The mighty Indian National Congress and its undisputed leader, Mahatama Gandhi, had championed the cause of Hindi as the National Language of India. He had brushed aside Urdu, as the language of Muslims, written in the Quranic script. But a frail-bodied, resourceless man took up this challenge to prove that Urdu, born and bred in India, having been developed by Muslims and Hindus alike, cannot be treated as a language of one community only. This man was Maulvi Abdul Haq whose devotion to his cause, at last, compelled the great Mahatma to change his view and admit in the Bhartiya Sahitya Parishad meeting held at Nagpur that Hindustani, written both in Arabic and Devanagri scripts, was the national language of the subcontinent.
Dr Maulvi Abdul Haq, who was later popularly known as Baba-e-Urdu, lived, laboured and died for Urdu. There could be few parallels to his devotion to a mission, which will continue to inspire all those who struggle and make sacrifices for a noble cause.
He was the last in the galaxy of Urdu luminaries that glittered during the 19-20 century. These included Sir Syed, Azad, Hali, Shibli and Dr Nazir Ahmad. Abdul Haq was born in March 1870 in a middle-class family of village Sarawan, Tehsil Hapur, District Meerut (U.P.). His father’s name was Sheikh Ali Hasan.
He received his early education in his home village and later moved to Aligarh for higher studies. Here he came under the influence of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan who inspired him with his perseverance, unlimited energy and lucid Urdu prose-qualities which were creditably acquired by Abdul Haq himself.
Abdul Haq graduated from Aligarh in 1894 with High Proficiency in Mathematics. He competed for Honours in Mathematics with no less a person than the late Dr Ziauddin Ahmad. In Aligarh, he came under the influence of Sir Syed Ahmad who kindled in him the flame of Urdu which burnt in his heart till his last breath.
He moved to Hyderabad in 1895 as a teacher in the Madrassa-e-Asafiah. Here he started his magazine Assar. He was appointed Honorary General Secretary of the Anjuman Taraqqi-e-Urdu in 1912 and it was then that people could discover his devotion, drive and energy. The Anjuman created in 1903 by the Muslim Education Conference was hitherto a lifeless body. Maulvi Abdul Haq’s association with it as Secretary soon made it a virile organization charged with a noble mission. The Head Office of the Anjuman remained at Aurangabad with its Secretary for 25 years. He served in the Education Department of Hyderabad State for a considerable time and retired from the State Service as the Principal of Aurangabad College.
Immediately afterward, he was offered the Chair of Urdu at the Osmania University. But he did not occupy it for long and moved to Delhi after resigning it.
During his stay in Hyderabad which lasted for about 45 years, he made valuable contributions to the establishment of Osmania University and the organization of the Translation Bureau which under his supervision as Nazim translated hundreds of technical and classical books from foreign languages into Urdu.
The Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu was set up by the All-India Muhammadan Educational Conference in 1903 to check the rising tide of Hindi. Its first Secretary was Maulana Shibli Nomani, He resigned in 1905 and was succeeded by Habibur Rahman Khan Sherwani and later by Aziz Mirza. Maulvi Abdul Haq, who was appointed Secretary of the Anjuman, was greatly instrumental in making it a virile organization. His association with the Anjuman lasted for 50 years, till his death in 1961.
The Head Office of the Anjuman moved to Delhi along with him in the early thirties. This was the time when the Indian National Congress flushed with success at the polls had taken up the cause of Hindi as the national language of the subcontinent. Mahatma Gandhi and his associates had openly declared that Urdu was the language of the Muslims written in Quranic script. The Vidiya Mandir and Wardha schemes sponsored under the patronage of Mahatma Gandhi and his associates had given Hindi a privileged place at the cost of Urdu which, long before, during the British regime had been declared the Court language of Northern India.
It was this challenge of the powerful All-India Congress, with its unlimited financial and other resources, that the Secretary of the Anjuman with his limited resources had to face. He traveled widely from 1939 to 1947, in every nook and comer of the country, advocating the cause of Urdu. He fought with courage and conviction with the powerful Congress both on the platform and through the Press. His fortitude and unlimited energy, at last, obliged the great Mahatma to yield and accept Hindustani-written both in Devanagri and Arabic script as the Lingua-Franca of the subcontinent.
The All-India Muhammadan Educational Conference had long suspended its financial assistance to Anjuman. But Maulvi Abdul Haq gave the Anjuman his life earnings. He made it a dynamic organization which had branches all over the country. At the time of the partition of the Indian subcontinent, the Anjuman had assets worth Rs, half a million. More than 250 books were translated and compiled by it.
The most ambitious program of the Anjuman was the Compilation of the Dictionary of Scientific Terms which was started in 1917 and was completed under his supervision in 1925 when the Anjuman published this invaluable dictionary. The Anjuman, under his Editorship, started three journals, including the quarterly “Urdu”, which was launched by Maulvi Abdul Haq at Aurangabad in 1921 and was soon recognized as the best literary journal in the country.
Most of the literary researches about Urdu, conducted under the auspices of the Anjuman, specially about the early Urdu literature, were done by Maulvi Abdul Haq himself. He had taken up the early development of Urdu literature of a period several hundred years before Wali.
With the assumption of power by the All-India National Congress, first in the Provinces, and later at the Centre, Urdu-Hindi controversy had taken a serious political turn and assumed unusual importance. Hindi was patronized by the Hindu Congress and backed by its unlimited financial resources and powerful press. Urdu, which was backed by the Muslim League had one man behind it, Maulvi Abdul Haq-who had made it as his life mission. It was at this stage that he came in contact with Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who extended him his whole-hearted support.
In September 1947, when Delhi was in the grip of communal frenzy, the Head Office of the Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu in Dariyaganj was set on fire and many invaluable manuscripts were reduced to ashes. This has only one parallel, though on a much bigger scale, in the burning of the invaluable literary treasures of Baghdad by Hulaku Khan in 1258, of the magnificent library of Tripoli (Syria) by the Crusaders, and of the famous library of Alexandria (Egypt) by Julius Caeser.
This act of vandalism broke Maulvi Abdul Haq’s heart but not his indomitable spirit. He had to migrate to Pakistan, to start his work afresh in the newly-born country.
He settled down at Karachi and started the Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu, Pakistan, which founded the Urdu College, a unique experiment in the country of teaching all sciences and arts through the Urdu medium. In this, he was very successful as was abundantly clear from the splendid results of the Urdu College in the University examinations which brought home the fact that students could learn difficult subjects better through the medium of their mother tongue, and that Urdu was capable of teaching all subjects. His ambition was to establish an Urdu University in Pakistan on the lines of the Osmania University of Hyderabad, but he did not live to realize this ambition.
In Pakistan, he had no easy task. He had to work hard for the recognition of Urdu as the State Language of Pakistan and its introduction as the medium of instruction in educational institutions and as the official language in the Government and other offices. As expected, he had to encounter stiff opposition from the regional languages of Pakistan and serious resistance from the “Englishminded” civil servants of the country. The oft-repeated changes in the Government in Pakistan which ultimately led to the political domination of civil servants in the country, marred the progress of Urdu and the realization of the dream of Maulvi Abdul Haq to make Urdu as State language of Pakistan in the practical sense, applicable to all spheres of life. The anti-national narrow-mindedness of the “English-minded” civil servants, stood in the way of Baba-e-Urdu realizing his dream during his lifetime.
Maulvi Abdul Haq has made a lasting contribution to literary research in Urdu. He has creditably edited many unknown and rare Urdu Tazkiras and Diwans. These included Malukars Shuara-i-Bijapur Ka Kalam-o-Halaat Ka Jaiza aur Tabsara, Mulla Nusrati, Marhatti Zaban Par Farsi Ka Asar, Urdu Ki Nasho Numa Men Sufia-i-Kiram Ka Kaam, Muqaddmaat (Two Volumes), Tanqeedaat (Two Volumes), Khutbaat, Chand Ham Asar, Intikhab-i-Kalaami-i-Mir, Intikhabi-Dagh, Hali-Halaat-o-Afkar, Mazameen-i-Abdul Haq, and Alam-i-Islam. He has also edited and published scores of manuscripts, including Sabras.
He has also compiled Urdu Grammars, namely, Urdu Sarf-o-Nahy and Qawaid-i-Urdu. He has compiled English into Urdu dictionaries, namely, Standard English-Urdu Dictionary (for students), Popular English-Urdu Dictionary (for school children), and Qadeem Urdu Lughaat. But his monumental work was the Urdu Dictionary of Scientific Terms which had enabled the teaching of technical and scientific subjects through Urdu medium in Osmania University, Hyderabad (Deccan). His other imperishable work is Chund Ham Asar (A few contemporaries) in which he has very lucidly and accurately given the pen portraits of some of his famous contemporaries.
His prose is distinguished for its simplicity, brevity, and lucidity, devoid of verbosity and unnecessary ornamentation.
As a writer, Maulvi Abdul Haq is one of the stylists of modern Urdu prose which includes Hasan Nizami, Abul Kalam Azad, Niaz Fatehpuri, Abdul Majid Dariyabadi, Rashid Ahmad Siddiqi and Qazi Abdul Ghaffar.
Maulvi Abdul Haq died in Karachi on August 16, 1961. With him passed away an inimitable stylist of Urdu prose, an ardent devotee of learning and literature who symbolized in his person a whole century of Muslim culture prevailing in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent. He was the greatest figure in Urdu literature after Sir Syed Ahmad Khan-and one who lived and died for Urdu.
The people and the Government of Pakistan, deeply mourning his death, paid rich tributes to him for his erudition and dedication to the cause of Urdu.