22 February 1958: Abul Kalam Azad, Indian politician and scholar, died

Abul Kalam Ghulam Muhiyuddin, better known as Maulana Azad, shaped the educational policy of the country as the first educational minister of independent India. He was an icon of secular nationalism who vehemently opposed the division of the country on communal lines. This was in sharp contrast to another popular Muslim leader of that time, Jinnah, who was increasingly demanding a separate Muslim nation. For his contribution to developing the educational infrastructure in the country, his date of birth, 11 November, is celebrated as the National Education Day. Azad passed away on 22 February 1958, leaving behind an impressive legacy.

Childhood and early life

Abul Kalam Azad was born in Saudi Arabia in the city of Mecca on 11 November, 1880. During his childhood he adopted the pen name of "Azad", which means free. He gained Islamic education and also learned subjects like philosophy, math, science and world history from tutors at his home. His father was a scholar named Maulana Khairuddin, a Bengali Muslim from Madina, and his mother Alia and a niece of the respected Shaikh Mohammad Zahir Vatri. By the age of 17 he had earned a name for himself in the Islamic theologian circles. He studied further at the Al Azhar University, Cairo, which played an important part in shaping his personality. His family settled in Calcutta later in 1890. Azad was a prominent descendant of the lineage of Maulanas.

Turning point in the life of Abul Kalam Azad

Azad since his young age thought differently than the traditional Muslim ways. Shri Shyam Chakravarthy, a revolutionary, introduced Azad to the Indian freedom struggle. As many freedom fighters in Bengal were Hindus, it was quite surprising to his peers to see a young Muslim join the struggle. However, he soon won over them as he went on to set up revolutionary activities all over North India and Bombay (now Mumbai). Most of the freedom fighters were anti-Muslims, and Azad worked to convince them that hostility towards Muslims would make freedom difficult.

He started the Urdu publication Al Hilal in 1912. The liberal publication caught up quickly and rose to a circulation of 30,000 within two years. However, the British Government saw it a threat to the regime and banned it. Azad was arrested and sent to jail in Ranchi. However, this experience would only serve to strengthen his resolve and refine his secular nationalism. As Nehru would describe it, Azad, after his term in jail, appeared transformed and started speaking in a new voice.

His achievements

At a young age of 35 he was elected as the President of Indian National Congress and was the youngest member to ever hold that position. He also became the Chief spokesman of Congress in 1942. Later on, after India’s freedom in 1947, Azad became a member of the Interim Government for Education and Arts and went on to become first ever Education Minister in the cabinet. Although he was shattered by the partition and had no wish to govern, Gandhi convinced him to devote himself to building the nation. His contributions include a number of renowned institutions and education centres. He established three National Academies and the IITs in Kharagpur, Bombay, Madras and Kanpur. He was the chairman of the Central Advisory Board of Education, and emphasised that primary education that should be compulsory and free for all.

Azad was awarded the Bharat Ratna in 1992 posthomously, although he is said to have declined it during his lifetime. He also features on the Indian postage stamp. Today there are many colleges named after him, a prominent one being the Maulana Azad Medical College in Old Delhi. There are also many roads, schools and hospitals that are named after him.

Political views and works

Maulana Azad strongly believed in the unity of Hindus and Muslims, which he practiced throughout his life. At a young age he joined Gandhiji’s Non-Cooperation movement and entered Indian National Congress in 1920. His love for his country can be seen in his sacrifices and his writings. He did support the Khilafat movement, but discarded after the Muslims took an anti-Satyagraha stand. He opposed Jinnah directly, who had demanded one-third representation for the Muslims in Indian parliament. He also had the firm believe that Nehru should not deny the two cabinet seats to Muslim League in 1937. He believed that this would harm the future of the unity of the country. He strongly opposed the partition of India as he knew that it would not be in the interest of the country as a whole.

His writings

Azad was a prolific writer, and his works contributed greatly to the cause of the freedom struggle. Some of his notable works are:

  • India Wins Freedom
  • Fhubar-i-Khatir
  • Tadhikirah
  • Al Hilal
  • Hamari Azadi
  • Hijr-o-Vasal
  • Tazkara
  • Tarjaman-e-Quran


On this day:

1836 – Mahesh Chandra, Indian scholar and reformer, was born

1906 – Humayun Kabir, Indian educator and politician, was born

1944 – Kasturba Gandhi, Indian wife of Mahatma Gandhi, died

1982 – Josh Malihabadi, Indian-Pakistani poet, died

2013 – P. Chuba Chang, Indian politician, died

2013 – Hari Shankar Singhania, Indian businessman, died

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