Abul Kalam Ghulam Muhiyuddin Ahmed bin Khairuddin Al-Hussaini Azad (popularly known as Abul Kalam Azad) was an Indian scholar, Islamic theologian, independence activist, and a senior leader of the Indian National Congress during the Indian independence movement.
He was independent India’s first education minister, and his birthday, 11 November, is celebrated as National Education Day.
Azad was born on 11 November 1888 in Makkah, then a part of the Ottoman Empire. He settled in Calcutta with his family in 1890. He was home schooled and self taught.
He worked for Vakil, a newspaper from Amritsar and rose to prominence through his work as a journalist, publishing works critical of the British Raj and promoting the causes of Indian nationalism.
He became the leader of the Khilafat Movement, during which he came into close contact with Mahatma Gandhi and became an enthusiastic supporter of Gandhi’s ideas of non-violent civil disobedience. He worked to organise the non-cooperation movement in protest of the 1919 Rowlatt Acts.
In October 1920, Azad was elected as a member of foundation committee to establish Jamia Millia Islamia at Aligarh without taking help from British colonial government. He also assisted in shifting the campus of the university from Aligarh to New Delhi in 1934.
In 1923, at an age of 35, he became the youngest person to serve as the President of the Indian National Congress.
Azad was one of the main organizers of the Dharasana Satyagraha in 1931, and emerged as one of the most important national leaders of the time, prominently leading the causes of Hindu-Muslim unity as well as promoting secularism and socialism.
He also criticised Muslim politicians for focusing on communal issues before the national interest and rejected the All India Muslim League’s communal separatism.
As India’s first Minister of Education, he emphasised on educating the rural poor and girls. Under his leadership, the Ministry of Education established the first Indian Institute of Technology in 1951.
He also laid emphasis on the development of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and the Faculty of Technology of the Delhi University.
In 1992 government of India honoured him by giving posthumously Bharat Ratna. His birthday, 11 November is celebrated as National Education Day in India.
Jawaharlal Nehru referred to him as Mir-i- Karawan (the caravan leader), “a very brave and gallant gentleman, a finished product of the culture that, in these days, pertains to few”. Mahatma Gandhi remarked about Azad by counting him as “a person of the calibre of Plato, Aristotle and Pythagorus”.