Commemorating Allama Iqbal, the great ‘Poet of the East’


Pakistanis and many other Muslims within the Indian subcontinent and outside recently celebrated the birth anniversary of Dr. Allama Mohammad Iqbal, who was a great poet, philosopher, politician, jurist and economist. Iqbal was widely known as the “Poet of Islam” and the “Poet of the East.” Those who are fond of philosophy consider him to be the “Philosopher of Islam” in the modern world.

It is a fact that he proved his talent and proficiency in the fields of philosophy, politics, economics and law but in the Arab world, he is best known in the field of poetry. This is especially due to a song sung by the renowned Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum. The song was based on “Shikwa Jawabe Shikwa,” which is the combination of two poems written by Allama Iqbal in 1909 and 1913. The first of these poems was met with strong opposition on the part of some religious scholars, but the opposition eased significantly after the appearance of the second poem. These poems were translated into Arabic under one title by the famous Egyptian poet Al-Sawi Shaalan. This poem was composed into a song titled “Hadeeth Arrouh” (the talk of the soul), which was sung by Umm Kulthum. This poem was instrumental in familiarizing the Arab public with Pakistan and its poet Allama Iqbal.

The Pakistan Repatriation Council (PRC) recently organized a symposium to commemorate the birth anniversary of Allama Iqbal. Several leaders of the Pakistani community in Jeddah attended the function, which started with the recitation of a few verses from the Holy Qur’an. Then one person recited a poem, eulogizing the Prophet (peace be upon him), and it was followed by a series of speeches. The speeches were focused on the remarkable achievements of this great poet as well as his political and legal struggle to realize the dream of the Muslims of the subcontinent to have a homeland of their own where they could live free from the hegemony of the British and the Hindus.

This was at a time when some Muslim leaders were working to liberate the subcontinent from British rule and to secure a unified India, inclusive of Muslims and Hindus. However, these leaders later realized the soundness of the argument made by Allama Iqbal for a separate nation for Muslims. He tried to convince Muslims of the subcontinent that they would not get equal rights with Hindus and that it was unwise to replace the rule of the British with that of Hindus. The Muslim League leaders adopted the Pakistan Resolution or the Lahore Resolution in 1940, which was two years after the death of Iqbal.

The organizers of the symposium invited me to be the Guest of Honor at the ceremony. In my speech, I first thanked the organizers of the event for inviting me, and said: “I hoped that one of the poets or philosophers would be asked to speak about the versatile genius Mohammad Iqbal. Do I talk about Iqbal, the poet or the philosopher or the politician or the economist or the legal expert? I will not be able to do justice to this great man and hence I will convey what one of his friends said about him. He is none other than the renowned Egyptian writer, scholar, politician and diplomat Dr. Abdul Wahab Azzam. He was the first secretary general of the Arab League and the first ambassador of Egypt to Pakistan. He was the first president of King Saud University, the first university in Saudi Arabia.

“Dr. Azzam is the author of the book titled: ‘Mohammad Iqbal: Biography, Philosophy and Poetry.’ The preface of the book was written by the famous Arab writer Dr. Taha Hussein. In the book, Dr. Azzam praised Iqbal by describing him as the ‘Genius of the East’ and the great poet of India and Pakistan. The author dealt with Iqbal, the genius, and various dimensions of his poetry in detail in the book. Dr. Azzam recalled in the book his visit to the house of Iqbal, where he spent the last phase of his life and breathed his last, saying that it was a small building but delivered great meanings.”

I concluded my speech by drawing attention to the plight of the stranded Pakistanis. Allama Iqbal and other Muslim leaders from the subcontinent underwent great struggles and dedicated their lives to securing a homeland of their own with the creation of Pakistan. There are around a quarter of a million Muslims who migrated to East Pakistan from the Indian state of Bihar at the time of partition. When East Pakistan seceded and a new state of Bangladesh came into being, Bengalis considered them to be traitors because of their decision to stand by the Pakistani army to remain part of a united Pakistan. These stranded Pakistanis are languishing in squalid camps, waiting for the day that they will be repatriated and rehabilitated in Pakistan but successive Pakistani governments have failed to fulfill their promises for repatriation to the country that these people chose to live in at the time of the partition of the subcontinent.

These hapless people as well as their sympathizers have pinned high hopes on Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Imran Khan to rectify the mistakes of previous governments in this respect. The repatriation and rehabilitation of the stranded Pakistanis is the national and moral responsibility of the Pakistani government so as to end the 47-year ordeal of these people.

Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at