Mushirul Hasan’s latest book delves into the contribution of Maulana Azad based on fresh documentary evidence

Renowned author and historian Professor Mushirul Hasan’s latest book “Islam Pluralism Nationhood: Legacy of Maulana Azad” was launched in New Delhi this past week. It was followed by a panel discussion on Islam and its impact on the idea of a unified India, with Muchkund Dubey, Irfan Habib, Syed Shahid Mahdi, Natwar Singh along with Hasan on the panel.

“This is not my book and it is entirely based on the materials which were available in the National Archives,” said Hasan, who while heading the National Archives was astonished to discover that the institution possessed very important and interesting files on Azad which had never been noticed, much less used, by anybody. That is when he decided to write a book on Azad and reintroduce him through these documents.

He said, not much has been written in English about Azad and the materials published in Arabic, Persian and Urdu don’t entirely reflect the significance of Azad’s personal and political life. Culturally and intellectually, India has been “unconsciously” distancing itself from Azad’s rich and vibrant life which is a part of our national legacy.

Hasan felt the worse part has been not the lack of effort to highlight the role of individuals like Zakir Hussain or Sir Syed Ahmed Khan or Maulana Azad but “choosing selectively” to celebrate only a few names while completely ignoring others. Does it reflect the mindset and prejudices existing in our society? If these prejudices are passed on to our younger generation we are either consigning the individuals to oblivion or erasing their memory altogether. “Not that I am emotionally and personally attached to any of these figures. I look at them as historical figures and as a professional historian I am not in the business of celebrating these individuals,” he pointed out.

The author’s anguish at the role played by institutions in India was evident when he remarked, “Holding a conference at the Aligarh Muslim University or Jamia (Millia Islamia), unfortunately seen as the sole inheritors of Azad’s legacy, is an extremely wrong approach and doesn’t do justice to the towering personalities like Azad. And even these two institutions put together haven’t done enough on the Azad legacy.”

Natwar Singh, who has seen Azad in action and had the privilege of being his co-worker, called him the most powerful orator India has ever produced, followed by Atal Behari Vajpayee. He said, “Maulana was pained with Partition of India and opposed it till the last minute.”

Muchkund Dubey referred to Azad as the “emblem of Indian unity and prince among the politicians.” Dubey said the issues and concerns Azad raised are still valid and haunt the present socio-political scenario of our country. In his opinion, failure in accepting the Muslim community, apprehensions and reluctance in offering them a role in the power structure as recommended by Azad, possibly was one of the reasons which led to the formation of Pakistan. He warned that further delay in rectifying the faults in the socio-economic-political nexus might lead to more turbulent times ahead.

Irfan Habib described the book as a “special one” not only because it dealt with Azad’s ideologies but also for its usefulness as a tool to interpret Islam. The religion today is in turmoil and is prone to be misused and misinterpreted. This book states clearly how Maulana Azad had interpreted Islam and could be a guide to the younger generation. Habib added, “Azad was the most erudite scholar of Islam and worldly knowledge.”

Former Vice-Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia University, Syed Shahid Mahdi, said he was never able to figure out why Maulana Azad never got his well deserved recognition. One reason he cited waslack of good disciples. Azad, like some other political figures, seemed to have missed out on a share of suitable disciples. He said, “He was never a mass leader, he did not have that kind of network and he didn’t even care about it.”

Hasan’s next assignments also sounded promising and unconventional. He said, “I propose to write on making of our National Flag — the story of its size, shape and colour. Another book will be based on statements of political prisoners during British time.”