Iqbal’s Heidelberg; Heidelberg’s Iqbal

Posted on April 15, 2010
Filed Under >Fawad, History, People, Travel
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For a few years now I have worked for a European company headquartered near Heidelberg in Germany so I have had an opportunity to visit this lovely, historic city several times. Heidelberg is a beautiful town located on the banks of the river Neckar which originates in the Black Forest and flows into the river Rhine only 12 miles northwest of the city.

But before I had ever been to Heidelberg, the city was associated in my mind with the great poet-philosopher Dr. Muhammad Iqbal. And so, my recent trips to Heidelberg have turned into opportunities to think more about the German philosophical influences on Allama Iqbal. When visiting Heidelberg, I have occasionally tried to retrace Iqbal’s steps. I have wandered the halls of the philosophy department at the University of Heidelberg where he studied.

Normally I stay at the Marriott Hotel in Heidelberg and “Iqbal Ufer,” the street honoring the great poet, is right across from that hotel and a constant reminder of the philosopher-poet’s years of association with this city. “Ufer” means river bank in German and this location is right on the river Neckar. ATP has done a post about this location in the past.

However a colleague of mine, knowing my interest in Iqbal, just sent me a couple of rare photographs (below) of the house where Iqbal lived in Heidelberg and where a sandstone plaque from 1966 acknowledges the historic landmark.

The plaque reads:

Mohammad Iqbal
1877 – 1938
National Philosopher, Poet and Spiritual Father of Pakistan lived here in the year 1907

This honorary plaque was displayed on September 16th, 1966 by the minister of cultural affairs of the state of Baden Wuerttemberg Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Hahn in the presence of His Excellency the Ambassador of Pakistan Abdurrahman Khan and the 1st mayor of the city of Heidelberg, Georg Klemm.

Iqbal left Bombay for London by ship in September 1905 to attend Cambridge University. He enrolled at Trinity College and eventually received a B.A degree. From Cambridge, Iqbal went to Germany to pursue a Ph.D in Philosophy and studied in Heidelberg and Munich. It seems amazing but the exact chronology of Iqbal’s stay in Germany has not been established. Most likely he was in Germany during 1906 and 1907. Sometime in 1907, under the supervision of Professor Dr. Friedrich Hommel, Iqbal submitted his Ph.D thesis titled “The Development of Metaphysics in Persia” to the Ludwig Maximilians University at Munich and was granted a doctorate.

There is a fascinating piece written by M.A.H. Hobohm called “Muhammad Iqbal and Germany” in which he provides some wonderful details of Iqbal’s stay in Heidelberg. This essay is worth reading in its entirety.

Iqbal stayed for some time in the “Pension Scherer” which was a boarding house for foreign students. At this boarding house Miss Emma Wegenast was Iqbal’s German language tutor. Iqbal corresponded with Fraulein Wegenast for several years after returning to Lahore. Hobohm has copies of 27 such letters which includes 2 postcards and this collection reveals Iqbal’s fondness for his former tutor but also his love for German literary culture and his affection for Heidelberg. Hobohm provides some wonderful quotes from the letters:

“Here it is: Fraulein Wegenast, that is Goethe, Heine, Kant and Schopenhauer, it is Heidelberg, the Neckar, Germany — it is those happy days!”

“It is impossible for me to forget your beautiful country where I have learned so much. My stay in Heidelberg is nothing now but a beautiful dream. How I’d wish I could repeat it!”

“I’d wish I could see you once more at Heidelberg or Heilbronn whence we shall together make a pilgrimage to the sacred grave of the great master Goethe.”

As with all great literary voices it is always most fitting to end with their own words. After my first visit to Heidelberg I searched Kuliyat-e-Iqbal to see if there was any lasting trace of Heidelberg in Iqbal’s poetry. I found the nazm “Aik Shaam” in “Bang-e-Dara.” The sub-heading says, “Darya-e-Neckar (Heidelberg) ke kinare par.” This is a poem of ambiance and conjures a lovely atmosphere in which the poet standing at the edge of the river at night experiences a calm and peaceful communion with nature. It is not until the powerful last verse when an inner turmoil and sadness is suddenly hinted at, revealing the heart of the poet at odds with his serene surroundings.

Aik Shaam
(Darya-e-Neckar (Heidelberg) ke kinare par)

Khamosh hai chandni qamar ki
ShaakheiN haiN khmosh har shajar ki

Waadi ke nawa farosh khamosh
Kohsaar ke sabz posh khamosh

Fitrat behosh ho gai hai
Aaghosh maiN shab ke so gayee hai

Kuch aisa sakoot ka fasooN hai
Neckar ka kharam bhi sakooN hai

TaaroN ka khmosh kaarvaaN hai
Yeh kafila be dara rawaN hai

Khamosh haiN koh-o-dasht-o-darya
Qudrat hai muraqbe maiN goya

Aye dil! tu bhi khmosh ho ja Aaghosh maiN gham ko lay ke so ja

Fawad blogs at Moments of Tranquility, where this post was first published.

20 responses to “Iqbal’s Heidelberg; Heidelberg’s Iqbal”

  1. Moin says:

    Haider if he was such a liberal why the open minded liberal prize which is paid by bankers also know as Nobel prize is not bestowed upon Allama Iqbal?

  2. utopian says:

    Nice one Fawad. This poem is one of my favorite poems by Iqbal. The first thing that I wanted to do after reading the poem was to visit the place. You are fortunate to have visited Heidelberg. Thanks for a window to have a glimpse at Iqbal’s Heidelberg

  3. Adnan Ahmad says:

    @wk, Iqbal’s focus on Tawheed is unquestionable. I can guess that you have read Iqbal more than I have and for that I ask – for my education – if you could quote a verse or a line from any of his nazms that describes or gives the meaning of Tawheed as it is. I hope my question is understood before you give it a shot.

  4. Anwer says:

    >> Ghiasuddin
    >> …
    >>Iqbal was a liberal thinker. One who wanted to reform
    >>and reclaim Islam from the mullahs. And now its is the
    >>mullahs who quote him the most. What a tragedy.

    Given that madrassas seem to be the only places these days where Urdu, Farsi and Arabic are seriously taught, is it any wonder that mullahs are the only ones who quote Iqbal? Please note how comfortable politicians from religious parties are when it comes to speaking in Urdu in public gatherings or on TV talk shows. This is true even for those who have Pushto, Balochi, Sindhi and Punjabi ethnic backgrounds. Compare them to a lot of those politicians who come with educational backgrounds from elite local and/or foreign schools and belong to the liberal side of the spectrum. This applies also to most of the anchors and announcers on our TV’s as well as news readers, commentators and analysts.

  5. wk says:

    a fine post! thanks fawad.

    the poem reflects the lighter side of Iqbal, something we found only in Bang-e-Dara. In the later books like Baal-e-Jibreel, Armaghan-e-Hijaz and Javed Naama, the message is very strong and focused on Khudi, State of Muslims, Momin etc.

    It’s nice to see the development of the great thinker as he travels from UK to France to Germany to Andalucia. All these places develop his ideolgies; his rebellion against West, his eulogy to Neitzsche and Marx and foremost his lament at seeing the glory of Muslims rule at Cordova and Granada.

    As for the comments above, I think Iqbal’s focus on Tawheed is a primary aspect of his ‘kalaam’ (i don’t use the word poem on purpose) . Despite his remarkable academic achievements in Europe, he never for once looks impressed by the West, with his thinking deeply devoted to Unity of Muslims.

    A poem called ‘Tawheed’ ironically speaks of such debates:

    “Zinda Quwwat thi Jahaan main Yehi Tawheed Kabhi
    Aaj Kaya hai? Faqat Ek Masla Ilm-e-Qalaam!

    Roshan is Zau main agar Zulmat-e-Kardaar Na ho
    Khud Muslman say hai Posheeda Muslaman ka Muqaam!”

    His message, like Mevlana Rumi, is clear, comprehensible, free from philosophical confusions and sharp like a sword.


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