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The Al-Hilal was a weekly Urdu language newspaper established by the Indian leader Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and used as a medium for criticism of the British Raj in India. The first issue came out on 13 July 1912. The newspaper also espoused the cause of the Indian independence movement and exhorted Indian Muslims to join the movement. The newspaper was shut down under the Press Act of 1914. It was published from Calcutta.
The participation of the Muslim masses in the Swadeshi Movement was limited and the British colonial government had, through a policy of communal concessions and divide and rule, been working to ensure they would not join the Indian nationalist movement. Maulana Azad saw the launching of an Urdu newspaper as the best way to reach out to the Muslim masses to change their attitude towards foreign rule.
The Al- Hilal covered a range of issues related with theology, politics, wars and scientific advancement besides its critical coverage of the Raj in India and it went on to become a very popular newspaper, reaching a peak circulation of over 25,000, a new record for Urdu journalism then. The paper played a catalytic role in shaping Muslim opinion against the Raj, a fact acknowledged by many stalwarts of India’s freedom struggle. Mahatma Gandhi, in 1920, wrote in his publication, Young India, about how Azad used Al-Hilal as a medium for critiquing the British Raj.
In his Discovery of India, Jawaharlal Nehru describes Azad and his contribution through the Al-Hilal thus: "Abul Kalam Azad spoke in a new language to them in his weekly Al- Hilal. It was not only a new language in thought and approach, even its texture was different, for Azad's style was tense and virile, though a little difficult because of its Persian background. He used new phrases for new ideas and was a definite influence in giving shape to the Urdu language, as it is today. The older conservative leaders among the Muslims did not react favourably to all this and criticized Azad's opinions and approach. Yet not even the most learned of them could easily meet Azad in debate and argument, even on the basis of scripture and old tradition, for Azad's knowledge of the happened to be greater than theirs"
The British colonial government disapproved of the Al Hilal and demended securities from it under the Press Act before finally confiscating its press in 1914. The Al Hilal thus ceased to exist after being in operation for only two years. Azad in turn started another Urdu weekly, the Al-Balagh in 1914 which too came to an end in 1916 following Azad's internment at Ranchi.
The press that printed the Al Hilal was later bought by Mufti Shaukat Ali Fehmi, to start his Urdu monthly Deen Dunia. The press continued to be in use for almost five decades, publishing Urdu books and magazines till the 1990s when lithographic printing became obsolete. The Fehmi family then contacted universities, Urdu academies, museums and even the then President Shankar Dayal Sharma to ensure the preservation of Azad’s legacy. Finding no success, the press ultimately ended up being sold for scrap.
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