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Exploring the Literary Legacy of Muhammad Iqbal: A Detailed Analysis

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Ramzan Sheikh

Muhammad Iqbal, a revered figure in Urdu and Persian literature, is celebrated for his extensive and profound body of poetic work. His poetic compositions, primarily in Persian rather than Urdu, encompass a wide array of themes and philosophical insights. Iqbal’s debut collection of poetry, “Asrar-i-Khudi,” which he published in 1915, delves deeply into the concept of “Khudi” or “Self” from a religious and spiritual perspective. In this collection, he emphasizes the spirit and self, drawing from religious principles to convey his philosophical insights. Notably, Iqbal’s adept use of the term “Khudi” aligns closely with the Quranic notion of a divine spark present in every human being, advocating for self-realization and self-knowledge. Furthermore, he vehemently condemns self-destruction and meticulously charts the stages through which the “Self” must journey before reaching a state of perfection, ultimately enabling the knower of the “Self” to become a vice-regent of God.

In his subsequent work, “Rumuz-i-Bekhudi,” published in 1917, Iqbal fervently advocates for the Islamic way of life as the paramount code of conduct for ensuring a nation’s viability. This collection emphasizes the need for individuals to uphold their defining characteristics while also calling for the sacrifice of personal ambitions for the greater welfare of the nation. Moreover, “Rumuz-i-Bekhudi” touches upon pivotal themes such as the ideal community, Islamic ethical and social principles, and the intricate interplay between the individual and society. It is worth noting that while Iqbal ardently supports Islam, he also acknowledges and appreciates the positive aspects of other religions. This particular collection complements the emphasis on the self-found in “Asrar-i-Khudi,” and often, the two are compiled in the same volume under the title “Asrar-i-Rumuz” (Hinting Secrets), with a direct address to the global Muslim community.

Iqbal’s 1924 publication, “Payam-e-Mashriq,” is intricately linked to Goethe’s “West-östlicher Diwan.” In this work, Iqbal endeavours to remind the West of the significance of morality, religion, and civilization, emphasizing the need to cultivate sentiments of ardour, dynamism, and devotion. His lyrical prose serves as a poignant call to the West, underscoring the importance of understanding spirituality as an essential element for personal and collective growth.

In 1927, Iqbal presented “Zabur-e-Ajam,” a collection that includes the notable poems “Gulshan-e-Raz-e-Jadeed” (“Garden of New Secrets”) and “Bandagi Nama” (“Book of Slavery”). Within “Gulshan-e-Raz-e-Jadeed,” Iqbal masterfully poses profound questions and subsequently provides enlightening answers, drawing from ancient and modern wisdom. Conversely, “Bandagi Nama” vehemently denounces the concept of slavery while seeking to elucidate the underlying spirit of the fine arts within enslaved societies. Throughout this collection, Iqbal consistently stresses the significance of cherishing the past, performing commendably in the present, and preparing diligently for the future, all the while highlighting the virtues of love, enthusiasm, and energy as essential components for achieving an ideal life.

Iqbal’s 1932 opus, “Javed Nama,” is a noteworthy work that is dedicated to and addressed to his son, featuring prominently within the poems themselves. Drawing inspiration from the works of Ibn Arabi and Dante’s “The Divine Comedy,” Iqbal intricately weaves mystical and exaggerated depictions across various temporal dimensions. Notably, within this collection, Iqbal positions himself as Zinda Rud (“A stream full of life”), guided by Rumi, “the master,” as he traverses through diverse heavens and spheres, ultimately culminating in a profound encounter with divine illuminations. Additionally, the collection contains a poignant passage that revisits a significant historical period, wherein Iqbal unequivocally condemns the actions of Muslims who played a pivotal role in the defeat and demise of Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula of Bengal and Tipu Sultan of Mysore, ultimately delivering their respective domains to the yoke of slavery. As the collection draws to a close, Iqbal tenderly addresses his son, Javed, extending his guidance to the “new generation” at large.

Another prominent work by Iqbal is “Pas Chih Bayed Kard Ay Aqwam-e-Sharq,” which includes the evocative poem “Musafir” (“The Traveller”). Within this composition, Iqbal masterfully presents Rumi as a compelling character, offering a profound exposition of the mysteries of Islamic laws and Sufi perceptions. Furthermore, he laments the prevailing discord and disunity among Indian Muslims and other Muslim nations, offering counsel to the Pashtun people to discover the “secret of Islam” and to cultivate the “self” within themselves.

Muhammad Iqbal’s profound love for the Persian language is unmistakable throughout his works and poetry. Emphasizing his deep affection for the language, he eloquently states in one of his poems: “Even though in sweetness Hindi is sugar – (but) speech method in Dari is sweeter.” This enduring affection for the Persian language underpins his steadfast belief that it allows him to fully articulate complex philosophical concepts while also granting him a broader audience.

Transitioning to his contributions to Urdu literature, Iqbal’s debut collection of Urdu poetry, “The Call of the Marching Bell,” was published in 1924 and reflected a profound sense of patriotism and a deep connection with the imagery of nature. Notably, the second phase of his poetry, written between 1905 and 1908 during his studies in Europe, delves into the nature of European society, highlighting the loss of spiritual and religious values within the cultural landscape. This served as a catalyst for Iqbal to explore themes related to the historical and cultural heritage of Islam and the Muslim community from a global perspective. His impassioned plea to the entire Muslim community, referred to as the Ummah, underscores the imperative of defining personal, social, and political existence in alignment with the values and teachings of Islam.

Iqbal’s Urdu works following 1930 were distinctly tailored to resonate with the Muslim masses of India, bearing a heightened emphasis on Islam and the spiritual and political rejuvenation of the Muslim community. Notably, “Bal-e-Jibril,” published in 1935, is widely regarded as his most exemplary collection of Urdu poetry, inspired by his visit to Spain and the profound legacy of the Moorish kingdom. This collection comprises a diverse array of poetic forms, including ghazals, poems, quatrains, and epigrams, all of which resound with an intense sense of religious fervour.

An equally significant addition to Iqbal’s Urdu repertoire is “Zarb-i-Kalim,” published in 1936, two years prior to his passing. Often described as his political manifesto, this philosophical poetry book encapsulates Iqbal’s impassioned beliefs concerning the contemporary plight of society. Notably, he argues that modern societal challenges stem from godlessness, materialism, and injustice, which are deeply embedded within modern civilization and are perpetuated by the subjugation and exploitation of weaker nations, particularly the Indian Muslims.

Iqbal’s final work, “Armughan-e-Hijaz,” was posthumously published in 1938. This multifaceted collection comprises quatrains in Persian alongside a selection of poems and epigrams in Urdu. The Persian quatrains evoke a vivid impression of the poet traversing through the Hijaz in a realm of imagination, resonating with profound ideas and an intensity of passion that are unmistakable hallmarks of his poetic oeuvre.

Iqbal’s foray into English literature is equally noteworthy, characterized by his two books, “The Development of Metaphysics in Persia” (1908) and “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam” (1930), as well as a collection of letters. Within these works, Iqbal articulates his contemplations on Persian ideology and Islamic Sufism, particularly emphasizing his conviction that Islamic Sufism serves as a catalyst for elevating the searching soul to a higher understanding of life. Furthermore, he expounds on a wide array of topics, including philosophy, the nature of God and prayer, the human spirit, Muslim culture, and various political, social, and religious quandaries.

Iqbal’s profound intellectual contributions were underscored by his invitation to participate in a conference at Cambridge in 1931, where he expounded upon his views, including his stance on the separation of church and state. During this gathering, Iqbal offered poignant advice to the young scholars at Cambridge, cautioning them against atheism and materialism. He lamented the European civilization’s greatest blunder—the separation of Church and State—and the subsequent deprivation of its moral soul, ultimately leading to a trajectory toward atheistic materialism. Notably, Iqbal’s prescient observations articulated more than two decades prior underscored the ramifications of this civilization’s trajectory, which materialized with striking clarity during the European War of 1914.

Lastly, while Iqbal is best known for his contributions to Persian and Urdu literature, he also wrote a selection of poems in Punjabi, underscoring his versatility and profound connection with diverse linguistic and cultural traditions. His deep reverence for Punjabi Sufis is unmistakable, as evidenced by his poignant recollection of being deeply moved and overwhelmed by a poem recited by a comrade, a testament to the enduring impact of Punjabi Sufi traditions on his literary sensibilities.

Muhammad Iqbal’s enduring literary legacy transcends linguistic and cultural boundaries, offering profound and timeless insights into spirituality, society, and the human experience. His unparalleled ability to navigate diverse linguistic and cultural terrains, coupled with his unyielding commitment to articulating profound philosophical concepts, cements his status as a towering figure in the realm of literature and intellectual discourse.

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