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Revisiting Iqbal (Part 8) – Era of Awakening


By Amir Suhail Wani –

Perhaps in the variegated diversity of human existence, the most arduous role is that of a person gifted with the heart of the poet and the head of a philosopher and this is indeed the situation Iqbal was born in. The predisposition of poet is unceasing attentiveness and that of philosopher is rigorous analysis and Iqbal utilised both the faculties during his stay in Europe. The criticism which he later on launched at the Western civilization was already hinted at in the previous article of this series and Iqbal went on to reiterate this criticism in its hundred thousand shades for the rest of his life. So much so had the dehumanising effect of Western Civilisation engaged Iqbal’s thought that it went on to become an indispensable formative component of his art and thought.

Having studied and earned a bagful of degrees from leading universities of Europe, Iqbal on returning to India paid attendance to the shrine of Mehboob I Illahi, Amir Khusrao and Ghalib’s grave, as he had done three years before when he had left for Europe to fill his vessels with the wine of wisdom. Now, when providence had so blessed him and conferred on him the crown of learning and scholarship, he didn’t forget his beginnings and paid a homage at the resting sites of these great men again. This fact must be borne in mind, and a reference will be made to it while discussing the evolution of Iqbal’s religious thought later.


Having paid a visit at Khwaja Nizam’s shrine, Iqbal set out for Lahore and on July 27th 1908 Iqbal arrived at forenoon in Lahore. He was warmly received by his friends and a tea party was held in his honour. From Lahore, Iqbal proceeded to his hometown Sialkot to meet his parents and here too he was received with equal warmth and respect and newspapers carried the news of his return. An aura of merriment and hope took over the nation and, according to Iqbal himself, “When I reached India, I was received with such respect and admiration which escapes description”. But this merry proved transient in the sense that Iqbal was soon gripped by monetary concerns and the mundane issues of material reality caught strong hold of him. Primarily Iqbal was the sort of person who wanted to gain self-sufficiency as soon as possible and simultaneously he had a strong sense of indebtedness towards his elder brother and parents, to whom he wanted to serve, in whatever way possible. Before leaving for England, Iqbal had a stint with the teaching profession, but on his return, he showed his clear intention to pursue law as his career. On October 30, 1908 Iqbal was granted the permission to practise in Chief Court while his personal office and residence continued to be located at Anar Kali Bazaar. In the meantime at Government College Lahore, Mr. Brett’s heir, Mr. James, a teacher in the department of philosophy had passed away and Iqbal was offered to take up the task of teaching philosophy. Lest there be any clash between his teaching and legal practice, the college principal, Mr.Robson filed a personal request at the request to schedule all the cases of Muhammad Iqbal in such a manner that the timings of his teaching doesn’t Collide with Court timings – a request which was accepted and thus Iqbal was left with no option but to join the college where he taught philosophy at masters and English at bachelors level for almost two years. Iqbal left the college after disagreement arose between him and the college principal and on resignation, told his lifelong servant Ali Bakhsh that “Now I am free and can do whatever I want”. It is this love and for personal and intellectual freedom which made Iqbal to reject the offers of professorship coming from Aligarh and other colleges. Now Iqbal was a full time lawyer and dedicated all his energies to establish himself in the field. But here too, the professional exigencies and his commitment to the principles of integrity and honesty kept him giving tough times and he had to strike the finest of the balance to steer through this professional trail. He continued to pursue his profession as lawyer from 1908-1934 and to quote Dr. Sabir “whereas the The poet of the West Goethe lost his courage too early in his profession, Mr. Iqbal carried on with this profession for the whole of his life”. Though he could not make any special name in this field, nor was the author of these lines able to trace the details of any important cases pursued by Iqbal, but this profession lately to offer him the liberty which was much needed for the evolution of his art and thought. Our poet had another feature that he refused to take cases after the 10th of any month, which restricted his income, but something he was comfortable with. Besides his strict adherence to the ethical principles of truthfulness and honesty had a natural role to play in keeping a large number of cases away from him. The professional aspect of Iqbal is something very less discussed by writers and scholars, despite its undeniable role in the formation of his personality.

Intitally Iqbal had tough time in settling down in Sialkot (Subcontinent in general) and creating a professional niche for himself. He repeatedly used to express his wish of leaving India and settling abroad, for he had developed an agnostic sense of wastage of his capacities. On the other hand, his poetic outpour had dropped down to mininal, in view of his professional engagements. In Europe earlier, he has expressed the idea of abandoning poetry – a time when Abdul Qadir and Arnold intervened and kept him away from this idea. But here in India, he had literally moved to the margins of abandoning poetry. Mustansir Mir summarises “The troubles in his personal life left him little time to pursue his literary interests, and, consequently, he wrote very little poetry in the first two or three years after his return from Europe. Increasingly, however, he took part in the activities of several social welfare organisations and became involved in different capacities with a number of educational institutions, including Punjab University and Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College”. Dr. G. H. Zulfikar notes that this drooping in poetic output was accompanied by the growing sensibilities towards issues that had pinched Iqbal’s spirit and he kept these ideas in whatever little poetry and prose he wrote. An essay entitled “Islam As a moral and political ideal” that appeared in March 28, 1909 in Indian review vividly reflects the paradigm shift in Iqbal and the transit he was making from a traditional, nationalistic, nature lover and a poet of aesthetic sensibilities to the poet progressive, universal and Islamic ideals in mind. The letters of Iqbal written around this era reflect the plots he has been weaving in his mind and the early signposts of his religious and political awakening. The question of identity had assumed the character of Golaith for Iqbal and the identification of cause which one must owe one’s loyalties to was a project of persistent pursual around this time. It was the time he was reimagining Muslim world as a unified whole, so dearly described as Ummah. The causes of its decadence, he had perhaps already traced back in Europe and his research project bears amply witness to the fact that he must have contemplated this question rigorously. He was now engaged with the question of revival of Ummah and it is in the backdrop of this quest that he had put his literary and aesthetic sensibilities to pause. His letters, written around this time to friends like Hassan Nizami, Atiya Faizi and others smack of existential crisis and a nihilism of deeper order. The critique of society, values, Transcendence and overwhelming emphasis on diabolic nature of life and universe advocated in these letters inevitably reminds the reader of his predecessor Nietzsche and his successors like Camus and Sartre . But, in the mysterious year of 1913, as noted by Akram Chugtai, Iqbal rediscovered Rumi and this rediscovery, irrespective of its content and context turned Iqbal into phoenix, who, re-emerging from his ashes awakened not only himself, but rang awakening bells across the world.

(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])