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Book Excerpt: Iqbal: The Life of a Poet, Philosopher and Politician by Zafar Anjum

Iqbal

 

I’m of a pure Somnathi extraction

My ancestors were idol worshippers

—Iqbal

In a wide green field, a crowd chases a pretty, white pigeon. The pigeon circles above the heads of the chasing party. The crowd, in a mad dash, tries to capture the bird in flight. Now the bird flies high and now it descends down, teasing those who are sprinting after it. At last the pigeon swoops down into the lap of a tall and handsome 40-year-old man who accepts it as a gift from the heavens.

Shaikh Noor Muhammad, the man dreaming this dream, wakes up with a smile in a house near Do Darwaza Mosque in Kashmiri Mohalla in Sialkot, a border town of the Punjab located by the Chenab river, at the foot of the Kashmir hills.

It is a cold night in early November and he sees his wife Imam Bibi sleeping peacefully next to him under a warm blanket. She is expecting again and he interprets the dream to be a divine indication that he will be blessed with a son whose good fortune it will be to serve mankind.

The tall Kashmiri Noor Muhammad, red of skin and with a penetrating gaze, is known for his simplicity in the community. He has a peaceful and aff ectionate nature. When he was growing up, he could not study at the maktab, the local school; but this did not stop him from teaching himself the alphabets. Because of his own efforts he becomes literate and is able to read books in Urdu and Persian.

He is the eleventh child of his father, Shaikh Muhammad Rafiq, the only child to have survived from his father’s second wife. After him, another son, Ghulam Muhammad, was born. He grew up to be an overseer in the department of canals in the British government.

Noor Muhammad and his family have always lived together with his younger brother Ghulam Muhammad’s family. The house near the Do Darwaza Mosque was bought in 1861 by their father Muhammad Rafiq and they have been living in this house ever since. It has been expanded over time to accommodate new members of the family.

Noor Muhammad loves to spend a good deal of his time among sufis and Islamic scholars. By virtue of keeping such pious company, he has come to have a good grasp of Shariat and Tariqat. His knowledge of tasawwuf (mysticism) is so deep that his friends call him Anpadh Falsafi (Untutored Philosopher). He regularly studies and recites the Quran which he considers to be the ultimate source of all bliss, worldly and for the hereafter.

By profession, he is a tailor and embroiderer. In his early career, he helped his father, Shaikh Muhammad Rafiq, in his dhassa and loi (blankets and shawls) business but when an official rents him a Singer sewing machine, a mechanical marvel of its time, he turns to tailoring. His wife, Imam Bibi, disapproves of the sewing machine when she learns that the machine was bought with illicit money. Noor Muhammad returns the machine to the official and he strikes out on his own as a cap embroiderer, and makes Muslim prayer caps. The enterprise becomes a success and soon he employs other workmen in his workshop. By virtue of his popular merchandise, people start addressing him as Shaikh Natthu Topianwale. In the later stages of his life, he slowly loses interest in his business and takes a deeper interest in mysticism. He ignores his business and, with time, his business suffers decline.

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(Book Trailer) Iqbal: The Life of a Poet, Philosopher and Politician by Zafar Anjum

This is the video trailer of the biography of great Indian and Pakistani poet and Muslim philosopher Iqbal, Iqbal: The Life of a Poet, Philosopher and Politician, published by Random House India (October, 2014).


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Cover of ‘Iqbal: The Life of a Poet, Philosopher and Politician’ unveiled

Kitaab editor Zafar Anjum’s forthcoming biography of Muhammad Iqbal, one of the foremost poets of Urdu and Persian, titled ‘Iqbal: The Life of a Poet, Philosopher and Politician’ will be released in October 2014. Random House is publishing this title in India.

This is how the publishers describe the book:

iqbal frontAllama Mohammad Iqbal, whom Sarojini Naidu called the ‘Poet laureate of Asia’, remains a controversial figure in the history of the Indian subcontinent. On the one hand, he is considered the ‘Spiritual Father of Pakistan’. On the other, his message of Eastern revivalism places him in the ranks of the twentieth century’s major intellectuals. Iqbal’s tragedy was that after his death, he was made the national poet of Pakistan and largely ignored in India. In his time, he was lauded as much as Tagore, but today India celebrates Tagore while Iqbal has been banished from her consciousness.

This meticulously researched biography will redress that erasure. This is the story of Iqbal’s evolution as a poet, philosopher and politician. While his role in the struggle for India’s freedom and the Pakistan movement are well known, not much is known about his personal life. This book highlights some of the least known facets of the poet’s life: how did a nationalist poet transform into a poet of Islamic revivalism and global revolution? How did three years in Europe change Iqbal’s political and philosophical outlook? Why did he start writing in Persian during his stay in Europe? Why did his first marriage fail and how did his romantic relationships affect him? What exactly was the poet’s role in bringing about Partition? Written with the passion of an ardent devotee, Zafar Anjum’s Iqbal answers all of these questions—and many more—in this carefully told biography.