Maulana was born as Abul Kalam Ghulam Muhiyuddin on 11th November, 1888, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and relocated to Kolkata in 1890. He was home schooled in Arabic, Persian, Urdu, philosophy, geometry, mathematics and algebra and taught himself English, world history, and politics.
He soon developed political views that were critical of the British Raj. His subsequent visits to Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey turned him into a nationalist revolutionary. He started publishing the Urdu weekly, ‘Al-Hilal,’ in 1912 to attack the policies of the British and to strengthen Indian nationalism. Disturbed by its popularity, the British Government put a ban on its circulation in 1914. Unperturbed, Maulana Azad started another weekly called ‘Al-Balagh,’ which led to his imprisonment until 1920.
Role in India’s independence movement:
Soon after his release from prison, he became a part of the Khilafat movement and the Non-Cooperation Movement. Maulana joined the Indian National Congress and served as a member of the Congress Working Committee. In 1923, he was elected the Congress President, making him the youngest man to have ever held the post. He was imprisoned two more times from 1930 to 1934 for his participation in the Salt Satyagraha, and from 1942 to 1946 for his participation in the Quit India Movement. He negotiated with Cripps in 1942, with Wavell in 1945, and with the Cabinet Mission as the Congress President. He remained a propagator of communal harmony and stood in opposition to the idea of the partition of India.
Contribution to Constitution Making:
After being elected to the Constituent Assembly from United Provinces on Congress Party ticket, he went on to become a member in five committees of the Assembly including: States Committee, Advisory Committee, Sub Committee on Minorities, Union Constitution Committee and Ad Hoc Committee on National Flag. He proposed a federal system of governance with limited powers for the central government and greater autonomy for the provinces. As Minister of Education at that time, Maulana strongly opposed reserving education as a subject exclusively for the provinces. He believed that educational planning and the standards of higher education should be a Union subject.
After independence, he served as the first Minister of Education from 1947 to 1958, and placed a strong emphasis on the quality of education delivered and advocated for free and compulsory primary education for all children up to the age of 14. He established the Jamia Milia Islamia Institution in Delhi-the first Indian institute of technology, contributed to the foundation of the University Grant Commission, and participated in the establishment of several other major cultural and literary academies.
He died on 22nd February 1958 from a stroke.
Maulana Azad was a prolific writer and wrote in Urdu, Persian, and Arabic. ‘India Wins Freedom,’his political biographywas published in 1978 and another key work of his was the translation of the Quran from Arabic into Urdu, published in six volumes by Sahitya Akademi in 1977.
Awards and Honors:
He was posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna in 1992. November 11 is celebrated as National Education Day, to honor the legacy of Maulana Azad.