By Prof. B. Sheik Ali
Moulana Azad stood for a united India, which was the only way for Hindu-Muslim unity. He failed to achieve this goal, and we are still facing the music of Partition
Moulana Azad had been gifted with that rare intellect which could, as it were, hold infinity in the palm of his hand. He could comprehend the most sophisticated metaphysical or political or social issues as he had the capacity to see the world in a grain of sand or heaven in a wild flower. According to Sarojini Naidu, he was forty at the time he was born. The fertility and brilliances of his mind was something like a full blown rose with velvet petals, each of which would recall the fragrance of human excellence in several sectors of life. Some are great in this world in politics, some in philosophy, some in spirituality, some in literature, some in art or oratory, some in social service and sacrifice, some in state-craft, some in journalism, and so on, but he was at once great in all these put together, as if many mighty souls manifested themselves in his single self.
As a leader, thinker, crusader, nationalist, revolutionary, poet, theologian and a visionary he has stirred the imagination of millions in the world. He was the finest flower of the Indian renaissance that shaped the destiny the composite culture, whose lustre would ever glow in the pages of history. None excelled him in his crusade to preserve the unity and integrity of India, and none worked so hard to bring about Hindu-Muslim unity. Apart from his great role in the national movement, what gives him immortality is his place in the world of Islamic scholarship. One single instance is enough to indicate his greatness, that he wrote almost a volume of hundreds of pages as a commentary to the seven verses of the initial Surah-e-Fateha in his Tarjuman-ul-Qur’an.
Born and brought up in Makkah, Arabia, hailing originally from Delhi, the cradle of Urdu, and diving deep into the traditional learnings of the times, Moulana Azad had an extraordinary grip over Arabic, Persian and Urdu. Besides, he had gained good working knowledge of English and French and quite a few Indian languages. His own intense passion for Islamic learning excited a lava in his mind which resulted in massive literature on Islamic theology, philosophy and commentary on Qur’an. Niyaz Fatehpuri says that if Azad had concentrated on Arabic poetry, he would have become Ibne-Taiymia, if on philosophy, he would have rivalled Ibne-e-Rushd or Ibn-e-Tufail; if on Persian poetry, he would have ranked with Urufi or Naziri. Unfortunately he was lost in the jungle of past politics to bring about Hindu-Muslim unity, to fight for India’s freedom and liberty, and to build India of his dreams: a strong secular, democratic and nationalist state. Although his patriotic fervour was all engulfing, he was merely seen as a petal in the green pasture of Indian national movement.
His political life could be seen in three phases, the first from 1906 to 1919, the second from 1920 to 1923 and the third from 1923 to 1958. The first phase witnessed Islamic revivalism in his thought process. This is the period of Al-Hilal, Al-Balagh and Lison-us-Sidq, the fiery publications which ignited a flame of Islamic universalism. It was all Quranic teachings writ large to imprint on the mind and conscience of the Muslims enabling them to realise the richness of their heritage. In this phase he became close to Sir Syed’s aim of changing the Muslim mindset. He shared Sir Syed’s belief that prepetuity of traditions is not in the best interests of the society. Though both Sir Syed and Azad wanted a change, the change was of a different order in each case. Sir Syed preferred nature to nationalism, and Azad opted for nationalism neglecting the modernity of Sir Syed’s variety.
Muslim politics of the 20th century is a great paradox. Aligarh School of thought, the legacy of Sir Syed, stood for loyalty toward the British, not for perpetuation of colonial rule, but to gain a respite until the Muslim minority came up to the level of majority almost in every sector of life. Politics is a heady wine which would come in the way of the recovery, of Muslims who had been left a century behind the Hindus. Sir Syed wanted Muslims to be on par with Hindus before they demanded political reforms. In other words Sir Syed wanted to reverse the inveterate hostility of the Muslims towards the English, which they had exhibited for over a century from 1757. But the entry of Azad with a bang into politics with his powerful pen which could excite a mutiny, again changed the picture to make Muslims crusaders of freedom.
It is again very strange that both Sir Syed and Azad used religion to buttress their own view points. Sir Syed would quote Qur’an which called loyalty to the rulers if they allowed free practice of Islam. Azad would say Muslims should join hands with Hindus to form a federal state and eliminate the foreigners, as the Prophet of Islam had entered into a convention Meesaq-e-Madina with the Jews to establish a secular state. In other words, Azad was using religion to unify the land, and Sir Syed was using it to delay independence. Azad the theologian, was deep in politics, and Sir Syed, the theologian, was allergic to politics.
Muslim politics had another twist in the 20th century. Perhaps none excelled Moulana Azad and Allama Iqbal in the profundity of Islamic learnings. They were the brightest stars on the horizon of Islamic scholarship. Yet there was a marked contrast in the development of their thought process. At the time Azad was steeped in Islamic lore, exhorting all to come to Qur’an, Iqbal was singing the song of the glory of the Himalayan mountain and the Indian soil.
Iqbal, the nationalist of this order, moves out poles apart, almost as the architect of a separate state, and as the most powerful champion of Islamic values. In contrast, when Azad crosses the second phase of his life during the Khilafat movement -- from 1919 to 1924 -- he joins the vanguard of the national movement for independence. None had become the president of the Indian National Congress at the young age of 35, and none enjoyed that office for a longer period than he did. It is also a point to be noted that the only leader who made no compromise on the issue of united India was Moulana Azad, not even Jawaharlal Nehru or Sardar Patel or Mahatma Gandhi. All of them fell victim to the game of Lord Mountbatten. It was Nehru who torpedoed the Cabinet Mission Plan in his historic press conference of July 19, 1946 in Mumbai. Jinnah who had accepted the grouping plan which would have maintained integrity of India detected insincerity and resisstance to the plan by the Congress.
Again, Muslim politics had other surprises in store. At the time Moulana Azad was almost like a Muslim fundamentalist, having nothing but Quranic verses on his lips from 1912 to 1919, Jinnah was a staunch nationalist, pure and simple. According to Motilal Nehru, he was the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity. A protege of Gokhale, well-versed in all western learning, a legal luminary of the highest order, a rational intellectual of rare insight, Jinnah was a nationalist to the core. He resigned from the Congress because people were strongly mobilised by the Khilafat movement, a religious tool of doubtful efficacy to win the battle of freedom. His incisive intellect could foresee that the country had plunged into a mire, and he could not be a party to it.
When all had jumped on to its band-wagon, including Azad, he remained aloof, for the emotional stick of religion was not good enough to hit the secular state of the colonials with. But the same Jinnah cried hoarse “Islam in danger” when the Congress formed the ministries in 1937 followed by Lahore resolution of March 1940.
All through this period, the third phase of Moulana Azad, he believed in nationalism, as saints believe in God. He never deviated from his goal, never made any compromises thereafter, religiously worked for the integrity of the land in the process incurring the wrath and displeasure of his own people. What really sustained him in this path? It was the moral and spiritual power of Islam. An indepth study of Azad would reveal what Islam really stands for.
Perhaps when others saw the exterior of Islam; he saw its real self. He said Islam stood for certainty, equilibrium and ethics. Certainty is the truth which centres on sacrifice Sadaqat-e-hayat Bajuz Khurbani-Ke Kuch Nahin. Islamic creed rests on Khurbani, as we belong to Ibrahimi tradition, where a father was willing to sacrifice his son. Azad would argue, ‘should we distrust our brothers, Hindus, with whom we have lived in peace from centuries? With whom we live and die, and with whom we have built a composite culture of the fame of Qutub Minar, of Moti Masjid, of Taj-Mahal and of Gol-Gumbaz? Should we forget that together we evolved the Bhakti movement which demolished the barriers of caste, creed and class, and took the stand on the bedrock of humanity? Should we forget Nizamuddin Aulia, Amir Khusrau, Baba Farid, Moinuddin Chishti, Gesu Daraz and a host of others who reminded us that, to win the heart of people is a greater pilgrimage than Haj-e-Akbar? Azad very rightly pointed out that harmony of desires, emotions and ideas would result in Cosmos and their disharmony would result in Chaos. He saw that the Muslims were going off at tangent in their emotions, not knowing what would happen to the minorities in three-fourth of India, when one-fourth of India became Pakistan. It is the middle path and the equilibrium that he advocated, and not partitioning the land to solve the problem.
In short Azad stood for united India, which was the only solution to the intractable problem. He failed to achieve this goal, and we are still facing the music of Partition. When two brothers quarrel, which is natural, separation is not the answer; compromise is the answer. Azad stood for compromise as he strongly felt reconciling the irreconcilable was wisdom, and not walking off in a huff. What cannot be cured must be endured, hoping time would heal everything. History is the vital magistrate that passes the verdict. The Partition took place not because of Jinnah, much less of Nehru, or Patel or Gandhiji, but because of Mountbatten who wanted to teach the Indians a lesson for making the English go from the land, lock stock and barrel.