persian poetry. Iqbal was not acquainted with Persian idiom, as he spoke Urdu at home and talked to his friends in Urdu or English. He did not know the rules of Persian prose writing. A specimen of Iqbal’s Persian prose is available to us in his prefatory note to his mathnawi, Rumuz-e bikhudi (The Secrets of the Selflessness) and Asrar-e khudi (The Secrets of the Self). If you read them you will see that it is hard for the people whose mother tongue is Persian to understand it. Iqbal never studied Persian at any stage in a school or college during the years of his childhood or youth. In his father’s house he used to speak Urdu. Iqbal chose the Persian language as his medium of literary expression only for the reason that he felt that his ideas and themes could not be effectively expressed in the Urdu language. As such he was attracted towards Persian and he studied the collections of the Persian poets like Sa’di, Hafiz and Mawlawi as well as the Persian poets who wrote in Indian style like ‘Urfi, Naziri Nishaburi and others. In spite of not having tasted the Persian way of life, never living in the cradle of Persian culture, and never having any direct association with it, he cast with great mastery the most delicate, the most subtle and radically new philosophical themes into the mould of Persian poetry, some of which are unsurpassable yet. In my view this is what can be explained as his poetic genius. When you compare his poetical works with those of other non-Iranian poets who wrote poetry in Persian, you will realise the greatness of Iqbal. Some of the ideas that he has expressed with ease in one couplet, if one tries to render them into prose it will take a long time and great deal of effort to do so. It is not an easy job even for us whose mother tongue is Persian.

There can be no better introduction of Iqbal than his poetry. In no other way we can introduce Iqbal more truly. Some of the Persian poems of Iqbal are the most sublime pieces of Persian poetry. Iqbal’s verses are in different styles, in Indian style, in Iraqi style, in Khurasani-style, and in various poetic forms, like mathnawi (poetry composed of distichs corresponding in measure, each consisting of a pair of rhymes), ghazal (sonnet), qat’ah, dobayti (couplets) and ruba’i (quatrains). Their themes as well as their renderings are sublime; notwithstanding, he did not know how to speak and write Persian (prose), and this needs extraordinary genius. At the same time to commend Iqbal as a poet is to belittle him, for he was a great reformer and a great freedom fighter as well. Though Iqbal’s position and status as a freedom fighter and social reformer is very high, he cannot be regarded as a mere social reformer either. In the Indian subcontinent several Hindu and Muslim contemporaries of Iqbal were considered as social reformers, whose works are known and whose participation in the freedom struggle needs no introduction. Among the Muslims themselves there were great personalities like Mawlana Abu al-Kalam Azad, Mawlana Muhammad ‘Ali, Mawlana Shawkat ‘Ali and the late Muhammad Ali Jinah. They also belonged to the same period and to the same Generation and were great freedom fighters; but the greatness of Iqbal’s work cannot be compared with any of them. It does not mean in any way to minimise the great importance and value that we attach to Mawlana Abu al-Kalam Azad, an eminent figure in his own right, or to Mawlana Muhammad ‘Ali and Mawlana Shawkat ‘Ali (who were untiring Muslim freedom fighters who struggled for long years to drive out the British from their country), but Iqbal’s ease is different from all of them. Iqbal’s problem was not the problem of India in particular, but his concern was for the whole Muslim world in general. In his mathnawi, Pas chi bayad kard ay aqwam-e Sharq, he addresses himself to the Eastern nations and it indicates that his keen eyes had an all-inclusive view of the entire Muslim world. He was not concerned with the problems of India alone. Therefore, if I describe Iqbal as a social reformer, I will fail to cover his entire personality. I cannot find a proper term that can describe him. You can see that his personality, his greatness, his mind rich with ideas and the totality of his being, elude the power of comprehension of people like us. To be true to ourselves we have to confess that we have been far away from Iqbal. As such this conference is one of the most useful things we have done so far. Even this is not enough. I would ask the honoured Minister of Higher Education and Culture and my brothers in universities to think about the possibilities of establishing foundations in Iqbal’s memory, and to name , university halls and cultural centres in our country after Iqbal. Iqbal belongs to this nation and this country, and one of his famous poems is dedicated to the people of Iran which begins with the following verse:

I am burning like a tulip’s lamp on your path,

O youth of Iran, I swear by my own life and yours.

And he says:

The man is coming who shall break the chains of the slaves,

I have seen him through the cracks in the walls of your prison.


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