Iqbal: Book Review

Featured in a series titled Makers of Islamic Civilization, Iqbal is an engaging bio-bibliographical study written by Professor Mustansir Mir of Youngstown State University in Ohio on the life and works of a prominent late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century writer, intellectual, and politician hailing from South Asia. Consisting of six main chapters, which range in focus from the life of Iqbal itself to concise summaries of the numerous writings that he penned, this work provides a highly useful introduction to the life and intellectual output (with a noticeable emphasis on the latter) of a key figure. Until the publication of this work, much of the scholarship on Iqbal in English consisted of translations of his work, including speeches, letters, and other writings, but they were often not situated biographically. This accessible book is a must-read for those who are seeking to begin their journey into the world of scholarship on Iqbal and his times.

The book consists of six main chapters, with three short sections preceding these chapters and two following them. “Acknowledgements,” “Iqbal’s Texts Cited,” and “Preface” precede the six chapters. In one of these sections, “Iqbal’s Texts Cited,” Mir notes that this work features his own translations of Iqbal’s work from Persian and Urdu into English. Readers should also attend to this section because it gives insight into the method that the author has used in citing Iqbal’s writings throughout the work. Another stylistic point to note is that, likely for the sake of ease of reading by broad audiences, non-English words have not been fully romanized. The only exceptions to this are markings to showcase the letters ʿayn and hamza.

The first chapter, “Life, Personality, and Works,” provides an overview of these three components. Specifically, the chapter begins with Iqbal’s birth and early years in Sialkot and leads the reader through various cities that he called home throughout the course of his life, including Lahore, London, and Munich. This chapter also provides a detailed overview of Iqbal’s writings, both poetry and prose. The second and third chapters (“Major Themes of Poetry” and “Poetic Art”) focus on Iqbal’s poetic production. The author considers a range of themes that emerge in Iqbal’s poetry, including “Nature,” “The Human Situation,” “Khudi” (selfhood), “Life as Quest,” “Intellect and Love,” “Islam as a Living Faith,” “The Prophet and the Qurʾan,” and “East and West.” This emphasis on Iqbal’s poetic production is perhaps fitting, given an earlier publication by the same author titled Tulip in the Desert: A Selection of the Poetry of Muhammad Iqbal. The fourth and fifth chapters (“Philosophical Thought” and “Social and Political Thought”) discuss Iqbal’s views as presented in some of his prose works. The final main chapter provides insights into “Iqbal’s Legacy,” while the two sections following the final chapter offer bibliographic information in narrative style for further reading, along with an index.

“Further Reading,” one of the two sections following “Iqbal’s Legacy,” is much more than simply a list of sources. For one, Mir rewards the ardent reader with a narrativization of materials worth considering for further study of the topic. Furthermore, he articulates various projects that would be ideal for interested scholars to carry out, particularly in terms of the gaps in the preexisting scholarship on Iqbal and his work. On another note, this section mainly features works written in English as sources for further reading. Given that scholars with other linguistic capabilities may consult this work, it could have been useful to include, within this section or even a separate section, key primary and secondary sources in other languages. While a few such works are cited, the majority is not included. It is also unclear which sources the author has used in writing this work, given limited citations. This may have been due to the scope and nature of an introductory text.

The final section of the work is devoted to a useful index. When a word is indexed that may be unfamiliar to non-specialist readers, a definition is provided in an adjacent position. Examples include “bikhudi (selflessness)” and “ijtihad (independent legal reasoning).” Another strong point about the index is that, in relation to a given term that a reader may look up, related terms are provided where relevant. For example, when one looks up “finality of prophethood” in the index, relevant page numbers are given (45, 90, 93, 109), along with the following note: “see also Muhammad.”

More broadly, Iqbal belongs to a series titled Makers of Islamic Civilization, which has been developed under the auspices of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies and, according to a brief description preceding the work, “provides an introduction to outstanding figures in the history of Islamic civilization.” Other individuals covered in this series, as seen through the titles, include Ibn Battuta, Rumi, Said Nursi, Sibawayhi, Sinan, Tabari, and Umar. In reading this work, in relation to the series to which it belongs and the aforementioned series description, several questions emerge: How were such outstanding figures chosen for inclusion in this series? What are their (shared) characteristics? What does it mean to be a maker of Islamic civilization? What does Islamic civilization mean in this context? While approaching the text through these questions may not appeal to all readers seeking to gain an introduction into Iqbal’s life, works, and times, addressing them more explicitly would have provided the opportunity for interested readers to understand details in relation to broader scholarly concerns, thus widening the appeal of the work.

In sum, Iqbal successfully introduces his life, work, and thought to all audiences. It deftly condenses Iqbal’s extensive corpus and ideas into a work consisting of less than 200 pages, making it a highly accessible and valuable work for readers at various levels. Academic libraries with collections in religion, philosophy, and related fields will find it—and perhaps the series to which the book belongs more broadly—to be an extremely worthy addition.

Sabahat F. Adil
University of Colorado at Boulder