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Humshehri: Thinking Pakistan's History

Thinking Pakistan's History

Allama Iqbal

Urdu Version

Allama Iqbal (1877 – 1938), the national poet of Pakistan, is remembered for sharing his vision of an independent homeland for the Muslims of North-West India.

Early life

Allama Muhammad Iqbal

Allama Muhammad Iqbal, the poet, writer, philosopher and political guide, was born in Sialkot (northern Punjab) on 9 November 1877. Iqbal’s early years in Sialkot were similar to those spent by many other children of the working middle class. Being athletically inclined, he spent hours wrestling with friends.He also displayed a special fondness for partridges; his teacher, Sayyid Mir Hussain, often saw him learning lessons while holding a partridge in his hands.

Iqbal completed his early education at a renowned traditional maktab and then entered the Sialkot Mission School from where he did his Matriculation before going to Lahore. He received a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Government College, Lahore in 1897 and two years later he obtained his Master’s Degree. By the age of 21 years, Iqbal had developed a reputation for his poetry and was viewed as a promising young poet in Lahore’s literary community.

He taught history, philosophy and English at the Oriental College in Lahore for some time before proceeding to Europe for further studies. After obtaining a degree in philosophy from Cambridge University, he acquired his doctorate from Munich University. At the same time he also studied law. He was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s and qualified as a barrister, though his heart remained in philosophy.

Poetry and political career

On his return to India in 1908, he started teaching and practicing law while also continuing with his poetry. Out of the three careers, he finally chose being a poet and resigned from government service in 1911. After this, he engaged in encouraging individualism and ‘a re-examination of the intellectual foundations of Islamic philosophy’ amongst Muslims. In 1922, the British knighted him for his poetic talents and in 1930 he published one of his most renowned writings, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. Other famous works by Iqbal include Bang-e-Dara (The Call of the Marching Bell), Bal-e-Jibril (Wings of Gabriel), Zarb-i-Kalim (The Rod of Moses) and Armughan-e-Hijaz (The Gift of Hijaz).

However, Iqbal could not remain detached from the political and religious tensions of the time. He was disappointed at the political weakness of the Muslims. Although he did not actively take part in politics till much later, he urged Muslims in his writings to think and act for improving their condition. In 1926, Iqbal won a seat in the Punjab Legislative Council and in 1930 the Muslim League invited him to preside over the Muslim League Conference in Allahabad. In his historic presidential address in Allahabad, Iqbal formally presented his vision of an independent homeland for the Muslims of North-West India.


I would like to see the Punjab, North-West Frontier Provinces, Sind and Baluchistan into a single State. Self-Government within the British Empire or without the British Empire. The formation of the consolidated North-West Indian Muslim State appears to be the final destiny of the Muslims, at least of the North-West India.” –Allama Iqbal

Despite suffering from illness, Iqbal attended the Round Table Conferences held in 1931 and 1932 in England. When Jinnah went into self-imposed exile, realizing that Jinnah was needed to guide the Muslims of the subcontinent, he wrote letters trying to convince him to come back and lead the struggle for freedom. These letters were written from June 1936 to November 1937, almost till his death. It was only ten years later that Muhammad Ali Jinnah formally made a demand for an independent Muslim homeland.

Death and legacy

Allama Iqbal’s Tomb, Lahore
Wikimedia Commons

In 1938, Iqbal’s health started to sharply deteriorate. Asthmatic attacks made him weaker and he did not live to see Pakistan come into being. Iqbal passed away in the early hours of 21 April 1938. His grave lies next to the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore. He is remembered as the national poet of Pakistan, Shair-e-Mashriq (Poet of the East), Muffakir-e-Pakistan (Thinker of Pakistan) and Hakeem-ul-Ummat (The Sage of Ummat).

Primary sources

Below are a links to some of Allama Iqbal’s speeches, letters, books and poetry:

Presidential Address at Allahabad 1930

Letters from Iqbal to Jinnah 1937

Iqbal’s books in Urdu

Iqbal’s poetry in Urdu & Farsi

Iqbal’s poetry in English

Find out more

Books & Articles

Bajwa, Farooq N. “Muslim Thought and Leaders.” Pakistan: A Historical and Contemporary Look. Revised ed. Karachi: Oxford UP, 2002

Mir, Muntasir. “Tulip in the desert: A selection of the poetry of Muhammad Iqbal.” Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Book Trust, 2011.

Sharma, Jai N. Encyclopedia of Eminent Thinkers: The Political Thought Of Mohammad Iqbal. Vol. 17. New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company, 2008.


APP. “Shair-e-Mashriq: Allama Iqbal’s 75th death anniversary.” Express Tribune. 21 Apr. 2013.

“10 riveting verses by Allama Iqbal.” ARY News. 21 Apr. 2015.


Allama Iqbal Poet-Philosopher