God has created many people with extraordinary qualities but only few are those who make proper use of them. They serve humanity with their useful traits. Freedom champ Maulana Zafar Ali Khan is also one of them. He was one of the most eminent personalities of the Indian sub-continent who had extraordinary abilities ranging from oratory to poetry and from politics to journalism. He is also called the father of Urdu journalism.
Born in January 19, 1873 in Kot Marth, Wazir Abad, Zafar Ali Khan was an intellectual, a poet, a well-versed writer, a good speaker and an ingenious politician.
After getting his early education from Mission High School Wazir Abad, he moved for higher studies to Aligarh Muslim University founded by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. Here he was student of Professor Arnald and Maulana Shibli Nomani while Molvi Abdul Haq, who was later called the ‘father of Urdu’ was his class fellow and Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar was senior to him.
During his student life, Maulana started writing poetic verses and prose. He appeared to be a well known writer of both Urdu and English literature. His articles were published in Makhzan Zameendar and other newspapers.
It is a common practice that youngsters after graduating from universities try to find good jobs and pursue their careers. Many also find their way in bureaucracy. But Zafar Ali Khan, after his graduation, chose a difficult path of journalism. At that time, practicing journalism was a hard nut to crack. Saying something against the kingdom of Britain, which was a super power then, was like inviting trouble. But he chose this path and stood for rights of the suppressed people. Many a times, he was jailed but this could not let him down. In his whole life, he spent almost a total number of 14 years in confinement. Many of his Eid celebrations were also made in the jail.
After the death of his father in 1908, he became the editor of ‘Zameendar’, a newspaper previously launched by his father. At that time, the leading newspapers in India like ‘Partab’, ‘Mehrab’ and ‘Vi Bharat’ were owned by Hindus, and Muslims did not get any coverage in them. ‘Zamindar’ emerged to be the voice of Muslims. It played a great part in the awakening of the Muslim masses.
At that time, Zameendar’s circulation was among seven to eight hundred and it cost only four annas, but later its circulation reached thousands and price also reached two to three rupees. It became the most influential Urdu daily of northern India. People who alone could not afford, jointly purchased it. Illiterate people sometimes paid money to someone to read the newspaper for them.
At first, Zameendar only focused on the coverage of farmers. But later it became the voice of all the Muslims of the subcontinent. The paper also attacked the policies of the zamindars and waderas (feudal lords), leading them to turn against Maulana Zafar Ali Khan. He made many enemies because he lashed out at injustice wherever he saw it, especially against the poor but never felt afraid and continued to raise voice for the depressed ones. He also never missed a chance to snub the British government.
In the consequences of writing against British government, he was jailed many times. Many a times, the security of ‘Zameendar’ was also confiscated, its declaration was cancelled and in no time, the Indian Muslims who could sacrifice their lives for him, collected a huge amount to deposit the security for ‘Zameendar’ so that the publication of the newspaper may continue.
His writings were enriched with precision and grandeur of words. His editorials had the roar of a lion and favoured the suppressed communities of the society. Even today, if someone wants to be a good editor, he must read the editorials by Zafar Ali Khan. My elders tell that people impatiently waited for ‘Zameendar’. They wanted to read its editorial and wished to know who Zafar Ali Khan had challenged. They wanted to read the new words used by Zafar Ali Khan. It is his favour for Urdu language that many new words used by Maulana Zafar Ali Khan became a part of it in such a way that they could not be then separated from it. ‘Zameendar’ was the newspaper through which Zafar Ali Khan was later known as the father of Urdu journalism.
Before Maulana’s entry into the field of journalism, the editors or owners of newspapers were called ‘Munshi‘. Most of them were illiterate and ignorant of the prevailing political and social environment and latest trends of modern age. But Zafar Ali Khan was a graduate of Aligarh Muslim University. He was the first one to hire the services of news agencies. He also appointed representatives of his newspaper in main cities of the subcontinent.
Maulana’s interest in poetry began during his childhood and his poems were filled with religious and political sentiments. He was the master of spontaneous poetic verses. He spread the message of the Pakistan Movement through his poetry. His poetry was full of love for the beloved Prophet (PBUH) and Muslim Ummah. Naats written by him are commonly recited now a days.
Books containing his poetry have been published as ‘Baharistan’, ‘Nigaristan’ and ‘Chamanistan’. His other works include ‘Marka-e-Mazhab-o-Science’, ‘Ghalba-e-Rum’, and an opera ‘Jang-e-Roos-o-Japan’. Zafar Ali Khan was also a translator. He started translating books in his student life. Maulana Shibli Nomani’s Al-Farooq was translated by him from Urdu to English. He also translated People of the Mist by H. Rider Haggard to Urdu as Sayr-e-Zulmet.
Apart from being a good journalist and a poet, Mualana Zafar Ali Khan was also a very famous political figure. He remained member of the Central Legislative Assembly of India for 10 years. He also participated in the Khilafat Movement. He was the only leader in the subcontinent who spent the maximum time of his life in jail for delivering speeches against the British Raj. Maulana was a man of his words. Jawahar Lal Nehru said, “It is true that many of our friends in politics opted different ways, but there is no doubt in that Maulana fought against British government bravely.”
Zafar Ali Khan was also a freedom champ, a companion of Quaid-e-Azam and supporter of the Pakistan Movement. He was determined to throw out the British from India. He was also one of the founders of the Muslim League. Quaid once said, “Give me two or three more persons like Zafar Ali Khan, I assure you that no power in the world will be able to defeat us.” Through these words of Quaid, one can imagine the power of his write-ups. Zafar Ali Khan had the gift of rhyme which people don’t commonly have.
Maulana was also an extraordinary orator. When he spoke, there was pin drop silence or people clapped for minutes. They chanted slogans like ‘long live Maulana’.
He was one of those intellectuals of Aligarh University who proved that the pen is mightier than the sword. He headed powerful movements and dominated the stage.
It is difficult to differentiate whether he was a great writer, a well-versed poet, a great politician or a seasoned journalist. He had equal command over English, Urdu, Persian and Arabic.
After a long illness of almost ten years, Zafar Ali Khan died on November 27‚ 1956. He was laid to rest in Karamabad. In his honour‚ a trust named ‘Zafar Ali Khan Trust’ was established. This trust conducts weekly meetings on every Saturday, where tribute is paid to Maulana Zafar Ali Khan and his services are remembered. It is the need of the hour that Maulana’s services must be included in syallabi and journalism students must be taught his life history and journalistic life. Students must be taught his style of editorial writing. Politicians can also get lessons from his life.