Lest we ever forget: Maulana Azad whose death anniversary is today, February 22

On the 55th death anniversary of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, a doyen of India’s freedom struggle, India’s first Union Minister for Education and a man whose contribution the present far right regime wants to erase from all record, we must always remember the man who was President of the Indian National Congress twice. In memorium
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, 1888-1958 (Alamy photo)

Born on November 11, 1888 (death February 22, 1958), it took India’s several decades to even officially recognise Maulana Azad’s invaluable contribution to India’s freedom struggle and national life. Though India’s first Education Minister (he served as India’s first education minister of independent India, who served from 15 August 1947 until 2 February 1958), the Indian government’s decision to celebrate his birth anniversary as National Education Day (India) came only in 2008. Before that, Azad was conferred the Bharat Ratna posthumously in 1992.

Abul Kalam Ghulam Muhiyuddin Ahmed bin Khairuddin Al-Hussaini Azad, was an Indian independence activist, writer, and a senior leader of the Indian National Congress. Following India’s independence, he became the First Minister of Education in the Indian government. He is commonly remembered as Maulana Azad; the word Maulana is an honorific meaning ‘Our Master’ and he had adopted Azad (Free) as his pen name.

His unique contribution to establishing the education foundation in India is recognised by celebrating his birthday (November 11) as National Education Day across India. He addressed a public meeting of Muslims in the year 1947 on 23rd October when thousands of Muslims were ready to embark on a journey to Pakistan. Chastising his fellow Muslims he made a powerful appeal for their stake in a secular democratic republic, India.

This regime, in its second term and facing a general elections (due in a few months’ time) has been at pains to erase Maulana Azad’s legacy.

Six months into its second term, November 2019, Delhi’s ultra-supremacist regime tried to obliterate even this delayed celebration by now “celebrating” November 11 not as National Education Day but with a Conference on Vikram Savarkar. The Sangh parivar’s validation of Savarkar, despite his abject plea for clemency written to the British while he was in prison, is fundamentally his espousal of an exclusivist Hindutva, that is premised on an othering –bordering on demonization –of Muslims, Christians and more.

Maulana Azad was not only this century’s most articulate votary of Hindu-Muslim unity but also the only one erudite aalim (Islamic scholar) who claimed Quranic sanction for his faith in that unity and the freedom of the nation.

In the Shahjahanabadi old city of Delhi, between the Jama Masjid and the Red Fort, both monuments reminding us of a past era, a green and glossy patch covers an area where once stood the houses of the Muslim nobility. They were levelled after the Indian revolt against the British in 1857.

Near this mosque, and above the level of the crowded new bazaar, a red sandstone wall encloses a garden in which a tomb of simple dignity marks the resting place of the man born in Mecca on November 11, 1888 and who died in New Delhi on February 22, 1958 — Mohiuddin Ahmed, better known as Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.

The location is appropriate, a grave amidst the relics of past history, in a domain wrested by the British from the Mughals, and then freed again at great cost. The other leading figures of the great freedom struggle, Mahatama Gandhi and Pandit Nehru, were cremated not too far away, along the banks of the river Jamuna, beyond the battlements of the Red Fort. But Azad, in death as in life, is alone.

Azad made a lasting contribution to Urdu prose literature with his translation and interpretation of the Qur’an — Tarjuman-ul-Quran. The intellectual history of Islam in India has long been described in terms of two contrasting currents: the one tending towards confrontation, the other towards assimilation, with the Hindu milieu.

This dichotomy is, of course, an oversimplification, for separatist and syncretist represent extreme points on a spectrum of possible intellectual responses by Muslims to the Indian scene.

In his youth, Azad had been totally inexperienced in politics. Now with a full knowledge of what was involved, he had proved that his religious faith could guide him in the area of general principles, and give him strength for the difficulties he had to face.

Opposed to Partition, Azad had advocated a single India where Hindus and Muslims lived in harmony. In his presidential address to the Congress in 1923, he said that the ability of Hindus and Muslims “to live together was essential to primary principles of humanity within ourselves.”

”मैं यह बताना चाहता हूं कि मैंने अपना सबसे पहला लक्ष्य हिंदू–मुस्लिम एकता रखा है. मैं दृढ़ता के साथ मुसलमानों से कहना चाहूंगा कि यह उनका कर्तव्य है कि वे हिंदुओं के साथ प्रेम और भाईचारे का रिश्ता कायम करें जिससे हम एक सफल राष्ट्र का निर्माण कर सकेंगे.”
~ 1921 को आगरा ,मौलाना अबुल कलाम आज़ाद

मौलाना आज़ाद के लिए स्वतंत्रता से भी ज़्यादा महत्वपूर्ण थी राष्ट्र की एकता. साल 1923 में कांग्रेस के विशेष अधिवेशन में अपने अध्यक्षीय संबोधन में उन्हों ने कहा, ”आज अगर कोई देवी स्वर्ग से उतर कर भी यह कहे कि वह हमें हिंदू–मुस्लिम एकता की कीमत पर 24 घंटे के भीतर स्वतंत्रता दे देगी, तो मैं ऐसी स्वतंत्रता को त्यागना बेहतर समझूंगा. स्वतंत्रता मिलने में होने वाली देरी से हमें थोड़ा नुकसान तो ज़रूर होगा लेकिन अगर हमारी एकता टूट गई तो इस से पूरी मानवता का नुकसान होगा.”

एक ऐसे दौर में जब राष्ट्रीयता और सांस्कृतिक पहचान को धर्म के साथ जोड़ कर देखा जा रहा था, उस समय मौलाना आज़ाद एक ऐसे राष्ट्र की परिकल्पना कर रहे थे जहां धर्म, जाति, सम्प्रदाय और लिंग किसी के अधिकारों में आड़े न आने पाए.

Maulana Azad’s words at the Ramgarh session of the Congress party in 1940, when he was President of the grand old party resonate

“…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… The Indian Christian is equally entitled to say with pride that he is an Indian and is following a religion of India, namely Christianity…”

His moving address to Indian Muslims at the time of India’s vivisection and bloody partition are memorable. Spoken from the steps of the Jama Masjid in Delhi, he emotionally appeals to Muslims not to migrate to Pakistan.


Maulana Azad ‘claimed’ Quranic sanction in Hindu-Muslim unity, India’s freedom





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