Millennium Post

Remembering Azad

By Firoz Bakht Ahmed

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad is still relevant as masses look in askance all around in their search of stability in these prevailing times of confusion. Azad is, by any reckoning, a major figure in 20th century Indian history. 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. He made a lasting contribution to Urdu prose literature with his translation and interpretation of the Qur’an. 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.

Azad coalasced with endogenic creativity, 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]. Azad is revered without really being understood because, to a large bulk of people, he has been reduced to a noble ‘totem’ of the political breed called the ‘nationalist Muslims.’ Azad remains a shining example of the fusion of the rationalist heritage of Islam and the compassionate heritage of India.

Azad’s watchword was assimilation and communal concord at all levels. Zakir Hussain considered Azad as one of the greatest innovators in the history of Islam.

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. Reiterating that the partition of India was a fundamental mistake, Azad expressed his anguish: ‘It was not long ago that I told you that the two-nation theory was death-knell for a life of faith.

I entreated with you to reject it, because the foundations upon which it rested were built of sand. But you paid no attention. You believed that the mad race of time would slow down to suit your convenience. Time, however, sped on.

Those on whose support you were counting, have today, abandoned you; left you like waifs, exposed to the vagaries of you own kismet.’

Another of his speech betrays the bitterness that he felt when India stood partitioned. ‘For thousand of years five rivers of water have flowed in the Punjab. Today, a 6th river is flowing, the river of human blood. On the water we built bridges of brick, stone and steel.

The bridge over the 6th river is being built of human corpses.’

The years during which Azad wrote and published the two volumes of his Tarjuman were a period that was politically unrewarding for him. For Indian Muslims generally, the period following the collapse of the Khilafat movement was a time of uncertainty. From 1930 onwards, growing communal disorder jeopardised Hindu-Muslim unity in the eyes of many former nationalist Muslim leaders.

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