Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was born on November 11, 1888 in Mecca. His real name was Abul Kalam Ghulam Muhiyuddin.He was popularly known as Maulana Azad.His forefathers came from Herat (a city Afghanistan) in Babar's days. Azad was a descendent of a lineage of learned Muslim scholars, or maulanas. His mother was an Arabian and the daughter of Sheikh Mohammad Zaher Watri and his father, Maulana Khairuddin, was a Bengali Muslim of Afghan origins. Khairuddin left India during tile Sepoy Mutiny and proceeded to Mecca and settled there. He came back to Calcutta with his family in 1890.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was one of the foremost leaders of Indian freedom struggle. He was also a renowned scholar, and poet. Maulana Azad was well versed in many languages viz. Arabic, English, Urdu, Hindi, Persian and Bengali. Maulana Azad was a brilliant debater, as indicated by his name, Abul Kalam, which literally means "lord of dialogue". He adopted the pen name 'Azad' as a mark of his mental emancipation from a narrow view of religion and life. Maulana Azad became independent India's first education minister.
Because of his orthodox family background Azad had to pursue traditional Islamic education. He was taught at home, first by his father and later by appointed teachers who were eminent in their respective fields.Maulana Azad had his initial formal education in Arabic, Persian and Urdu with theological orientation and then philosophy, geometry, mathematics and algebra. He also learnt English language, world history, and politics on his own. Maulana Azad had a natural inclination towards writing and this resulted in the great start of the monthly magazine "Nairang-e-Alam" in 1899. He was eleven years old when his mother passed away. Two years later, at the age of thirteen, Azad was married to young Zuleikha Begum.
Azad was trained and educated to become a clergyman. He wrote many works, reinterpreting the Holy Quran. His erudition led him to repudiate Taqliq or the tradition of conformity and accept the principle of Tajdid or innovation. He developed interest in the pan-Islamic doctrines of Jamaluddin Afghani and the Aligarh thought of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. Imbued with the pan-Islamic spirit, he visited Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Syria and Turkey. In Iraq he met the exiled revolutionaries who were fighting to establish a constitutional government in Iran. In Egypt he met Shaikh Muhammad Abduh and Saeed Pasha and other revolutionary activists of the Arab world. He had first-hand knowledge of the ideals and spirit of the Young Turks in Constantinople. All these contacts metamorphosed him into a nationalist revolutionary.
After his return to India, Azad met prominent Hindu revolutionaries Sri Aurobindo Ghosh and Shyam Sundar Chakraborty. They helped in developing radical political views and he began to participate in the Indian nationalist movement. Azad fiercely criticized the Muslim politicians who were more inclined towards the communal issues without focusing on the national interest. He also rejected the theories of communal separatism advocated by the All India Muslim League.Maulana Abul Kalam Azad established many secret revolutionary centers all over north India and Bombay. He persuaded the Muslim leaders to join the revolutionary activities.
In 1912 Maulana Abul Kalam Azad started publishing a weekly journal in Urdu named Al Hilal to propagate revolutionary ideas amongst the Muslims. He also wrote many articles in this journal to promote communal harmony. In 1914 British Government banned Azad's Al-Hilal for spreading extremist views.The government regarded Al Hilal as propagator of secessionist views and banned it in 1914. Maulana Azad then started another weekly called Al-Balagh with the same mission of propagating Indian nationalism and revolutionary ideas based on Hindu-Muslim unity. In 1916, the government banned this paper too and expelled Maulana Abul Kalam Azad from Calcutta and interned him at Ranchi from where he was released after the First World War in 1920.After that he joined the National congress and played a crucial role in Non-Cooperation Movement.
In 1923 he was elected as the president of the special session of the Congress in Delhi. Maulana Azad was again arrested in 1930 for violation of the salt laws as part of Gandhiji's Salt Satyagraha. He was put in Meerut jail for a year and a half. Maulana Azad became the president of Congress in 1940 (Ramgarh) and remained in the post till 1946.He was a staunch opponent of partition and supported a confederation of autonomous provinces with their own constitutions but common defence and economy. Partition hurt him greatly and shattered his dream of a unified nation where Hindus and Muslims can co-exist and prosper together.
During the violence that erupted following partition of India, Maulana Azad assured to take up the responsibility for the security of Muslims in India. Towards this, Azad toured the violence-affected regions of borders of Bengal, Assam, Punjab. He helped in establishing the refugee camps and ensured uninterrupted supply of food and other basic materials. It was reported that in the crucial Cabinet meetings both Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Maulana Azad clashed over the security measures in Delhi and Punjab.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad served as the Minister of Education in Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru's cabinet from 1947 to 1958. He died of a stroke on February 22, 1958. Under Maulana Azad's tenure, a number of measures were undertaken to promote primary and secondary education, scientific education, establishment of universities and promotion of avenues of research and higher studies. For his invaluable contribution to the nation, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was posthumously awarded India's highest civilian honor, Bharat Ratna in 1992.