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Revisiting his era (Part 7) – Iqbal in Europe

By Amir Suhail Wani –

Khol de ga dasti vehshat uqda’ye Taqdeer ko

Tod kar pohchu ga mai punjab ki zanjeer ko”

Small incidents are often seen to culminate in episodes of larger consequences. Iqbal’s departure for Europe, the fountains of wisdom and knowledge which he drank from there and the transformative influence this journey had on Iqbal’s intellectual and literary evolution deserves a keen inspection and deeper understanding. By no means is Iqbal’s journey to Europe for higher studies a minor incident of his life – it is rather the most definitive and singularly the most important event that took place which redefined Iqbal’s contours and launched him into the trajectory which was later to become a defining feature of his personality and poetry. Scholars are puzzled in discovering the factors which inspired Iqbal to travel to Europe in quest of higher education and except few pointers, no definite answers to this question exist. True that Iqbal was a brilliant mind with bright academic record, but that does more than little in explaining his real intent for travelling abroad. One is inevitably urged to accept the catalytic role played by Sir T. W. Arnold’s personality in drawing Iqbal to remote fountains of knowledge and wisdom. His stay with Arnold at Government College kindeled in him the spirit to travel to lands far beyond his own in an attempt to embrace the ever-receding horizons of intellect. It was Arnold who accomplished the necessary groundwork needed to get Iqbal admitted at Cambridge and it was at Arnold’s behest that Iqbal enjoyed few privileges during his stay in England which would have otherwise been out of consideration. The expenses for Allama’s stay at Europe were mainly afforded by his elder brother, Sheikh Atta Muhammad, who happened to be well placed in army.


Iqbal left Lahore on September 1, 1905 and by September 2 he had arrived in Delhi, whereby he paid visit to the holy shrine of Hazrat Mehboob illahi Khwaja Nizam UD Din Auliya and recited his enchanting prayer poem “iltijae E Musafir”, in which he sought Khwaja Nizam’s spiritual intercession to help him in attaining his intellectual ideals and to fulfill the task for which he was travelling to Europe. The poem read:

farishte paḌhte haiñ jis ko vo naam hai terā

baḌī janāb tirī faiz aam hai terā

sitāre ishq ke terī kashish se haiñ qaa.em

nizām-e-mehr kī sūrat nizām hai terā

tirī lahad kī ziyārat hai zindagī dil kī

masīh o ḳhizr se ūñchā maqām hai terā

nihāñ hai terī mohabbat meñ rañg-e-mahbūbī

baḌī hai shaan baḌā ehtirām hai terā

agar siyāh dilam dāġh-e-lāla-zār-e-tavām

digar kushāda jabīnam gul-e-bahār-e-tavām

chaman ko chhoḌ ke niklā huuñ misl-e-nik.hat-e-gul

huā hai sabr kā manzūr imtihāñ mujh ko

chalī hai le ke vatan ke nigār-ḳhāne se

sharāb-e-ilm kī lazzat kashāñ kashāñ mujh ko

nazar hai abr-e-karam par daraḳht-e-sahrā huuñ

kiyā ḳhudā ne na mohtāj-e-bāġhbāñ mujh ko

falak-nashīñ sifat-e-mehr huuñ zamāne meñ

tirī duā se atā ho vo nardbāñ mujh ko

maqām ham-safaroñ se ho is qadar aage

ki samjhe manzil-e-maqsūd kārvāñ mujh ko

mirī zabān-e-qalam se kisī kā dil na dukhe

kisī se shikva na ho zer-e-āsmāñ mujh ko

diloñ ko chaak kare misl-e-shāna jis kā asar

tirī janāb se aisī mile fuġhāñ mujh ko

banāyā thā jise chun chun ke ḳhaar o ḳhas maiñ ne

chaman meñ phir nazar aa.e vo āshiyāñ mujh ko

phir aa rakhūñ qadam-e-mādar-o-pidar pe jabīñ

kiyā jinhoñ ne mohabbat kā rāz-dāñ mujh ko

vo sham-e-bārgah-e-ḳhāndān-e-murtazvī

rahegā misl-e-haram jis kā āstāñ mujh ko

nafas se jis ke khilī merī aarzū kī kalī

banāyā jis kī muravvat ne nukta-dāñ mujh ko

duā ye kar ki ḳhudāvand-e-āsmān-o-zamīñ

kare phir us kī ziyārat se shādmāñ mujh ko

vo merā yūsuf-e-sānī vo sham-e-mahfil-e-ishq

huī hai jis kī uḳhuvvat qarār-e-jāñ mujh ko

jalā ke jis kī mohabbat ne daftar-e-man-o-tū

havā-e-aish meñ paalā kiyā javāñ mujh ko

riyāz-e-dahr meñ mānind-e-gul rahe ḳhandāñ

ki hai azīz-tar az-jāñ vo jān-e-jāñ mujh ko

shagufta ho ke kalī dil kī phuul ho jaa.e

ye iltijā-e-musāfir qubūl ho jaae

On September 4, Iqbal arrived at Mumbai wherefrom he boarded the ship for England. The nature of this journey via sea has been well described by Iqbal at various places and has recorded the experiences and observations he gathered in this journey. On September 25, 1905 Iqbal finally landed in Europe and got registered in Cambridge’s Trinity college. Iqbal got admitted to Munich University for his doctorate and also admitted himself at Lincoln’s inn where he later earned his degree in Law. For next three years, Iqbal plunged deep into academics earning his doctorate from the University of Munich on “The development of metaphysics in Persia”. The nature of this topic was such that it made Iqbal revisit his understanding of Tassawuf and to subject it to critical revaluation. This had the direct impact on his understanding of rise and fall of Muslim world and it was also the time he discovered the historical causes that led to the decline of Muslim power in the world. This was also the time he got to see some philosophers like McTaggart closely and also to inspect and understand the Western civilisation closely. The fickleness of western values dawned upon Iqbal much strongly than before and looking behind the facade of material glare, he peeped into the heart of Western gloom. Simultaneously the decadence of Muslim world, its underlying causes and possible remedies ceased his mind and it was this double whammy from whose heart emerged the Iqbal who set out himself on the path of Muslim revivalist, a critic of material based modernity and sometimes an advocate of pan Islamic ideas. This is the Iqbal who prophecises like a seer that

zamāna aayā hai be-hijābī kā aam dīdār-e-yār hogā

sukūt thā parda-dār jis kā vo raaz ab āshkār hogā

guzar gayā ab vo daur-e-sāqī ki chhup ke piite the piine vaale

banegā saarā jahān mai-ḳhāna har koī bāda-ḳhvār hogā

kabhī jo āvāra-e-junūñ the vo bastiyoñ meñ phir aa baseñge

barahna-pā.ī vahī rahegī magar nayā ḳhārzār hogā

sunā diyā gosh-e-muntazir ko hijāz kī ḳhāmushī ne āḳhir

jo ahd sahrā.iyoñ se bāñdhā gayā thā phir ustuvār hogā

nikal ke sahrā se jis ne ruumā kī saltanat

(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])