Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was born in Mecca in 1888 and lived there till he was about seven. His father Khairuddin, a scholar-sufi and pir originally from Calcutta, was persuaded by his disciples to return to that city. Under the strict tutelage of his father, Azad continued his Islamic studies though he resented the restrictive and authoritarian manner in which this syllabus was taught. Therefore, on his own, Azad furtively cultivated a taste for Urdu and Persian literature and even learnt to play the sitar.
Imbued with an astonishing memory and encyclopedic information, he was, indeed, a precocious child and young prodigy who was eager to write biography of Ghazali when he was only twelve. Two years later, he began to contribute learned articles to Makhzan, the best-known literary magazine of the day. When Shams-ul-Ulama Shibli Nomani met him, he was so much impressed by his intellectual skills that he took Azad to Lucknow and made him prominent in national circles by offering him editorship of Al-Nadva. In 1906, he became the editor of a very popular biweekly, Vakil of Amritsar.
By the time he was thirteen, Azad was disillusioned with his Islamic training due to modernist writings of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. He fell into a phase of atheism which, according to him, lasted from the age of 14 to 22. During his later teenage years he came into close contact with the Hindu revolutionaries of Bengal. A combination of brief travel to the Middle East and his Arabic reading also exposed him more deeply to the reformist ideas of Sheikh Abduh of Egypt and the uncompromising nationalism and anti-imperialism of Mustafa Kamil Pasha. His spiritual homelessness, however, came to an end in 1910 when an emotional/mystical experience renewed his faith in religion and galvanized his personality in a dramatic fashion. Following his queer ‘conversion,’ Azad’s career really began to take-off in 1912 with