By MUBASHIR AHMAD KITABA
When Allama Iqbal(RA) returned from Europe in 1908, he started his professional career as a professor, lawyer and poet- all at once. After his arrival in Lahore, Iqbal (RA) joined the Government College, Lahore, as a professor of philosophy and English literature. He was appointed as a part time professor on a salary of Rs. 500/- per month along with the permission to practice law. As a professor, Iqbal (RA) was very popular among his students and he took great care for their welfare. But, the service of a government college professorship was not congenial to Iqbal’s freedom of thought. In 1909, Iqbal(RA) was offered the chair of philosophy of the Aligarh University and the Lahore Government college chair of History. But, he flatly refused to accept these offers. Two and half years later, in 1911, he resigned the post of professorship of the Government College Lahore, and concentrated on law as an independent profession. Though the principle of the college, his colleagues and relatives, tried to persuade him to rethink his hasty decision, he had made up his mind, because he felt he, could not freely express his ideas and thoughts while in government employment. Iqbal(RA) had a message for his countrymen and the downtrodden people of the world, at large, which could not be conveyed by remaining in the government service of British India.
Ali Bakhsh, a lifelong servant of Iqbal(RA) said that the day he resigned his professorship in the Government College Lahore, Iqbal(RA) said, “Ali Bakhsh, I have a message for my people, and it could not have been conveyed if I had remained in the government service. So I resigned the service, and I hope that I will be able to carry out my wish now. It exemplifies how promptly Iqbal(RA) resolved his conflict of mind and boldly resigned an honorable post with a handsome salary in Oder to serve the cause of humanity and his country.
After ten years of law practice, Iqbal(RA) wrote to his father in 1918, “I have made the determination not to personally benefit from the income derived from the sale of my prose and poetry. Because poetry is a God given talent, involving no physical labour, and it should be exercised in the service of mankind: but I have been compelled by need to act otherwise.”
According to his colleagues and friends, Iqbal(RA) hardly ever earned more than one thousand rupees a month. As a lawyer, he) earned only that much which was sufficient to meet his family expenses. Iqbal(RA) never aspired to earn more than he actually needed. He became quite content when he earned enough to cover his monthly expenses plus a few hundred more for incidental expenses. Any additional cases coming to him after the tenth of each month were refused or referred to other lawyers, and if the client insisted on retaining him, he was advised to come before the tenth of next month. As a lawyer, Iqbal(RA) was always upright and honest, and never accepted a case in which he was sure that he could not be of any help to his client.
The self imposed limitations naturally provided Iqbal (RA) leisure and time which he devoted to reading books on art, science, and religions, writing prose, both in English and Urdu and Persian and meeting a continuous chain of visitors to whom he was always accessible.
Iqbal (RA) practiced as a lawyer from 1908 to 1934, when ill health compelled him to give up the practice. Law is reputed to be a jealous mistress, and it is very difficult to attain eminence unless one is prepared to give it undivided attention and time. But that a man like Iqbal(RA) with multifarious activities could not possibly give his undivided attention to the legal profession. In spite of that, he continued to earn his livelihood from his law practice till the most part of his life. Iqbal took a keen interest in his legal profession, yet it must be admitted, that he never succeeded in reaching the highest pinnacle of the profession. It was due to his multifarious involvements that he could never command a roaring practice.
Iqbal’s(RA) fame, as a poet, was very much enhanced by the recitation of his two popular Urdu poems Shikwa (Complaint) and Jawab-I- Shikwa (Answer to the Complaint) at the annual meeting of Annual meeting of Anjuman- I-Himayat-I-Islam, Lahore, in 1911 and at a special public meeting outside Mochi Gate, near Shahi Mosque, Lahore, in 1921. When Iqbal (RA) wrote his Shikwa, some orthodox Muslims condemned him as a heretic. They held that in the Shikwa, Iqbal(RA) himself was complaining and accusing God of injustice done with his own faithful devotees. Though, some of the verses give this impression, yet on it was a complaint on behalf of the faithful believers themselves. This misconception was removed, when Iqbal(RA) wrote his Jawab-I-Shikwa (Answer of Complaint). In the Shikwa, he had lodged a complaint with God towards the downfall of His true believers in the world, whereas in Jawab-I-Shikwa, he himself explained the causes and remedies of their downfall in this world.
Iqbal (RA) formulated his philosophy of life, for the first time, in his two monumental works in Persian- Asrar-I-Khudi (The secrets of the self) and Ramuz-I-Bekhudi (The Mysteries of Selflessness) published in 1915 and 1918, respectively. Asrar-I-Khudi deals with the philosophy of the self or the individual personality and contains the central theme of his philosophy. Ramuz-I-Bekhudi deals with the individual in relation to his society in an ideal Islamic stage. Professor RA Nicholson of Cambridge University found Asrar-I-Khudi so forceful and he translated it into English, titled, “The Secrets of the Self”, and published it in London, in 1920. And, Ramuz-I-Bekhudi has been translated into English by Professor AJ Arbery under the title, “The Mysteries of Selflessness”, and was published in 1953.
After the publication of the Secrets of the Self in 1920, Iqbal’s(RA) name and fame was carried over to Europe and ultimately his philosophic genius and poetic talent was recognized by the British Government. In 1922, just two years after the publication of the publication of the book in contention, the honor of knighthood was conferred on Iqbal(RA) by the British Government. It is pertinent to note that there is an interesting story behind it. Dr Hira Lal Chopra, an ex-student of Iqbal(RA) and a retired Professor of Islamic History , Calcutta University, has said that once a European visitor (a correspondent of London Times) came to Lahore and stayed at the government Guest house. He had heard people reciting Iqbal’s(RA) verses in the central Asia and Europe, and so he was eager to meet Iqbal(RA) during his stay in Lahore. The governor of Punjab, Sir Edward Maclegon, invited the great man and introduced him to his guest. The two distinguished scholars discussed various problems pertaining to philosophy, poetry, art and literature and talked on different topics of their interest. After Iqbal’s (RA) departure, the guest expressed his surprise at the ignorance of the British Indian government which had done nothing, as yet, to honor such a great man like Iqbal(RA). The Governor, Sir Edward Maclegon, who had no idea of Iqbal’s(RA) great scholarly works and wide popularity, immediately, sent a proposal for the knighthood and it was duly approved by the British government of India. But, Iqbal(RA) refused to accept such a great honor of knighthood unless and until his teacher, Maulvi Mir Hassan was honored with the title of Shamsul Ulama (Sun of Scholars). The governor of the Punjab enquired from Iqbal(RA) whether there was any creative work of his teacher, Maulvi Mir Hassan. Pointing towards himself, Iqbal(RA) replied: “I am one of his great works alive”. Ultimately, the teacher and his pupil were honored with the title of Shamsul Ulama and Sir respectively.
—The author is a PhD Research Scholar. He can be reached at: [email protected]