The poetry and life of Muhammad Iqbal, poet-philosopher opening a new age

Iqbal in a reception given by citizens of Lahore in 1933

L'art pour l'art. Art for Art. This 19th-century French slogan is a philosophical view that releases the intrinsic value of art from its function whether it was moral, political, or otherwise. Because of that, the value of art, whatever its form is, remains sustainable.

The poet-philosopher and spiritual father of Pakistan, Muhammad Iqbal, hated this widespread idea. For him, art, in this case, poetry, was psychic energy to awaken long-sleeping Muslims. Poetry was a vehicle for his thoughts. There was no Iqbal if there was no poetry. Poetry was Iqbal. He gave sermons and preaches, voiced the truth, and gave judgment through poetry. He wrote poetry in Urdu and Farsi and wrote prose in English.

"I wondered in pursuit of my own self; I was the traveler, and I am the destination," he wrote.

The verse above became one of the thoughts in his diary which marked his spiritual change in 1910. The diary was later published under the title Stray Reflections.

Shortly after writing the stanza, Iqbal's poetic style became more powerful. In the poem entitled Shikwa (Complaint), he angered some Muslims because it said God left them. Iqbal then replied in the next poem, Jawab-e-Shikwa, it was God who blamed Muslims for not knowing themselves. Muslims, said Iqbal lyrically, only brought misfortune to themselves.

Live old Persian poems

Since he was young, Iqbal had been diligently reading Persian poetry. India in the late British colonial period did not turn off the poetic spirit. This culture continued to live until Pakistan separated from India. Even now, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other -istan countries, literally meaning land or place, have become the nucleus of Farsi culture, which had been centered on Iran for hundreds of years.

From this cultural womb, Muhammad Iqbal was born and developed. Ancient Persian poets, such as Rudaki, Ferdowsi, Rumi, Saadi Shirazi, and Hafez, colored his growth. One scene in the poetic film The Silence by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, an Iranian director, depicted two happy little girls memorizing classical Persian poetry on a school bus. They were corrected and led by a sensitive little blind man. This is a general description of a country affected by Persian poetry. Poetry is a daily life everywhere and for everyone.

Iqbal liked not all Persian poets. Hafez, the classical Persian poet who, according to Shahab Ahmed in What Is Islam?, influenced Muslim readings from the Balkans to Bengal, was heavily criticized by Iqbal in his first Persian poetry book The Secrets of the Self (Asrar-i-Khudi). The work, published in 1915, was influenced by Masnavi, Rumi's masterpiece.

In the work, Iqbal called on people to strengthen their power and activate their potential through courage, a theme of virtue that is common in Greek and Islamic thought. Rumuz-e-Bekhudi (The Mysteries of Selflessness) was published shortly afterward which called for personal responsibility within the scope of the Muslim community and their role in the world. Inspired by Sura Al-Anbiya verse 107, Iqbal called for Muslims, as the closing people, to emulate the Messenger of Allah as a prophet who spread the blessings for the universe.

Iqbal (third from left) with Muslim politicians at Aligarh Muslim University

Besides copying Rumi's metaphors and insinuating Hafez, Iqbal also answered the 14th-century Persian poem entitled Gulshan-i Raz (The Secret Rose Garden) by Mahmoud Shabestari. In his poetic response, Iqbal discussed God, man, and the world. This poem is in his poetry collection entitled Zabur-i-Ajam (Persian Psalms).

Meanwhile, Iqbal also answered Goethe's poetry book, inspired by Divan by Hafez, titled West–östlicher Divan. His work Payam-i-Mashriq (Message from the East) was published in 1923 and written in the classic four-row format. Here, Iqbal touched on many European philosophers and politicians.

To the sky with Rumi

Throughout the life of his career as a lawyer, especially after studying at the University of Cambridge, England. In addition to law, he studied neo-Hegel's philosophy at the campus. In the summer of 1907, he went to Heidelberg to study German, then earned a doctorate at the Ludwig Maximillian University of Munich. His doctoral treaties revolved around the development of metaphysics in the Persian tradition from the ancient Zoroastrian era until the birth of the Bahá'í Faith which was accused of heresy in the 19th century.

He taught philosophy after returning to Lahore, but it did not last long. Like Mahatma Gandhi, a lawyer is a classy profession for Iqbal.

Iqbal with Choudhary Rahmat Ali and other Muslim leaders

Iqbal's philosophical thoughts were not written in the treaty although he pocketed the diplomas of two major European campuses. His poetry and philosophy were related. Therefore, Iqbal researchers must be patient because they have to struggle to find the meaning of his poetic words.

In 1932, his most important work Javid Nama was published. This book was dedicated to Javed, his young son. "If the object of poetry is, to make men, then poetry is the heir of prophecy," wrote Iqbal in the book.

Annemarie Schimmel in the Encyclopædia Iranica page rated the work as an encyclopedia of Iqbal thought that depicted the poet's journey to the sky accompanied by Mevlânâ Rumi. In the sky, Iqbal imagined, Rumi introduced him to various forms of poetry, philosophy, and politics until he reached the throne of divine beauty.

The description of the journey is very close to the metaphor in the Isra and Mi'raj. Like the Persian manuscripts that beautifully describe the holy journey of the Prophet Muhammad that night, Iqbal liked it in poetry.

He clearly interpreted the dynamic and creative effects of the spiritual and poetic journey in his book, which was taken from six lectures of Islamic philosophy, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. The title is clearly inspired by Al-Ghazali's The Revival of the Religious Sciences.

A party during the Second Round Table Conference in London in 1931

The Reconstruction invites Muslims to explore the spirit of a dynamic culture in Islam. Islam is never static and always stimulates change.

Basically, The Reconstruction is an interpretation of Iqbal's own poems that represented the esoteric spirit of poetry and its aesthetics. When Muslims used to advance because, one of them, of reading the Quran with the light of Greek thought, Iqbal also wanted to utilize the foundations of Quranic monotheism according to the spirit of knowledge of the times. In the book, there are a number of references to German thinkers, such as Immanuel Kant, GWF Hegel, Johann von Goethe, and Arthur Schopenhauer, and also French thinkers, such as René Descartes and Henri Bergson.

Iqbal met Bergson and orientalist Louis Massignon in person in Paris after returning from the Second Round Table Conference in London in 1931. The series of conferences discussed constitutional reform in India which was also attended by other prominent figures, such as B. R. Ambedkar, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and Gandhi. Iqbal traveled to several countries, including visiting the Mosque of Córdoba which later inspired one of his great poems.

In 1930, eight years before Iqbal died, he was asked to lead an annual session of the Muslim League in Allahabad. In this forum, he first voiced the idea of a Muslim nation separate from colonial India. This idea later became the formation of Pakistan in 1947. This attitude and political outlook changed from the attitude of Iqbal in his youth before World War I. At that time, he was more appreciative of antinationalism and internationalism with the British Empire as a working model of democracy.

The spiritual and humanitarian vision of Iqbal in 1930 became a sophisticated, interesting, provocative discussion by Faisal Devji. In the book titled Muslim Zion, Devji, a Canadian historian and Islamic intellectual, called Pakistan's political ideas congruent with the birth of Israel in 1947.