Allama Iqbal at Heidelberg: German Influence


Professor Waheed Uz Zaman Tariq

Allama Iqbal completed his PhD degree, in Philosophy, at Heidelberg, in 1908. That German university town is situated in the Rhine Rift Valley, on the left bank of the lower part of the river Neckar. The valley is steep. The Neckar river flows there,  in an east-west direction. It is situated in the region Rhein-Neckar in the state of Baden-Württemberg in the Federal Republic of Germany. Its population is 150 thousand people. Allama Iqbal liked the scene of River Necker, where a street now carries his name. There  is the Iqbal Street as well as Iqbal Memorial Park on the Bank of River Neckar in Heidelberg. Romantic atmosphere prevails at Heidelberg, which is a centre of intellectualism and academics. The whole atmosphere influenced Iqbal to the extent that in one of the dozens of letters written to Emma, he termed his stay there as “a beautiful dream” which he yearned to repeat. According to Atiya Faizee, he danced there to a German folk tune and sang aloud with the mirth of a chirpy young scholar that was completely different from the egocentric cynic of the London days.


Recently, a group of muftis and religious scholars visted Heidelberg, from Pakistan and Afghanistan. My colleague Dr Navid’s son Mr Siraj conducted them. He was impressed by their knowledge and memory of these young people. His dream came true when his kalam (poetry) was recited there.
He wrote to me:

“These guys are literally dictionaries. Any issue, any book, any scholar, any poem, and saying to do with classical and modern Islam and they have it memorised and understand the logical basis. Unbelievably strong brains.”


To our utter surprise, they were absorbed in the nature and started correlating their ideas with what they were watching at Heidelberg. That was the time, when Allama Iqbal’s soul descended there and prevailed over them. One of the visiting scholars became emotional and at the height of his sentiments, he recited the poetry of Iqbal, at Iqbal Street, on the bank of river Necker. Please listen to him.


In fact, the students of seminaries and religious institutions are never provided with a chance for an exposure to the world. Many of them are extremely intelligent and have sharp memory as well as a sense of understanding. This group of people, under our current discussion was fascinated, while visiting the place.

Allama Mohammad Iqbal had visited the same bank of that river,  many times. Just think of those days, when he accompanied his German tutor, Emma Wegenast, who once recited the legend of Faust by Goethe. He liked  to stay in touch with her, after his repatriation. Similarly, whenever I visit Cambridge, the very bank of Cam River, provides me such a solace and peace of mind that I am lost in the past. I think Allama Iqbal had the similar feeling. I have visited the street many times, where Iqbal stayed in Cambridge but missed the Heidelberg, despite my couple of visits, which I made to Germany.

What Allama Iqbal wrote about his evening spent at the bank of Necker River, makes one fascinated. He was absorbed in the serene and calm atmosphere of the place.1


An  Evening (At the bank of Necker River)

The silvery moonlight is quiet. The branches of tree are silent.
Those who sell their songs in that valley are short of word. The green coloured vegetation of those mountains is quiet.
The nature has lost its senses. It is asleep in the lap of dark night.
Peace and tranquility is expressing its magic. The flow of Necker is slow.
The caravan of stars is quiet. This caravan is moving without a bell.
The mountains, desert and sea are devoid of a sound. The nature seems to be in meditation.
Oh my heart, “you should become quiet. take sorrow and grief in your arms, and go to a deep sleep.


Allama Iqbal had stayed for some time in the “Pension Scherer”, a hostel which was meant for the foreign students. There, Miss Emma Wegenast was Iqbal’s German language tutor. She was then  in her twenties,  when she and Iqbal met.2  Begum Atiya Fayzee had that in at Heidelberg she had a chance to meet Allama Iqbal, in August 1907.  She saw him at several occasions, in the company of her brother and a group of Indian students. According to her, Iqbal  was full of humility. His ‘egotistic cynicism’ of the London days, was no more vsiible.  He was ‘intelligently interested’ in his studies. Moreover, he liked boating, classical music, singing, gardening, hiking, etc.  Iqbal sand operatic songs ‘all out of tune and with no voice’ and dancing clumsily to a folk tune with his tutors Frau Wegenast. He was last in a boat race, cooked an Indian dish etc. Atiya found him, “Picking knowledge from the trees that he passed by and the grass he trod.” She found Emma Wegenast to be extremely beautiful.3

Emma left indelible mark on Iqbal’s personality. Iqbal corresponded with Fraulein Wegenast for several years, after his return to Lahore. It seems as if  Allama Iqbal was highly impressed by her. Moreover, he took a keen interest in the study of German literary culture and had a special love for Heidelberg. There are interesting 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.”


The letters were handed over by Miss Wegenast to Mr Mumtaz Hassan, at his request. She recommended that those letter should be kept in some archive. Mumtaz Hassan sent the photocopies of those letters to Mr  M.A.H. Hobohm, who had an access to  27 letter, including two postcards.  There were about forty letters and some photographs, in that collection. Nobody knows, where the original collection had gone. There was nothing extraordinary in those  letters;  rather ordinary correspondence as any two friends would exchange among themselves. These were devoid of deep thoughts and  poetry. These letters are an evidence of Iqbal’s fluency and deep understanding of German language. A great orientalist Dr Stephan Popp thinks that Iqbal’s acquaintance was important, as with Emma, who was  an essential reference point to understand the influence of German literature on Iqbal’s formative years. 2

Most  of Iqbal’s love poems were written during his association with Emma, when he stayed at Heidelberg. I think it was the serene atmosphere of Germany, which stimulated him to write in that way.4  Indian authors take Allama Iqbal in different way and sometimes try to misinterpret his day to day interaction with female teacher or colleague, in a different way. Otherwise, according to German scholar Dr Stephan Popp, Iqbal’s tutor was a  conservative personality. Therefore,  Allama Iqbal  gleans more from the Romantics of his era and extols the virtues of Heinrich Heine while completely leaving out the ‘obscene’ Goethe.5

Allama Iqbal was away from his home. In the heart of Europe, he looked the world with a different angle but he soon realised that it was not the ultimate way of his life. In his last book, Armoghan e Hejaz (which was published seven months after his death), his couplet is included.

“I have taken wine from the bar of the west. I swear with my own life that I bought nothing but headache.

I had a company of the beautiful peers of Europe. That was the most dull day in my life.”


As the correspondence continued after the first world war, in which Germany was defeated and it was the time, when Nazism was getting foothold in Germany, that was a window, which Iqbal kept open through that sincere friend, to catch up with ideological developments,  which took place in the west.


Payam-e-Mashriq is regarded an obvious response to Goethe’s West-östlischer Divan. Iqbal’s introduction to the Payām-i-Mashriq also contains a short but extremely interesting account of the ‘Oriental Movement’ in German literature. It serves to give us a glimpse of the extent of Iqbal’s contacts with German culture, just as his philosophical work, as for instance reflected in his Lectures The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam reveals his profound knowledge of, and his deep admiration for German thought, inspite of his frequent differences with German thinkers as for instance Nietzsche. Though Iqbal was a great admirer of Nietzsche and there is much that they both had in common observes Justice Javid Iqbal ‘the poet’s son in an essay on Iqbal and Nietzsche, there are fundamental differences between the two, namely their sources of inspiration and basic to their whole concept of, and outlook on life, their conception of God.

In an article, entitled ‘Conversations with Iqbal’, by Syed Nazir Niazi, a close friend of Iqbal, who has had extensive conversations with him, which he recorded from time to time, we have another treasure trove of information on Iqbal’s preoccupations with German culture and German thought. Again it is Goethe who figures most prominently in their conversations. Writes Niazi: ‘Perhaps what life needs most are men who can understand its ultimate purpose. Goethe was such a man and so was Iqbal. And it was Iqbal who turned our attention to Goethe. It is a remarkable episode in our history that Iqbal alone should have resisted the force of a whole literature and culture, namely English, which was dominating our life through political control. It is a fact that we accepted Goethe rather than Shakespeare. Shakespeare is no doubt admired, but Goethe is the favourite. Shakespeare is a unique artist whom we all recognize, but Goethe is one of us who has secured a place in our heart. If we bear this point in mind a glimpse of the perfect man or Vicegerent of God or Mu’min or Man of Faith and his character, disposition as conceived by Iqbal, is seen to some extent in Faust a creature of Goethe’s thoughts, and not for instance in the ‘Superman of Nietzsche.




  1. Allama Iqbal. Bang e Dera. Second Part 1905-1908. Kuliyat e Iqbal 19 http://files.qern.com/iqbal/bang-e-dara/00069.html downloaded 23 March 2017
  2. Mr M.A.H. Hobohm. “Muhammad Iqbal and Germany” (Iqbal review, October 200, Page 143-151)
  3. Rakhshanda Jalil. Iqbal’s lady of love. Friday Times September 16-22, 2011 – Vol. XXIII, No. 31. (A review of Atiya Begum’s book “Iqbal”)
  4. Zafar Anjum, in his book Iqbal: The Life of a Poet Philosopher and Politician (published in 2014 by Random House, Gorgaun, Haryana, India)
  5. Duriya Hashmi. Footprints: Finding Iqbal in Germany. Dawn. November, the 9th, 2015
  6. Allaam Iqbal. Armoghan e Hejaz Hozur e Resalat. Part II. http://www.nosokhan.com/library/Topic/1MPW downloaded 23 March 2017


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Mian Bilal

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