Born: November 11, 1888
Place of Birth: Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Parents: Muhammad Khairuddin (Father) and Alia Muhammad Khairuddin (Mother)
Spouse: Zulaikha Begum
Education: Homeschooled; Self-taught
Association: Indian National Congress
Movement: Indian Nationalist Movement
Political Ideology: Liberalism; right-winged; Egalitarian
Religious views: Islam
Publications: Ghubar-e-Khatir (1942-1946); India Wins Freedom (1978);
Passed Away: February 22, 1958
Memorial: Abul Kalam Azad tomb, New Delhi, India
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was one of the most influential independence activists during India’s freedom struggle. He was also a noted writer, poet and journalist. He was a prominent political leader of the Indian National Congress and was elected as Congress President in 1923 and 1940. Despite being a Muslim, Azad often stood against the radicalizing policies of other prominent Muslims leaders like Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Azad was the first education minister of independent India. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was posthumously awarded ‘Bharat Ratna’, India’s highest civilian honor, in 1992.
Early Life and Education
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was born Abul Kalam Ghulam Muhiyuddin on November 11, 1888 in Mecca, Islam’s main center of pilgrimage. His mother was the daughter of a rich Arabian Sheikh and his father, Maulana Khairuddin, was a Bengali Muslim of Afghan origin. His forefathers came to India during the reign of Mughal Emperor Babar, from Heart, Afghanistan. Azads were the descendent of eminent Ulama or scholars of Islam. In 1890, he returned to Calcutta (now Kolkata) along with the family.
Maulana Azad had his initial formal education in Arabic, Persian and Urdu with theological orientation and then philosophy, geometry, mathematics and algebra. He also learnt English language, world history, and politics on his own. Maulana Azad had a natural inclination towards writing and this resulted in the start of the monthly magazine “Nairang-e-Alam” in 1899. He was eleven years old when his mother passed away. Two years later, at the age of thirteen, Azad was married to young Zulekha Begum.
Early Revolutionary Activities
In Egypt, Azad came into contact with the followers of Mustafa Kemal Pasha who were publishing a weekly from Cairo. In Turkey, Maulana Azad met the leaders of the Young Turks Movement. After his return to India from an extensive visit of Egypt, Turkey, Syria and France, Azad met prominent Hindu revolutionaries Sri Aurobindo Ghosh and Shyam Sundar Chakraborty. They helped in developing radical political views and he began to participate in the Indian nationalist movement. Azad fiercely criticized the Muslim politicians who were more inclined towards the communal issues without focusing on the national interest. He also rejected the theories of communal separatism advocated by the All India Muslim League.
Azad, inspired by the passion of Indian as well as foreign revolutionary leaders, started publishing a weekly called “Al-Hilal” in 1912. The weekly was a platform to attack the policies of the British Government and highlight the problems faced by the common Indians. The paper became so popular that its circulation figures went up to 26,000 copies. The unique message of patriotism and nationalism blended with religious commitment gained its acceptance among the masses. But these developments disturbed the British Government and in 1914, the British Government put a ban on the weekly. Unfazed by the move, Maulana Azad, few months later, launched a new weekly, called “Al-Balagh”. Failed to put a prohibition on the writings of Maulana Azad, the British Government then finally decided to deport him off Calcutta in 1916. When Maulana Azad reached Bihar, he was arrested and put under house arrest. This detention continued till December 31, 1919. After his release on January 1, 1920, Azad returned to the political atmosphere and actively participated in the movement. In fact, he continued to write provocative articles against the British Government.
As an activist demanding the reinstatement of the Caliph in Istanbul, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad came onboard with the Khilafat movement during 1920. He became involved with the Indian freedom struggle through the Non-cooperation movement initiated by Gandhi, of which the Khilafat issue was a big part of. He wholeheartedly advocated the principles of the non-cooperation movement and in the process became drawn to Gandhi and his philosophy. Although initially skeptical of Gandhi’s proposal to launch an intensified drive against the British Raj demanding independence, he later joined the efforts. He travelled all over the country giving speeches and leading various programs of the movement. He worked closely with Vallabhbahi Patel and Dr. Rajendra Prasad. On August 9, 1942, Maulana Azad was arrested along with most of the Congress leadership. Their incarceration lasted for four years and they were released in 1946. During that time, the idea of an independent India had solidified and Maulana headed the Constituent Assembly Elections within Congress as well as led the negotiations with the British Cabinet mission to discuss the terms of independence. He vehemently opposed the idea of partition based on religion and was deeply hurt when the idea went forward to give rise to Pakistan.
During the violence that erupted following partition of India, Maulana Azad assured to take up the responsibility for the security of Muslims in India. Towards this, Azad toured the violence-affected regions of borders of Bengal, Assam, Punjab. He helped in establishing the refugee camps and ensured uninterrupted supply of food and other basic materials. It was reported that in the crucial Cabinet meetings both Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Maulana Azad clashed over the security measures in Delhi and the Punjab.
The role and contribution of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad could not be overlooked. He was appointed as India’s first Minister for Education and inducted in the Constituent Assembly to draft India’s constitution. Under Maulana Azad’s tenure, a number of measures were undertaken to promote primary and secondary education, scientific education, establishment of universities and promotion of avenues of research and higher studies.
Association with the Indian National Congress
While extending his support to Mahatma Gandhi and non-cooperation movement, Maulana Azad joined the Indian National Congress in January 1920. He presided over the special session of Congress in September 1923 and was said to be the youngest man elected as the President of the Congress.
Maulana Azad emerged as an important national leader of the Indian National Congress Party. He also served as a member of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) and in the offices of general secretary and president on numerous occasions. In 1928, Maulana Azad endorsed the Nehru Report, formulated by Motilal Nehru. Interestingly, the Motilal Nehru Report was severely criticized by a number of Muslim personalities involved with the freedom movement. As opposed to Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Azad also advocated for the ending of separate electorates based on religion and called for a single nation committed to secularism. In 1930, Maulana Azad was arrested for violation of the salt laws as part of Gandhiji’s Salt Satyagraha. He was put in Meerut jail for a year and a half.
On February 22, 1958 Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, one of the foremost leaders of the Indian freedom struggle passed away. For his invaluable contribution to the nation, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was posthumously awarded India’s highest civilian honor, the ‘Bharat Ratna’ in 1992.
Maulana was a firm believer in the co-existence of religions. His dream was that of a unified independent India where Hindu and Muslims cohabited peacefully. Although this vision of Azad was shattered post partition of India, he remained a believer. He was the founder of the Jamia Milia Islamia Institution in Delhi along with fellow khilafat leaders which has blossomed into a renowned University today. His birthday, November 11, is celebrated as National Education Day in India.