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Islam and the Media ( 21 Feb 2022, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Maulana Azad And Abdul Ghafur Shahbaz Gave Constructive Shape To Urdu Literary Journalism

By S. Arshad, New Age Islam

22 February 2022

Noor-e- Baseerat and Lisan-us-Sidq Were Pathbreaking Literary Journals

Main Points:

1.    Abdul Ghafur Shahbaz included historical and social issues in his magazine.

2.    Maulana Azad also included social and political issues in his magazine.

3.    They envisaged literary magazines as tool of social and religious reform.


Towards the end of the 19th century, Urdu Literary journalism was not developed. Literary magazines were limited to Guldastas which only carried ghazals of contemporary poets. Such Guldastas were published from Lucknow, Calcutta, Benaras, Kanpur, Hyderabad, Agra, Mathura and other cities. In those days Urdu newspapers would carry ghazals or poems in their Literary supplements. The concept of literary magazines had not developed because literature was not considered an isolated or separate field of knowledge.

In reaction to the tradition of Guldastas, which only published poetry, the idea of magazines carrying literary prose gained ground and a monthly literary magazine titled Noor-e-Baseerat was released in July 1884.


Maulana Azad (File Photo)


This was the first literary magazine of Urdu published by an experienced journalist and poet Abdul Ghafur Shahbaz. He had worked as the editor of Urdu newspaper Darus Saltanat and was among the prominent contributors of the satirical magazine of Lucknow Awadh Panch. Noor-e-Baseerat was published from Bengal. Through this magazine Mr Shahbaz laid down the foundation of serious literary journalism in Urdu.

Unlike today's Urdu magazines, Noor-e-Baseerat had different columns on history, society, morality and arts apart from literature. The purpose Mr Shahbaz had in mind behind the magazine was to not only promote the taste of literature but also of other arts and trades among the Urdu speaking community. He also wanted to make Muslims aware of the social and political developments of the world. He also wanted his community to have a comparative look of the western and oriental development in all the fields of knowledge. His view on literature was that it cannot play a constructive role in the development of society by isolating itself from the society. Thus Noor-e-Baseerat was the pioneer in Urdu Literary journalism and paved the way for Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad's literary magazine titled Lisan-us-Sidq.

Lisan-us-Sidq was published after Noor-e-Baseerat and obviously Maulana Azad was inspired by Mr Abdul Ghafur Shahbaz's magazine because Lisan-us-Sidq was compiled on the lines of Noor-e-Baseerat as there was no other literary magazine of Urdu at that time. Similar columns were included in the magazine. Maulana Azad like Abdul Ghafur Shahbaz had certain purposes behind the publication of Lisanus Sidq. So he mentioned four objectives of Kisan-us- Sidq:

1) Social Reform

2) Development of Urdu

3) Criticism (literary)

4) Promotion of the taste of knowledge.

Later Maulana added one more objective --- intellectual reform

Therefore, Mr Azad wanted to promote human and moral values, scientific and historical knowledge as well as literary taste among the Urdu speaking people. He elaborated on all the objectives of his magazine in the following words:

"By taste of knowledge we meant study of newspapers, abundance of knowledge based magazines, participation in programmes of learning and literary discussions which take place seldom outside Punjab."

About Reform of thought or intellectual reform he wrote:

"Among the objectives of Lisanus Sidq, one more objective is being added and that is reform in thought which does not require much elaboration. The purpose is simply to remove the religious, historical and knowledge based misconceptions that have taken root as second nature through arguments and logic; to bring the community out of darkness so that the next generations are safe from these weaknesses and the future is free from the darkness of delusions."

Maulana Azad also wanted to develop the idea of true literary criticism in Urdu. He was not satisfied with the standards of literary criticism of his time. So he wrote about his view on literary criticism.:

"In English reviewing a book means discussing the merits and demerits of the book but in Urdu criticism has always been translated as Taqreez which is devoid of the real purpose of review. Taqreez generally means appreciation or praise of a book whereas in review both the merits and flaws of the book are pointed out. Often Taqreez by prominent writers are included at the end of abook. These writings do not follow the general principles of criticism."

From this excerpt, Maulana Azad's view on literary criticism is clear. Therefore, Mr Azad wanted to bring Urdu literary criticism at par with English criticism through his magazine.

It is therefore evident that Abdul Ghafur Shahbaz and Maulana Azad had shaped the contours of Urdu literary journalism wayback in the 19th century. They had the view that literature should play an active and constructive role in creating social and political awareness and in bringing intellectual reform in the society.

But gradually the idea of literary journalism changed and literary magazines removed social, scientific and historical subjects from their contents. They published purely literary content and a avoided discussing social issues. The literary magazines only published stories, poetry and literary criticism. Thus literary magazines became confined only to poets and writers. So the common people gradually lost interest in them. This created the crisis of readership in Urdu literature.

The crisis was aggravated by the advent of the literary theory of modernism which was adopted by the majority of Urdu poets and fiction writers as a fashion without understanding the true spirit and nature of modernism. It produced what we can call the literature of the absurd in Urdu. Common Urdu readers totally lost interest in literature because of incomprehensible poetry and fiction published therein.

Though with the onset of post-modernism in Urdu in the 80s, Urdu literature has returned to reformed realism, the literary magazines are still limited to pure literary content and so only poets and writers read the literary magazines. The missionary zeal of Adul Ghafur Shahbaz and Maulana Azad is totally missing from these magazines. Urdu literature is stagnant and is waiting for some revolutionary literary which can revive it and make it popular among the general masses.


S. Arshad is a columnist with


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