Among the older publications during the long fight for freedom, Maulana Azad’s Al-Hilal has made great contributions. It is a pity that the present generation of Indians is almost ignorant about this whistle blower journal.
July 13TH 2012, marked the 100TH year of launch of Al-Hilal, the Urdu weekly journal published by veteran freedom fighter Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. It is upsetting that the day passed without many of us even realizing that it was the 100TH birth anniversary of Al-Hilal.
Started in 1912, Al-Hilal was not just a weekly journal of the likes we see today. It was not supposed to be a tool of accumulating wealth. Instead it was launched for a mission: to invite Muslims to become a practical example of Islamic teachings in particular and to prepare Indians mentally for fighting against the British imperialism in general.
At a time when there was a tendency among people of repute to enslave their thoughts and propagate to common men to live under slavery, for some honours and financial & political interests Maulana Azad did not sell his self to British powers. Lamenting the writers who long for donations and gifts from wealthy people and accept it under various pretences Maulana Azad wrote that such people had better quit journalism. He says if they remain in journalism they should put them on auction to be bought as “useful editor” by prosperous people.
Before launching Al-Hilal Maulana worked with various publications but quit them as he could not agree with their policies. During the time, however, he gained experience in the field and understood the complexities and niceties of journalism. He also learnt that journalism is not merely about informing people about day-to-day happenings. He believed that journalism could be used for a larger purpose. Maulana realized that journalism had power to shake the foundation of British Raj in India as well as it could effectively bridge Hindu Muslim gap. According to Maulana, the academic and ideological articles not only create awareness among people but also give a positive and constructive direction to their thoughts. Al-Hilal served as a platform from where Maulana experimented all these aspects of journalism.
He ventured into journalism in 1899 with starting a magazine “Nairang-e-Aalam” which unfortunately stopped after six issues. In 1900 he edited “Al-Misbah” which also stopped publishing after some days. Then he contributed some articles for “Makhzan”. In 1901 he joined “Ahsan-ul-Akhbar” and in 1902 he edited the prose part of “Khadang-e-Nazar” Lucknow. It was the time when important magazines of the country published his write ups. On November 20, 1903 Maulana started yet another journal “Lisaan-e-Sidq”. Then he joined “An-Nadwa” and became known as a respectable writer all over India. In 1906 he was appointed editor of “Al-Wakeel” published from Amritsar. And in July 1908 he joined Kolkata newspaper “Dar-us-Saltanat” as its editor. Then in 1912 he launched his own weekly Al-Hilal.
Writes Abdul Wasey, professor at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi that Maulana started Al-Hilal on 13TH July 1912 in Kolkata. However, he had sketched its details six years ago.
“The main aim behind establishment of Al-Hilal was freedom from British colonialism which would be achieved through Hindu-Muslim unity. Maulana Azad believed that if there were any party that would challenge the existence of Muslims most, it was none but British rule. He advised Muslims to shake hands with non-Muslim brethren of India to fight the menace. In this context he found in the agreement of Prophet Muhammad with pagans a good example,” says Wasey.
“If Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi got light from Gita to blow the spirit of freedom among majority brethren, Maulana Azad referred to Qur’anic teachings to inspire Muslims. They all told Indians that in the traditions of every religion freedom, equality and justice occupy prominent place. So, it was imperative upon them to raise voice collectively against imperialism,” he adds.
Al-Hilal would openly attack British policies while at the same time exploring the challenges facing common people. It talked about Indian nationalism and encouraged young into fighting for independence and Hindu-Muslim unity. Al-Hilal discussed the problems an Indian faced in political life and showed the way out. Among other topics it also focused on Muslims’ social issues. Through serious articles it nurtured people’s thought and boldly presented the religious education as a solution to problems. So acceptable was the journal that people would wait for its next publication.
Speaking in a programme held in Lucknow to celebrate the 100TH year of Al-Hilal Malik Zada Manzoor, renowned litterateur and critic, said, “Al-Hilal in journalism is like a minaret of light. Through Al-Hilal, Maulana Azad not only created awareness among people but also inspired them to fight for the freedom of India. It covered both national and international issues. The chapter of freedom struggle would be incomplete sans mention of Al-Hilal.”
Al-Hilal founded a new pattern in journalism. Besides inspiring its readers for freedom fighting Al-Hilal covered topics related to politics, the society, literature and religion. It introduced a new dimension to Urdu journalism; translation of useful material into Urdu. Al-Hilal would publish news with photos about Middle East, the struggle of mujahideen in Africa and Balkan war. At the time Urdu media did not publish foreign news on this pattern. Through investigative reporting he tried go down in the depth any issue.
Al-Hilal, however, was banned in 1914. With the onset of World War I, the British stiffened censorship and restrictions on political activity. So, Azad's Al-Hilal was banned under the Press Act. Its last issue was published on 18TH November 1914.
On November 12TH 1915 Maulana Azad started a new journal, Al-Balagh. It was in fact an extension of Al-Hilal. This weekly too supported for nationalist causes and communal unity. In the meantime, he became active in his support for the Khilafat agitation to protect the position of the Sultan of Ottoman Turkey, who was the caliph for Muslims worldwide. Azad took this opportunity to energise Indian Muslims and achieve major political and social reform through the struggle. With his popularity increasing across India, the government outlawed Azad's second publication under the Defence of India Regulations Act and arrested him. Al-Balagh was published only for six months before being closed on 3RD April 1916.
In 1927, again there was an effort to revive Al-Hilal. But Maulana Azad had less involvement with it; he only shared its ownership and the editor was Abdur Razzaq Maleehabadi. Maulana contributed very little to it. So the real period of Al-Hilal journalism spans from 1912 to 1914. Maulana’s article published over this period of present him as a great journalist.
On September 1913 when a bond of Rs. 2,000 was sought from Al-Hilal under Press Act, Maulana wrote extensively about freedom of expression and explained what the freedom of press is. These thoughts of Maulana about freedom of expression gradually changed into the foundation of Indian Press Association. On October 2, 1913 a meeting was held in Indian Association Hall, Calcutta under the presidency of Surendra Benerjee. So, a case of bond became the cause behind establishment of a strong institution to protect the freedom of press.
In short, through Al-Hilal Maulana wanted to free Muslims from inferiority complex and bring them into the mainstream. He tried to replace the disappointment and fear among Muslims post 1857 with expectations of a promising future. He extended the course of journalism which was limited to just reporting to an effective tool to shape ideology. Maulana was against the partition of India. He always exerted efforts for Hindu-Muslim unity. One of the main aims of Al-Hilal was to promote unity among Hindus and Muslims. Today, the section of the media that plots fissures among Indians on religious grounds should borrow the tolerance spirit of Al-Hilal in terms of striving for unity among Indians.
By A. Hameed Yousuf
(With inputs from two Urdu articles by Prof Abdul Wasey and Dr. Umair Manzar.)