Iqbal’s range, quality, and quantity are truly impressive. Apart from Urdu, he also wrote prodigiously in Persian and is regarded as one of the most important poets of modern India. In addition to his indubitable genius as a poet, Iqbal is also considered by many as a very important thinker and philosopher.

His legacy endures in the country (Pakistan) he is believed by many to have envisioned. However his recognition and influence go far beyond his country as his thoughts and poetry have made him a cultural icon for many around the Muslim world. His revitalizing philosophy has inspired many leading figures.

Questions regarding the coherence of Iqbal’s views –questions such as whether these views could all be taken together without contradiction, whether readers should discredit any particular view if proven incoherent or incompatible with others, and the like– continue to draw the attention of more objective historians and philosophers. Taking this approach, however, risks confusing Iqbal’s legend as a poet with what is significant for one in his philosophical thought.

While I do not necessarily subscribe to Iqbal’s ideology and his political philosophy, I have great admiration for him as a poet and as a colossal literary figure. I do not confuse between the two ‘Iqbals’ as either of them neither diminishes nor augments the other. The advent of Moharram each year particularly reminds me of Iqbal because Iqbal’s inspiration from Karbala transcends well beyond any sectarian confines, as does Iqbal himself. Iqbal propagates a universal message to mankind to emulate Imam Hussain who sacrificed his life at the altar of Truth. Indeed, Imam Hussain’s heritage is for all noble people and cannot be reduced to one Muslim sect or the other.

Here is some of Iqbal’s poetry about Imam Hussain.

Haqeeqat e abadi hey maqaam e Shabbiri

Badaltey rehtey hei’n andaaz e kufi o shami

(Bal e Jibril)

Hussain was the symbol of devotion to truth and love for God. The inspiring glory of his martyrdom is an eternal certainty that will forever provide guidance to drive our conduct. It represents truth that never changes. Whereas the shenanigans of the ilk that ruled Kufa and Syria continue to change garbs and use new tricks to gain ascendency through deceit, expediency, manoeuvring, and cruelty.

Amidst many sterling examples that adorn the human history, no one has exercised his right to say NO with so much courage and resolve as Hussain. Hussain showed that our rights and freedom go hand in hand with our duty and dignity. There are so many occasions in everyday life that make us confront the relation between the goods of life and human dignity and we can always draw on Karbala’s unique capacity for moral guidance and spiritual awakening bestowing intrinsic dignity and integrity upon the moment in question and upon our life overall.

Ik faqr hey Shabbiri is faqr mei’n hey miri

Meeras e musalmani sarmaya e Shabbiri

(Bal e Jibril)

Iqbal says that Hussain exemplifies empowerment without worldly riches and might. This is the power of truth represented by a noble life and death rather than by the ways of a hermit seeking seclusion. Hussain’s conduct and nobility constitute a proud heritage for the Muslims. It is incumbent upon Muslims to follow Hussain in always adhering to truth and justice when making choices in life’s situations. It is only in honouring Hussain’s legacy of courage, sacrifice, and steadfastness that Muslims can find real glory in this world and hereafter.

Gharib-o-sāda-o-rangi’n hay dāstān-e-Haram

Nihāyat iski Hussain ibtida hay Ismāil

(Bal e Jibril)

Iqbal says the narrative of Kaba is simple, straightforward, and interesting. It starts with Prophet Ismail, who laid the first stone and suffered great pains in its construction. He offered for sacrifice his own life but the sacrifice was not completed as he was replaced by a ram and according to the Holy Quran the great sacrifice or Zibh-e ‘Azim was to come later and be completed by one of his descendants, Hussain. In between we had a number of prophets till Prophet Mohammad rid it of idols and restored its purity. Then came Hussain, as the culmination of Zibh e Azim, who sacrificed his life and preserved the glory of Kaba for eternity.

Roney wālā hoon shaheed-e-Karbala kay gham may mei’n

Kyā durrey maqsad na dai’ngay Sāqi-e-Kausar mujhey

(Baqiyat e Iqbal)

Not only does Iqbal cry over the Karbala’s tragedy and Imam Hussain but he also sees it as a source of his salvation. He believes that Saqi-e-Kausar (Lord of Cistern in Paradise), Prophet Muhammad, loves those who weep for Imam Hussain and thus would also fulfil Iqbal’s heart’s desire.

Reg e Iraq muntazir, kisht e Hijaz tashna kaam

Khoon e Hussain bazdeh Kufa o Sham khuwesh ra

(Zaboor e Ajam)

While the sand of Iraq is avidly looking forward to kiss Hussain’s feet, the land of Hijaz is miserable because Hussain is departing from it. Iqbal movingly describes the fields of Hijaz as thirsty as an allegory of Hussain’s thirst in Karbala. Then Iqbal says that every age has its own Kufa and Syria and a dignified human existence calls for upholding the values defended with his blood by Hussain.

Teer a sanaan o khanjar o shamsheeram aarzoost

Ba man maya keh maslak e Shabeeram aarzoost

(Payam e Mashriq)

Iqbal expresses an ardent longing to follow Hussain’s conduct. However he knows what his desire entails in terms of trials and tribulations. Only someone who is voluntarily willing to embrace injury and death should envisage treading on the path of Hussain. Hussain and the group of his heroic companions, including women and children, rose to defend the principles that should be dear to all noble souls. His sacrifice teaches all of us a lesson in adhering to truth and our duty in the face of all harm and adversity. It is only if we are willing to lose everything that we can be truly free.

Ān Imam-e-āshiqān poor e Batool

Sarvay āzād e ze bustān-e-Rasul

(Asrar o Ramooz)

Iqbal’s says that Fatima’s son is the leader of the lovers of God and the insuperable tree from the garden of Prophet.

Allah Allah Bāey Bismillah pidar

Ma’niye zibh-e-azim āmad pisar

(Asrar o Ramooz)

While blissfully emphasizing the unmatchable distinction of Imam Hussain, Iqbal says that whereas his illustrious father (Ali) was the first letter of the Quran*, Zibh e Azim in the Quran means the sacrifice of Imam Hussain.

*Here Iqbal refers to tradition that quotes Hazrat Ali as saying: “What is in the Holy Qur’an is in the first chapter (Surah Fatiha); what is in this surah (chapter) is in the first verse (Bismillah); what is in Bismillah is in its first letter (Ba); what is in ba is in the dot below it and verily I am the dot below ba”.

Surkh roo ishq-e-ghayoor az Khoon-e-oo

Surkhiye i’n misra az mazmoon-e-oo

(Asrar o Ramooz)

Iqbal says that it is because of Imam Hussain’s sacrifice that the love with highest sense of dignity has been lifted to the zenith of honour. It owes its colour and glow to Hussain’s blood.

Zindah haq az quwwat-e-Shabbiri ast

Bātil ākhir dāgh-e-hasrat miri ast

(Asrar o Ramooz)

Iqbal says that truth continues to live on by virtue of the strength imparted to it by Imam Hussain, thus rendering it immortal. His sacrifice to proclaim right in the face of wrong remains beyond compare in the history. While the wrong may seem to triumph for a while, Imam Hussain has shown that its triumph is always bound to be ephemeral and it invariably meets its end in obliteration.

Bahre haq dar Khāk-o-khoon ghaltida ast

Pas binā ey lā illah gardida ast

(Asrar o Ramooz)

Hussain suffered the utmost tribulations and his blood was spilt on the sands of Karbala for the sake of Truth. Hence, Iqbal convincingly concludes, that Hussain laid the foundation of Islam that there is no God except Allah. As the tenets of Islam were being distorted and disfigured Hussain came forward and his blood gave Islam and truth a new life.

Wan digar mawlaa-e ibraar-e-jahaan

Quwwat-e baazu-e ahraar-e-jahaan

(Ramooz e Bekhudi)

Hussain is the leader of the pious of the world and a source of strength for all the campaigners of justice and deliverance from tyranny in the world. Iqbal thus sees Hussain as a universal icon to inspire and unite all noble people in their pursuit of truth and justice for all. Following Hussain’s immense sacrifice, the path of deliverance –to always differentiate right from wrong- lies open before each of us.

Dar nawaa e zindagi soz az Hussain

Ahl e haq hurriat amoz az Hussain

(Ramooz e Bekhudi)

Hussain becomes passion to the tone of life by inspiring courage in us to make truth the core of our being in all circumstances. Hussain empowers the truthful people in their quest to achieve and sustain true freedom. His laying down his life instead of conceding his principles in the face of a tyrant’s demand has set a moral paradigm that remains unequalled in its significance and influence.

Musa o Firo’n o Shabbir o Yazid

Ee’n do quwat az hayat aamad padeed

(Ramooz e Bekhudi)

The evil and virtue and truth and deceit came into being with life. These opposing forces have ever since been incompatible and in conflict with each other. The paramount paragons of the eternal tussle between right and wrong were set by the conflict between Moses and Pharaoh and the clash between Imam Hussain and Yazid and are forever personified by the struggle between those who subscribe to the values and principles of Moses and Hussain and those who follow the path of Pharaoh and Yazid.

Azma e oo’n choo’n kohsaraa’n ustawaar

Paidaar o tundseer o kamgaar

(Ramooz e Bekhudi)

Iqbal describes that Hussain’s resolve is as firmly founded as the mighty mountains. He was steadfast in his choice to not plead allegiance to an unjust and cruel ruler and no amount of persuasion and suffering were able to waver him from the right path.

Tegh behr e izzat e dee’n ast o bas

Maqsad e oo hifz e aa’in ast o bas

(Ramooz e Bekhudi)

Iqbal says that Hussain’s sword was devoted exclusively to upholding the honour of his faith. Hussain’s sole purpose in defying Yazid’s orders was to defend God’s word. It is clear that if Hussain had not stood up to Yazid, Yazid would have felt completely uninhibited to manipulate and sabotage the dictums of Islam in accordance with his wantonness. Hussain’s stand and tribulation stirred the soul of people and nourished a spirit of valour and sacrifice for truth that continues to flourish from the time of Karbala.

Sirr e Ibrahim o Ismail bood

Ya’ni aa’n ijmaal ra tafseel bood

(Ramooz e Bekhudi)

Iqbal explains that Hussain in Karbala is the true construal of Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail’s episode, which in fact was only a prelude to the epitome of sacrifice that was wrought in Karbala by the progeny of Prophet Muhammad with its blood.  As we know when Prophet Ibrahim prepared to sacrifice his son Ismail in the way of God, God saved Ismail and sent a lamb to be sacrificed instead. God said Ismail’s sacrifice is being replaced with the ‘Zibh e Azim’, The Grand Slaughter. The exact words of God are: “wa fadainaho be Zibhin Azim” (37-107) (Translation: And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice – Yusuf Ali). Iqbal here echoes numerous foremost Muslim scholars (for example, Shah Wali-ullah, in Sirrush Shahadaytan) in describing that ‘Zibhin Azim’ in the Quran denotes Imam Hussain’s sacrifice in Karbala.

Dushmanaa’n choo’n reg e sehra lata’daad

Dosta’n oo bah yazdaa’n ham a’dad

(Ramooz e Bekhudi)

The entire land around Hussain abounded with his enemies like a desert bursting with sand. Whereas, Hussain only had very few companions (72) barely, adding up to equal the numerical summation of the alphabets in ‘Yazdaa’n’ – a word that means God.

Bahray ān shahzādaey Khayrul milal

Dosh-e-Khatmul mursali’n ne’mul Jamal

(Ramooz e Bekhudi)

Iqbal here alludes to an event stated by Tirmizi and others. Once Imam Hussain mounted the shoulders of his grandfather, the Holy Prophet. Somebody said, “What a good carriage it is!” The Prophet said, “And what a good rider it is!”

Darmiyān-e-Ummat ān Keywān janāb,

Hamchu harf-e-Qul Huwallah dar Kitāb

(Ramooz e Bekhudi)

Here Iqbal talks about the status of Hussain, stating that among the followers of the Prophet, Imam Hussain enjoys the same position as the verses of Qul Huwallah in the Quran. Just as Qul Huwallah (Say that He is One) is the most and absolutely unambiguous and definite commandment in the Quran,  Imam Hussain distinguishes himself among the followers of the Prophet through his immovable conviction and allegiance to truth.

Choon Khilāfat rishtah az Qur’an gusikht

Hurriyat ra Zahr under Kām rikht

(Ramooz e Bekhudi)

Khāst ān sar Jalwaey Khairul Umam

Choon Sahabe Qiblah Bārān dar qadam

(Ramooz e Bekhudi)

Bar zamin-e-Karbala Bārid o raft

Lalah dar wirānaha Kārid o raft

(Ramooz e Bekhudi)

Tā qayāmat qat’ay istibdād kard

Mauj e Khoone oo chaman ijād kard

(Ramooz e Bekhudi)

Iqbal says that when the Muslim’s polity severed its relation with the injunctions of the Holy Qur’an it subjugated the truth and freedom. Whole social order was besmirched and nobody could utter a word against the tyrant rulers and their regime. And then came Hussain, who rose like a cloud carrying blessed rain of mercy under his feet. It poured blessings on the arid sands of Karbala, transforming that desert into a blooming garden of truth and humanity. Thus Hussain was undoubtedly the saviour of freedom and Karbala has become an eternal symbol and inspiration for struggle against tyranny. Iqbal says that Imam Hussain uprooted despotism forever and his surging blood has nourished a timeless blossom of truth and freedom.

Mudda ā yash saltanat boody agar

Khud na hardy bā chuni’n sāmmāne safar

(Ramooz e Bekhudi)

Iqbal explains that Imam Hussain’s only aim in refusing to swear allegiance to Yazid was to uphold the truth. It is borne out by the fact that when he left Medina for Mecca, he only had a small band of his kith and kin, including his sisters and children, one of whom was just a few days old. Some of his companions were more than eighty years old. If he had envisaged raging a political battle or struggle, he would not have taken such people along with him.

Tegh-e-lā choo’n az miya’n buroo’n kashid

Az rag-e-arbāb e bātil khoo’n kashid

Naqsh-e-Illallāh bar Sahra nawisht

Satr-e-unwān-e-najat-e mā nawisht

Ramz-e-Qur’an az Hussain āmokhteem

Za Ātishe-oo Shoalahā andokhteem

(Ramooz e Bekhudi)

Imam Hussain’s sword of ‘NO’ took out the blood from the followers of oppressive tyranny. He stamped the mark of God’s unity in the desert of Karbala and thus wrought the narrative of our salvation. In fact we have learnt the true meanings and intent of the Quran from Hussain, who lived by its code of truth and principles in its entirety. The flames of truth and the love for God blazing in our hearts owe their warmth to the fire lit by Hussain.

Shawkat-e-Shām-o farray Baghdad raft,

Satwat-e-Gharnata ham az yād raft

(Ramooz e Bekhudi)

Tār-e-mā az zakhma ash larzān hanooz,

Tazāh az takbir-e-oo Imā’n hanooz

(Ramooz e Bekhudi)

Iqbal says that kingly grandeur gained through political battles is but temporary. The pomp and vanity of the thrones of Syria and Baghdad which were once seats of mighty kings are indeed no more. Nobody remembers the splendour of Granada which was the centre of the Muslim monarchy in Spain. But every fibre in me still responds to Hussain’s call in Karbala and his message continues to nourish our faith.

Ay sabā ay payk-e-dūr uftādagā’n,

Ashk-e-mā bar khāk-e-pāk-e-oo rasā’n

(Ramooz e Bekhudi)

This couplet eloquently portrays Iqbal’s love for and faith in Imam Hussain. Iqbal so tenderly addresses himself to the breeze, which proverbially carries the message of the lover to the beloved in a far off place. Iqbal asks the breeze to carry his tears, as he weeps for Imam Hussain, to the sacred soil of Karbala so as to place them on the grave of Imam Hussain.

(To be continued)

The writer is the author of four books that can be seen at


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