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Abstract

It is difficult to find a figure more controversial or contested in the modern history of the Islamic world than the poet, philosopher, and reformer Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938). While undoubtedly a towering figure in the history of Islamic modernist movements, Iqbal’s poetry has received inadequate attention in comparison to his philosophical and political writings—or, more accurately, his poetry has been understood as a vehicle for, or in service to, his philosophical and political commitments, rather than as a mode of expression that sets out its own terms and methodology for negotiating the new demands colonialism made of literature, identity, and the relationship of the Muslim subject to shifting understandings of tradition. This dissertation takes a literary-critical approach to texts that are predominantly read as straightforward manifestos for Islamic revival, reading Iqbal’s Persian and Urdu ghazals (a poetic form that thrives on ambiguity and paradox) as advancing their own method for thinking through the encounter of the Islamic poetic tradition with colonial modernity. Grounded in close readings of ghazals from Payām-i Mashriq, Zabūr-i ᶜAjam, Bāl-i Jibrīl, and the Jāvīdnāma, the chapters of this dissertation analyzing how genre, rhetoric, and formal structures interact in Iqbal’s ghazals to produce (and, at times, resist) different modes of meaning, presenting a new model for how to attend to poetic form and the intersections of religion, literature, and politics in the study of modern Islam.

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