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Islamic Society ( 30 Jul 2021, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Aversion to Reading Books and Magazines among Urdu-Speaking Muslims Has Caused Serious Intellectual Drawback in the Community

Many Urdu Magazines Closed Because Of Lack of Readership

Main Points:

1. During the 70s Urdu publishing industry flourished.

2. Shama, Biswin Sadi, Khilona and Huma were popular magazines in the 70s.

3. Wajeda Tabassum, Razia Butt and Ismat Chughtai were very popular among women.

4. Ibn-e-Safi popularised detective novels in Urdu.

5. Magazines on films, sports and health also survived.

6. Increase in religiosity with increase in literacy discouraged 'un-Islamic' literature.


New Age Islam Staff Writer

30 July 2021

'Iqra' was the first word revealed to the prophet of Islam. Pursuit of knowledge has been ordained to Muslims and seeking knowledge has been made a religious duty for every Muslim man and woman. But unfortunately, Muslims have not shown that degree of keenness for learning and study.

If we look at the situation in the Indian context, we observe that the habit of reading books and newspapers among Muslims, particularly among Urdu-speaking Muslims is fast receding. This reflects in the circulation of Urdu newspapers and Urdu periodical magazines in India. This negative trend was distinctly observed since 80s and assumed alarming proportions in the 90s. As readership of Urdu magazines receded, many popular literary, religious and family magazines closed publication. Many Urdu newspapers also had to close down because of lack of readers and advertisers. Today Urdu speaking Muslim community has almost given up reading academic or literary magazines. Only some religious magazines have been striving to remain alive on the readership of a section of intellectual Muslims who subscribe to a particular sect. Today, the general Muslims are interested only in basic religious books like books on Namaz and other basic religious knowledge. Science magazines, magazines for women, and magazines on various fields of knowledge are few and those available strive to find readers.

This was not the picture, say, before Partition. Urdu magazines and newspapers were sold in large numbers. Magazines on various subjects were published and each magazine had its circle of readers. For example, the circulation of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad's periodical Al Hilal was 50 thousand. But it may be because during the period non-Muslims would also read Urdu.

After Partition too, Urdu speaking community had a good habit of reading, and different people had different tastes and interests so far as the books are concerned. Magazines on health, politics, films, literature, science, children's literature, sports, crime, detective literature, women, and business and economy were published and had a good number of readers and subscribers.

Interestingly, though literacy among Muslims was low, both literate men and women had the habit of reading. Fiction (Afsana) and novels were in great demand. Novels of Razia Butt, Ismat Chughtai, Wajeda Tabassum, Qurratul Ayn Haider and other women writers were very popular among Urdu speaking women while novels of Nasim Hejazi, Ilyas Sitapuri, Nadim Sitapuri, and Seraj Anwar were popular among Urdu-speaking men. During this period, Ibn-e-Safi popularised detective literature in Urdu with his series of detective novels. His detective novels had great literary value because of his diction, style and standard. His novels were said to have taught correct Urdu to thousands of its readers. His success inspired Shama publications of Yunus Dehlavi/ Idrees Dehlavi to start the publication of a regular detective magazine Mujrim. Another magazine named Jasoosi Duniya was also published.

Wajeda Tabassum took Urdu feminist novels to another height during the 70s and 80s. Her novels mainly depicted the life and culture of Hyderabad’s middle class women. Her novels like Nuth ki Qeemat, Nuth Utrai etc. greatly appealed to Urdu speaking women.

Periodicals like Biswin Sadi and Shama were very popular among Urdu speaking men and women. Shama had a circulation of about one lakh and had readers in Urdu speaking diaspora of Europe as well. Because of the interest of Muslim women in literature, Shama group of publications had started publishing a women's monthly magazine Bano. Taufique Farouqee's Khatoon Mashrique was the second most popular women's magazine in India. Though the magazine was considered below standard by the literary circle, it served to keep the reading habit of Urdu speaking women alive. It also had a circulation of 50,000 at a point of time. The popularity of Biswin Sadi, Bano and Khatoon Mashrique led to the launch of other women's magazines like Baji, Gulabi Kiran, Mashriqi Dulhan, Mashriqi Aanchal etc. But they could not win much popularity.

This was a period when Urdu Digests were also very popular. Mehrab, Huma, Chahar Rang, Hazar Rang and Shabistan were some of the popular Urdu digests during the 70s and 80s. These digests catered to the tastes of a diverse group of readers as these digests had writings on fiction, hunting, detective stories, stories on crimes, politics and current affairs, literature, religious issues, history, science etc. More often these digests would include a complete novel for those who liked novels. A religious digest Hoda by Mustafa Siddiqee was also popular among the religious section.

Blitz (Urdu) of Dr R.K. Karanjia and Nai Duniya of Abdul Waheed Siddiquee were equally popular Urdu weeklies of the 80s. The former was a neutral news magazine without the spice of religion in its content while the latter was a newspaper that exploited the religious emotions of Muslims, their victimhood, the 'conspiracies ‘of the RSS and the Jews and reminiscences of the lost glory of Muslims. That Blitz survived along with Nai Duniya reflects the fact that Urdu speaking Muslim community at least till that time had a rational and liberal section that preferred the journalism of Blitz over that of Nai Duniya. Of course, Azad Qalam (last page column) of legendary journalist and filmmaker Khwaja Ahmad Abbas also contributed to the popularity of Urdu Blitz.

One Urdu weekly that deserves special mention was Nasheman. Published from Bangalore, this 8 page weekly reached Urdu households in every part of the country punctually because of its countrywide readership.

As for children's literature, the period was also successful. Khilona was the most popular children's Urdu magazine along with Phulwari, Noor etc. With the closure of Shama group, Khilona also went down into history.

In later period that is in the 90s crime magazines like Jaraim and Bhayanak Jaraim became popular.

But by the end of the millennium, the scenario of Urdu readership completely changed because of gradual recession in Urdu readership. The reasons for this are very difficult to understand. During this period, literacy among Muslims increased, number of schools, colleges and departments of Urdu in universities increased many fold but Urdu readership decreased. Because of lack of or decreased readership, many popular Urdu magazines and periodicals went out of publication. Huma, Bano, Chahar Rang, Biswin Sadi (now only two issues of Biswin Sadi are published yearly), Jaraim, Bhayanak Jaraim, Baji, Gulabi Kiran, Shama, Payam-Taleem, Bachon ki Nirali Duniya, etc have shut shop. Those which are still into publication complain of lack of readership. They are not visible. The golden period of Urdu language and literature seems to be over.

Presently magazines are published but they are printed in hundreds. And the variety is missing. Variety in publication is the proof that a language is alive and growing in every sphere of life. Nowadays, Urdu publication is limited to literary magazines and periodicals. Magazines on science, health, economy, films, sports and medicines are rare and those published have very few readers. During the 80s and 90s, periodicals and magazines on sports and films were published but now that period is over.

Literary magazines like Ajkal (published by Publications Division) and literary magazines published by state Urdu Academies and privately owned literary magazines are in circulation but their readership is also very limited. Common Urdu speaker does not buy literary magazines. Only poets and writers are the buyers of literary magazines. In another words, Urdu books, magazines and periodicals are not read in majority of Urdu speaking households today.

One main reason for the lack of readership among Urdu speaking Muslims is the increasing religiosity among them. Since a wrong interpretation of knowledge among Muslims was circulated that only religious knowledge is encouraged by Islam and all other fields of knowledge are un-Islamic, spending money on magazines and books on science, fiction, poetry, history, Jasoosi Adab, Sex and erotica, sports, film, business etc. was considered a waste of money. As the literacy increased, so did religiosity. Copies of the holy Quran, some small collections of hadith, books on Namaz and basic religious duties remained in Muslim households and all other books and magazines were shown the door. Magazines or periodicals on films, sports etc. became extinct. Urdu book stalls, therefore, only have Quran, hadiths and books on religious issues or school text books. They do not have novels of Wajeda Tabassum, Razia Butt, Manto, Krishan Chander, Bedi or novels of Ibn-e-Safi or Ilyas Sitapuri because they have no takers today.

Blaming all this on the reach of internet to every member of the society and the preoccupation of people with social media can't be blamed because the aversion of Urdu speaking community to reading had been witnessed long before the advent of internet and android phone. Of course, internet and social media has only aggravated the problem. Otherwise, in otter languages, people still read books, magazines and periodicals inspite of being active on internet and social media. In Bengal, for example, all the leading Bengali newspapers publish voluminous special issues on Durga Puja ever year. These books are a part of celebration. This is not the tradition among Muslims because books are not part of celebrations or festivals in the Muslim community. Therefore, the real problem is that we have attached learning with religion. Books that are not part of religion are not part of a Muslim's life. This interpretation ignores the fact that the holy companions sometimes asked the holy prophet pbuh questions on conjugal lie and sometimes on cure of some physical ailments. The Quran asks Muslims to do scientific research. Therefore, books on science, health including sexual health, history etc can't be un-Islamic.

This aversion to books and loss of reading habit has caused immense loss to learning in the Urdu speaking Muslim community. Lack of readership has caused drawback in research work and obstacles in the dissemination of knowledge among the general Muslims. They are unaware of the new trends and developments in various fields of knowledge. Our government organisations and NGOs and educationists need to sit back together and chalk out a long term plan to cultivate an interest in books and reading among the Muslim community.


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