A rare image of Imam Bibi, the mother of Allama Muhammad Iqbal, the poet and philosopher who inspired the Pakistan movement. She had acquired a basic education, but as a hafiza of the Holy Quran, she taught the scripture to girls of the neighbourhood. Allama Iqbal received part of his earliest education of Islam and the Quran from his mother.
Iqbal’s mother married his father Nur Mohammad after he converted to Islam. Khushwant Singh, writing in The Telegraph of Calcutta in 2007, sheds light on the family background and Iqbal’s Kashmiri Brahmin family in a piece titled ‘Iqbal’s Hindu relations’. “The family traces its origin to one Birbal,” wrote Singh. They lived in the village of Saprain (hence, the surname Sapru) on Shopian-Kulgam road. Then the family moved to Srinagar where Iqbal and most of his cousins were born. Birbal had five sons and a daughter. The third one, Kanhaya Lal, and his wife, Indirani, had three sons and five daughters. Kanhaya Lal was Iqbal’s grandfather. His son, Rattan Lal, converted to Islam and was given the name Nur Mohammad. The Saprus disowned Rattan Lal and severed all connections with him. There are different versions of Rattan Lal’s conversion. According to Sindh, one version came from Iqbal’s translator Syeda Hameed. In this version, Iqbal’s father Rattan Lal (Nur Mohammad) was caught embezzling money as the revenue collector of the Afghan governor of Kashmir. The governor offered him a choice: convert to Islam or be hanged. “Rattan Lal chose to stay alive,” wrote Singh. “When the Afghan governor fled from Kashmir to escape its takeover by the Sikhs, Rattan Lal migrated to Sialkot.” Imam Bibi was evidently a Sialkoti Punjabi.
Upon Imam bibi’s death in 1914 in Sialkot, Iqbal wrote a poem titled “Valida Marhooma ki yaad main”:
Aasman teri lehad par shabnam afshani kare
Sabza-e-Nourasta iss ghar ki nighebani kare
May the sky shed its dew upon your grave!
May the freshly grown verdure watch over your home!