Born in Sialkot, Punjab, now part of Pakistan, Iqbal belonged to a family of reasonable means and very strong Islamic values. He was educated in a variety of subjects which included philosophy, history, art, religion, poetry and prose in a variety of languages. Later, he travelled to Europe and became a student of law as well as art and philosophy. Upon his return to India he set up a legal practice and became involved in politics, while maintaining a career as a poet and writer as well, producing works in Persian, Urdu and English. He was acknowledged as a man of great learning and delivered lectures and speeches in India, Egypt, Spain and other countries. He was head of the British branch of the Muslim League for a time, and then the Punjab Muslim League.
Beyond anything, Iqbal was a thinker and philosopher, a true visionary. His first publications dwelt on the subject of self and the individual, and later these panned out to the larger subject from the individual to the society and the wider community. He clearly defined the unbreakable bond between one’s individual development and the betterment of the external society by a number of means, thus concluding that one could not exist without the other. With this wisdom imparted, he called to the Muslim community of India to heed his words and rise once again as a strong, independent nation in their own right. He strongly believed that the Muslims of India were to be the revivers of the Muslim Ummah (nation) all over the world. At the same time, he set the stage for more acceptance for Islam and such Eastern concepts as religion and belief in the western world as well, with a book titled “Payam-e-Mashriq” (The Message of the East, published in 1924), which appears to a response to Goethe’s West-östlicher Diwan.
Besides a literary outlet for his deliberations, Iqbal remained an active politician throughout his life. He drafted the constitution for the Muslim League in 1907, actively supported the Khilafat movement, opposed the Indian National Congress all his life (as he felt that they represented the Hindu majority at the expense of the Muslims) and fought for the independence of the Muslim community of India. He incited Jinnah to come out of his self-imposed exile in London and urged him to come back to the battlefield that was Indian politics in the 1930s.
Iqbal’s concerns lay never with the Indian people as a whole, but specifically with the Muslim community of the subcontinent. Some critics say he was perhaps too dedicated to the cause of the Muslims’ independence and that it shows he did not consider the Hindus and other non-Muslim communities of India as equals. Some even go so far as to say he inculcated separatist ideas among the factions and made peaceful co-existence of the Hindus and Muslims of India as a community impossible, fostering communal hatred and making the separation of India inevitable. However, this would show that Iqbal was anti-Hindu majority actively; this does not seem likely as his national song “Saray Jahan Se Acha” is still very popular in India today, and he is celebrated as a poet and thinker even across the border. If he was against the cause of the Hindus, he would not have been so celebrated. It is true that he believed that the Muslims should be granted their own independent state which was free to have its own foreign policy as well, but this was because he had seen through history that the Muslims were a very large part of the Indian subcontinent, too large as a community yet not many in comparison to the...