Maulana Azad wrote his essay on Sarmad when he was twenty three. His essay was hailed as a masterpiece. Some scholars have traced in this essay the genesis and growth of Azad's religious thought and political life. With his wide learning and penetrating insights, V.N. Datta gives altogether a different perspective by arguing that Azad saw in his essay on Sarmad a lucid mirror of his own life and experiences. He seeks to answer why Azad wrote his essay; what gave impulse to his thoughts, and what were the leading ideas of his essay, which were to nourish and sustain his thinking and political life subsequently.
About the Author
V.N. Datta is Emeritus Professor of Modern History, Kurukshetra University, and formerly general president of Indian History Congress, the Resident of Fellow of Fitzwilliam College. Cambridge, and Visiting Professor to a number of universities including Moscow, Leningrad and Berlin. Among his much-acclaimed publications are Jallianwala Bagh (translated into Hindi and Punjabi); Sati: A Historical, Social and Philosophical Enquiry into the Hindu Rite of Widow-Burning and Maulana Azad. He has contributed articles regularly to learned journals and the popular press. He is presently writing a book on Ghalib's Dilli (1857).
I am most grateful to Prof. Jayanta Kumar Ray for inviting me to deliver this lecture under the auspices of Maulana Abul Kalam Institute of Asian Studies, Kolkata. I had suggested to Dr. Ray two topics, the first on Maulana Azad's understanding of Islam, and the other, on the discussion of Azad's essay on Sarmad. Dr. Ray thought that the second theme on Sarmad would be more suitable because it would be of a wider interest, especially as too little is known of Sarmad.
In my biography of Maulana Azad published in 1990 I had dealt briefly with Sarmad. Since then quite a number of scholars have added much to our understanding of Azad's essay on Sarmad, and its significance in the evolution of Azad's religious and political life. Still I felt that certain important aspects of the essay need a further thought and analysis. Hence this modest attempt to reinterpret Azad's essay.
In writing the text of this lecture, I have received much help and guidance from several friends and scholars. I should like to offer my sincere gratitude to Prof. S.A. Ali of Jamia Hamdard University, New Delhi, Prof. Sadiq ur Rahman Kidwai, secretary, Ghalib Institute, New Delhi, Dr. Nafis Ahmad Siddiqui, former principal, Shaheed Bhagat Singh College, New Delhi and Seema Sharma for reading and scrutinizing the text and making valuable suggestions. I am most grateful to my old and dear friend Prem Kathpalia, I.A.S. (retired), Dr. Syeda Saiyidain Hameed, member, Planning Commission, Dr. J.S. Grewal, Dr. Sangat Singh, and Mohammad Anwar Hussain of Jamiat-ul-Ulema for procuring books and clarifying a number of issues relating to Sarmad's life.
Despite my best efforts I could not persuade some of the leading scholars of Islamic history to discuss the subject of this presentation because they did not think it prudent to get involved in the controversial nature of the topic. The loss is mine.
In the course of my discussions on a variety of themes, especially on religion and its impact in different spheres of human life, I have benefited much from Jagmohan's extensive knowledge, M.P. and Aarti Khosla's tart observation and Sudhir Chandra's skeptical reserve about civil society and I thank them. At India International Center Library, I have depended heavily on the ready help given by Sushma Zutshi and Kanchan for procuring books and other material from different quarters for which I am grateful. I also thank Dr. K.K. Banerjee, director, Raja Rammohun Roy Libray Foundation, Kolkata for supplying me with reprints of articles from the Asiatic Society journals. I am grateful to Minakshi Mishra, programmer director, Indian Council of Cultural Relations for obtaining for me the photos of Maulana Azad, and his grave. My special thanks to Sanjana Roy Choudhury of Rupa for working on this study, and contributing much to its clarity by editorial touches.
I am grateful to my daughter Nonica for pointing out some discrepancies in my narrative. And finally, for the greatest support that my wife Kamala has given me at every stage in my journey of academic strife, no acknowledgement can suffice.
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