Maulana Abul Kalam Azad: Man of Vision or Illusion?

Dr. Israrul Haque

Maulana Abul Kalam Muhiyuddin Ahmed (11 November 1888 – 22 February 1958) was a Muslim intellectual and a senior political leader of the Indian independence movement. He was one of the most prominent Muslim leaders to support Hindu-Muslim unity, opposing the partition of India on communal lines.

Religious pluralism

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was a unique Islamic personality which had a great patriotism and passion for communal harmony. However, it is highly regrettable that his belief in religious pluralism and the need for a humanistic outlook broadened even further, and he openly identified parallels between Vedantic and Sufi thought in some of his addresses. He was though a great literary figure and essentially a thinker but was the chief exponent of Wahdat-i-deen or the essential oneness of all religions, Azad played around with a variety of ideas on religion, state and civil society.

He has devoted the first volume of his tafsir (which he could not complete) what he calls wahdat-e-din i.e. unity of religion. Maulana had deep conviction, as we find from his tafsir about unity of all religions and he has shown achievements of his scholarship on expanding this concept in his tafsir and that is why his pronouncement about Hindu-Muslim unity was not mere political rhetoric, much less opportunism, but a deep religious conviction.

Maulana’s spiritual homelessness

He even fell into a phase of atheism which, according to him, lasted from the age of 14 to 22. During his later teenage years he came into close contact with the Hindu revolutionaries of Bengal. A combination of brief travel to the Middle East and his Arabic reading also exposed him more deeply to the reformist ideas of Sheikh Abduh of Egypt and the uncompromising nationalism and anti-imperialism of Mustafa Kamal Pasha. His spiritual homelessness, however, came to an end in 1910 when an emotional/mystical experience renewed his faith in religion and galvanized his personality in a dramatic fashion.

Maulana a Jihadist

In the December1912 issue of Al Hilal, the Maulana wrote:

“For the Hindus, struggle for the independence of the country is a sign of love for the land. But for the Musalmans it is a religious obligation and equivalent to jihad in the way of God. And the meaning of jihad includes every effort made to establish justice and truth and human rights and the removal of servitude”.

The Muslims of India will be able to answer what is the degree of justice human rights and truthfulness that has been established in India, removing their servitude. The native Indian culture is a culture of hopelessness, godlessness, joblessness and lawlessness, and a marginalized Indian Muslims are living on the outskirts of Hindu civilization.

Khilafat Movement called off

Azad roused the Muslim community through the Khilafat Movement. The aim of the movement was to re-instate the Khalifa as the head of British captured Turkey.

Maulana Azad threw the full weight of his oratory and his journalistic skills into the battle to save the Khilafat, sometimes using language that was uncharacteristically loud. He presented the Movement as one related to Islam:

“O my dear believers! The issue is not one of the lives of nations and countries; it is an issue of the very survival of Islam”.  Addressing a convention in support of the Khilafat Movement in 1920, he said:

“Gentlemen: The hand that holds the white flag of peace is a noble hand. But only he can survive who holds a sharp sword: it alone is the arbitrator of the lives of nations, the means for establishing justice and upholding balance…….and the shield in the hands of the oppressed….”Behold! We sent Messengers with clear Signs and sent down with them the Books and the balance to establish justice among humankind, and We sent down iron in which there is great power and benefit for humankind” (The Quran: 57:25). The Muslims should remember that there is only one sword that can now be raised in defense of the Law of God and that is the sanctified sword of the Usmania Khilafat. It is the last footstep of historical Islam and the last ray of hope for our glorious destiny…”

The Khilafat Movement attracted scholars, politicians, mullahs and the common folk. Maulana Azad worked with Maulana Muhammad Ali, Hakim Ajmal Khan and others to rally the Muslim community and exert pressure on the British government to back off from its attempts to eliminate the Khilafat. It was during this period that the Maulana met Gandhi and was attracted by his non-cooperation methods. Gandhi saw in the Khilafat movement a golden opportunity to weld Hindus and Muslims into a grand coalition for the independence of India and was accordingly chosen by the Khilafat committee as its leader. Mahatma Gandhi, who was the first and most honorable well wisher to support the movement, pulled the plug from it after the violence at Chauri Chaura. Azad defended Gandhi’s decision to call off the Khilafat Movement: The Maulana remained loyal to Gandhi throughout his life, even when he disagreed with him.The movement finally died when the Turkish parliament abandoned the Khilafat in 1924.

Harsh critic of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan

Maulana came under the influence of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and read his writings avidly. However, he was highly independent minded and soon distanced himself from Sir Syed’s emphasis on loyalty to the British Empire though he accepted his views on modernity and modern education. Despite his earlier admiration for Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Azad was then a harsh critic of the loyalist politics of Aligarh

Clash with stalwarts

At the 1936 Congress session in Lucknow, Azad was drawn into a dispute with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Dr. Rajendra Prasad and Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari regarding the adoption of socialism as the Congress goal.

After partition, he held the post of Minister of Education of India for ten years. Though he was not a particularly effective administrator, he did perform some important services such as cultivating technical, adult, and women’s education, and an academy of literature, as well as opposing the ejection of English as a national language. 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. He foresaw a great future in the IITs for India. But allhis above contribution for education and social upliftment did not make any important influence in guiding Indian Muslim’s economic and social development.

During his life and in contemporary times, Maulana Azad has been criticized for not doing enough to prevent the partition of India although he was committed to united India till his last attempt. He was condemned by the advocates of Pakistan, especially Muslim League.

India of his dreams

Today, I wonder, what the Maulana who was dismissed by Quaid-e-Azam as a “show boy of the Congress,” would have thought of India of his dreams. Even on his last 125th anniversary, Maulana Azad lays as forgotten man.  It’s indeed ironic how the man who persuaded thousands of Muslims during partition to stay back in India is now a forgotten man.

As everyone knows, Azad had been a passionate votary of Indian nationalism, Hindu-Muslim unity and had vehemently opposed the idea of the partition till the very last minute. This is what he told to the migrating Muslims. “If you go to Pakistan, you might find your co-religionists, but never your countrymen.”

Strictly speaking, Muslims in India are not one community; they are divided among many well-entrenched sects. You can unite them by arousing their anti-Hindu sentiment but you cannot unite them in the name of Islam. To them Islam means undiluted loyalty to their own sect. Apart from Wahhabi, Sunni and Shia there are innumerable groups who owe allegiance to different saints and divines. Small issues like raising hands during the prayer and saying Amen loudly have created disputes that defy solution. The Ulema have used the instrument of takfeer (fatwas declaring someone as infidel) liberally. Earlier, they used to take Islam to the disbelievers; now they take away Islam from the believers.

Maulana’s mausoleum

I am horrified by the condition of Azad’s mausoleum near Jama Masjid. Its red sandstone boundary walls are defaced with posters and betel juice marks. Shopkeepers hang cases full of clothes and jewelry on them. Inside the walls the dry fountains gather dust and filth. Situated in the heart of the bustling Meena Bazar, the mausoleum is surrounded by numerous shops selling food, mobiles, CDs, clothes and other knick-knacks. Open sewers and a dump yard nearby tell a tale of unbelievable civic and governmental neglect.”

In a way, Azad’s last abode mirrors his legacy. Despite being one of the stalwarts of the independence movement and having played a influential role as India’s first education minister, setting up its world-class universities, IITs and numerous research and development institutions, Azad looks increasingly irrelevant in the India of his dreams, perhaps more so when Narendra Modi steps into the shoes of his lifelong friends to rule the country. From new generation school or even college going students I doubt even one percent would know him and his achievements.

(The writer is a senior faculty at Healthcare Administration Program, Batterjee Medical College for Science & Technology North Obhur, Jeddah Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and can be reached at:  israrulh@gmail.com)


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