Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Sarmad
by V. N. Datta. Rupa. Pages 49. Rs 295.
TheRE is a growing interest among intellectuals to understand the leaders as well as events of the past. Rightly so, for there is a new generation of readers who are ready to accept bare facts put in the right perspective. Historians and other writers are helping by satiating this demand of their readers. This has only led to further search and research.
This book by V. N. Datta is a fine attempt to understand Maulana Abul Kalam Azad who was one of the lofty political personalities involved actively in Indias struggle for freedom. The Maulana was a Muslim who decided not to take up his fathers profession of a pir, was secular in his outlook and felt stifled by Muslim orthodoxy. He was a firm votary of freedom of thought and expression of which this essay is an appropriate example.
This essay by Maulana Abul Kalam at a young age of 23 on Sarmad reflected Maulanas liberal and bold outlook. His choice to deliberate and write on a poet who did not succumb to unreasonable pressure from Mullahs reflects a lot of Maulanas personality. Sarmad, a poet and scholar, was close to Dara Shikoh, the heir presumptive to Emperor Shahjahan. Dara Shikoh and Sarmad shared common interest for spiritual quest and believed in oneness of religion. Maulana tried to highlight the extraordinary intellect and humanistic outlook of Dara Shikoh through his essay. He focuses on the heir apparent of the Mughal state never once losing trace of Sarmad. The latter was beheaded by Aurangzeb because he did not conform to the usual religious doctrinal propositions. For Sarmad, "a temple and mosque were symbols and expressions of the same reality, God, in which notions of faith and unbelief are extinguished for ever."
Sarmad, according to Azad, was trying to grasp the Supreme Reality, the Divine Bliss that could make life better. Sarmad was a Sufi who tried to learn from his own experiences and was meditating and learning. These experiments did not go well with the orthodox Muslims who blamed him for religious heresy. What complicated Sarmads case was that he was a close associate of Dara Shikoh who held radical views that went against, "the power-hungry, self-righteous jurists backed by the wilful despotism of the Mughal state, headed by Emperor Aurangzeb." Dara Shikoh believed that the Upanishads, too, proclaimed the unity of Being as the Quran did.
Datta analyses Maulanas essay and tries to bring forth the influences and the hidden aspects of the leader. Maulana, like Sarmad, believed that, "love is the power that moves and sustains the universe; it is that which human soul realises its union with the ultimate reality, fulfilling thereby lifes purpose."
Maulana Azad, the author suspects, faced rejection in love as Sarmad had faced. So, he identifies Sarmads life with his own, a tale of sorrow in which love was the guiding light and no sacrifice was too great. Azad adds, "Sarmads crime was that he drank the cup in public, while others drank in private." Besides this, Azad was influenced by Sarmads pluralistic approach to humanity and his spirit of toleration and co-existence. Sarmad was beheaded because he refused to recite the full Kalima. Azad defends Sarmad for not doing so because Sarmad till then had not seen or experienced what he was told to recite.
The essay is laced with verses written by Sarmad. The English translation helps the reader understand the crux of the poet understanding of life. This essay traces the growth of Azads religious and political thought. V. N. Datta, Emeritus Professor of Modern History, Kurukshetra University, and a prolific writer has done full justice to his subject. Sarmad is elusive because there is lack of material about him, yet Datta manages to give us a lucid detail of not only Sarmad but also the life and thoughts of Maulana Azad.
A short but crisp book, which gives a better understanding of the times and life of luminaries of their timeDara Shikoh, Sarmad and Maulana Azad.
MAULANA ABUL KALAM AZAD
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad ranks together with Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru as one of the foremost leaders of the Indian National Movement. An erudite scholar of Islamic theology, he had a strong intellectual bent of mind and an inborn flair for literary writing. Making his debut on the Indian political scene as a young journalist with strong Pan-Islamist views, Azad grew over the years into a front-rank Indian nationalist who steered the destiny of the Indian National Congress as its President twice, first in 1923 and from 1940 to 1946 subsequently.
Born in 1888, Firoz Bakht (of exalted destiny), commonly called Muhiyuddin Ahmad, was only two years old, when his father Maulana Khairuddin, settled at Calcutta and became famous there as a spiritual guide.
Till in his teens, Muhiyuddin used the pseudonym Abul Kalam Azad acquired a high reputation for his writings on religion and literature in the standard Urdu journals of that time. Azad attained most of his education from his father. He did not go to any Madrasah or school, nor did he attend any modern western educational institution. Learning at home, he completed the traditional course of higher Islamic education at sixteen. At the same time he was exposed to the writings of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. Keeping it a secret from his father, he started learning English and by his own acquired enough knowledge of the English language to study advanced books on History and Philosophy.
He wanted to see his country free from the British rule. But, he did not approve of the Congress Movement on account of its ‘slowness’ also he could not join the Muslim League whose political goal he found unpredictable. Thus, he associated himself with the Hindu revolutionaries of Bengal in spite of their ‘exclusive’ and indifferent attitude towards the Muslims. He managed, however, to convince them that the exclusion of the Muslims from the group would make political struggle much more difficult.
To make his community politically aware Azad started from 13th July, 1912, an Urdu weekly, the Al-Hilal (The Crescent), from Calcutta. Its influence was prodigious. Azad was politically and religiously radical. The paper shocked the conservatives and created a furore, but there were many Muslims ready to follow him. In the pages of the Al-Hilal, Azad began to criticize the ‘loyal’ attitude of the Muslims to the British, and the ‘hostile’ attitude of the British to the Muslim world in general. The Government of Bengal unhappy with editorial policy put pressure on the paper. Meanwhile, World War I broke out and publication was banned in 1914 by the Bengal Government. From 12th November, 1915, Abul Kalam started a new weekly, the Al-Balagh from Calcutta which continued till 31st March, 1916. The publication of the Al-Balagh was also banned by the Government of Bengal and Maulana Azad was exiled from Calcutta under the Defence of India Regulations. The Governments of Punjab, Delhi, UP and Bombay had already prohibited hit entry into their provinces under the same regulations. The only province he could conveniently stay in was Bihar and he went therefore to Ranchi where he was interned till 1st January, 1920.
From 1920 till 1945, Abul Kalam Azad was frequently imprisoned for a number of times. After he was released from Ranchi, he was elected President of the All-India Khilafat Committee (Calcutta Session in 1920) and President of the Unity Conference (Delhi) in 1924. In 1928, he presided over the Nationalist Muslim Conference. He was appointed in 1937 a Member of the Congress Parliamentary Sub-Committee to guide the Provincial Congress Ministries. He was twice elected President of the Indian National Congress, the first time in 1923 when he was only thirty-five years old, and the second time in 1940. He continued as the President of the Congress till 1946 as no elections were held during this period as almost every Congress leader was in prison on account of the Quit India Movement (1942). After the leaders were released, Maulana Azad, as the President of the Congress, led the negotiations with the British Cabinet Mission in 1946, and when India became independent he was appointed Education Minister and continued in that capacity till death on 22nd February, 1958.
Azad was not an influential religious leader. He expressed himself in Urdu and thus limited himself to a particular group. The majority of the Indians did not really know what Azad was saying. Another reason was political. He was in the Congress, and was considered a party-man. Thus, whatever he said about the unity of religion was taken by many Muslims, who used to read, him as the reflection of his political ideas, and therefore, had to be discarded. Also, on the question of Muslim’s traditional religious education, Azad was treated as an unorthodox. He was among those few who were not shaken in their faith in composite nationalism even by partition. He was a great orator and a great writer.
Maulana Azad made an outstanding contribution to induction of Muslim masses into the mainstream of national struggle for independence in opposition to the Aligarh School, led by Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan. He also stood firmly committed to the cause of united India in the face of strong opposition by the Muslim League, led by Mohammad Ali Jinnah.