Azad, Maulana Abul Kalam

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AZAD, MAULANA ABUL KALAM (1888–1958), president of Indian National Congress (1923, 1940–1946), India's first minister of education (1947–1958). Mohiuddin Ahmad, known as Abul Kalam "Azad" (the free) was born in Makkah in 1888. His mother was an Arab who died in Calcutta (Kolkata) when his father, Khairuddin Dehlavi, returned to India after several years in Makkah. Azad was educated by his father, a Sufi, learning religious sciences as well as classical Arabic, Persian, and Urdu at home. Azad wrote mostly in Urdu, the language of his passion and to which he made a lasting contribution through his commentary of the Qurʾan. Azad was also interested in learning other systems of knowledge beyond his training in the traditional Islamic learning. He was open to Western knowledge and values that seemed to be in accord with Islamic ethical teachings. Intellectually, Azad saw himself following in the footsteps of such Indian scholars as Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi (d. 1624), a reformer of Indian Islam who is mostly remembered for his opposition to a kind of Sufism that appeared to be closer to Hindu monistic philosophy than to Islamic orthodoxy. Another intellectual and reformer whom Azad lauds in his writings is Sayyid Ahmed Khan (d. 1898).

In 1912 Azad started his weekly journal, al-Hilal, and in 1915 he began publishing al-Balagh. The purpose of these journals, as well as his other activities, was to inculcate among Muslims a sense of religious calling that could be placed in the service of nationalism and to draw them to the political movement for independence from the British. In 1916 his presses were shut down by British authorities. Azad was imprisoned for his activities, and during this period he produced an autobiographical work, Tazkira.

Azad's political activism and his membership in the Indian National Congress brought him in contact with Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Azad first worked with Gandhi during the noncooperation and the Khilafat movements, which began after Gandhi's return from South Africa in 1919. Azad became a key link between Gandhi and the Muslim community, as they both sought greater support among Muslims for Gandhi's brand of nonviolent activism. Azad was the youngest person to be elected president of the Indian National Congress in 1923. He was later reelected and served from 1940 to 1946.

Azad is most remembered for his scholarship, his intellectual ingenuity, and his originality. During his second imprisonment, between 1921 and 1923, he wrote a commentary on the Qurʾan, which was later published as Tarjuman al-Qurʾan (Lahore, 1931). The commentary is incomplete but is best known for its first volume, which is entirely devoted to the first chapter of the Qurʾan, "al-Fatiha." He also wrote several other works, including a longer autobiographical work, India Wins Freedom, the full manuscript of which was deposited in the National Archives, to be revealed thirty years after his death. Thus a much anticipated revised edition of India Wins Freedom: The Complete Version was published in 1988.

Azad died in New Delhi in 1958, while he was still in office as India's first minister of education. His tomb lies within the confines of the Jama Masjid, facing the Red Fort, in the old city of Delhi.

Irfan A. Omar


Anjum, Khaliq, ed. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad: Shakhsiyat aur karnamey. Delhi: Urdu Akademi, 1986.

Azad, Abul Kalam. The Tarjuman al-Qurʾan. Edited and translated by Syed Abdul Latif. Mumbai: Asia Publishing House, 1962.

Douglas, Ian Henderson. Abul Kalam Azad: An Intellectual and Religious Biography. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Kabir, Humayun, ed. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad: A Memorial Volume. Mumbai: Asia Publishing House, 1959.

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Azad, Maulana Abul Kalam

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