At Markaz Tabadol Kitaab, a popular store for used books on the busy Vali Asr Street in central Tehran, there is a big section packed with Persian works of Sir Mohammad Iqbal, fondly known in Iran as “Iqbal Lahori”.
Iqbal, a strong proponent of the political and spiritual revival of Islamic civilization across the world, never visited Iran. But his footprints can be found everywhere — from school textbooks, university dissertations, poetry clubs, research institutes, political think tanks, and even streets.
Even Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has written a book on him.
A salesman at a prominent book store in Tehran told Anadolu Agency that Iqbal’s works and books on him remain in high demand among university students.
He is one of the few illustrious names from South Asia to have streets named after them in the Iranian capital — others being Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Mahatma Gandhi, the icons of the anti-colonial movement in undivided British India.
Arash Saberi, a research scholar who has extensively worked on Iqbal's Persian works, said he modeled his poetry on the style adopted by legendary Persian poet Jalaluddin Rumi.
"Rumi being one of Iqbal's biggest spiritual inspirations played a pivotal role in his transformation from an Urdu to Persian poet," he told Anadolu Agency, adding that around 7,000 of the 12,000 verses of his poetry are in the Persian language.
Saberi said Iqbal was "fascinated" by Iran and its civilization and culture, which is "reflected in many of his works" like Zabur e Ajam, a philosophical poetry book in Persian published in 1927, and Maqaalat e Iqbal, an anthology of his writings published in 1963.
Interestingly, Iqbal’s doctorate dissertation that he submitted at the University of Munich was on Persian philosophical thoughts.
In his book “Asraar e Khudi” (Secrets of the Self), published in 1915, Iqbal has praised the beauty and loftiness of the Persian language.
Unique place in Persian literature
Ali Dehgahi, director general at the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization -- a top government-affiliated cultural body in Iran -- said Iqbal holds a unique place in the field of Persian literature.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Dehgahi described Iqbal as "the last of the stellar generation of Persian poets in the subcontinent", after Bidel Dehlavi, Amir Khosrow, and Mirza Asadullah Ghalib.
"But Iqbal's art was not limited to Persian poetry and literature. He was a social thinker and reformer who sought reform of Eastern societies and Islamic countries and this concern was reflected in his literary works as well," he asserted, distinguishing Iqbal from other celebrated Persian poets.
On his popularity in Iran, Dehgahi said it has to do with "his great love and affection for Iran" as well as his invaluable Persian works.
"A brief study of his life and thoughts shows that the Holy Quran and the works of Persian mystics and literary giants like Hafez, Sanai and in particular Rumi greatly influenced the formation of his thoughts and ideas," said Dehgahi, who previously headed Iran's Cultural House in New Delhi.
Dr. Mohammad Akhgari, a leading expert on Iqbal's Persian works and a professor at the IRIB University, Tehran, said Iqbal is "one of the most loved Persian poets" whose poetry has made its way into educational textbooks in Iran for its exquisite richness.
He said Lahore, Iqbal's adopted city, had the reputation of being "one of the active centers of Persian literature" and produced many legendary poets like Ali ibn Othman Jalabi, whose book 'Kashf al Mahjoub' was the first book of mystic prose in the Persian language until Iqbal burst on the scene.
"Iqbal Lahori has a special place among Persian poets and thinkers because his poetry is based on an interesting and attractive idea of 'self', which is taken from the Islamic and Iranian philosophy, especially that of Suhrawardi," he elaborated.
Iqbal’s Iran visit remained unfulfilled
Another thing that distinguishes Iqbal from other noted Persian poets of his time was his riposte to German poet Goethe's West-Eastern Diwan, Akhgari noted, adding that "no other Persian language poet could do what Iqbal did”.
One of Iqbal's wishes that remained unfulfilled was to visit Iran, a country that was immortalized by his Persian poetry.
The “Poet of the East” as he is called received little appreciation from the rulers of the time in Iran, the Pahlavi dynasty, as he had gained immense popularity in the country's academic circles.
But it is said that Iranian ruler Reza Shah Pahlavi invited the popular Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore to Tehran in the early 1930s but no such invite was ever sent to Iqbal.
Qadir Hassani Asraar, a research scholar of Persian literature, regrets that the great philosopher-poet could never visit Iran.
"Someone who was praised by the likes of Murtaza Mutahhiri and idolized by the likes of sociologist Ali Shariati deserved state honor for his unparalleled contribution to the Persian language," he said.
In 1952, years after the poet's death, then Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosadeq posthumously felicitated Iqbal in a radio broadcast, hailing his contribution to Persian literature and his struggle against British imperialism in India.
"In subsequent years, his works in Persian began to be published in Iran, and rest as they say is history," Asraar said.