Maulana Azad, as he is popularly known was a prominent political leader of the Indian Independence Movement. A highly learned Muslim scholar, he was one of the major proponents of Hindu-Muslim unity and opposed the partition of British India (into modern day India and Pakistan) along communal lines.
Abul Kalam Muhiyuddin Ahmed Azad was born on November 11, 1888 in Mecca. Azad's family descended from a line of eminent Islamic scholars. His mother was of Arab descent, the daughter of Shaikh Muhammad Zahir Watri, and his father, Maulana Khairuddin lived with his family in the Bengal region until he left India during the First Indian War of Independence and settled in Mecca, the holiest city in Islam. He came back to Calcutta with his family in 1890. Azad mastered several languages, including Pashto, Urdu, Arabic, Hindko, Persian, Bengali and Hindi. He was also trained in various topics such as Shariat, Mathematics, Philosophy, World History and Science. An avid reader and brilliant student, Azad ran a library, a reading room, and a debating society before he was twelve, and was contributing learned articles to Makhzan (the best known literary magazine of the day) at fourteen. He was teaching a class of students, most of whom were twice his age, when he was merely fifteen and succeeded in completing the traditional course of study at the young age of sixteen, nine years ahead of his contemporaries, and brought out a magazine at the same age. As a young man, Azad was also exposed to the modern intellectual life of Kolkata, the then capital of British-ruled India and the center of cultural and political life. He learned English through intensive personal study and began learning Western philosophy, history and contemporary politics by reading advanced books and modern periodicals.
He rose to prominence in the Indian Independence struggle through his work as a journalist, publishing works critical of the British Raj and supporting Indian nationalism. Azad became the leader of the Khilafat movement during which he came in contact with Mahatma Gandhi and his ideas. He soon became an enthusiastic supporter of Gandhi's teachings of non-violence and Swadeshi, and was very active in the Non-Cooperation movement. In 1923, at the age of 35, he became the youngest person to serve as the President of the Indian National Congress. He again served as Congress President from 1940 to 1945, during which the Quit India movement was launched, and Azad was imprisoned with the entire Congress leadership for three years. He became a vocal Muslim opponent of the demand for a separate Muslim state of Pakistan and served in the interim national government. Amidst communal turmoil following the partition of India, he worked for religious harmony. Following India's independence, he became the first Minister of Education in the Indian government. During that period, he oversaw the establishment of a national education system with free primary education and modern institutions of higher education. He is also credited with the establishment of the Indian Institutes of Technology and the foundation of the University Grants Commission, an important institution to supervise and advance the higher education in the nation.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad passed away on February 22, 1958. In 1992, he was posthumously awarded Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honor for his invaluable contribution to the nation.
Dr. Najma Heptullah, modern day Indian politician and Aamir Khan, the popular movie actor both come from Maulana Azad’s lineage.