Muhammad Iqbal

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Allama Iqbal with his son Javed Iqbal in 1930

Muhammad Iqbal (9 November 1877 – 21 April 1938), widely known as Allama Iqbal (علامہ اقبال), was a poet, philosopher, and politician, as well as an academic, barrister and scholar in the British Raj. He is considered one of the most important figures in Urdu literature, with literary work in both the Urdu and Persian languages.


  • To this convention you must re-state as clearly and as strongly as possible, the political objective of Indian Muslims as a distinct political unit in the country. It is absolutely necessary to tell the world both inside and outside India that the economic problem is not the only problem in the country. From the Muslim point of view the cultural problem is of much greater consequence to most Indian Muslims. At any rate it is not less important than the economic problem.
    • letter by Sir Muhammad Iqbal to Jinnah pleading with him to summon an all India Muslim convention to take on Nehru’s challenge. quoted in Venkat Dhulipala - Creating a New Medina_ State Power, Islam, and the Quest for Pakistan in Late Colonial North India-Cambridge University Press (2015) 67
  • "Muhammad of Arabia ascended the highest Heaven and returned. I swear by God that if I had reached that point, I should never have returned.” These are the words of a great Muslim saint, ‘Abd al-Quddūs of Gangoh. In the whole range of Sufi literature it will be probably difficult to find words which, in a single sentence, disclose such an acute perception of the psychological difference between the prophetic and the mystic types of consciousness. The mystic does not wish to return from the repose of “unitary experience”; and even when he does return, as he must, his return does not mean much for mankind at large.
  • It cannot be denied that Islam, regarded as an ethical ideal plus a certain kind of polity – by which expression I mean a social structure regulated by a legal system and animated by a specific ethical ideal – has been the chief formative factor in the life-history of the Muslims of India. It has furnished those basic emotions and loyalties which gradually unify scattered individuals and groups, and finally transform them into a well-defined people, possessing a moral consciousness of their own.
    • Sir Muhammad Iqbal’s 1930 Presidential Address to the 25th Session of the All-India Muslim League, Allahabad, 29 December 1930 (from University of Columbia website)
  • The principle that each group is entitled to its free development on its own lines is not inspired by any feeling of narrow communalism. There are communalisms and communalisms. A community which is inspired by feelings of ill-will towards other communities is low and ignoble. I entertain the highest respect for the customs, laws, religious and social institutions of other communities. Nay, it is my duty, according to the teaching of the Quran, even to defend their places of worship, if need be. Yet I love the communal group which is the source of my life and behaviour; and which has formed me what I am by giving me its religion, its literature, its thought, its culture, and thereby recreating its whole past as a living operative factor, in my present consciousness. Even the authors of the Nehru Report recognise the value of this higher aspect of communalism.
  • "I would like to see the Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, Sind and Baluchistan amalgamated into a single State. Self-government within the British Empire, or without the British Empire, the formation of a consolidated North-West Indian Muslim State appears to me to be the final destiny of the Muslims, at least of North-West India.
    • Sir Muhammad Iqbal’s 1930 Presidential Address to the 25th Session of the All-India Muslim League, Allahabad, 29 December 1930 (from University of Columbia website) Also quoted in Talib, S. G. S. (1950). Muslim League Attack on Sikhs and Hindus in the Punjab, 1947. Amritshar: Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. p.3
  • I have already indicated to you the meaning of the word religion, as applied to Islam. The truth is that Islam is not a Church. It is a State conceived as a contractual organism long before Rousseau ever thought of such a thing, and animated by an ethical ideal which regards man not as an earth-rooted creature, defined by this or that portion of the earth, but as a spiritual being understood in terms of a social mechanism, and possessing rights and duties as a living factor in that mechanism.
    • Sir Muhammad Iqbal’s 1930 Presidential Address to the 25th Session of the All-India Muslim League, Allahabad, 29 December 1930 (from University of Columbia website)
  • Muslims are we, the country is ours, China and Arabia is ours, India is ours. Under the shadow of swords we have grown up. The crescent scabbard is our national emblem.
    • Mohammed Iqbal , circa 1930, Ved Mehta "Coming Down", India , Granta 57 (London: Granta, 1997), p. 148. quoted in Savarkar and The Discourse on Islam in Pre-independent India, Amalendu Misra. Source: Journal of Asian History, Vol. 33, No. 2 (1999)
  • [T]he tyranny of imperialism struts abroad, covering its face under the masks of Democracy, Nationalism, Communism, Fascism and heaven knows what else besides. Under these masks, in every corner of the earth, the spirit of freedom and the dignity of man are being trampled underfoot in a way to which not even the darkest period of human history presents a parallel. The so-called statesmen to whom government and leadership of men was entrusted have proved demons of bloodshed, tyranny and oppression. ... After subjugating and establishing their dominion over weaker peoples, they have robbed them of their possessions, of their religions, their morals, of their cultural traditions and their literatures.
  • My forefathers were Brahmins. They spent their lives in search of God. I am spending my life in search of Man.
    • Educational Thinkers [1]
  • Democracy is a system where people are counted but not weighed.
    • Quoted in Voices of resurgent Islam (1983), Oxford University Press, John Esposito, p. 180.
    • Variant: "Democracy is a system in which heads are counted but not weighed." In Elst, K. Hindu dharma and the culture wars. (2019). New Delhi : Rupa.
  • Every land which belongs to God is our land.
    • As quoted in Islam and Nationalism, Dr. Ali Mohammed Naqvi.
    • Variant: "All land belongs to Muslims, because it belongs to their God." in : JPRS Report: Near East & South Asia, 93067 Foreign Broadcast Information Service, 1993 [2]
  • Heart – “It is absolutely certain that God does exist.”
    Head – “But, my dear boy! Existence is one of my categories, and you have no right to use it.”
    Heart – “So much the better, my Aristotle!”
  • Shah Alamgir, that high and mighty king,
    Pride and renown of Gurgan Timur’s line,
    In whom Islam attained a loftier fame
    And wider honour graced the Prophet’s Law,
    He the last arrow to our quiver left
    In the affray of Faith with Unbelief ;
    When that the impious seed of heresy,
    By Akbar nourished, sprang and sprouted fresh
    In Dara’s soul, the candle of the heart
    Was dimmed in every breast, no more secure
    Against corruption our Community
    Continued ; then God chose from India
    That humble-minded warrior, Alamgir,
    Religion to revive, faith to renew.
    The lightning of his sword set all ablaze
    The harvest of impiety ; faith’s torch
    Once more its radiance o’er our counsels shed.
    • The Secrets of Selflessness, Emperor Alamgir and the Tiger
  • Overflowing with the wine of Truth is the cup of India
    All philosophers of the Western world have acknowledged India
    It is the result of the elegant thinking of Indians
    That higher than the sky is the position of India
    This country has had many people of angelic disposition
    On whose account world renowned is the name of India
    India is proud of the existence of Rama
    Spiritual people consider him prelate of India
    This alone is the miracle of this light of righteousness
    That brighter than world’s morning is the evening of India
    He was expert in sword craft, was unique in bravery
    Was matchless in piety and in the enthusiasm of love.
    • Rama. Translated by: M.A.K. Khalil.
    • Variant: "The cup of India is brimful of the wine of truth. All philosophers of the western world (have acknowleged) Rāma of India. It is the result of elegant thoughts of Indians that the loftiness of India is higher than the sky.In this country thousands of persons with angelic worth were born and on account of them the name of India is so famous. India is proud of the existence of Rāma. Discerning minds regard him as the Imam of India. It is the miracle of this light of righteousness that India’s evening is brighter than world’s morning." Muhammad Iqbal, in an Urdu poem captioned ‘Raam’ which is compiled in his book ‘Bang-e-Dara’. quoted in Kishore, Kunal (2016). Ayodhyā revisited.
  • Our India is the best of all countries in the world.
  • China and Arabia are ours, India is ours,
    Muslims we are, the whole world is ours...
  • O water of the river Ganges, thou rememberst the day
    When our torrent flooded thy valleys...
    • quoted in Annemarie Schimmel - Gabriel's Wing_ Study into the Religious Ideas of Sir Muhammad Iqbal (1989, Iqbal Academy) also in Jain, M. (2010). Parallel pathways: Essays on Hindu-Muslim relations, 1707-1857.
  • [Iqbal elaborated that nationalism came into conflict with Islam] only when it begins to play the role of a political concept and claims to be a principle of human solidarity demanding that Islam should recede to the background of a mere private opinion and cease to be a living factor in the national life. ... In majority countries, Islam accomodates nationalism, for there Islam and nationalism are practically identical, in minority countries it is justified in seeking self-determination as a cultural unit.
    • Muhammad Iqbal quoted in R. Hassan 1971, 146, in Iqbal Poet Philospher of Pakistan, also in Jain, M. (2010). Parallel pathways: Essays on Hindu-Muslim relations, 1707-1857. [3]
  • The history of the preceding Muslim dynasties had taught Aurangzeb that the strength of Islam did not depend ... so much on the goodwill of the people of this land as on the strength of the ruling race.
    • quoted in Jain, M. (2010). Parallel pathways: Essays on Hindu-Muslim relations, 1707-1857. p 15ff quoting Malik 1971
  • Why must I forever lose, forever forgo profit that is my due,
    Sunk in the gloom of evenings past, no plans for the morrow pursue.
    Why must I all attentive be to the nightingale's lament?
    Friend, am I as dumb as a flower? Must I remain silent?
    My theme makes me bold, makes my tongue more eloquent.
    Dust be in my mouth, against Allah I make complaint.
  • Would we have played with our lives for nothing but worldly gain?
    If our people had run after earth's goods and gold,
    Need they have smashed idols, and not idols sold?
  • You tell us who were they who pulled down the gates of Khyber?
    Who were they that reduced the city that was the pride of Caesar?
    Fake gods that men had made, who did break and shatter?
    Who routed infidel armies and destroyed them with bloody slaughter?
    Who put out and made cold the 'sacred' flame in Iran?
    Who retold the story of the one God, Yazdan?
    • (Singh, p. 36)
  • Let the lament of this lonely bulbul pierce the hearts of all,
    Arouse the hearts of the sleeping, with this my clarion call.
    Transfused with fresh blood, a new compact of faith we'll sign.
    Let our hearts thirst again for a sip of the vintage wine.
    What if the pitcher be Persian, from Hejaz is the wine I serve.
    What if the song be Indian, it is Hejazi in its verve.
    • (Singh, p. 58)
    • Variant:
      "May hearts be torn by the voice of this solitary Nightingale,
      May hearts be awakening through the sound of this same bell.
      That is, may hearts become alive again through a new promise of faithfulness,
      May hearts again thirst for this same ancient wine.
      If there's a Persian cask, then so what? --my wine is Hijazi,
      If the melody is Indian ["Hindi"], then so what? --my tune is Hijazi."
      From University of Columbia website
    • Variant: "No matter if my idiom is Indian, my spirit is that of Hejaz." in Elst, Koenraad (2014). Decolonizing the Hindu mind: Ideological development of Hindu revivalism. New Delhi: Rupa. p. 343.

Quotes about Iqbal

  • This is not a letter on Pakistan. If it were, I could have written a small book entitled "Glimpses of Pakistan's history". Time does not permit it. The nation is gripped in her worst crisis, standing in the middle of the road between survival and disintegration. Since the birth of Pakistan, crisis has followed crisis in rapid escalation. Millions of lives were sacrificed to create this country. Pakistan is said to be the dream of Mohammad Iqbal and the creation of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Quaid-e-Azam. Was anything wrong with the dream or with the one who made the dream come true? Opinions have differed and continue to differ. The next few years will most probably decide the issue, perhaps once and for all, and not without bloodshed. This process is not inevitable but the present policies of the ruling junta are driving this country towards a sad inevitability
  • Iqbal is one of the eminent personalities in the history of Islam. His is such a profound and sublime personality that it cannot be described and measured by only one Dimension of his life. Iqbal was a scholar and a philosopher, but at the same time other dimensions of his life are also so bright that if we consider him to be just a philosopher and a scholar, we feel that we have belittled him. Undoubtedly Iqbal is a great poet and is reckoned among the greatest. Those who know Urdu very well and have written about Iqbal’s Urdu poetry maintain that Iqbal's Urdu poems are among the best in Urdu. Of course this may not be a great tribute to him as the poetic Tradition of Urdu is not so rich. But it cannot be disputed that his Urdu poetry made a great impact on large numbers of people, on Hindus and Muslims equally, living in the Subcontinent during the early decades of the twentieth century, and motivated them to participate in the struggle (for freedom) that was reaching its climax.
  • Iqbal is buried in the grounds of the Shah Jehan Mosque in Lahore; and soldiers watch his tomb. Rhetoric or sentimentality like that is invariably worrying; it hides things. And the tomb, with its Mogul motifs, would be a kind of artistic sacrilege if, just across the way, the great Mogul fort of Lahore (the emperor’s window there recorded in some of the finest Mogul pictures) wasn’t falling into dust; if, in that same city of Lahore, the Mogul Shalimar Gardens and the tombs of the emperor Jehangir and his consort were not in absolute decay; if, going back four centuries, the delicately colored tiled towers of the thirteenth-century tombs of Uch in Bahawalpur, one of the finest Islamic things in the subcontinent, were not half washed away; if, going back further still, the land just around the Buddhist city of Taxila, known to Alexander the Great, and with once fabulous remains, wasn’t being literally quarried; if Pakistan, still pursuing imperialist Islamic fantasies, hadn’t been responsible for the final looting of the Buddhist treasures of Afghanistan.
    In its short life Iqbal’s religious state, still half serf, still profoundly uneducated, mangling history in its schoolbooks as well, undoing the polity it was meant to serve, had shown itself dedicated only to the idea of the cultural desert here, with glory—of every kind—elsewhere.
    • Naipaul, V.S. - Beyond Belief (Vintage, 1999)
  • AND yet it was strange, the Arab tilt of Pakistan: the little boy in Arab clothes, the Pakistan Steel project given the name of the Arab conqueror. The poet Iqbal, putting forward his plan for an Indian Muslim state in 1930, had said that the Islam of India was special, “a people-building force … at its best.” “I therefore demand the formation of a consolidated Muslim state in the best interests of India and Islam,” Iqbal had said. “For India, it means security and peace …; for Islam, an opportunity to rid itself of the stamp that Arabian imperialism was forced to give it.”
    But the world had changed since 1930; Arabia had some say in the world again. Pakistan had changed since 1947. Seeking more than Iqbal’s Muslim polity now, seeking in failure an impossibly pure faith, it called up its Arabian origins, mystical but at the same time real. At Banbhore, a remote outpost of the earliest Arab empires, you walked on human bones.
    • Naipaul, V.S. - Among the Believers (Vintage, 1982)
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