Mohammad Eqbal was born on February 22, 1873, at Sialkot, Punjab. His grandfather Shaikh Rafiq, a Kashmiri, had joined a wave of migration to Sialkot, where he made a living peddling Kashmiri shawls. Shaikh Rafiq had two sons, Shaikh Ghulam Qadir and Shaikh Nur Muhammad, Iqbal's father.
Shaikh Nur Muhammad was a tailor whose handiwork was quite well known in Sialkot. But it was his devotion to Islam, especially its mystical aspects, that gained him respect among his Sufi peers and other associates. His wife, Imam Bibi, was also a devout Muslim. The couple instilled a deep religious consciousness in all their five children.
With the defeat of the Sikhs in Punjab by the British army, Western missionaries wasted no time in establishing centres of learning in Sialkot. One of these, the Scotch Mission College, founded in 1889, offered courses in the liberal arts, several of them in Arabic and Persian, although by this time English had supplanted Persian as the medium of instruction in most schools. This was where Iqbal had his first secular education.
Iqbal's potential as a poet was first recognized by one of his early tutors, Sayyid Mir Hassan, from whom he learned classical poetry. Mir Hassan never learned English, but his awareness of the merits of Western education and his appreciation of modernity ensured him a position as Professor or Oriental Literature at Scotch Mission. He was Iqbal's tutor until his graduation in 1892.
It was also in 1892 that Iqbal was married off to Karim Bibi, the daughter of an effluent Gujerati physician. According to some sources, this was the beginning of many years of unhappiness. They separated in 1916, but Iqbal provided financial support to Karim Bibi until he died. The couple had three children.
In 1885, after completing his studies at Scotch Mission, Iqbal entered the Government College in Lahore, where he studied Philosophy and Arabic and English Literature for his Bachelor of Arts degree. He was an excellent student, graduating cum laude and winning a gold medal for being the only candidate who passed the final comprehensive examination. Meanwhile, he continued writing poetry. When he received his Master's degree in 1899, he had already begun to make his mark among the literary circles of Lahore.
While reading for his Master's degree, Iqbal became acquainted with a figure who was to have a strong influence on his intellectual development. Sir Thomas Arnold, an erudite scholar of Islam and modern philosophy, became for Iqbal a bridge between East and West. It was Arnold who inspired in him the desire to pursue higher studies in Europe.
Iqbal studied in Europe for three years from 1905 and acquired a law degree at Lincoln's Inn, a Bachelor of Arts at Cambridge and a Doctor of Philosophy at Munich University. At Cambridge, he crossed paths with other great scholars who further influenced his scholastic development. Under their guidance, Iqbal refined his already considerable intellect and widened his mental horizon.
It was while in Britain that he first went into politics. Following the formation of the All-India Muslim League in 1906, Iqbal was elected to the executive committee of the league's British chapter. Together with two other leaders, Sayyid Hassan Bilgrami and Sayyid Amir Ali, he also sat on the subcommittee which drafted the league's constitution.
Upon his return from Europe in 1908, Iqbal embarked on a career in law, academics and poetry, all at once. Of the three pursuits, he excelled in what was his true calling and first love--poetry. There is a widely held belief that had the Government College in Lahore been more generous with their monthly stipend and academic freedom, he would have been as brilliant an academician as he was a poet. In fact, it was financial considerations that forced him to relinquish his assistant professorship in 1909 to take up a fulltime law career.
But he did not earn much as a lawyer either, although he could have. Instead of concentrating on the profession, he preferred to divide his time between the law and his own spiritual development.
In spite of a promise he made to his father-- that he would not make any profit out of his poetry--he sold copies of them and used the proceeds to supplement his small income. Already a famous poet by now, Iqbal received a knighthood from the British Government in honour of the brilliant Asrar-i Khudi.
While dividing his time between the law and poetry, Iqbal, with the encouragement of friends and supporters, decided once more to enter the political arena. In November 1926, he contested a seat in the Muslim District of Lahore and beat his opponent by a wide margin of 3,177 votes.
In 1931, Iqbal made a second visit to Europe to renew old acquaintances and make new ones and to reflect and write. He attended conferences in Britain and met various scholars and politicians. A visit to Spain inspired three beautiful poems, which were later incorporated into a major composition, Bal-I Jibril (Gabriel's Wing).
After returning from a trip to Afghanistan in 1933, Iqbal's health deteriorated. But his religious and political ideas were gaining wide acceptance and his popularity was at its peak. One of the last great things he did was to establish the Adarah Darul Islam, an institution where studies in classical Islam and contemporary social science would be subsidized. It was perhaps the last wish of a great man who was fascinated with the yoking of modern science and philosophy to Islam, to create bridges of understanding at the highest intellectual level. This thought he expressed thus:
In the West, Intellect is the source of life,
In the East, Love is the basis of life.
Through Love, Intellect grows acquainted
And Intellect gives stability to the work of
Arise and lay the foundations of a new world,
By wedding Intellect to Love
It was. on April 21, 1938, that this great Muslim poet-philosopher and champion of the Muslim cause passed away and lies buried next to the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore.