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Books of the Week - 26th February, 2023

 Maulana Azad: A Life
by - S. Irfan Habib 

About the Book
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (1888–1958) was an Islamic scholar, freedom fighter, freethinker, journalist, and independent India’s first education minister. Born into an orthodox family of famed Islamic scholars, Azad was deeply influenced by the pan-Islamic philosophies of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and Jamaluddin Afghani. Azad had no formal education, but he was an autodidact who taught himself about culture, philosophy, languages, and literature. As a teenager, he successfully published several magazines and newspapers and went on to publish the immensely popular Urdu weekly Al-Hilal through which he tried to persuade Indian Muslims to shake off the shackles of British rule. He became inspired by Gandhi’s non-violent civil disobedience movement and was extremely critical of the Muslim League’s communal politics. He joined the Indian National Congress and was elected its youngest president. As president, Azad fought against the fissiparous politics of the Muslim League as well as the oppressive British regime. After I dependence, he reinvigorated India’s formal education system and laid the foundations for scientific and cultural learning in India. He pioneered free and compulsory elementary education and adult literacy programmes.

In this in-depth biography of Azad, historian S. Irfan Habib takes the reader through some of the most decisive moments in Azad’s life. In ‘The Early Years’, we learn of Azad’s unusual upbringing, his illustrious family, upheavals in the Islamic world, and the initial inklings of Azad’s freethinking outlook on life. ‘Maulana Azad and Critical Thinking in Islam’ examines the various schools of thought, ethical questions, and pan-Islamic debates that shaped Azad’s religious attitudes and his approach to the idea of nationalism. ‘Azad, Islam, and Nationalism’ looks at Azad’s political career and his unwavering belief in composite nationalism and staunch opposition to the Muslim League’s sectarian politics. ‘Ghubar-i-Khatir: Beyond Faith and Politics’ lays bare Azad’s philosophical moorings and personal likes and dislikes through a collection of epistolary essays written during his imprisonment in the Ahmednagar Fort prison in the 1940s. And, finally, ‘Building a New India’ charts Azad’s efforts to stren then the country’s weak education system through initiatives aimed at primary and adult education, his efforts towards the scientific and cultural advancement of the country, and his contribution to the arts and culture of a newly independent nation.
Maulana Azad: A Life is the definitive biography of one of India’s greatest thinkers and nation builders.

About the Author
S. Irfan Habib is a widely published historian of science and modern political history. He was the Maulana Azad Chair at the National University of Educational Planning and Administration, New Delhi. He is the author of To Make the Deaf Hear: Ideology and Programme of Bhagat Singh and His Comrades and editor of Indian Nationalism: The Essential Writings.
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