Maulana Azad - most articulate votary of Hindu-Muslim unity

February 21st, 2008 - 6:59 pm ICT by admin  

(Feb 22 is the 50th death anniversary of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad)
By Firoz Bakht Ahmed
Maulana Azad was not only one of the most articulate votaries of Hindu-Muslim unity but also the only erudite aalim (Islamic scholar) who claimed Quranic sanction for his faith in the unity and the freedom of the nation. In the Shahjahanabadi old city of Delhi, between the Jama Masjid and the Red Fort, both monuments a reminder of the glory of the Mughal 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 the 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 a man born in Mecca on Nov 11, 1888, and who died in New Delhi on Feb 22, 1958 - Mohiuddin Ahmed, better known as Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.

On this occasion, one is reminded of this ‘modern’ Maulana who asked Indians to inculcate in their lives the culture of the holy Quran on the one hand and that of the gracious Gita in the other.

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad is, by any reckoning, a major figure in 20th century India. He was a scholar thoroughly trained in the traditional Islamic sciences, with great intellectual abilities and eloquence of pen and speech. He had, in addition, a remarkable openness to modern Western knowledge even as he opposed Western rule over India.

Born in a predominantly Hindu environment, the Maulana was bold enough to propagate nationalism to Muslims at variance with the prevalent political consciousness based on communalised politics. The Maulana coalesced the Vedantic vision of many parts of truth with the Islamic doctrines of Wahdat-e-Deen (unity of religion) and Sulah-e-Kul (universal peace).

He made a lasting contribution to Urdu prose literature with his translation and interpretation of the Qur’an - the “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.

Maulana Azad believed in the ecumenist and eclectic approach leading towards syncretic existence.

Maulana Azad earned a reputation for ‘absolute impartiality’ and ‘unimpeachable integrity’ which served him well, particularly in the years after independence.

The major concern of the Maulana’s life was the revival and reform of the Indian Muslims in all spheres of life, and his political hopes for them were within this context.

For any such reform, he realised the key position of the ulema and of the traditional educational system which produces them. This was why he pinned his early hopes on the Nadwat ul-Ulema under the leadership of Shibli. Such was the Maulana’s vision concerning matters internal to the Muslim community.

As far as relations with others were concerned, we have seen that he never questioned the fact that being Muslim in India meant living with non-Muslims in common citizenship.

He had never contemplated any other political possibility.

When incidents of communal strife in the 1920s threatened Hindu-Muslim unity, and then in the 1930s and 40s the movement for Pakistan gathered strength, his spirit rebelled against those trends.

Fungi thrive in certain cultures. Factionalism percolates in an unequal and hierarchical society with each individual struggling for a tiny sliver of the economic cake. Discontent, us-and-them divisions, mutual disregard and open suspicion proliferate every pore of our body politic. However, the likes of the Maulana, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru strived to make India socially united.

Before partition, social cohesion was an inseparable component of Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj and Nehru’s Fabian Socialism and Maulana Azad’s Wahdat-e-Deen. For these leaders, independent rulers of India would enjoy no legitimacy without a measure of shared opportunity, prosperity, equality and distributive justice.

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”.

Almost twenty years later, when he again addressed Congress from the presidential chair, he repeated this absolutely fundamental premise: “I am a Muslim and profoundly conscious of that fact that I have inherited Islam’s glorious tradition of the last thirteen hundred years.

“I am not prepared to lose even a small part of that legacy. The history and teachings of Islam, its art and letters, its cultural and civilization are part of my wealth and it is my duty to cherish and guard them… But, with all these feelings, I have another equally deep realization born out of my life’s experience, which is strengthened and not hindered by the Islamic spirit.

“I am equally proud of the fact that I am an Indian, an essential part of the indivisible unity of Indian nationhood, a vital factor in its total makeup, without which this noble edifice will remain incomplete. I can never give up this sincere claim…”

Are we following in the footsteps of Maulana Azad, is a question that all of us should ask ourselves!

(Firoz Bakht Ahmed is a commentator on social and educational issues. He can be reached at

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