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Why Dr Zakir Hussain considered Maulana Azad as one of the greatest innovators in the history of Islam

By Firoz Bakht Ahmed*
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, whose 129th birth anniversary falls on November 11, remains relevant as masses look in askance all around in their search of stability in the prevailing times of confusion, vandalism and communalism.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad is, by any reckoning, a major figure in twentieth-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.
Today, we hear about so many ministers’ corruption stories ranging from on scam to another or Panama or Paradise Leaks but Azad belonged to an illustrious company of leaders who sacrifed everything for the nation. Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Azad, Pandit Nehru, Sardar Patel, Rajender Babu, Lal Bahadur Shastri — they were men of principles, whose idealism helped bring freedom to the country. But in the process, did their idealism also affect their families? Most of these leaders, in fact, genuinely believed they would be doing the country a great disservice if they promoted their kith and kin.
Probably the leaders of freedom struggle, having experienced the hardships and turbulent days, knew that their responsibility then lay in nation building. At all costs, they made sure their family members did not take undue advantage of their position, always emphasizing on giving to the country rather than taking.
Maulana 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). Maulana 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. Maulana’s watchword was assimilation and communal concord at all levels. Dr. 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.
His speech to the Muslims of Delhi delivered on October 23, 1947 from the steps of Jama Masjid is reflective of the man and the ideas he stood for and fought for. Tormented with the course of events in the aftermath of partition, Azad was able to offer advice to his Muslim brethren quoting the holy Quran: “Do not fear and do not grieve. If you possess truth, you will gain the upper hand.”
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 you 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 note of bitterness that he felt when India stood partitioned. “For thousand of years five rivers of water have flowed in the Punjab. Today, a sixth river is flowing, the river of human blood. On the water we built bridges of brick, stone and steel. The bridge over the sixth 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 jeopardized 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. For any such reform, he realized the key position of the ulema and of the traditional educational system which produces them.
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*Community worker and commentator on social and religious issues, grandnephew of Maulana Azad

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