Looking anew at a latter-day visionary

Title: Maulana Azad, Islam and the Indian National Movement. Author: Syeda Saiyidain Hameed. Rs. 895

Title: Maulana Azad, Islam and the Indian National Movement. Author: Syeda Saiyidain Hameed. Rs. 895   | Photo Credit: Scanned in Chennai R.K.Sridharan


Writing about leaders of the national movement other than Gandhi, Nehru and Patel would require a definite boldness; or, the subject should be a multi-faceted personality who can be placed on a par with them. In this book, Syeda Saiyidin Hameed has brought out the eminence of Maulana Azad with great aplomb. Azad is often remembered as the national movement’s Muslim face or, as Jinnah called him, “the show boy of the Congress”, but the author feels that it is necessary to reflect his thoughts and interpret them not only for Indians but also for global audiences. For, Azad rectified the misinterpretation and misrepresentation of Islam, whether by Muslims or non-Muslims. Secondly, he captured the true essence of secularism and thirdly, he placed the highest stakes in education and development of the human mind and man’s consciousness about himself.

Two months after August 1947, addressing Delhi Muslims from the steps of Jama Masjid, he said: “It was not long ago I warned you that the two-nation theory was a death knell. Leave it! To all this you turned a deaf ear, you did not realise that fleet-footed time would not change its course to suit your convenience.” He then added that Partition was a fundamental mistake and the manner in which religious differences incited, inevitably, led to the devastation that we have seen. That was the latter-day visionary Azad.

Formative years

Azad was born in Qidwah in Mecca in 1888. He was a boy of extraordinary intellect brought up under a strict disciplinarian father and tutored at his home in Calcutta by carefully selected teachers. He learnt the Holy Koran and knew Arabic, Persian and Urdu with a great degree of sophistication and perfection. He did inherit strong traditions of his family and hoped he could reorient and reinterpret the religion of his forefathers and reform the quom orthe community of Muslims. His formative years were between 1908 and 1912. He comments: “I was repelled by imperfection and incompetence. I always refrained from treading the path of others. I charted my own course and left my footprints for others to follow.”

He started the Urdu paper Al Hilal (the Crescent) in 1912 and this opened a new chapter in Urdu journalism as it presented politics in an artistic manner. He invited Indian Muslims to join the mainstream of life through the trajectory of religion. The Aligarh movement was the most popular movement at that time, but Azad was to comment that while Muslims were agitating for a university, they were disregarding the community’s pathetic economic condition. A few years earlier, Azad hero-worshipped Sir Syed Ahmed Khan but later was critical of the movement as Azad’s antagonism to the British rule was more advanced than any in the Muslim community then. He considered himself responsible for carrying forward the torch of sidq-q-wafa (truth and faith) lit by his ancestors. He saw himself as the leader of the community’s journey. After four years of house arrest in Ranchi, he returned to participate in the Khilafat agitation. He met Gandhi in January 1920 and supported him throughout the Khilafat agitation. Further, his talk on Khilafat and Non-cooperation earned him one year’s rigorous imprisonment. In the national fight for freedom, he was in agreement with Gandhi on non-violent means and advised the Muslims to engage in peaceful struggle. In fact, he was one of the leaders who kept them away from the path of violence. Azad and C.R. Das in the prison would discuss Gandhi ‘having erred grievously’ in calling off the Non-cooperation Movement.

With the Congress split into pro-changers and no-changers, Azad decided to be outside both camps and due to his non-partisan stand, he was elected President of the Congress in 1923. He then made his historic address. “Today, if an angel were to descend from heaven and declare from the top of Qutb Minar that India will get swaraj within twenty four hours, provided she relinquishes Hindu-Muslim unity, I will relinquish swaraj rather than give up Hindu-Muslim unity. Delay in attainment of swaraj will be a loss to India but if our unity is lost, it will be loss for the entire mankind.”

Azad’s position was aligned to Gandhi and Congress but with definite biases. He supported the Nehru Report but with modifications. He started the Indian National Union (1926) and the All India Nationalist Muslim Party (1929) but none had the charisma of Muslim League. Jinnah and Azad had attended both the Congress and the League meeting but this entente cordiale ended in 1928.With the commencement of civil disobedience movement, he was arrested again for the fourth time. He was again a negotiator and mediator between the rightists and leftists of the Congress. From 1932 onwards; he was to play a decisive role in the parliamentary affairs of Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Sind and the Frontier. In 1940, the growing alienation of Muslims made him the choice of the Congress president. His negotiation with Cripps, handling the Congress and drafting the Quit India resolution reflected his commensurate artistry in politics. Azad had written that the basis of partition was enmity between Hindus and Muslims. The creation of Pakistan gave it a constitutional basis. He declared that religion was never a binding factor in the formation of nations and “Islam was not able to unite all the Muslim countries on the basis of Islam alone.” Further, he talks of three provinces West Pakistan, Punjab and Sind and the Frontier working for separate aims and interests.

On the holy Koran

Understanding the essence of each and every ayat (verse) was like drawing blood. Azad considers the first Sura Al Fatiha to be the quintessence of the teaching of Islam. He then describes the four elements of the Islamic faith; correct understanding of the attributes of Allah; belief in the divine law of retribution and reward; belief in life after life and recognition of the right path. The author says that analysis of Koran was based on emotion and instinct rather than philosophy and dialectics. He discusses the different concepts of divine attributes and the dialectic schools of Jahimiya, Batiniya and Mutazila. Azad writes that the Koran brought all those who fought with one another to the path of devotion to God and welded them into a brotherhood.

In his four autobiographies ‘Tazhiran’, ‘Ghubir-i-khatir’, ‘Kahani’ and ‘India wins Freedom’, Azad’s writings are sedate, bold and artistic. The author questions the authenticity of the autobiography, India Wins Freedom on many counts such as insipid language, one dimensional analysis and failure to revise. All prophets are born in advance and they endure hardships and hostilities but remain immortal in their work. One can understand the pain he endured, when a garland of shoes was flung on him at Aligarh station for not agreeing for a separate homeland for Muslims. Some call this stubbornness a fatal flaw, but the verdict of History appears different.

This book is both an account and analysis of Azad’s solution to the crisis of Muslims of India. Placing Islam at the core, Azad asks the Muslims to join Indians in the struggle for freedom. For a Muslim, he avers, there is no choice but hurriyat (freedom). This one theme runs through all his writings and finds expression in the Jama Masjid address. His writing has been described as writing prose in poetry form. The book being extremely analytical crisscrosses the life and times of Azad seamlessly adhering to his concepts of Muslim advancements and Hindu-Muslim unity. Indeed a book to be reckoned with in understanding the Muslims, national movement and of course Maulana Azad.

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Printable version | Aug 21, 2019 10:17:07 AM |

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