Saturday, April 21, 2012

Iqbal's Obituary in the Times of London, 1938

Iqbal's wall-clock
preserved at Iqbal Museum, Lahore
Photo: Iqbal Academy Pakistan

The Times, London, Friday 22 April 1938

Sir Muhammad Iqbal, of Lahore, whose death at the age of 62 is announced by a Reuter message from Lahore, was the greatest Urdu and Persian poet of his day, and his reputation in the West might have been comparable to that of his great Indian contemporary Tagore had translations of his work into English been more frequent. He exercised an enormous influence on Islamic thought, and was an eloquent supporter of the rights and interests of his fellow Indian Muslims. 

Iqbal was greatly influenced as a student at Lahore University by that ripe Islamic scholar Sir Thomas Arnold, and for seven years he was Professor of Philosophy at the Government College Lahore. 

He went to Cambridge in 1905 and read Western philosophy at Trinity College, under the direction of the late Dr. McTaggart, for the Philosophical Tripos, in which he obtained his degree by research work. In J908 he was called to the Bar by Lincoln’s Inn and did some practice in Lahore. The Munich University conferred on him the Ph.D. for a dissertation on the development of metaphysics in Persia. He developed a philosophy of his own, which owed much to Nietzsche and Bergson, while his poetry often reminded the reader of Shelley. The Asrar-i-Khudi ("Secrets of the Self"), published in Lahore in 1915, while giving no systematic account of his philosophy, put his ideas in a popular and attractive form. Professor R. A. Nicholson, of Cambridge, was so impressed by it that he obtained the leave of the poet to translate it into English, and the rendering was published in 1920.

Western readers found him to be an apostle. if not to his own age, then to posterity, and after the Persian fashion he invoked the Saki to fill his cup with wine and pour moonbeams into the dark night of his thought. He was an Islamic enthusiast, inspired by the vision of a New Mecca, a world-wide, theocratic, Utopian State in which all Muslims, no longer divided by the barriers of race and country, should he one. His ideal was a free and independent Moslem fraternity, having the Ka’aba as its centre and knit together by love of Allah and devotion to the Prophet. In his Rumuz-e-Bekhudi ("The Mysteries of Selflessness ") (1916) he dealt with the Iife of the Islamic community on those lines, and he allied the cry "Back to the Koran" with the revolutionary force of Western philosophy, which he hoped and believed would vitalize the movement and ensure its triumph. He, felt that Hindu intellectualism and Islamic pantheism had destroyed the capacity for action based on scientific observation and interpretation of phenomena which distinguished the Western peoples and "especially the English". But he was severely critical of Western life and thought on the ground of its materialism. Holding that the full development of the individual presupposes a society, he found the ideal society in what he considered to be the Prophet's conception of Islam. In 1923 he published Piyam-i-Mashriq ("The Message of the East") and addressed the modern world at large in reply to Goethe's homage to the genius of the East. Two years later came Bang-i-Dira ("The Call to March"), a collection of his Urdu poems written during the first 20 years of the century. This was followed by a new Persian volume of which the title stood for "Songs of a Modern David." 

A poet with his gifts and his theme could not fail to influence thought in an India so politically minded as that of our day. He took some part in provincial politics being a member of the Punjab Legislature in 1925-28. He was on the British Indian delegation to the second session of the Round Table Conference in London in 1931. His authority was cited, not without some justification, for a theory of Islamic political solidarity in Northern India which might conceivably be extended to adjacent Moslem States. In 1930 he publicly advocated the formation of a North-West Indian Moslem State by the merging of the Moslem Provinces within the proposed All-India Federation. But his real interests were religious rather than political. A notable work published in 1934 reproduced a series of lectures by the poet on “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam." Therein he sought to reconcile the carrying out of modern reforms, as in Turkey, with the claims of the Shari’at. The lectures went to show "that soundness and exactitude of historical judgment were not his special endowment. The fact was that in maturity as in youth he sought to reconcile the most recent of Western philosophical systems, into which he gathered the latest scientific conclusions, with the teaching of the Koran. Like his earlier work the book was marked by penetrating and noble thought, though the connexion of his argument was somewhat obscure. 

He was knighted in 1923, and the Punjab University made him an honorary D.Litt. in 1933. He was elected Rhodes Memorial Lecturer at Oxford University for 1935. For a long time he had been in indifferent health, and he became increasingly dreamy and mystical.

Source of text: Pakistan Defence


  1. Greetings,

    Thank you for this.

    I have been following the publishing (on the MLC site) this week of photographs of Iqbal, as it depicted him through time. I knew that this day was coming.

    All good wishes,


  2. Dear Shafique Sahib...

    I strongly believe that POETS are not of ISLAM...or any other religion...POETS are poets and their message is always to take humanity towards good...
    Iqbal...wants sleeping generation of his time to wake up but still his poetry can wake up the sleeping ones...its not only for Muslims though there are few strong words on Divine and HIS way of changing fate we may find in Iqbal's poetry and writings...however we all...either Muslim or not non Muslim do believe in DIVINE...otherwise there is no desire of striving the best of life...
    Iqbal is an universal poet..sufi and a saint....hmmm....

    I just wish that the world now just stop categorizing poets and writers on the basis of their nationality....

  3. Wonderful! And how heart-warming it was to visit Trinity College Cambridge a few weeks ago and relay the achievements of Allama Iqbal RA to my daughter. Superb :)

  4. I like the end of that obituary when it says that Iqbal became 'increasingly dreamy and mystical'.