Maulana Abul Kalam Azad not only served as the first education minister of independent India but also was a noted scholar, poet and a revolutionary journalist. He is also remembered for his invaluable contributions in the Indian freedom struggle.
His real name was Maulana Sayyid Abul Kalam Ghulam Muhiyuddin Ahmed bin Khairuddin Al-Hussaini Azad, but came to be known as Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.
His father Maulana Sayyid Muhammad Khairuddin bin Ahmed Al Hussaini wrote twelve books, had thousands of disciples, and claimed noble ancestry, while his mother was Sheikha Alia bint Mohammad, the daughter of Sheikh Mohammad bin Zaher AlWatri, himself a reputed scholar from Medina who had a reputation that extended even outside of Arabia.
During the Indian Rebellion of 1857, his father had left India and settled in Mecca, where, Maulana Azad was born on 11 November 1888. In 1890, Azad settled in Calcutta with his family.
Azad was home-schooled and self-taught.
Azad began to master several languages, including Urdu, Hindi, Persian, Bengali, Arabic, and English. He was also trained in the Mazahibs of Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali fiqh, Shariat, mathematics, philosophy, world history, and science by tutors hired by his family
An avid and determined student, the precocious Azad was running a library, a reading room, and a debating society before he was twelve; wanted to write on the life of Ghazali at twelve; was contributing learned articles to Makhzan (a literary magazine) at fourteen; was teaching a class of students, most of whom were twice his age, when he was fifteen; and completed the traditional course of study at the age of sixteen, nine years ahead of his contemporaries, and brought out a magazine at the same age.
In fact, he was publishing a poetical journal (Nairang-e-Aalam) and was already an editor of a weekly (Al-Misbah) in 1900, at the age of twelve and, in 1903, brought out a monthly journal, Lissan-us-Sidq, which soon gained popularity.
At the age of thirteen, he was married to a young Muslim girl, Zulaikha Begum Azad compiled many treatises interpreting the Qur’an, the Hadis, and the principles of Fiqh and Kalam.
Azad developed political views considered radical for most Muslims of the time and became a full-fledged Indian nationalist. He also criticised Muslim politicians for focusing on communal issues before the national interest and rejected the All India Muslim League’s communal separatism. But his views changed considerably when he met ethnicist oriented Sunni revolutionary activists in Iraq and was influenced by their fervent anti-imperialism and nationalism.
Azad’s education had been shaped for him to become a cleric, but his rebellious nature and affinity for politics turned him towards journalism.
Maulana Azad worked for Vakil, a newspaper from Amritsar. Later he established an Urdu weekly newspaper in 1912 called Al-Hilal, and openly attacked British policies while exploring the challenges facing common people, but it was banned in 1914 under the Press Act. Then he started a new journal, the Al-Balagh, which increased its active support for nationalist causes and communal unity.
With his popularity increasing across India, the government outlawed Azad’s second publication under the Defence of India Regulations Act and arrested him. The governments of the Bombay Presidency, United Provinces, Punjab and Delhi prohibited his entry into the provinces and Azad was moved to a jail in Ranchi, where he was incarcerated until 1 January 1920.
Azad wrote many books including India Wins Freedom, Ghubar-e-Khatir, Tazkirah, Tarjumanul Quran, etc.
Ghubar-e-Khatir (Sallies of Mind), is one of the most important works of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, written primarily during 1942 to 1946 when he was imprisoned in Ahmednagar Fort in Maharashtra by British Raj while he was in Bombay (now Mumbai) to preside over the meeting of All India Congress Working Committee. The book is basically a collection of 24 letters he wrote addressing his close friend Maulana Habibur Rahman Khan Sherwani. These letters were never sent to him because there was no permission for that during the imprisonment and after the release in 1946, he gave all these letters to his friend Ajmal Khan who let it published for the first time in 1946. Although the book is a collection of letters but except one or two letters, all other letters are unique and most of the letters deal with complex issues such as existence of God, the origin of religions, the origin of music and its place in religion, etc.
Along with fellow Khilafat leaders Dr. Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Azad founded the Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi as an institution of higher education managed entirely by Indians without any British support or control.
As Azad grew close to Gandhi, he began to spin his own clothes using khadi on the charkha, and began frequently living and participating in the ashrams organised by Gandhi.
Azad became an important national leader, and served on the Congress Working Committee and in the offices of general secretary and president many times.
Azad endorsed the ending of separate electorates based on religion, and called for an independent India to be committed to secularism.
Azad decided the name of Muslim political party Majlis-e-Ahrar-ul-Islam.
Azad’s criticism of Jinnah and the League intensified as Jinnah called Congress rule in the provinces as “Hindu Raj”, calling the resignation of the Congress ministries as a “Day of Deliverance” for Muslims. Speaking vehemently against Jinnah’s Two-Nation Theory—the notion that Hindus and Muslims were distinct nations—Azad lambasted religious separatism and exhorted all Muslims to preserve a united India, as all Hindus and Muslims were Indians who shared deep bonds of brotherhood and nationhood. In his presidential address, Azad said:
” 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.”
Azad had grown increasingly hostile to Jinnah, who had described him as the “Muslim Lord Haw-Haw” and a “Congress Showboy.”
Maulana Azad, committed to a united India until his last attempt, was condemned by the advocates of Pakistan, especially the Muslim League. However, post partition, Azad took up responsibility for the safety of Muslims in India, touring affected areas in Bengal, Bihar, Assam and the Punjab, guiding the organisation of refugee camps, supplies and security. Azad gave speeches to large crowds encouraging peace and calm in the border areas and encouraging Muslims across the country to remain in India and not fear for their safety and security. He supported provisions for Muslim citizens to make avail of Muslim personal law in courts.
Azad masterminded the creation of national programmes of school and college construction and spreading the enrolment of children and young adults into schools, to promote universal primary education.
In 1956, he served as president of the UNESCO General Conference held in Delhi.
Azad spent the final years of his life focusing on writing his book India Wins Freedom, an exhaustive account of India’s freedom struggle and its leaders, which was published in 1959.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad died of a stroke on February 22, 1958
As India’s first Minister of Education, he emphasised on educating the rural poor and girls. As Chairman of the Central Advisory Board of Education, he gave thrust to adult literacy, universal primary education, free and compulsory for all children up to the age of 14, girl’s education, and diversification of secondary education and vocational training. Addressing the conference on All India Education on 16 January 1948, Maulana Azad emphasised, “We must not for a moment forget, it is a birthright of every individual to receive at least the basic education without which he cannot fully discharge his duties as a citizen.”
He oversaw the setting up of the Central Institute of Education, Delhi, which later became the Department of Education of the University of Delhi as “a research centre for solving new educational problems of the country”.
Under his leadership, the Ministry of Education established the first Indian Institute of Technology in 1951 and the University Grants Commission in 1953., He also laid emphasis on the development of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and the Faculty of Technology of the Delhi University.
The Ministry of Minority Affairs of the central Government of India set up the Maulana Azad Education Foundation in 1989 on the occasion of his birth centenary to promote education amongst educationally backward sections of the Society.
The Ministry also provides the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad National Fellowship, an integrated five-year fellowship in the form of financial assistance to students from minority communities to pursue higher studies such as M. Phil and PhD
In 1992 government of India honoured by giving posthumously Bharat Ratna.
Numerous institutions across India have also been named in his honour. Some of them are the Maulana Azad Medical College in New Delhi, the Maulana Azad National Institute of Technology in Bhopal, the Maulana Azad National Urdu University in Hyderabad, Maulana Azad Centre for Elementary and Social Education (MACESE Delhi University), the Maulana Azad College, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies, and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad University of Technology, in Kolkata, Bab – e – Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (Gate No. 7), Jamia Millia Islamia, A Central (Minority) University in New Delhi, the Maulana Azad library in the Aligarh Muslim University in Aligarh and Maulana Azad Stadium in Jammu.
His home housed the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies earlier, and is now the Maulana Azad Museum.
National Education Day (India) an annual observance in India to commemorate the birth anniversary of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the first education minister of independent India, who served from 15 August 1947 until 2 February 1958. National Education Day of India is celebrated on 11 November every year in India.
He is celebrated as one of the founders and greatest patrons of the Jamia Millia Islamia.
Azad’s tomb is located next to the Jama Masjid in Delhi, receives large numbers of visitors annually.
Jawaharlal Nehru referred to him as Mir-i- Karawan (the caravan leader), “a very brave and gallant gentleman, a finished product of the culture that, in these days, pertains to few”.
Mahatma Gandhi remarked about Azad by counting him as “a person of the calibre of Plato, Aristotle and Pythagorus”.