He was born on 22 February 1873 in Sialkot, Punjab. His forefathers were Kashmiri Brahmims who accepted Islam, possibly in the seventeenth century. His father, Nur Muhammad, was a pious Muslim who resigned from government service and started doing business. He sent his eldest son, ‘Ata' Muhammad, to a madrasa, and sent the youngest son, Iqbal, to a missionary school. Here in the mission school he met a famous and good ‘alim, Mir Hasan, who inspired Iqbal to study Islam.
He devoted three years to his studies in Europe. He studied Philosophy at Cambridge University with the famous philosopher, James Ward, and others and then he did a PhD in Persian mysticism at Munich University in Germany. Then he passed the Bar-at-Law in England and taught as a professor of Arabic at London University for six months.
In 1915 Iqbal wrote Asrar-I-Khudi, in 1917 Rumz-I-Bekhudi, in 1923 Payam-I-Mashriq, in 1924 Bang-I-Dera, and in 1927 Jabur-I-Azam. During this turbulent period many political upheavals were taking place in the Indian sub-continent and he could not remain isolated from the flow of these events. He jumped into them. In 1927 he became a Member of the Punjab Legislative Assembly and joined in active politics, voicing his fearless criticism of British rule. His advocacy for the rights of the people drew the attention of all.
In 1930, he was elected President of the Muslim League and he gave a fiery presidential speech at the Allahabad Conference of the League which was significant for many reasons. In this speech he gave a few original guidelines which were directed at the breaking of the political stalemate in India, and which gave an indication of a sovereign and independent Pakistan. Seven years later, on 20 June 1937, in a letter which he wrote to the Qa'id-I-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, he indicated the formation of a state comprising those provinces where Muslims were in the majority. Ten years later his prophecy came true and Pakistan was created, although he died in April, 1938, of heart failure.
In 1931 and 1932, he attended the Round Table Conference in London. In the 1932 Muslim League Conference he delivered is a moving speech which showed his deep political foresight: Nationalism as defined and believed in by Europe is not what I believe in. If this kind of nationalism is imported into India the Muslims will not benefit. I oppose it, seeing it as Godless materialism, and this is what I believe to be the principal enemy of modern humanitarianism. What is most important is that a man lives on religion, culture and his tradition. He dies for these, and he lives for these, but certainly not for a land where he was accidentally born.”
In 1924 he suffered a chest pain, which later, in 1934, developed into serious throat trouble, as a result of which he lost his voice. In 1934, he was invited by Oxford University to speak on Rhodes, but for health reasons he had to decline the invitation. In 1937, he had a cataract in his eyes. He also had heart trouble and suffered from asthma. He died on 20 April 1938. Before he died, he wrote his last few lines of verse: A believer (in Allah), what is his sign? Listen: he accepts death with a smile. The life of this fakir is at its end here; another fakir may or may not come here.
His whole philosophy of life was dictated by the Qur'anic teachings and the Hadith of the Prophet. He was a keen advocate of the Qur'an and Sunnah as the main source of our strength. He was undoubtedly a great poet of Islam, a great forerunner of Islamic revival, and a great thinker of modern Islamic reformation. All his writing is full of Islamic ideals and Islamic glory and the beauty of Islam. He was all for the Islamic heritage and Islam's glorious past.
To sum up, he was a modern Rumi, but he was not influenced by Rumi. He glowed by his own light and genius. He was indeed a great thinker and reformer.