Maulana Abul Kalam, the Journalist

Dr Surendra Kuamr Upadhyay*

Journalism is a tool of democracy. In ancient time journalism came via the Bhojapatra, Tamrapatra, Lauhpatra. Later, to inform the people on a large scale the king of the state used the ‘munadi’ system to broadcast information about important developments in the state. During the British period newspapers started to appear after the invention of the printing machine. The British used newspapers to propagate their religion among the Indians and to consolidate their empire. But publication of newspaper for Indian people was a matter of great satisfaction. During the freedom movement newspapers played an important role to create awareness among the common Indians by publishing thoughts of great leaders and personalities.  One such leader of the time was the journalist and freedom fighter Abul Kalam Azad who was a great Indian nationalist. He critised the British for racial discrimination and ignoring the needs of the common Indians. He critised the Muslim politicians who held communal views to support the demand of the All India Muslim League for division of India on communal lines. Azad opposed the division of Bengal in 1905 which was against the national integration of India.1

The Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi started newspapers, Navjeevan and Harijan to expose the British government policy and to curb evils in the society. Likewise, Azad established newspapers named Al-Hilal and Al-Balagh for spreading awareness among the people of the country about the national movement and national unity. Thus, it can be said that Azad’s journalism related to freedom and nationalism. In 1899, at the age of 11, he started a publication called Nauronge-Alam, printing poems of the poets of that time. In 1904, Maulana Azad started the weekly Al-Misbah which created awareness about national integrity and unity. His articles were also appearing in the Makhazan and Ahsul-Akhabar.

Maulana Abul Kalam said in his book ‘India Wins Freedom’ that on his visits to Egypt, Iran and Turkey he met the followers of Mustafa Kamal Pasha. 2 On 1 June 1912, Azad published the first issue of the  legendary journal Al-Hilal, which became immensely popular among the Muslim intelligentsia. When the government confiscated the Al-Hilal press in 1914 its circulation had reached about 29,000. Al-Hilal launched an unrelenting attack on the colonial distortions of our history, specifically pinpointing the pro-colonial loyalism of the Aligarh School, which had poisoned the minds of modernist Muslim intelligentsia. Scarcely six months after the publication of Al-Hilal, educated Muslims awakened to a new political sense. 3

Al Hilal was basically devoted to spreading the message of nationalism among Indian Muslims. Soon this paper found a historic opportunity to spread this creed at the cost of British imperialism. The Balkan war was a concerted effort by European powers to drive the Ottoman Turks out of Europe and usurp their African and Asian territories. Although the British were behind the dismemberment of the Ottoman Caliphate of Turkey they were paying lip service to it because many of its dependencies like India had large Muslim population. Maulana Azad opposed this hypocrisy by describing the British Empire as the “biggest Islamic government of the world”. Similarly, he attacked the lackeys of British imperialism among Indian Muslims. Al-Hilal satirically commented on the late Agha Khan and others like him. The First World War broke out in 1914 and Al Hilal’s criticism became more intolerable for the British. Some English newspapers raised a hue and cry against the articles published in Al-Hilal. The Pioneer was in the forefront. Al-Hilal was accused of spreading ‘Germanism’ in India. Maulana Azad also realized that his paper would not be allowed to continue. Hence, he stopped it in November 1914 and after a gap of fifteen months he brought another journal named Al-Balagh. He changed his journalistic strategy against British imperialism. This paper was less political and more religious in contents and treatment. In Al-Balagh, Maulana Azad and his contributors wrote about the eternal fight between good and evil. From these writing it was obvious that British authorities soon realised that Al-Balagh too was equally dangerous and they externed him from Bengal. The gates of other provinces except Bihar were closed for him and he was finally interned at Ranchi. His detention in 1916 caused the extinction of Al-Balagh. 4

The father of Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Khairuddin, was a pioneer religious figure of Kolkata. He was highly regarded among local Muslims. Maulana Azad could have passed his life comfortably. But he was very sensitive and full of ideas. He chose a path which was not only different but difficult also. From the very beginning he realised that he had a mission and this could be fulfilled best through journalism. He was hardly fifteen when he made himself known in the Urdu world as a scholar, poet, translator and journalist. He wrote an article on the art of journalism which was published in a very prestigious magazine of Lahore-Makhzan in 1902. Azad was hardly 14 years old when he wrote this article. At this early age Azad was regularly contributing to many journals of north India. It earned him name and fame. 5

Maulana Azad started his own monthly journal Lisanus Sidq in 1903.Its objective was to introduce social reforms among Muslims, development of Urdu and enrichment of its literature, development of Bengal in respect of education through journalism and fair reviews of Urdu books.

The Lisanus Sidq was irregular and ceased publication in 1904.Thereafter, he joined Al-Nadwa of Lucknowat the instance of the great Muslim scholar, Maulana Shibli who was editing this paper. His association with this journal made him well known and highly respected. The proprietor of Vakil, a famous weekly of Amritsar, invited Azad to join as editor and he accepted the offer. Azad made the paper bi-weekly and later tri-weekly. He made it certain that the paper improved qualitatively and was also published regularly. Regularity was rather rare in those days in language journalism.

Maulana Azad was highly interested in journalism and least interested in becoming a spiritual leader like his father. Hence, his father had groomed his elder son Abu Nasar as his successor who suddenly died in September 1906. As soon as Azad got the news he returned to Kolkata. His father was keen that he permanently settled in Kolkata. Hence, he got him married to the daughter of one of his followers. Her name was Zulekha Begum and she proved herself a worthy wife of a man who had very fine sensibilities. She helped Azad very much in his struggle against the British. She had the courage and confidence to assure Gandhi ji that in Azad’s absence (imprisonment) the struggle would continue in Bengal. And she kept her word. When Zulekha Begum breathed her last Azad was not by her side. He was then in prison in Ahmed nagar Fort and had spurned the offer of being released on parole. He did not want any mercy from the British.

Although Azad had a loving wife and caring father he was as restless as the fish without water. Some of the followers of his father realised that he would not stay in Kolkata unless he was engaged in journalism. They persuaded the proprietor of Darus Saltanat weekly to restart the paper which had been earlier closed. The paper was started again under the editorship of Azad but he remained with this paper only for a few months. Since he had some differences with the owner he resigned and rejoined Vakilin August-September 1907. Abdullah Emadi also joined this paper at the same time. He later helped Azad in bringing out Al-Hilal. 6

Al-Hilal played a leading role in creating political climate and it could do so mainly because of its logical editorial policy and strict adherence to journalistic principles and techniques. The masthead contained a sentence which stressed that Al-Hilal was on illustrated paper. Maulana Azad also realised the importance of cartoons, but he did not introduce it in his journal because he had no cartoonist at his disposal. He lamented this fact in Al-Hilal itself. He, however, concentrated on news photos. Most of the photographs were related to the Balkan war and the First World War. Beside this, the paper also published pictures of Gandhi ji’s struggle in South Africa. He also published the photograph of Rabindra Nath Tagore who had been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Azad was eager to have the latest printing technology for his newspaper. He did not like printing mistakes and revised the proofs himself.

Maulana Azad was not only concerned with the getup of the paper but he was also very much concerned with the quality and contents of the paper. He had a team of journalists for the publication of Al-Hilal. Abdullah Emadi, Hamid Ali Siddiqui and Syyed Suleman Naqvi were the distinguished members of his team. This was a rare thing for a weekly journal in those days. Even Urdu dailies could not compare with Al-Hilal in this respect. Al-Hilal was not a one-man show. It was rather a collective effort. Maulana Azad improved the articles written even by his colleagues to such an extent that later they created controversies about the authorship of many articles in Al-Hilal. Maulana Azad left his impression on every paragraph in the newspaper and this gave Al-Hilal a distinct personality. 7

     A year after the publication of the last issue of Al Hilal on 18th November, 1914, Maulana Azad brought out another weekly Al Balagh. It was apparently confined to religions issues but in essence it was discussing the broader issues of man’s emancipation and freedom in the Islamic and historical context. In this paper Azad was discussing religious issues with political overtones. The colonial administration found it unbearable and Maulana Azad was finally detained at Ranchi where he remained for the next few years. When he came out in 1919 the entire political scenario had changed. There was complete Hindi-Muslim unity and mass upsurge against the British which finally resulted in the non-cooperation movement started by Gandhi ji on August 1, 1920. Since then Maulana Azad had no time to look back and his formal association with journalism came to an end. However, he was instrumental in bringing out another weekly paper Paigham in 1921 under the editorship of his close associate Abdur Razzaq Molihabadi and a revised Al-Hilal in 1927 which was a pale shadow of the previous Al-Hilal. Both the weeklies were produced by lithographic printing system; while the earlier one was type composed newspaper. Both the weeklies could survive only for a few months. 8

In conclusion, it is enough to state that he was a great Indian imbued with the spirit of nationalism and unity of India. The country has always been proud of Indian freedom fighters and nationalists such as Maulana Azad. He worked for the unity of the India and opposed discrimination on the basis of religion, caste and race which is dangerous for the country and any civil society. The country wants every citizen to make efforts to emulate such personalities for a better future of India. As a journalist-cum-social reformer he advocated all round development of the Muslim community and emphasized the importance of education through his papers.


  2. Muzammiluddin, Syyed(2006)on
  3. ibid.
  4. Hameed, SyyedSaiyidain (1993)Maulana Azad: His Life in AbulKalam Azad A Centenary Tribute, Anjan Kumar Banerji, Dept. of Mass Communication, BHU, pp. 19.
  5. Azami,H.A. (1993) Maulana Azad as a Journalist in AbulKalam Azad A Centenary Tribute, Anjan Kumar Banerji, pp. 91, Dept. of Mass Communication, BHU.
  6. ibid, Pp. 92.
  7. ibid. Pp. 93-94
  8. ibid. Pp. 96
  9. ibid. Pp. 99
  10. Habib, S. Irfan, (2010), MaulanaAbulKalam Azad and the National Education System, Registrar, National University of Education Planning and Administration, New Delhi.

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