Maulana Abul Kalam Azad
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad
President - Delhi, 1923 (Special Session); Ramgarh, 1940
Born in 1888, Firoz Bakht (of exalted destiny), commonly called Muhiyuddin Ahmad, was two when his parents settled at Calcutta; his father, Maulana Khairuddin, became famous here as a spiritual guide.
Still in his teens, Muhiyuddin using the pseudonym Abul Kalam Azad acquired a high reputation for his writings on religion and literature in the standard Urdu journals of the time. The education Azad received, mostly from his father, was traditional. He did not go to any Madrasah, nor did he attend any modern institution of western education. Learning at home he completed the traditional course of higher Islamic education at sixteen instead of the normal twenty or twenty-five. About the same time he was exposed to the writings of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. Keeping it a secret from his father, he started leaning English and by his own effort acquired enough knowledge of the language to study advanced books on history and philosophy.
This led him, although unnoticed by others, to the stage of what he called -'atheism' and 'sinfulness.' Azad remained in this stage of spiritual dilemma till the age of twenty-two. About the same time Azad's political ideas were also in turmoil. He wanted to see his country free from the British rule. But he did not approve of the Congress movement on account of its 'slowness': also he could not join the Muslim League whose political goal he found unpredictable. Thus he associated himself with the Hindu revolutionaries of Bengal in spite of their 'exclusive' and indifferent attitude to the Muslims. He managed, however, to convince them that the systematic exclusion of the Muslims from the group would ultimately make political struggle much more difficult.
For politicalising his community Azad started from July 13, 1912 an Urdu weekly, the Al-Hilal (The Crescent), from Calcutta. Its influence was prodigious. Azad was politically and religiously radical. The paper... shocked the conservatives and created a furore; but there were many Muslims ready to follow him. In the pages of the AI-Hilal Azad began to criticize the 'loyal' attitude of the Muslims to the British, and the 'hostile' attitude of the British to the Muslim world in general. The Government of Bengal unhappy with editorial policy, put pressure on the paper. Meanwhile World War I broke out and publication was banned in 1914 by the Bengal Government. From November 12, 1915, Abul Kalam started a new weekly, the AI-Balagh from Calcutta, which continued till March 31, 1916. The publication of the Al-Balagh was also banned by the Government of Bengal and Maulana Azad was exiled from Calcutta under the Defence of India Regulations.. The Governments of Punjab, Delhi, U.P. and Bombay had already prohibited his entry into their provinces under the same Regulations. The only province he could conveniently stay in was Bihar, and he went therefore to Ranchi, where he was interned till January 1, 1920.
From 1920 till 1945 Abul Kalam Azad was in and out of prison a number of times. After he was released from Ranchi he was elected President of the All-India Khilafat Committee (Calcutta session in 1920), and President of the Unity Conference (Delhi) in 1924. In 1928 he presided over the Nationalist Muslim Conference. He was appointed in 1937 a member of the Congress Parliamentary Sub-Committee to guide the Provincial Congress Ministries. He was twice elected President of the Indian National Congress, the first time in 1923 when he was only thirty-five years old, and the second time in 1940. He continued as the President of the Congress till 1946, for no election was held during this period as almost every Congress leader was in prison on account of the Quit India Movement (1942). After the leaders were released Maulana Azad, as the President of the Congress, led the negotiations with the British Cabinet Mission in 1946, and when India became independent he was appointed Education Minister, a position in which he continued till his death on February 22, 1958.
Azad's religious ideas were not widely influential. He expressed himself in Urdu, and thus limited himself to a particular group. The majority of the Indians did not really know what Azad was saying. Another reason was political. He was in the Congress, and was considered a party-man. Thus whatever he said about the unity of religion was taken by many Muslims, who used to read, him, as the reflection of his political ideas, and, therefore, had to be discarded. Also, on the question of Muslims' traditional religious education, Azad was unorthodox. He was among those few who were not shaken in their faith in composite nationalism even by partition. He was a great, orator and a matchless writer.
- Mushirul Haq
Full eleven centuries have passed by since then. Islam has now as great a claim on the soil of India as Hinduism. If Hinduism has been the religion of the people here for several thousands of years Islam also has been their religion for a thousand years. Just as a Hindu can say with pride that he is an Indian and follows Hinduism, so also we can say with equal pride that we are Indians and follow Islam. I shall enlarge this orbit still further. The Indian Christian is equally entitled to say with pride that he is an Indian and is following a religion of India, namely Christianity.
From the Presidential Address - Maulana Abul Kalam Azad,
I.N.C. Session, 1940, Ramgarh