Abul Kalam Ghulam Muhiyuddin, better known as Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was a renowned scholar, poet, freedom fighter and leader of the Indian National Congress in India's struggle for Independence. He was well versed in many languages viz. Arabic, English, Urdu, Hindi, Persian and Bengali, and a prolific debater - as depicted by his name, Abul Kalam, which literally means father or lord of dialogue. His forefathers came from Herat, Afghanistan in Babur's days. His mother was an Arab and the daughter of Sheikh Mohammad Zaher Watri and his father, Maulana Khairuddin, was a Bengali Muslim of Afghan (probably Tajik) origins. Khairuddin left India during the Sepoy Mutiny, proceeded to Mecca and settled there. He came back to Calcutta with his family in 1890. Azad was a descendant of a lineage maulanas. He was given the chrono-grammatical name of Firoz Bakht (of exalted destiny), but was commonly called Muhiyuddin Ahmad. Educated according to the traditional curriculum, Azad learned Arabic and Persian first, and then philosophy, geometry, mathematics and algebra. He was taught at home, first by his father, later by appointed teachers who were eminent in their respective fields. Seeing that English was fast becoming the international language, Azad taught himself to read, write and speak the language. He was an Ahle-Hadees, and followed the way of Salafi Manhaj. He adopted the pen name Azad to signify his freedom from traditional Muslim ways. Azad was introduced to the freedom struggle by revolutionary Shri Shyam Sunder Chakravarthy. Most revolutionaries in Bengal were Hindus. Azad greatly surprised his fellow Hindu revolutionaries with his willingness to join the freedom struggle. At first his peers were skeptical of his intentions. Azad found the revolutionary activities restricted to Bengal and Bihar. Within two years, Azad helped setup secret revolutionary centers all over north India and Bombay.
Most revolutionaries were anti-Muslim because they felt that the British Government was using the Muslim community against India's freedom struggle. Azad tried to convince his colleagues that indifference and hostility toward the Muslims would only make the path to freedom more difficult.
Azad began publication of a journal called Al Hilal (the Crescent) in June 1912 to increase revolutionary recruits amongst the Muslims. The Al Hilal reached a circulation of 26,000 in two years. The British Government used the Press Act and then the Defense of India Regulations Act in 1916 to shut the journal down.
Azad roused the Muslim community through the Khilafat Movement. The aim of the movement was to re-instate the Khalifa as the head of British captured Turkey.
Azad supported Gandhiji's non-cooperation movement and joined the Indian National Congress (I.N.C) in January 1920. He presided over the special session of Congress in September 1923 and is said to be at the age of 35, the youngest man elected as the President of the Congress.
Azad was arrested in 1930 for violation of the salt laws as part of Gandhhiji's Salt Satyagraha. He was put in Meerut jail for a year and a half.
Azad was the staunchest opponent of partition of India into India and Pakistan. He supported a confederation of autonomous provinces with their own constitutions but common defense and economy, an arrangement suggested in the British Cabinet Mission Plan of May 1946. According to Azad partition was against the grain of the Indian culture which did not believe in "divorce before marriage." Partition shattered his dream of an unified nation where the Hindu and Muslim faiths would learn to co-exist in harmony.
Maulana Azad served as the Minister of Education in Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru's cabinet from 1947 to 1958. He died in August 1958. Azad was honored with the Bharat Ratna posthumously in 1992. Azad is featured on an Indian postage stamp; there are many schools, colleges, roads and hospitals all over India named after him, the most famous of which is the Maulana Azad Medical College (situated in Old Delhi, on the site of an erstwhile British jail, and flanked by the Khooni Darwaza, a commemorative arch of the last of the Mughal heirs - murdered by a British officer in 1857). It is consistently rated among the top ten medical colleges in India.
As a scholar, Maulana Azad produced monumental literary works. Azad penned the book India Wins Freedom in 1957. He had also authored the Ghubar-i-Khatir, written in jail between 1942-1945, and with the Tadhkirah, a masterpiece of the Urdu language.
His commentary on the Qur'an is unique in the realm of Muslim liberation.
Whatever role he was called upon to play whether in the field of literature or politics, he lent to it a dignity and poise which was entirely his own. He is also remembered as a poet and writer of great skill.