Maulana Abul Kalam Muhiyuddin Ahmed (11 November 1888 – 22 February 1958) was a Muslim scholar 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. Following India’s independence, he became the first Minister of Education in the Indian government. He is commonly remembered as Maulana Azad; he had adopted Azad (Free) as his pen name.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was born in the year 1888 in Mecca. His forefather’s came from Herat (a city in Afghanistan) in Babar’s days. Azad was a descendent of a lineage of learned Muslim scholars, or maulanas. His father’s name was Maulana Khairuddin and his mother was the daughter of Sheikh Mohammad Zaher Watri.
In 1890, Azad’s father moved to Calcutta. Educated according to the traditional curriculum, Azad learned Arabic and Persian first and then philosophy, geometry, mathematics and algebra. He was taught at home, first by his father, later by appointed teachers who were eminent in their respective fields. Seeing that English was fast becoming the international language, Azad taught himself to read, write and speak the language. He adopted the pen name “Azad” to signify his freedom from traditional Muslim ways.
Azad was introduced to the freedom struggle by revolutionary Shri Shyam Sunder Chakravarthy. Most revolutionaries in Bengal were Hindus. Azad greatly surprised his fellow Hindu revolutionaries with his willingness to join the freedom struggle. At first his peers were skeptical of his intentions.
Azad found the revolutionary activities restricted to Bengal and Bihar. Within two years, Azad helped setup secret revolutionary centers all over north India and Bombay.
Most revolutionaries were anti-Muslim because they felt that the British Government was using the Muslim community against India’s freedom struggle. Azad tried to convince his colleagues that indifference and hostility toward the Muslims would only make the path to freedom more difficult.
Azad began publication of a journal called Al Hilal (the Crescent) in June 1912 to increase revolutionary recruits amongst the Muslims. The Al Hilal reached a circulation of 26,000 in two years. The British Government used the Press Act and then the Defense of India Regulations Act in 1916 to shut the journal down.
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.
Azad supported Gandhiji’s non-cooperation movement and joined the Indian National Congress (I.N.C) in January 1920. He presided over the special session of Congress in September 1923 and is said to be at the age of 35, the youngest man elected as the President of the Congress.
Azad was arrested in 1930 for violation of the salt laws as part of Gandhhiji’s Salt Satyagraha. He was put in Meerut jail for a year and a half.
Azad was the staunchest opponent of partition of India into India and Pakistan. He supported a confederation of autonomous provinces with their own constitutions but common defense and economy, an arrangement suggested in the British Cabinet Mission Plan of May 1946. According to Azad partition was against the grain of the Indian culture which did not believe in “divorce before marriage.” Partition shattered his dream of an unified nation where the Hindu and Muslim faiths would learn to co-exist in harmony.
Maulana Azad served as the Minister of Education in Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet from 1947 to 1958. He died in August 1958. Azad was honored with the Bharat Ratna posthumously in 1992.