Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed was born on 13 May 1905, in a Gujjar Muslim at the Hauz Qazi area of Old Delhi, India. His father was Col. Zalnur Ali and his mother a daughter of the Nawab of Loharu. Ahmed's grandfather, Khaliluddin Ali Ahmed, was from Kacharighat near Golaghat, Assam and part of a well known Assamese Muslim family.
Ahmed was educated at the Government High School in Gonda district, Uttar Pradesh and matriculated from the Delhi Government High School.
He attended St. Stephen's College, Delhi and St Catharine's College, Cambridge.
He was called to the Bar from the Inner Temple of London and began legal practice in the Lahore High Court in 1928. He met Jawaharlal Nehru in England in 1925. He joined the Indian National Congress and actively participated in the Indian freedom movement. In 1942 he was arrested in the Quit India movement and sentenced to 3 1/2 years' imprisonment. He was a member of the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee from 1936 and of AICC from 1947 to 1974, and remained the Minister of Finance, Revenue and labour in the 1938 Gopinath Bordoloi Ministry.
After Independence he was elected to the Rajya Sabha (1952–1953) and thereafter became Advocate-General of the Government of Assam. He was elected on Congress ticket to the Assam Legislative Assembly on two terms (1957–1962) and (1962–1967). Subsequently, he was elected to the Lok Sabha from the Barpeta constituency, Assam in 1967 and again in 1971. In the Central Cabinet he was given important portfolios relating to Food and Agriculture, Cooperation, Education, Industrial Development and Company Laws. Picked for the presidency by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1974, and on 20 August 1974, he became the second Muslim to be elected President. He is known to have issued the proclamation of emergency by signing the papers at midnight after a meeting with Indira Gandhi the same day. He used his constitutional authority as head of state to allow her to rule by decree once Emergency in India was proclaimed in 1975. He is well known among Indian diplomats for his visit to Sudan in 1975 where the whole town showed up to see him. He was the second Indian president to die in office, on 11 February 1977. Today his grave lies right across Parliament of India, next to Sunhari Masjid, at Sansas chowk, in New Delhi.