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Iqbal, the Poet-Philosopher of Islamic Resurgence

by Sayyid Ali Khamene’i

This is a translation of President Sayyid Ali Khamene’i’s speech delivered at the opening session of the First International Conference on Iqbal, held at Tehran, March 10-12, 1986, on the occasion of the 108th birth anniversary of the poet of the Subcontinent.

translated from the Persian by Mahliqa Qara’i

I should admit candidly that today when I see that our country is holding a seminar for paying tribute to our beloved Iqbal, I am obliged to feel that this day would prove to be one of the most memorable and exciting days of my life. That luminous spark that washed out from our hearts the darkness of the days of suffocation and repression (through his impressions, poetry, counsel and teachings) and projected a bright picture of the future before our eyes, is now transformed into a bright torch to have attracted the attention of our people.

Our people who were the first foreign addressees of Iqbal were unfortunately very late to recognise him. The particular conditions in our country, especially the political domination of the colonialist powers during the last years of Iqbal’s life in his favourite country, Iran, never allowed Iqbal to visit this country. This great poet of Persian language, who composed most of his poetry in Persian and not in his own mother tongue, could never breathe in his dear and desired climes. Not only that Iqbal never came to Iran, but the same politics with which Iqbal was at war throughout his life did not allow his ideas, his ideology and his teachings to reach the ears of the Iranian people, who were ever eager to receive his message. I have an answer to this question as to why Iqbal did not come to Iran.

At that time, when Iqbal was at the pinnacle of his fame and glory and was known all over the Subcontinent and all the renowned universities of the World recognised him as a great thinker, philosopher, scholar, humanist and sociologist (of course none of these titles corresponded to the title by which Iqbal desired to be known), in our country the politicians who ruled the country could not tolerate Iqbal and his ideas in any way. For this very reason he was never invited to Iran and the ground for his visit to this country was not prepared. Not only were none of his books published for years in Iran, even the titles of his books remained unknown to us. During the days when the literary works and culture alien to both the Iranians and Muslims were flooding this country like a devastating deluge, not a single poem or work of Iqbal was allowed to catch the public eye. Today the Islamic Republic (i.e. the embodiment of Iqbal’s dream) has been established here, Iqbal, whose heart ached to see the Muslim people having lost their human and Islamic personality, and who viewed their loss of identity and spiritual poverty as the greatest danger to their existence and tried with all the power at his disposal to uproot this vicious weed from the human soul in general and from the inner being of the people of the East in particular and especially the Muslims, had he been alive today, he could have seen a nation standing on its feet, infused with the rich Islamic spirit and drawing upon the inexhaustible reservoirs of Islamic heritage, a nation which has become self-sufficient and has discarded all the glittering Western ornaments and is marching ahead courageously, determining its own targets and moving to attain them, advancing with the frenzy of a lover, and has not imprisoned itself within the walls of nationalism and racialism. I am glad to have this opportunity (though for a brief time) to introduce to our people this great figure, a great thinker, a great reformer of our age, a revolutionary and an unrelenting warrior. I would, of course, be pleased if my presence in this function be free from all formalities, so that, firstly, I may enjoy with satisfaction this commemorative ceremony and, secondly, I may be given an opportunity to give vent to a fraction of my emotions about Iqbal before the audience. I request the brothers and sisters to allow me to speak frankly like a person who for years had been a follower of Iqbal and has lived emotionally in his company, so that to some extent I can give him what is due to him on behalf of myself. Iqbal is one of the eminent personalities in the history of Islam. His is such a profound and sublime personality that it cannot be described and measured by only one Dimension of his life. Iqbal was a scholar and a philosopher, but at the same time other dimensions of his life are also so bright that if we consider him to be just a philosopher and a scholar, we feel that we have belittled him. Undoubtedly Iqbal is a great poet and is reckoned among the greatest. Those who know Urdu very well and have written about Iqbal’s Urdu poetry maintain that Iqbal’s Urdu poems are among the best in Urdu. Of course this may not be a great tribute to him as the poetic Tradition of Urdu is not so rich. But it cannot be disputed that his Urdu poetry made a great impact on large numbers of people, on Hindus and Muslims equally, living in the Subcontinent during the early decades of the twentieth century, and motivated them to participate in the struggle (for freedom) that was reaching its climax. In his mathnawi (a long poem consisting of rhymed couplets) Asrar-e khudi (The Secrets of the Self), he refers to this point:

The gardener tested the force of my speech.

He sowed a verse of mine and could reap a sword from it.


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