Muhammad Iqbal – Poet-Philosopher and Thinker

Allama muhammad iqbalMuhammad Iqbal was born on 9 November 1877 in Sialkot in the Punjab region. His ancestors, members of the Brahman community from the Kashmir region, converted to Islam more than four hundred years prior to Iqbal's birth. Assumingly it was Iqbal's grandfather, Shaikh Rafiq, who settled with his family in Sialkot coming from Looehar, Kashmir. There, they sought a better life after the living conditions for the Muslim population deteriorated in British-India especially in the region of North Kashmir under the rule of Maharajah Ghulam Singh. Shaikh Rafiq was a vendor of cashmere shawls and had two sons, Shaikh Ghulam Qadir and Shaikh Nur Muhammad who worked as a tailor.

Childhood in Sialkot

Nur Muhammad, Muhammad Iqbal's father was named a „parh falsafī“, an “unlearned philosopher. He was known for his piety and his knowledge of mysticism. Iqbal's mother, Imam Bibi, was also known as a pious woman. They both had just a rudimentary school education. The couple had three daughters and two sons – Muhammad and his older brother Atta Muhammad (born 1860. Atta's marriage with a daughter of a soldier of the British-Indian Army in retirement meant a social uplift for the family into the middle class.
Muhammad Iqbal learned to read the Quran at the mosque at the age of four. Then he visited the madrasah where he continued to study the Quran. His teacher was Sayyid Mir Hassan (1844-1929) who would become a professor for Arabic Language at the Scotch Mission College in Sialkot. He was a scholar of Quran, Hadith and Islamicate languages. It was Sayyid Mir Hassan who convinced Iqbal's father to send his son to the Scotch Mission Colleges where Iqbal enrolled in 1893. At the college Iqbal learned about the subtleties of poetry in Urdu and Farsi and established contact with the grandmaster of Urdu-poetry Nawab Mirza Khan (1831-1905) who is said to have attested Iqbal his poetry left no room for any improvements.

Youth in Lahore

Iqbal's parents arranged a marriage with Karim Bibi, the daughter of a physician in Gujrat. The couple had three children, Miraj (1896-1914) and Aftab (1898-1979) who followed the path of his father and studied Philosophy and Law. A third child died 1901 shortly after birth. The young family moved to Lahore where Iqbal studied English Literature, Philosophy and Arabic Language at the Government College. After his BA Iqbal pursued a Master's degree which he obtained in 1899. Iqbal teached History, Philosophy and Economics till 1904. He was also Assistant Professor for English at his Alma Mater where Iqbal got introduced to Sir Thomas Arnold who urged him to do research and publish. While at the college Iqbal did research on „al-Insān al-kāmil“ („the person who has reached perfection“), a work of ʿAbd al-Karīm al-Ǧīlī (born 1366). He also translated texts from English into Urdu and wrote the first book published in Urdu on the principles of economics.

Iqbal in Europe

It was Sir Thomas Arnold who urged Iqbal to study in Europe. Iqbal came to Cambridge in 1905. Cambridge was the centre for Arabic and Persian Studies in these times. Iqbal got introduced to the philosopher McTaggart and the orientalist Reynold A. Nicholson who would later translate Iqbals magnum opus „Asrar-i Khudi“ ("The Secrets of the Self", published 1920). While Arnold was not available Iqbal represented him as Professor for Arabic Language. During his stay in London Iqbal enrolled for studies of Law at the Lincoln᾿s Inn. Sir Thomas Arnold recommended himto pursue a PhD under supervision of Fritz Hommel in Munich. His dissertation "The Development of Metaphysics in Persia" was published 1908 in London. In the same year Iqbal was accredited as barrister-at-law in London. Iqbal also lived in Germany and a street in Heidelberg named after him ("Iqbal-Ufer") commemorates him. A commemorative plaque marks the building where Iqbal lived and learned German within three months in 1907. His teacher, Emma Wagenast, familiarized Iqbal with Goethe, Heine and Nietzsche. Both were also involved in a romantic relation. The Iqbal Memorial at the Habsurgerplatz in Munich, sculptured by Karl Oppenrieder, reminds us also of Iqbal's time in Germany. It was his time in Europe that affected Iqbal the most.

Call from Home and the Destiny of the Muslim Community

After his return Iqbal settled in Lahore to work as a lawyer. For a while he taught Philosophy at his Almer Mater. During that time, he rarely composed poetry. He was busy to earn a living and to settle his private life. His first marriage failed and his second marriage with Sardar Begum ended unhappily in 1910. In 1913 he married his third wife Mukhtar Begum. His experiences in Europe, the events on the international stage and in his private life urged Iqbal to seek answers for forward-pressing questions. The climax of his literary creativeness began. With his Asrar-i Khudi he addresses the Muslim community at large in 1915 and aims for the self-actualization of Muslims to pursue self-awareness and knowledge to realise a community and the development of the individual as a part of society. His “Six Lectures on the Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam” based on lectures he held at the Universities of Aligarh, Delhi and Madras were published in 1930. In these lectures Iqbal urges Muslims to re-examine Islamic thought in the light of the scientific and social cataclysms of the beginning twentieth century.


While being active in literature he also involved himself in political and social activities. He delivered speeches, held lectures, taught and raised concerns over international affairs. During the period of 1926 till 1930 he was an elected representative in the legislative council for the Punjab region. He played also an important role in the formation of the All-Indian Muslim League and its development as India's biggest Muslim political party. In terms of Hindu-Muslim conflicts he appeared as a mediator. While he was first an advocator for a state unity under which Hindus and Muslims should live together, he called on Muslims to take matters of the Muslim community into their own hands – like Mahatma Ghandi called on Hindus to do so. In 1930 Iqbal delivered a speech at the annual meeting of the All-Indian Muslim League as its president and supported the idea of a separate state for the Muslim community in northwest India. Iqbal travelled to London and participated in round table conferences to discuss the future of India in 1931 and 1932. He visited during that time France where he met the philosopher Bergson, and visited also Spain, Italy, Egypt and Palestine. Answering the call of Nadir Shah, King of Afghanistan, Iqbal visited Afghanistan to advise the king on the reformation of the education system.


Muhammad Iqbal did not live to see the state formation of Pakistan in 1947. Notwithstanding this Muhammad Iqbal is considered the spiritual father of the nation and celebrated as its national poet. Muhammad Iqbal died on 21 April 1938 in Lahore.