Tehran times, 9th November 2009,

Iqbal the poet of the east

Today is the 132nd birth anniversary of Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938), the poet-philosopher who is ranked among the greatest literary and philosophical figures of the 20th century. Iqbal belongs to the illustrious line of poet-philosophers exemplified by Rumi, Hafiz, Jami and Khayyam in the Islamic tradition, and Milton, and Goethe in the European tradition. From all of these, however, he differs in one important respect. As a Western-educated Indian Muslim he was equally conversant with the philosophies of the East and the West. In the words of Hermann Hesse, the great German writer, he “belongs to three domains of the spirit or intellect, the sources of his tremendous work: the worlds of India, of Islam, and of Western thought.” As an eloquent writer and speaker, who was of academic distinction and equally at home with Urdu, Persian, Arabic and English, he was well qualified to interpret the East to the West and vice versa. This is exemplified by one of his early books of Persian poetry, Payam-i Mashriq (Message of the East: 1923), subtitled: In reply to the German Philosopher, Goethe. Thus it is that although Iqbal addresses his message first and foremost to the Muslims of the world, and particularly to his compatriots, he speaks to all of mankind. His distinguished Hindu fellow- poet Rabindranath Tagore said on hearing of Iqbal’s death: “India, whose place in the world is too narrow, can ill afford to miss a poet whose poetry had such universal value.” Iqbal wrote his incomparably beautiful and moving poetry in both Urdu and Persian, and much of it is known by heart by millions of people in Pakistan, India, Iran and elsewhere. His philosophical writings in prose are mostly in English, the foremost of which is entitled: The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (1930), one of the truly outstanding books on the subject ever published, Iqbal Academy UK wrote at its website. There can be no better introduction of Iqbal than his poetry. Some of the Persian poems of Iqbal are the most sublime pieces of Persian poetry. In his mathnawi, Pas chibayad kard ay aqwam e Sharq, he addresses himself to the Eastern nations and it indicates that his keen eyes had an all-inclusive view of the entire Muslim world. Iqbal greatly identified with the Iranian nation -- and one of his famous poems is dedicated to the people of Iran which begins with the following verse:

I am burning like a tulip’s lamp on your path,
O youth of Iran, I swear by my own life and yours.

And he says:

The man is coming who shall break the chains of the slaves,
I have seen him through the cracks in the walls of your prison.