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A shining example of rationalist heritage of Islam, India's 'compassionate culture'

By Firoz Bakht Ahmed* 

Maulalna Abul Kalam Azad, whose 134th birth anniversary tell on November 11, and who joined lacerated hearts and broken beliefs, remains relevant as masses look askance all around in their search for stability in the prevailing times of confusion, communalism and radicalism.
The eleven hundred years of common history, opines Azad in “Al-Hilal” (December 29, 1912), have enriched India with the common Hindu-Muslim achievement. According to Maulana, our languages, our poetry, our literature, our culture, our art, our dress, our manners and customs, the innumerable happenings of our daily life, everything bears the stamp of our joint endeavour.
There is indeed no aspect of our life which has escaped this stamp. Our languages were different, but we grew to use a common language; our manners and customs were dissimilar, but they acted and reacted on each other, and thus produced a new synthesis. Whether we like it or not, we have now become an Indian nation, united and indivisible. No fantasy or artificial scheming to separate and divide can break this unity. We must accept the logic of fact and history, and engage ourselves in the fashioning of our future.
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.
Maulana coalesced 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 syncretists 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 a death-knell for a life of faith. I entreated 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 your 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 your own kismet.”
Another of his speeches betrays a note of bitterness that he felt when India stood partitioned. “For thousands 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. 
“In India Wins Freedom”, Azad states, “Since then, destiny, in her own hidden way, began to fashion a new India in place of the old. We brought our treasures with us, and India too was full of the riches of her own precious heritage. We gave our wealth to her, and she unlocked the doors of her own treasures to us. We gave her what she needed most, the most precious of gifts from Islam's treasury, the message of democracy and human equality.” 
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*The author is a community worker and a commentator on social and religious issues

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