Syed Ghulam Muhi-uddin, famous as Abu’l Kalaam Azad
Muhi-uddin, famous as Abu’l Kalaam Azad, was born in the city of Mecca on
November 11, 1888, into a learned family of scholars. Possessing an enchanting
disposition and espousing a scholarly deportment, Abu’l Kalaam Azad, at an
early age, carved out a swelling constituency of followers. His impeccable
oratorical skills, literary prowess, lingual competence, and diction of
argumentation gravitated intellectuals towards him. He did not only engage
himself in intellectual pursuits, but also committed his energies to defining
the political contours of the Indian subcontinent.
and hard working, Abu’l Kalaam claimed a role in the scholarly and political
vanguard of the Indian subcontinent. The journals entitled Al-Hilal and
Al-Balagh, brought out under his auspices in the early decades of the 20th
century, along with being the treasure trove of peerless scholarship and
cutting edge research were also the conduit for dissemination of political
ideas. His books Ghubar-e-Khatir, Tazkira, and India Wins Freedom
proved to be classics in their own right.
commentary on the chapters of the Quran collectively called Tarjuman-ul-Quran,
and his insightful research on the different aspects of the Islamic
heritage,especially on Zulkarnain, proved his intellectual mettle. Al-Manar, a
famous journal based in Egypt and brought out under the editorial-ship of Rashid
Rida, also featured some of Azad’s thoughtful contributions. Politically
vibrant and intellectually productive, Azad earned for himself fame and respect
across the Islamic world.
forcefully argued in his works that the Islamic philosophical theology, as an
independent stream of intellectual scholasticism, crystallised in the later
phase of the 8th century, and developed into a sophisticated system of creedal
formulations by the end of the 11th century. Absorbing in its corpus the
long-standing legacies of ancient Greek philosophical speculation, Iranian
mystical illuminative gnosis, Syriac syllogism, and Indian intellectualised
ratiocination, Islamic theology attained the highest station of rigour and
reasoning by the earlier decades of the 14th century. Devoid of any serious
inquiry, the subsequent three centuries gave rise to an intellectual stagnation
allowing only for a rehearsal of obsolete dialectic formulae.
intellectual decadence continue? Azad contended in his book Tazkirah that the
18th century paved the way for the revival of Islamic theology with an emphasis
on rationalisation. Shah Waliullah in India, Shawkani in Yemen, and Abdel Ghani
al-Nabulsi in Syria built the foundations of modern discourse on speculative
theology. In the proceeding centuries, Islamic theology was further systemised,
elaborated, and championed by scholars as eminent as Sir Syed, Chiragh Ali,
Mumtaz Ali, and Maulana Shibli in India, Jamaal uddin Afghani and Malkam Khan
in Iran, Khairuddin Tunisi in the Ottoman-dominating regions, Tahtawi and Mufti
Muhammad Abduh in Egypt, Rashid Rida in Lebanon, and Kawakabi in Syria.
firmly in the same tradition of modernist scholars, Azad also made an attempt
to revisit the traditional system of creedal formulations in Islam with a bold
ambition to align it with modern forms of human reasoning and sensibilities.
Dispensing with the obsolete notions of legal formalism, dialectic
abstractions, and mystical ecstasies; doing away with formulaic representations
of feminine identities, political norms, and social strata; and severely
criticising the medieval schools of Maturidism, Aashrism and Hanbalism, Abu’l
Kalaam Azad strove intellectually to resurrect a spirit of fresh inquiry born
out of the conviction to recalibrate it with modern forms and systems of
chagrin, the conservative intellectual voices spearheaded by the Ulema of
Deoband and Firangi Mahal did not express or offer a commitment to align
themselves with the emerging modern realities of the world. Azad insisted on
the rejuvenation of an Ijtihad-inspired tradition of innovative reasoning in
order to dispense with the hackneyed idiom of medievalism in our scholasticism,
and to seek the unexplored vistas and horizons of knowledge. The inertia-crippled,
apathetic intellectual elite sabotaged all his endeavours and pushed him
against the wall.
the Caliphate also came to an end. Disgusted and distressed by the conservatism
of ulema and the abolishment of the Caliphate, Azad completely abstained from
any further overtures to the conservative scholarly class, distanced himself
from Muslim nationalism and committed himself to the cause of nationalist
political campaign for the liberation of India from the clutches of the British
Crown. He joined the Indian National Congress and rose to become the president
in 1939. He continued to champion the notion of composite nationalism, but did
not fail to contribute intellectually.
Azad was also the first scholar to have interpreted Islam as a full-blooded
political ideology geared towards the establishment of a political order. To
that end, he did not only produce a well-wrought argumentative reasoning built
around the classic traditional edifice, he also floated the idea of a disciplined
Islamist organisation and named it Hezbollah. Maulana Mawdudi, Hassan-al-Banna
and Ayatollah Khomeini elaborated and perfected that vision of political
ideology, but were surely the latecomers.
as a modern political expression of Islam, experienced its reincarnations in
the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Ennahda in Tunisia, Justice and Development
Party in Turkey, PJD in Morocco, and JI in Pakistan. All of these Islamist
parties in their basic proposition in pursuit of genuinely legitimate Islamic
political order trace their organisational and intellectual pedigree back to
the oeuvre of Abu’l Kalaam Azad.
an advocate of a massive Islamist uprising and a champion of intellectual
renaissance of a high order in the early years, Abu’l Kalaam Azad restricted
himself to being a voice of Indian nationalist political agitation in the
latter part of his life. The embodiment of Islamism transmuted into an insignia
of composite nationalism. The fervour of nationalism replaced the passion of Islamism.
Azad conducted himself as an Islamist till 1920, carried himself along as a
nationalist from 1920 till 1958, and remained an intellectual all his life.
Azad’s intellectual standing far outweighed his political activism, both in the
content of output and in the sum of ramifications, but ruefully, his political
partisanship overshadowed his literary ingenuity. The Islamists of all stripes
and shades found in his writings their patriarch, the advocates of composite
nationalism found in his political agitation a gallant fighter, the scholarly
elite found in his literature a literary maestro, and the Indian subcontinent
found in Abu’l Kalaam Azad a genius of all times.
described earlier, Azad was a passionate Islamist till 1920, an expressive nationalist
from 1920 to 1958, and an accomplished intellectual all life. Quite
unfortunately, he is still condemned for his stand on composite nationalism in
Pakistan and is eulogised in India for the same reasons, but both in the
process reduce him to a symbol of nationalism, and turn a blind eye to the two
other components of his life. It is about time that we reclaimed him in
Rehan Khan is a prospective candidate for the
Ph.D. programme at NYU
Headline: Remembering Abu’l Kalaam Azad:
an intellectual, a nationalist and an Islamist
Source: The Daily Times, Pakistan