• Category Category: A
  • View View: 2892
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

AZAD, ABU AL-KALAM (1888-1958), Urdu journalist and stylist, Islamic thinker, and religious universalist symbolizing the Muslim option for composite Indian nationalism. Mawlana Azad was born in Mecca, where his father Khairuddin Dihlawi (1831-19o8) had migrated in 1858 and later married the daughter of a mufti of Medina. The ancestors of Azad had intellectual and spiritual links with Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi (d. 1624), Shah Wali Allah Dihlawi (d. 1762), and Shah `Abd al-`Aziz (d. 1824). Khairuddin was an influential `alim pir (learned Sufi authority) with outspoken antiWahhabi leanings. The family moved to Calcutta around 1898.

Azad was taught at home under the strict supervision of his father and completed, at the age of fifteen, the dars-i Nizami course of higher Islamic studies. His phenomenal memory, as well as his public preaching, prose, and verse, made him famous as a child prodigy. Very early, however, he became critical of his father’s bitter opposition to the scripturalist Wahhabis and of his practices of taqlid (reliance on tradition) and pirimuridi (the relation between spiritual guide and disciple). For some time Azad fell under the spell of Sayyid Ahmad Khan’s (1817-1898) reformist ideas and rationalistic theology. This was followed by a period of doubts, unbelief, and sensuous living. A deep experience of mystic love induced by earthly love led him back to faith in God by the end of 1909.

Azad’s journalistic career started with his launching in 1903 of the short-lived reformist journal Lisan al-sidq. Thereafter he worked for short periods with Al-nadwah, the organ of the Nadvat al-`Ulama’ academy in Lucknow, under the guidance of Muhammad Shibli Nu’mani (d. 1914), and with the renowned newspaper Vakil in Amritsar. He was familiar with the contemporary writing of the Arab world in the vein of Jamal al-Din alAfghani and those associated with the influential journal Al-manar with its roots in neo-Hanbali theology. On a visit to western Asia in 1908-1909 he met Iranian nationalists in Iraq, and in Cairo Arab nationalists and Turkish revolutionaries, followers of Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk, d. 1938). He synthesized their ideas with his own experience of contact with the Bengal Hindu revolutionaries in the wake of the 1905 partition of Bengal.

In 1912 Azad, through his widely influential weekly journal Al-hilal (The Crescent), set out first to revive among the Muslims of India the true spirit of Qur’anic Islam as the only solution to the nation’s problems, and second to move them to political revolt through participation in the struggle of the Indian Congress Party for self-government. The fight for independence was a religious duty for Muslims, but they had first to be freed of their “pathological fear of the Hindus.” Azad emerged as a forerunner of Mohandas Gandhi, who was to launch his anti-British noncooperation agitation in 1919. However, nonviolence for Azad was a matter of policy, not of principle.

When the government forced Al-hilal to close down, upon the outbreak of war between Turkey and Britain, Azad started another journal, Al-balagh. But soon, exiled from Bengal, he was to spend three and a half years in internment near Ranchi. Immediately upon his release in January 1920, he joined the nationwide struggle for political freedom led by Gandhi. The address that Azad delivered in February 1920, as president of the Bengal Provincial Khilafat Conference, served as a strong inspiration and theoretical basis for the Khilafat movement. Referring to the covenant concluded in 622 between Muhammad and the people of Medina, including Jews and pagans, Azad described Muslim together with non-Muslim parties as a single community (ummah wahidah).

Azad was again arrested toward the end of 1921 and formally put on trial. His defense, later published under the title Qaul-i faysal, occupies an eminent place in both the political history of India and the history of Urdu literature. In 1929 Azad, in cooperation with thirty other nationalist Muslim leaders, convened the Nationalist Muslim Conference, but his real field of political activity was within the Congress. During the 1930s and 1940s he was imprisoned four times; he eventually spent one-seventh of his life in either internment or jail. In 1940 Azad was elected president of the All-India National Congress and held this position until 1946. He failed to prevent the partition of India, which was for him a lasting tragedy overshadowing the achievement of independence. In 1947 he joined the interim government of India as minister of Education. This post, as well as that of deputy leader of Congress, he held until his death.

Azad’s overall religious perspective is marked by the unique blending in his temperament of aesthetic experience and religious consciousness. The charming letters to his friend from the British prison at Ahmad nagar (Ghubdr-i khdtir, edited by Malik Ram, New Delhi, 1967; rev. ed. 1983) provide insight into his multifaceted Islamic sensitivity. Earlier, in his fragmentary autobiography Tagkirah (edited by Fazluddin Ahmad, Calcutta, 1919; rev. ed. Malik Ram, New Delhi, 1968), Azad had offered a passionate discussion of such moral and religious issues as the eternal validity of the Word of God, the affinity between earthly and sacred love, and the appreciation of beauty in its varied forms, including music, which he held to be compatible with the Qur’an. All of Azad’s writings had a deeply religious tenor and were marked by his artistic, highly personalized diction, appealing to intuition rather than discursive reason.

Azad’s mind accommodated conflicting elements without any attempt to reconcile them in a conceptual whole. His countless writings and speeches all refer to a few fundamental attitudes and options sponsored by his interpretation or tafsir of the Qur’an. However, in Tarjuman al-Qur’an, Azad’s annotated Urdu rendering of surahs 1-23, and especially in his commentary on the opening verses of the Qur’an, his main concern is to let the Qur’an speak for itself. The Qur’an is a spiritual text concerning God and humanity, enjoining good and prohibiting evil. Pseudo scientific attributions of medieval or modern provenance must not distort its divine beauty and simplicity.

In their essence all faiths are one (din); their distinctiveness, expressed in different laws, is neither original nor inherent. Islam as the religion of the Qur’an does not have to be politically and nationally separatist to be viable and effective in history. Moreover, God’s attributes are readable in their qualities of nurture, harmony, and guidance as imprinted on the created universe. The Qur’an indicates the middle path between transcendentalism and anthropomorphism. Praise, gratitude, and universal brotherhood are the obvious human responses. Although Azad believed that human obduracy generates destructive “groupism,” he preferred not to probe the depths of sinful perversion in individuals or societies.

A basic lacuna in Azad’s religious scholarship is the absence of an updated hermeneutics of the fundamental sources of Islam-the Qur’an and hadith-and, based on that, a reformulation of the principles of legal construction. However, although he did not initiate a school of thought, his vision of Islam as Qur’an-based universal humanism continues to inspire Muslim sensitivity, especially in the Urdu-speaking world.


Azad, Abu al-Kalam. Taijuman al-Qur’dn. 2 vols. Delhi, 1931-1936. Critical edition by Malik Ram. 4 vols. New Delhi, 1964-1976. Translated and edited by S. A. Latif, The Tarjuman al-Qur’an. 3 vols. Bombay, 1962-196’7.

Azad, Abu al-Kalam. Speeches of Maulana Azad, 1947-55. New Delhi, 1956.

Azad, Abu al-Kalam. Khutubdt-i Azad. New Delhi, 1981. The chief public speeches of Azad, 1914-1948, in the Urdu original.

Azad, Abu al-Kalam. India Wins Freedom (1959). Edited by Humayun Kabir. Reprint, Madras, 1988. Reprint containing thirty pages originally withheld from publication.

Datta, V. N. Maulana Azad. New Delhi, 1990. Places Azad more firmly than Douglas in the context of Indian politics.

Douglas, Ian Henderson. Abul Kalam Azad: An Intellectual and Religious Biography. Edited by Gail Minault and Christian W. Troll. New Delhi, 1988. The most penetrating study of Azad’s life and works. Comprehensive bibliography.

Faruqi, I. H. Azad. The Tarjuman al-Qur’an: A Critical Analysis of Maulana Azad’s Approach to the Understanding of the Qur’an. New Delhi, 1982. Elucidates the links of Tarjuman with earlier Qur’an exegesis and brings out its distinguishing features.

Hameed, Syeda Saiyidain, ed. India’s Maulana: Abul Kalam Azad, vol. I, Tributes and Appraisals; vol. 2, Selected Speeches and Writings. New Delhi, 1990. Volume I adds to Humayun’s memorial volume (below) on the occasion of Azad’s centenary. Volume 2 presents a number of key texts by Azad (for the first time in English) and offers a comprehensive bibliography of the primary and secondary sources.

Hasan, Mushir ul-, ed. Islam and Indian Nationalism: Reflections on Abul Kalam Azad. New Delhi, 1992. Delineates Azad’s political trajectory in the context of nationalist struggles in West Asia and India.

Kabir, Humayun, ed. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad: A Memorial Volume. Bombay, 1959 Remains the most important collection of views and analyses of Azad’s personality and work by contemporaries.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/azad-abu-al-kalam/

  • writerPosted On: October 12, 2012
  • livePublished articles: 768

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Translate »