137th birthday: What Allama Iqbal’s poetry has taught me so far

Published: November 9, 2013

Iqbal's message of using each day to make the world a better place has been a motivation for many. This is what makes his poetry all the more magical. PHOTO: FILE

“Maqsood-e-hunar soz-e-hayat-e-abdi hai

Ye ik nafas ya do nafas, misl-e-sharar kia” -Iqbal

(The real aim of any form of art should be to develop the longing for an ultimate life.

It’s not art if all it does is to spark the feelings for a moment or two and then subside – Iqbal)

Iqbal’s poetry, beyond doubt, goes in line with the above definition of art (hunar). Though I am just beginning to discover Iqbal myself, it is indisputable that his poetry has proven to be a truly transforming force. Some of his verses had an unprecedented and enlightening impact on me, helping me become a better person and Muslim.

As an example, I will quote the following verse by Iqbal which, for me, transcended the boundary of poetry simply for the sake of poetry.

“Farigh tou na bethey ga mehshar mein junoon mera

Ya apna garey ban chaak ya daman-e-yazda’n chaak”

(My frenzy would not let me sit idle even on the Day of Judgement.

Either I would tear my own self or else I would contend with the Mighty God)

I first heard this verse on Iqbal’s last birth anniversary, in a documentary shown by Geo TV and it took me some time to comprehend what it meant. But slowly, it became part of my inner being.

I personally think that this couplet is the epitome of Iqbal’s philosophy of constant struggle. The message that it sends about always doing something and never wasting a moment sitting unproductive, completely changed my way of thinking.

It was because of this verse that I formed a method of judging myself, questioning whether the day I spent added value to what I was yesterday. If the conclusion was contrary to what I hoped for, I would strive to make my following day more valuable in terms of learning.

Iqbal’s role as a teacher, whose words transformed the hearts of his students, is proficiently remembered by Khurram Ali Shafique.

“We tend to find a definite ideology in his writings, whereas he is more of an educator. His philosophy is a tool for training the minds for looking into the conscience of nations and humanity.”

My instructor at LUMS, Dr Tehseen Firaqi, had spent some time in Iran and narrated some of his experiences of living there.

During the 1979 Iran revolution, which unseated Shah and led to the formation of Imam Khomeni’s government, Iqbal’s poetry would be written on banners to inspire the people. His message of using each day to make the world a better place has been a motivation for many. Just as Iqbal provided spiritual rejuvenation to the Indians in the events that led up to independence in 1947, his words played a similar role in the 1970’s in Iran. This captures the magical prowess of his words.

Dr Tehseen recalled one of the social gatherings that he attended, where it was a norm to start the proceedings with Iqbal’s verse. The people in Iran held Dr Tehseen in high regard when informed that he was from the city of ‘Iqbal-e-Lahori’.

Iqbal’s message can be used to solve the problems of today, from everyday struggles to collective consciousnesses and revolution.

Up until a year or so ago, I used to see November 9 as a holiday in remembrance of a man whose only contribution was a dream of an independent state for Muslims.

Truth be told, it was Imran Khan who introduced me to Iqbal through his book ‘A Personal History’. It was after reading the last chapter ‘Rediscovering Iqbal: Pakistan’s symbol and a template for our future’ in it, that I realised that I have been missing out on a lot by not knowing about one of the greatest Muslim scholars born in the past few centuries.

Irrespective of one’s political inclinations, I would recommend everyone, especially the young generation, to read this particular chapter of the book, if not the whole book.

I will be ending this piece with the words of Dr Nomanul Haq, an imminent scholar of humanities, who portrays Iqbal message across in the most inspiring way.

“Don’t try to go for the message in the first place. Just read his poems. Enjoy and appreciate the literary and poetic devices used, and fall in love with the words.”

The ‘message’ part will follow suit.


Osama Sajid

An undergraduate student at LUMS who is pursuing Economics, he is interested in reading and researching Pakistan's cultural and political issues.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Fahad Raza

    It’s true indeed that the mass remembers him for his dream of Independence. Iqbal was however more of a mentor, not just for subcontinent but for the world at large. A man who gave a voice to inner conscience and self respect; to which we seldom listen and often Ignore.Recommend

  • Ta’ir E Lahooti

    Allah karay zoar-e-qalam aur ziyada ho! ^_^Recommend

  • Ariba

    We just need 1 khomeni. Not Sharifs, Zardaris, Bhuttos etc. IK is no way near Khomeni but better than anyother crap we have.Recommend

  • Ahmed

    Really happy and impressed by the fact that a young guy in his university is taking interest in Iqbal(r.a). Keep it up. I appreciate your spirit.

    But why are you writing about him on ET. Do you want him to get abused?Insulted? Slandered?

    They already abused him by saying that the nation that he envisioned was suppose to be a secular nation! What more hurt can we give him?Recommend

  • shadow

    Sadly,what Iqbal wanted to convey to Muslims all over the world is still not perceived..!!! It was to be your own judge, our own teacher and maker of your own Fate!!! It is indeed something far more than Pakistan Ideology(the only thing a common Pakistani know about him!!!!!! )Recommend

  • stclemson

    “Just as Iqbal provided spiritual rejuvenation to the Indians in the events that led up to independence in 1947, his words played a similar role in the 1970’s in Iran.”

    Hyperbole should have its limits. The following is from the book, “Iqbal and Tagore” by M. Ikram Chughtai, Director of Urdu Science Board: “Soon another development was to take place which was to further sadden Iqbal: King Raza Shah Pahlavi of Iran extended an invitation to Tagore to visit his country. He went there in 1932. As a royal guest, he was given tremendous welcome in many cities of Iran. While in Tehran, he received a similar invitation from the King of Iraq. In Baghdad, Tagore was received by King Faisal himself. Iqbal was greatly shocked by these invitations and warm welcomes extended to a poet who he considered to be his rival. In one of his recently discovered letters, he wrote to Ghulam Abbas Akram, the then foreign minister of Iran, that Tagore was a non-Muslim and that “Tagore did an injustice to the Indian Muslims. He told the Muslims of Mesopotamia to persuade the Indian Muslims to cooperate with the Hindus for the freedom of India.”Recommend

  • What is your point? You are using Pahlavi’s patronage of Tagore in the 1930s to contradict the writer on Iqbal inspiring revolution-minded Iranians in the 1970s? Do you know how logic works?Recommend

  • 123xyz

    no he is saying your iqbal is a narrow minded ‘philosopher’ who looked at the world as muslim and non-muslim.

    thats the logic. too bad you did not understand this.Recommend

  • 123xyz

    iqbal was a narrow minded politician and a charlatan. and not a philosopher.
    from saare jahan se achha hindostan hamara, he changed to pakistan zindabad.
    this man talked about khudi but was living on british pension given to him every month.

    this type of people can only be praised in pakistan.

    plz publish this.Recommend

  • jssidhoo

    The most inspiring piece by Iqbal for me will always be “Khudi ko kar buland itna ke har taqder se pehle

    Khuda bande se ye poche bata teri raza kia hai

    Sitaron se age jahan aur bhi hai aur bhi hai
    Abhi ishq ke Imtehan aur bhi hai aur bhi ha ” Really inspires one to work harder and aim for the skyRecommend

  • Waqac

    The only thing i am getting out of Iqbal’s poetry is that it is everlasting and we’re too stupid to comprehend it, learn it, make a living out of it and most importantly practice it.Recommend

  • US Centcom


    I totally agree, Allama Iqbal’s poetry is “everlasting”. This is one of my favorite: “Sajdon ke auz firdoz mile yeh baat mujhe manzoor nahin….bai los ibadat karta hoon banda hoon tera mazdoor nahin”

    Ali KhanRecommend

  • Adil Uddin

    Allama Mohammad Iqbal continues to be an inspiration for different reasons. First of all, let me make it clear that there were few confusions and deficiencies when it comes to the personality of Iqbal, perhaps one can even criticize him since he(Iqbal) was also a human being at the end of the day not some divine entity. But the fact remains that no one of his calibre or composition has been born for past many decades.
    From someone who wrote ‘Saare Jahaan se accha Hindustan humara, Hum bulbule hain iske yeh gulsitaan humara’, he would become someone who spoke about welfare of Muslims of the Subcontinent and blowing a new spirit amongst Muslims of the planet. What I would say is that Iqbal’s messages, ideas and tones underwent an evolution, and this can be realized after going looking closely at all of his works throughout his career. Nationalism, Sufism (Islamic mysticism), Islamism, Pan-Islamism, Islamic Modernism, Socialism and Communism are different shades/flavours and/or periods of his writings. His changing opinions and analysis about different aspects would get reflected in his writings in different times.
    Few facts that many people still aren’t aware of are:
    1) Iqbal was once a great admirer of Mirza Ghulam Ahmed,the founder of Jamat-e-Ahmadiyya and said that the Real Islam can be witnessed in Qadian. But later on his views about Mirza and Ahmadis would change after listening about the latter’s claims of Prophethood.
    2) Iqbal never uttered the name of Pakistan, he just wanted to amalgamate the area of four provinces of present day Pakistan together into a one grand state in order to reduce trust deficit in the Indo-Pak Subcontinent. He was not a separatist, in short.
    Our fake liberals will unleash a series of mockery, criticism and accusations on Iqbal calling him a lunatic or extremist. Well, there’s a street named after him in Germany too ,so that shows the universalism in his writings.Recommend

  • Osama Sajid

    “from saare jahan se achha hindostan hamara, he changed to pakistan zindabad.” This represents transformation of thought, not his narrow mindedness.
    And how are you linking khudi with taking pension from the British? I don’t get it.Recommend

  • Osama Sajid

    A very interesting article from my teacher at LUMS, Saad Rasool, highlighting similar issue, ‘the power of poetry’

  • Talha Rizvi

    All the definitions of narrow minded lead to you who has openly opposed all relations with Pakistan, have asked Indians who are some what humane to move to Pakistan and have repeatedly openly stated that you hate Pakistan but yet you come here to troll. In any case Iqbal’s logic far surpassed that of you. In any case an Indian who may or may not be fluent in Urdu and Persian can’t be expected to understand his thoughts. ( I say this based on thoughts of Indian trolls like Aman Mehra who called Urdu as language of invaders and asked why a dead language Sanskrit has been forgotten by us) Since you guys have destroyed your own heritage by abandoning Urdu you can’t be expected to understand Iqbal’s philosophy, thinkers like P.N Oak, Modi and Sushma Swaraj are more fit for you guys.Recommend

  • GV

    You are a true child of Pakistan which Allama has conceived and which whole world treats as international migraine. Iqbal’s poster child Zaid Hamid is people’s new inspiration now. Keep it up.Recommend

  • gp65

    India has disowned Urdu? Urdu is one of the 22 official languages in India just like Hindi. There are more people with Urdu as mother tongue in India than in Pakistan. Also many people in India write in Urdu. Language but in Devnagari script. Unlike the heartburn caused when your former PM used the word Vishwas, there is no heartburn whatsoever when our PM quotes Urdu Shari in his speech or popular Bollywood songs use words like Dil, Mohabbat, armaan, ummeed etc.

    India owns all her heritage be it Taj Mahal or cathedrals in Goa or the Rajputana palaces or the Ahoka pillars. We own Amir Khusro and Mia Tansen and have preserved their contributions to Hindustani classical music far better on this side of the border.

    It is Pakistan that is giving up its festivals like Basant and neglecting heritage like Takshila.Recommend

  • gp65

    You find no problem with depending on an occupying force for your income while speaking of Khudi or depending on oneself?

    One can surely appreciate his writings without being blind to his personal contradictions which are glaring?Recommend

  • Talha Rizvi

    Really you didn’t see the comments of trolls from across the border calling it an invaders language. Are all your lectures reserved for us only. By the way do you have even the basic knowledge about Taxila? It is quite well-maintained. As for Basant it wasn’t banned because of the religious but due to the fact that the illegal kite strings were decapacitating commuters. Before opening yopur mouth without thinking it’s better if one has a clue to what one’s speaking. By the way what is it to you what goes ion here? Several time I have seen you giving reply onn behalf of other Indians. Are all your lectures reserved for us only you have never condemned jingoistic comments from your side.Recommend