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Maulana Abul Kalam Azad

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad

Sayyid Ghulam Mohiuddin Ahmed bin Khairuddin Al Hussaini was popularly known as Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. He was a freedom fighter of India's Independence, an Islamic scholar, writer, poet, a multilinguistic person, and, an important leader of the Indian National Congress.

He was the first education minister of Independent India. He was one of the very few people who had a very good relationship with both moderates and extremist group members of the Indian National Congress. National Education Day in India is celebrated on his birthday on 11th November every year.

He was regarded as the moderator between Hindus and Muslims, and a promoter of Hindu- Muslims Unity, he was against the partition of India and Pakistan.

Family and Personal Life

Maulana Azad was born on 11th November 1888 in Mecca, currently in Saudi Arabia (at that time it was in the Ottoman empire). His mother Sheikh Alia bin Mohammad and his father Muhammad Khairuddin bin Ahmed Al Hussaini were also great scholars, they wrote several books and were famous even out of Mecca. Azad's father used to live in Delhi with his maternal grandmother but after the 1847 revolt, he moved to Mecca. After the birth of Azad, his family and returned to India settled in Calcutta in 1890. Around 1901, he married Zulaikha Begum, at the age of thirteen years. They didn't have any children.


Maulana Azad never went out to a formal school, he was taught by his highly educated parents, and tutors and he had the eagerness to study, which helped him a lot. He had mastered the languages of Arabic, Hindi, Bengali, Persian, English, etc. He got expertise in all Islamic schools of thought like Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i, and Hanbali Fiqh and other domains like Shariat, mathematics, philosophy, world history, science, etc. He used to take part in debates with seniors, all these just at the age of 12 years.

He was a genius ahead of his peers and used to guide and teach people who were double his age. At that age, he had his library and published his magazine. He was the ocean of knowledge, related to every field, without any formal degree, because he and his family knew that the important thing is gaining knowledge.

Early Career and Literary Works

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad started his career in journalism in 1899, when he was just 11 years old by publishing his poetic journal Nairang-e-Aalam. In 1900 he became editor of the weekly paper Al-Misbah. Between 1903 to 1905, he published a monthly journal named Lissan-us-Sidq, but unfortunately, it was stopped due to a financial crunch.

After that, he worked in Al-Nadwa, which was an Islamic journal. Then, he became editor of Vakil newspaper, publishing from Amritsar, between April 1906 to November 1906. Then he moved to Calcutta for a few months. After returning from Calcutta from Amritsar, he continued as editor of Vakil till 1908.

In1912, he started an Urdu newspaper named Al-Hilal in Calcutta, in which he strongly opposed the policies of the British crown, and wrote against their atrocities. He used to encourage young Muslims to take part in this struggle for freedom, through the articles of Al-Hilal. As a result, this newspaper was banned by the Britishers in 1914. He also issued a journal Al-Balagh, which too banned in 1916 for its true writings against the British suppression.

Maulana Azad's knowledgeable and independent viewpoint reflects in his writings. He wrote various articles, poems, and books under the pen name 'Azad'. His most famous book was Ghubar-e-Khatir, which was written between 1942 to 1946, during his imprisonment in Ahmednagar Fort, Bombay. This book was about the social and spiritual aspects of his life.

His other literary works include India Wins Freedom, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Vichar Yatra, Khutbaat-e-Azad, Quran ka Qanoon-e-Urooj-o-Zawal, Tahreek-e-Azadi, Haqiqat-e-Salat and Azad ki Taqreeren.

What led him into the Indian Freedom Struggle

Maulana Azad travelled to different British oppressed countries like Egypt, Turkey, Ireland, etc, and met with the revolutionaries of those countries fighting against British colonialism and oppression. This persuaded him to devote his life to India's Freedom Movement.

Maulana Azad always advocated Hindu-Muslim Unity as the key to Independence. He believed that communal separatism will spoil India and its freedom movement. He was very disappointed by the Partition of Bengal, which was the result of communal separatism and a move to weaken the Hindu-Muslim brotherhood. He opposed Mohammad Ali Jinnah's Muslim League because that was focused on a separate nation for Muslims only, which hampered India's Unity. He was opposed by his fellow Muslim community leaders because of his views on communal separatism.

Later, he formed Anjuman-i-Ulama-i-Bangala in 1913, which became the Bengal chapter of Jamiat-Ulema-i-Hind in 1921. Through this, he worked for bridging the gaps that originated with the Partition of Bengal and by the approval of a separate electorate among Hindu and Muslim communities.

Azad opposed Britishers during the Khilafat movement, which took place in 1919, when the British empire removed the Caliph or Khalifa, the Sultan of Ottoman Turkey, who was regarded as the head of the whole Muslim community in the world, to end the Ottoman Empire. This sparked anger against all the Muslims around the world, and Indian Muslims were also part of it. In India, the Khilafat movement was started by the Ali brothers, Mohammad Ali and Shaukat Ali along with Abul Kalam Azad in 1919, and this movement joined with the Non-Cooperation Movement of Mahatma Gandhi, which strengthened India's freedom struggle. During that period, he was imprisoned in Ranchi till 1st January 1920.

In the year 1919, various things happened that angered the Indian Public like the massacre of Jallianwala Bagh on 13 April, the passing of the Rowlett Act, which gave police the power to arrest anyone on the ground of suspicious activity and that was used against Indian revolutionaries and also the end of Ottoman Empire. These all drove him to actively participate in the fight.

After the successful agitation by Gandhi Ji in Champaran Satyagraha in 1917 and Kheda Satyagraha in 1918, he became a very popular and important leader. In 1919 he gave his support to Khilafat Movement. At that time Maulana Azad developed a good relationship with Gandhi Ji and Joined Indian National Congress.

In 1921, he along with Abdul Razzak Mahilabadi, who was the editor of his weekly paper Paigham, was again put into jail for one year. The Chauri-Chaura violence in 1922, weakened the Non-Cooperation Movement and Khilafat Movement, and all the leaders of it were jailed. After that, the Ali brothers and other leaders like Chittranjan Das made the distance from congress, as they were unhappy with congress's ideology towards the British. Chittranjan Das formed the Swaraj party.

But Maulana Azad remained with congress, and he was made the Congress President during Nagpur Session in 1923. He became the youngest person to be appointed as Congress president. He continued to be the president till the 1924 Unity Conference of New Delhi.

When Gandhi Ji started Salt Satyagraha in 1930, Azad also started the same type of Non-violent protest against the salt tax from Dharsana Saltworks.

His Life in Congress

Maulana Azad was the prominent leader of the Indian National Congress. He performed various roles for congress. He served as a member of the Congress Working Committee, General Secretary, and President of Congress in 1923 in a special session held in Delhi, with which he became the youngest president of Congress at the age of 35 years, then in 1940 he again served as president of Congress in Ramgarh session till 1946.

He advocated the Nehru Report, which was issued in response to Simon Commission, for Constitutional reforms and proposed to end the communal electorate. The Ali Brothers and Jinnah opposed this move by Azad to end the separate electorate of Hindus and Muslims.

In 1928, during the Guwahati session, he supported India's dominion status within a year announced by Gandhi Ji.

Around 1930, he was jailed along with many political prisoners, but released after the signing of the Gandhi-Irwin Pact in 1931, and elections were announced to be held under the Government of India Act 1935, he was assigned the responsibility for the management of that election for Congress from campaigning, selecting candidates, arranging funds, etc.

In 1936, a conflict arose between Maulana Azad with Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, and C. Rajagopalachari for the adoption of socialism as the goal of Congress during the Lucknow Session.

Azad tried his best to stop the partition of India in the name of religion. He facilitated several dialogues between Congress and Jinnah's Muslim League in 1935,1936 and 1937 to come out with a solution so that the separation of India and Pakistan could be stopped.

His contribution to Quit India Movement

After the end of the world war in 1938, the British showed no intention to leave India this disappointed Indians. Everybody demanded another rebellion to throw out Britishers permanently, and some congress leaders Subhas Chandra Bose criticized the non-violence strategy of Gandhi Ji and were also not happy with the delay in the start of another movement, so they parted their ways. On the other side, Jinnah's Muslim League was also sympathizing with the people of the Muslim community and provoking them to demand a separate nation. In all these, Abul Kalam was with Gandhi Ji along with other senior leaders.

In 1942, after deep discussions by Azad with important congress leaders like Patel, Nehru, Gandhi Ji, etc. in Congress Working Committee, it was decided to launch the 'Quit India' Movement.

Azad conducted various rallies and campaigns and visited different parts of India for this movement. On August 7th, 1942 he gave a blatant speech from Gowalia Tank, Mumbai against British rule and asked them to leave India. In response to that, he along with other prominent Congress leaders was arrested and kept at Ahmednagar Fort, where he wrote his famous book Ghubar-i-Khatir.

His efforts to stop the Partition of India

Jinnah was constantly demanding a separate nation for the Muslim community, in course of that Gandhi Ji tried to negotiate with Jinnah and met with him in Mumbai. On this Azad opposed this meeting with Jinnah, as any discussion for compromise will support his idea of two nations based on religion.

Later, when Britishers were finally inclined to give freedom and go back, they were in a deadlock that whom to handle power. There was Jinnah with the demand of another nation on one side and on the other side, there was the Indian National Congress, which was not ready for any sort of division.

So, they came up with the British Cabinet Mission Plan, in which all the provinces were divided into three groups- Group B was the west side of Muslim populated area, Group C was the east side of Muslim Populated region that is Assam and Bengal, while rest of the part under Group A and all these groups will function under Central Government, which was given the powers of Defence, Communication and External Affairs. Under this plan, Central Government was weak as it had very limited powers.

Azad, Nehru, Patel, and several others, even Jinnah were ready for this plan, as it could save the formation of another country, but Gandhi Ji was not in favor of this, even though Congress passed the plan.

But this plan remained only on paper, never enforced by the British. Jinnah was thinking that this plan will not come up so he declared Direct Action Day on the 16th of June, which means everything was left to the public and severe communal riots started in the country. A large number of people were killed that shaking Congress leaders including Azad.

Then Britishers came up with Mountbatten Plan, which all the leaders agreed to as they had no option. It was the last resort to stop the violence. Congress supported the plan to save dying people.

Thus, Azad supported the plan and the partition with a heavy heart. He stood firmly with the Muslims who decided to stay in India and tried his best to assure the protection of these families with Sardar Patel. He went to Bengal, Punjab, Assam, and Bihar to prevail in peace in those violence-affected areas and took the responsibility for the welfare of riot-hit Muslims.

Azad's image among fellow Muslims

Azad had both supporters as well as critics. He was criticized by the leaders and supporters of the two-nation theory like Jinnah, who was more popular among Muslim people.

Maulana Azad was accused to be culturally and politically inclined toward Hindus. Jinnah used to call him 'Muslim Lord Haw Haw' and 'Congress Show boy'. He was portrayed by pro-partition leaders as a betrayal of Muslims, but he was the real supporter of Hindu- Muslim Unity.

His role after independence

Maulana Azad led congress in the Constituent Assembly Election in 1946 and was given the charge of the education minister in the interim government and gave up the presidency of Congress to Nehru in 1946.

When the Lok Sabha election happened in 1952, he won from the Rampur seat of Bareilly and was again elected from the same seat for another term in 1957. He was made the first Education Minister of Independent India. He got one of the very tough ministries at that time when India was very poor in literacy. He emphasized adult education and education of a vulnerable section of the society like women, children, and rural poor people. In 1956, the UNESCO General Conference in Delhi was presided by him.

Institutes and organizations founded by him and in his name

He was a member of the founding committee of Jamia Millia Islamia University, Aligarh, UP in 1920. In 1934, this university was shifted from Aligarh to Delhi. One of the gates in the university is named after him.

Under his tenure as education minister, India's first IIT and University Grants Commission was set up in 1951 and 1953 respectively. He established Central Institute Education, Delhi, and later came to be known as the Department of Education under Delhi University.

Maulana Azad Education Foundation was founded by the Ministry of Minority Affairs in 1989, to promote the education of minority sections of the society, through which Maulana Abul Kalam Azad National Fellowship is provided for 5 years to the students of minority sections for higher studies.

His legacy continued with his name on various educational institutes and departments like

  • Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi
  • Maulana Azad National Institute of Technology, Bhopal
  • Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad
  • Maulana Azad Centre for Elementary and Social Education (University of Delhi)
  • Maulana Abul Kalam Institute of Asian Studies, Kolkata
  • Maulana Abul Kalam Azad University of Technology, Kolkata
  • Maulana Azad Library in AMU, Aligarh
  • Maulana Azad Stadium, Jammu

The birth anniversary of Maulana Azad is celebrated as National Education Day on 11 November. He was a true gem for India, and he was awarded the highest civilian award Bharat Ratna in 1992, after his death on 22 February 1958.

His character was featured in the famous movie by Richard Attenborough, named Gandhi, in 1982. His character was played by Virendra Razdan. A TV serial was also started about his life called Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, on DD National in 1990, in which Mangal Dhillon played his part.

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