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Iqbal – Revisiting His Era (Part 6) – Education and evolution

By Amir Suhail Wani —

Iqbal completed the earlier phases of his education under Mir Hassan’s tutelage. After completing his matriculation in 1893, Iqbal was married, reportedly against his choice in one of the well-off families of Punjab. The letters of Iqbal reveal that it was more of a forced marriage for him rather than an act of freewill. This was also the era Iqbal took his earliest flights in poetry and used to recite his poetry in local and school gatherings. Also, around this time he got associated with various socio-literary organisations and adopted the discipleship of Daag Dehalvi to get his poetry polished. In 1895, after passing his intermediate, Iqbal secured entrance in government college Lahore from where he graduated in 1897, with Arabic, Philosophy and English as his subjects of specialisation and then went on to earn his masters in philosophy in 1899. At Government College Lahore, Iqbal had the great fortune to come under the literary and scholarly shades of Sir Thomas Walker Arnold and what this association was what has been well portrayed by Mustansir Mir in such words that “The precious stone discovered by Mir Hassan in Sialkot was polished into a glittering jewel by Arnold in Lahore “. The relationship between Iqbal and Arnold was that of respect and selfless love. Arnold’s spirit of research induced in Iqbal the germs of critical analysis and independent evaluation of facts and phenomenon. Iqbal’s prior interest in philosophy was further catalysed by Arnold. On his retirement from college, when Arnold went back to London, Iqbal wrote a painful Nazm “Nala e firaaq” in his memory which spoke of deep love and attachment Iqbal had developed for Arnold and the pain he felt on his departure. It was in the Nazm that Iqbal hinted at his yearning to travel abroad for higher studies and it was not long after Arnold left the college that Iqbal followed his footsteps and reached England. When in 1908, Iqbal published his doctorate at London he dedicated it to Thomas Arnold with these words of dedication:

To T. W. Arnold M. A

My dear Mr. Arnold

This little book is the first fruit of that literary and philosophical training I have been receiving from you for the last ten years, and an expression of gratitude I beg to dedicate it to your name. You have always judged me liberally; I hope you will judge these pages in the same spirit

Your affectionate pupil


But before he could leave for England few years later, Iqbal immediately after his masters in 1899, was appointed to the post of MacLeod Arabic Reader at Lahore’s Oriental College, where he taught philosophy, history and economics. On June 3, 1903, he went on to teach philosophy at Government College Lahore in the capacity of assistant professor and then resigning from this post, he left for England for Higher studies on October 1st, 1905. Between the years 1899-1905, Iqbal’s poetic and intellectual faculties underwent a lot churning and blossom. Under the influence and guidance of Arnold, he went on to expound, in a research paper, The doctrine of absolute unity as expounded by Abdul Karim Jilli appearingto in September 1900 edition of Indian Antiquary and also wrote a small but engrossing booklet on ilmul iqtisaadiyaat. He alsotranslated Stubb’s “Early Plantagenets” and Walker’s “Political Economy” into Urdu.

In poetry, Iqbal had the fortune of coming under the aegis of some literary societies and his participation in annual sessions of Anjuman I himayat I Islam earned him fame far and near. It was by virtue of Anjuman and its annual sessions that Iqbal came in close contact with Khwaja Hassan Nizami, Arshad Gorgani, Girami and many other people of literary, social and academic importance. This was also the period when Iqbal closely scrutinised the western literature and assimilated some of the aspects of importance from it. Nature, nation and themes of traditional love continued to dominate his poetry in this phase. His assimilation of few of the elements of western literature, yet his rootedness in Oriental tradition of Persian and Urdu Ghazal, according to Mustansir Mir, “was a new experiment, and was hailed as a breath of fresh air in the stifling atmosphere created by styles of poetic composition then current in Urdu”. Another important factor characterising the evolution of Muhammad Iqbal in this era was the influence of European political thought and the political developments taking place in India. This set him on the path of nationalistic themes and he kept glorifying the nation and nationalism emphatically till he later saw the dark side of this philosophy in Europe and thus went on to discard the ideas and ideals rooted in narrow chauvinistic nationalism. However this was the period when Iqbal wrote few masterpieces of patriotic poetry and went on to glorify the dust of nation upto the pedestal of divinity. Having his roots in a family imbued with spiritual values and recalling from the previous articles of this series that Iqbal’s father was a votary of Ibn I Arabi, no doubt that Iqbal’s poetry, as written around this period, was deeply echoing pantheistic and mystical message. The discovery of unity in diversity and identifying all the transient and ephemeral beauty of this world with the transcendent and eternal one was a task Iqbal vigorously pursued in this era in his poetry.

Few important poems Iqbal wrote in this era include “Nala e Yateem”, “Khuda Hafiz”, “Yateem Ka Khitaab Hilal E Eid Se”, “Ashki Khoo”, “Himala” and others. In October 1904, Iqbal wrote Tarana E Hindi, which was to become a siren in the national life of India and continues to be so till day. The poem, speaking of patriotism, brotherhood and other shared values appealed to the psyche of the masses who responded to it in an undying vigor. The poem thus stated:-

Better than the entire world, is our Hindustan ,
We are its nightingales , and it (is) our garden abode

If we are in an alien place, the heart remains in the homeland,
Know us to be only there where our heart is.

That tallest mountain, that shade-sharer of the sky,
(It) is our sentry, (it) is our watchman

In its lap frolic those thousands of rivers,
Whose vitality makes our garden the envy of Paradise.

O the flowing waters of the Ganges , do you remember that day
When our caravan first disembarked on your waterfront?

Religion does not teach us to bear ill-will among ourselves
We are of Hindi , our homeland is Hindustan.

In a world in which ancient Yuman , Misr, and Roma have all vanished without trace
Our own attributes (name and sign) live on today.

Such is our existence that it cannot be erased
Even though, for centuries, the cycle of time has been our enemy.

Iqbal! We have no confidant in this world
What does any one know of our hidden pain?

But all this philosophy was to turtle soon and the ideals he held closer to heart were subjected to irresistible scrutiny on his arrival in Europe. The story continues.

(Amir Suhail Wani is a Kashmir based freelancer, Comparative Studies Scholar, and R&D Engineer with SA Power Utilities Pvt Ltd. Feedback at [email protected])