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Maulana Azad: The Great Son of India

Tuesday, November 10, 2009 07:38:32 PM, Subhash Kashyab

Audio: Maulana Azad's historic address to the Indian Muslims from Jama Masjid after the partition

Maulana Azad's efforts in shaping the Education policy in Independent India: Maulana Azad was a great educationist too. His standing as an outstanding scholar of Oriental learning was demonstrated in moulding the educational system of the country in the immediate post...Click for Full

Maulana Azad as distinguished writer: Azad started writing poems and literary and political articles for Urdu Newspapers and journals at a very early age. He launched his Urdu weekly Al-Hilal on June, 1912 when he was only 24....Click for Full

Maulana Azad as Freedom Fighter: It is significant that all these moves and various political activities of Azad were initiated before the emergence of Gandhiji on the political horizon. Advent of Gandhiji into the National Movement and Azad's meeting with him had crucial bearing on the future course of the...Click for Full

In the galaxy of the patriots of India's freedom struggle, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad occupies a distinctive position. He was a savant statesman and the tallest among the nationalist Muslim who fought for a united India. Along with Jawahar Lal Nehru and Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad comprised the famous trio that carried out the negotiation to usher in freedom and laid the foundation of a secular society in India.


Born on 11 November, 1888 in an orthodox family of Maulana Khairuddin and to his Arab wife, Aliyah, as one of their five children, Ghulam Muhiyuddin Ahmad, who came to be known later as Abul Kalam Azad, had combined in him scholarly pursuits, sturdy independence of character and a distinct mental bent towards unworldliness.


Maulana Azad took pride in tracing his birth from an ancestor who earned a name for himself during the reign of Emperor Akbar. One of his ancestors, Maulana Jamaluddin was a contemporary of Akbar, the Great. “I am the ninth of tenth in paternal descent from Sheikh Jamaluddin", Azad said to Mahadeo Desai, one of his earlier biographers......I can say that there wasn't one of my ancestors, but was noted for his learning and Sufism.”


Immensed in the closed world of learning, Azad longed for an escape from the unusually rigorous scholastic atmosphere and to become a free man. He could not get peace by just reading Islamic history and theology and preaching it to faithfuls. During this period he also got an exposure to the writings of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, who patronized the Aligarh school which was known for its pro colonial modernism which Azad later sought to contest from a nationalist angle.


The first major turning point for Azad came after the partition of Bengal, when he rejected the mainstream of the Muslim middle class, which wanted partition and considered the colonial government as its benefactor. Repudiating it, he associated himself with the anti British Movement.


In 1908, after his father's death, his visits to France and some Islamic countries, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and Turkey had a profound and decisive influence on Azad's political thinking. While abroad, he met a number of groups, the young Turks, the Arab Nationalists and the prominent leaders of the pan-Islamic Movement who wanted to throw away the yoke of imperialism to free the Arab countries.


He was influenced by the writing of Jamaluddin Afghani (l 837_97), a pan–Islamist modern reformer who regarded European countries as enemies of Islam. He also met the Iranian revolutionaries fighting against the Qajar autocracy and the followers of Sheikh Muhammad Abduhu and Saeed Pasha and supporters of Mustafa Kamal Pasha. He was apprised of the programmes of the young Turks. These Indian, Arab, Turkish, Irani and Afghani revolutionaries vividly demonstrated their anti-imperial attitude to Azad. They lamented over Indian indifference to their struggle for freedom. All these experiences also motivated him in plunging into the political arena. He found a new world astir with ideas of liberty, progress and revolutionary Islam. He noticed that the Muslim world was facing various kinds of threats. Italy had conquered the provision of Tripoli in 1911. The Balkan states were determined to dismember Turkey. Morocco had yielded to French yoke and Russia threatened Iran. Turkey was encircled by Russia, England and France. These events deeply affected Azad.


In India too, the Muslim Community was going through a serious ideological crisis at the turn of the century. Earlier, during the last quarter of the 19th century, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan tried to persuade the Muslim elite that its political future laid in adopting a liberal outlook at the same time as it adopted a cooperative attitude towards British Imperialism in the subcontinent. However this call for an alliance with imperialism was totally unacceptable to large sections of the Muslim community in India, particularly among the elite and the popular classes. Young Maulana Azad, in common with leaders like Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali, Wazir Hasan and others represented those within the Muslim community who challenged this concept of Islamic modernism in alliance with Imperialism, propounded by Sir Syed. These leaders looked upon Great Britain as an alien power bent upon humiliating Islam in Asia at the same time as it sought to undermine the spiritual and secular status of Islam within the Indian sub-continent.


It was at this juncture that Azad launched his Urdu weekly Al-Hilal on June, 1912 when he was only 24. He believed that only by educating the 'Ulama, the learned in Law and in theology, there would emerge a nucleus of dedicated and idealistic elite which can act as a lever for the moral and intellectual regeneration of the Muslim community. With the launching of Al-Hilal, Azad shot into the National Movement. He gave fearless and powerful expression to his nationalist ideas through the journal. The basic intent of Al-Hilal was to launch a vigorous attack not only on the colonial distortions of our history but more on the pro-colonial modernism of the Aligarh School, which had poisoned the minds of the Modernist Muslim intelligentsia. Al-HilaI held out the message of nationalism to the Muslim elites as well as the popular classes and urged them to join other communities in the struggle for the liberation of the country.


It is significant that all these moves and various political activities of Azad were initiated before the emergence of Gandhiji on the political horizon. Advent of Gandhiji into the National Movement and Azad's meeting with him had crucial bearing on the future course of the movement. Azad met Gandhiji on 18 January 1920 at the residence of Hakim Ajmal Khan in the presence of Lokmanya Tilak and Ali brothers.


Before his meeting with Gandhiji, he defined collective identity of the Muslim Community in terms of Islam and denned and visualized a safe and legitimate place for the Muslims within the sub-continent. In Gandhiji, he found institutional support for his political stand. The Khilafat Movement and later the non-cooperation Movement was to provide a broader platform and offer more serious challenges to Azad's budding political career.


He exhorted the Muslim masses to join the freedom struggle by giving a religious justification for the Movement. For the Hindus working for independence might be a patriotic gesture. But for the Muslims it is a religious duty. In the 1920s, Azad was, to a large extent, responsible in sanctifying the Hindu-Muslim partnership and in drawing more and more Muslims to the folds of the Congress, thus enhancing the momentum of the Freedom movement.


In 1923, at its Delhi session, he was elected President of the Indian National Congress at the age of 35, becoming the youngest Congress President to date. He was an ardent protagonist of Hindu-Muslim unity. On his election, he said, “If an angel were to descent from the high heavens and proclaim from the heights of the Qutab Minar, discard Hindu-Muslim unity and within 24 hours, Swaraj is yours, I will refuse swaraj but will not budge an inch from my stand. If Swaraj is delayed it will affect only India while the end of our unity will be the loss of our entire human world.”


At a time when many Indian Muslims led by the Muslim league were crying for partition, Azad stood up in defence of the unity of the sub-continent. When the Congress launched the Satyagraha Movement in 1930, Azad was arrested. He was a party to every direct action launched by the Congress during the course of the freedom struggle and spent 11 years of his life in British jails. He accepted the most challenging assignment of his life when he took over the presidentship of the Indian National Congress at its Ramgarh session in 1940.


Shortly before Azad presided over the Ramgarh Session of the Congress in 1940, Nehru said of him, “…he is not the type of man who likes the rough and tumble of politics. He is very sensitive and rather avoids crowds and publicity. He lacks a certain vital energy. In a wider world he is rather out of place as he thinks on political lines and hardly at all on social or economic lines... In the Muslim world of India he is tremendously very advance. Probably he is the ablest among the Muslim divines. Most of them are afraid of him because he can floor them in any argument. His knowledge even of the scriptures and traditions is very great,"


Maulana Azad's tenure as Congress President was longest in its pre-independence history. He presided over the Congress during the most crucial phase of the struggle. It was under his presidentship that All India Congress Committee passed the famous Quit India Resolution and gave the call of "Do or Die". The Movement was ruthlessly suppressed by the British Government and Maulana Azad, along with the rest of the Congress leaders, was arrested and put behind the bars.        


On his release in 1945, he was entrusted with the most delicate task of negotiating with the British and the Muslim League for transfer of power to Indians. He negotiated with Lord Wavell, the Viceroy of India later at Shimla. He led the Congress delegation in talk with the Cabinet Mission headed by Sir Pethwick Lawrence, the Secretary of State for India. He wanted to have a dialogue with Mohammad Ali Jinnah who brushed him away and refused to talk to one he considered as the Congress' Show-boy.


Maulan Azad was a patriot, a leader, a philosopher-statesman and a great scholar. By a profound learning and “luminous intelligence" he did a real good job for Islam, by clearing it of the dust of prejudice and bigotry which had gathered up on it during the eleven hundred years of its history in India. He was a rightful inheritor of all the thought movements of the past. In the unfolding of his intellectual life and in the evolution of his thought, we find staged the whole history of Islamic thought. He was one of the very few acquainted with the philosophies of India and had deep insight into the various religions of the world and could isolate the real and essential from the spurious.


Reminding of Azad's unique intellectual achievements, Pandit Nehru said, “…..He was great in many ways. He combined in himself the greatness of the past with the greatness of the present. He always reminded me of the great men of several hundred years ago about whom I have read in history, the great men of the Renaissance, or in a later period the encyclopaedists who proceeded the French Revolution, men of intellect and men of action. He remembered also of what might be called the great quality of olden days - the graciousness which we sadly seek in the world today….It was the strange and unique of the good qualities of the past, the graciousness, the deep learning and toleration and the urges of today which made Maulan Azad what he was.”


C, Rajagopalachari regarded Azad as “one who represents the keen understanding and synthetic ideology of the great Akbar." Rajagopalacahri had all praise for Azad's liberal outlook.


The other philosopher, statesman and a contemporary of Maulana Azad, Dr. Radha Krishnan had these to say about him, “The Maulan Azad stood for what may be called the emancipation of the mind free from superstitions, obscurantism and lanaticisrn. This mind should be free from narrow prejudices of race or language, province or dialect, religion or caste. It is only then that it is a civilized mind. He worked for the ideals of national unity, probity in administration and economic progress. In a philosophical vein, the Maulana points out that ‘to find out the meaning of life and existence in the purpose of the philosophical quest, we may not succeed in finding it out but the pursuit of the quest is its own reward.’ Those who follow the path never tire because it is both the way and the destination.”


His devotion to Indian National Movements was the result of the new religious awakening. It was out of his deep understanding of the fundamentals of Islamic thought that he was able to question Pakistan's religious basis itself. Azad wrote in India Wins Freedom, “It is one of the greatest frauds on the people to suggest that religious affinity can unite areas which are geographically, economically, linguistically and culturally different.” The birth of Bangladesh in 1971 perhaps confirmed Azads' reasoning.


On February 22, 1958 the Nation mourned the death of this distinguished scholar, philosopher and statesman who had the courage of conviction to preach unity of mankind, at a time when religion was used by fanatic elements to separate man from man and ideals of nationalism were used to separate nations from nations. Announcing his death in the Parliament Jawaharlal Nehru said, “We mourn today the passing of a great man, a man of luminous intelligence and mighty intellect with an amazing capacity to pierce through a problem to its core. The word ‘luminous’ is perhaps the best word I can use about his mind. When we part with such a companion, friend, colleague, comrade, leader and teacher, there is inevitably a tremendous void created in our life and activities.”


Perhaps the nation today could look for inspiration to the social ideals which Maulana Abul Kalam Azad propounded as an enduring basis of sanity in relations between classes and Communities which still carry over the prejudices of the past.








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