Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali

Mohsin Aziz

(Residential halls of Aligarh Muslim University: Person behind the name series/ blog 3)

Hali hostel is one of the six residential hostels of Mohsinul Mulk Hall of the Aligarh Muslim University. The foundation stone of Mohsinul Mulk Hall was laid by the first Prime Minister of Independent India in 1963.

Sir Syed had to face lot of criticism and had to overcome many hurdles including that of being declared apostate in his mission but he was fortunate to have found a very dedicated group of supporters also. One of them was Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali, also known as Khwaja Altaf Hussain Hali. Hali was born in 1837 in Panipat and traced his lineage to Hazrat Abu Ayyub Ansari (R.A.A.). Hali’s family settled in Panipat about 700 years before his birth. One of his distinguished ancestor was Khwaja Malak Ali who migrated to India 700 years ago from Herat and settled in Panipat. Khwaja Malak Ali was granted several fertile villages by Ghayasuddin Balban and was appointed Qazi of his area and was given responsibility to control prices and manage graveyards of the learned. He was also given responsibility to give Eid Khutba (Hali, Altaf Hussain, 1927).

Hali enjoys a very prominent position in the history of Urdu literature and poetry. Hali was poet, biographer, author, critic. He was an exceptional prose writer as well. Hali had traditional education as per the norm of the day. He studies Quran, Arabic and Persian in his childhood. At the age of 17 he travelled to Delhi to study in Hussain Baksh ka Madrasa. The Madrasa was situated opposite Jama Masjid (Hameed, 2003). At the same time, Hali started writing Urdu and Persian poetry and took the takhallus (nom de plume) of Khasta (heart broken in the sense of tender heart). It is during his stay in Delhi that he met Mirza Ghalib and was impressed by his poetry. Mirza had may admirers who brought their poetry to him to get his opinion and help for improvement. It was difficult for budding poets to get Mirza Ghalib interested in their poetry and hence to get his guidance. However, when Khwaja Altaf Hussain showed his poetry to Mirza Ghalib, the master poet was impressed (which by the way was not an easy task) and advised Hali to continue to write poetry. Ghalib told him “Young man, I never advice anyone to write poetry but to you I say, if you don’t write poetry, you will be very harsh on your temperament“.

Soon the family found about his whereabouts and brought him back home. Hali got a job at collectors office in Hissar in 1856 (Hussain, S. A., 1986). While Hali was in Hissar, the First War of Independence broke out in 1857. The Britishers termed it mutiny (ghadar) and crushed it with heavy hand. In these difficult times, Hali decided to shift back to Panipat. He stayed in Panipat for almost four years. During this time his daughter Inayat Fatima and youngest son, Khwaja Sajjad Hussain were born. Khwaja Sajjad Hussain did his graduation from MAO college and became the captain of College cricket team. He was politically active and also became the president of student’s union (Hussain, S. A., 1986).

After spending four years in Panipat, Hali once again moved to Delhi. This not only gave him chance to meet Ghalib again but there he also met the rais of Jehangirabad, Nawab Mustafa Ali Khan Shaifta. Shaifta was not only nawab of Jehangirabad but was also a poet of high order who took islah (correction for poetry) from Mirza Ghalib just like Hali It is a tradition in Urdu poetry for young poets to show their kalaam (poetic writings) to an established master poet for correction and guidance). Shaifta offered to take Hali to Jehangirabad and become his son’s teacher guardian. Jehangirabad was near to Delhi. It allowed both Shaifta and Hali to visit Ghalib in Delhi quite often and take islah from him. However, Hali mentions that the company of Shaifta helped him more in his poetry then the islah of Ghalib but with the passage of time, Hali’s respect for Ghalib only kept on increasing. Most probably it was during this time that he changed in takhallus from Khasta to Hali (contemporary) on the recommendation of Ghalib (Hussain, S. A., 1986). When Ghalib passed away in 1869, Hali was deeply affected and wrote marsiya (elegiac poem lamenting the dead). This marsiya is considered one of the finest specimen of marsiya in Urdu poetry despite the fact that Urdu has produced marsiya poets of unmatched quality such as Anis and Dabeer besides many other.

Bulbuley hind mar gaya hehaat

Jis ki thi baat baat main ek baat

Uskey marney se mar gayi dilli

Khwaja nosha tha aur shahar baraat

Ek roshan dimagh tha na raha

Shahar main ek Chiragh tha na raha

In the same year, his friend and mentor, Shaifta also passed away. The death of Shaifta not only deeply saddened Hali but put him in quandary about his job. However, he soon got job in book depot of Punjab government and Hali moved from Delhi to Lahore. This job allowed ample opportunity to Hali to read western literature and opened new intellectual horizons for him. During his stay in Lahore he got in touch with Maulana Mohammad Hussain Azaad. Maulana Mohammad Hussain Azaad was promoting a different type of Urdu poetry which Hali liked very much. In fact, it was Lahore’s stay that changed the direction of Hali’s poetry. During this time, Delhi’s Anglo Arabic College offered him the post of Professor of Arabic which Hali accepted and shifted to Delhi.

Association with Sir Syed Ahmad Khan

Hali first met Sir Syed at a scientific society meeting at Aligarh in 1867. It was Shaifta who brought Hali along with him to the meeting. The second meeting of Hali with Sir Syed was at Lahore. In 1888 Hali travelled to Aligarh at the invitation of Sir Syed and stayed in Aligarh for few months (Khursheed, Ata, 2015). Before meeting Sir Syed, Hali had some reservations about him. But after meeting Sir Syed, Hali was convinced of Sir Syed good intentions and became his supporter. Hali support for the cause of Sir Syed flourished with time and continued even after the death of Sir Syed. Sir Syed requested Hali to write a marsiya on the death of a community after 1857. Hali obliged and wrote Musaddas e Hali and as they say, the rest is history.

Hui pahloye amna se huwaida

Dua e Khalil aur naveed e masiha

Wo Nabion main rahmat laqab paney wala

muraden gharibon ki bar laney wala

musibat main ghairon ke kaam aney wala

wo apney praye ka gham khaney wala

faqiron ka malja gharibon ka mawa

yatimon ka wali ghulamon ka mola

Who has not heard these immortal lines from Musaddas e Hali. Maulana Altaf Husaain Hali’sMusaddas-e-Madd-o-Jazr-e-Islam” commonly known as Musaddas-e-Hali (Musaddas on the ebb and flow of Islam) is perhaps one of the most read and powerful Urdu poems. It was first published in 1879 in Tahzib-ul-Akhlaq as well as in book form. It was written at the request of Sir Syed. The poem recalls Islam’s glorious past and mourned its declined in India. A poem which Hali called “dry, insipid, plain and simple poem” (Shackle & Majeed, 1997 ) took the Urdu speaking public with a storm (Sadiq, 1995).

The poem was written at the request of Sir Syed who felt that there is a need for a poem which laments the demise of Islam in India just as there was qasidah lamenting the demise of Muslims in Al Andalus (modern day Spain).

It was most probably the reading of Al Rundi’s famous Rithā’ al-Andalus, lament for the fall of seville (TIGNOL, E. 2016) that prompted Sir Syed to request Maulana Hali to write on the sad decline of Muslim community in India. Sir Syed told Hali that “there used to be mourners for Andalus but that our times are such that no one until now has mourned the condition of our community”. Sir Syed told Hali “God, my master, gave you a tongue but you do not speak; God gave you the marvelous ability to narrate but you do not use this miracle ; God fills our eyes with tears through rain bearing clouds but you do not let them flow one!” (Aligarh Institute Gazette, Aligarh, 26 Jan. 1878, p. 105.)

Musaddas has 296 stanzas containing 6 lines each. Hali traces the journey of Islam since its birth in Arabia. It tells how Muslims made tremendous progress in all walks of life and their contribution to the world. It then moves to the fall of Muslims in India from position of power to penury and powerlessness.

Sir Syed was mighty pleased with the Musaddas and opined that “with this Musaddas begins the modern age of Urdu poetry (Ross Masud, 1931) and famously said in a letter to Hali that “When, on the Day of Judgment, Allah will ask me, “What deeds have you brought”? I will say “I only made Hali write Musaddas and nothing else’ (Letter from Syed Ahmad Khan to Hali, Shimla, Park Hotel, 10 June 1879, In M. A. Mannan (2007). This shows that Sir Syed thought that Musaddas is good enough to get salvation for him on the day of judgement. There can not be a better appreciation of a book. According to Abid Hussain “thanks to Sir Syed, the community got a poet and the poet got a community” (Hussain, S. A., 1986).

The affect of Musaddas was electrifying to say the least. Even stage shows were made on it and the impact was such that people would burst into tears by the end of the drama. A series of poems imitating the style of the Musaddas as well as parodies based on it are testimony to both its popularity and impact.

Ram Babu Saksena (1927) in his survey of Urdu literature writes that “It was a revelation, a landmark in the literary history of Urdu language. A new star swam into the ken of Urdu poets. It gave a lead to the national and patriotic poems of India. The poem was printed and distributed and sung in assemblies, pulpits, mosques, and conferences“. In fact Hali is forerunner to Allama Iqbal and Shikwa and jawab e shikwa are without doubt culmination of Musaddas Hali.

It is worth mentioning that Hali gave the copyright of the Musaddas to the college so that the money collected could be used by the college fund. Sir Syed never let go of any opportunity to collect funds for the college. However this was different. It is to the credit of Sir Syed that he refused and told Hali that the Musaddas belonged to the community and the college would have no copyright over it. It is to the credit of Hali that despite paucity of money, he did did not keep copyrights and did not earn any royalty from its sale. Hali dedicated the Musaddas to the nation and to the community and gave open permission for it to be published and distributed by anybody (Hussain, S.A., 1986).

Pension from Hyderabad State

In 1887, Nawaab Asmaan Jah, Prime Minister of Hyderabad State, visited Aligarh. Sir Syed introduced Maulana Hali to Nawaab Asmaan Jah. The Nawaab was aware of the scholarship of Hali. He fixed a sum of 75 Hali Sicca per month (Till 1858, the Hyderabad State issued coins in the name of the Mughals. From 1858, Hyderabad State issued its own coins which were named as Hali Sicca meaning current coin to differentiate it from the Mughal coins. It was also called Osmania Sicca. For more details see, Reserve Bank of India website) as pension for Maulana Hali so that Maulana can concentrate on his work without having to worry about earning money for living. Hali immediately resigned from the Anglo Arabic School and dedicated to writing. Now it was difficult for Hali to remain in Delhi as all his friends and mentors had died one by one. In the words of Hali:

Ghalib hai na Shaifta, na Nayyar baqi

Wahshat hai na Salik hai na Anwar baqi

Hali ab isi ko bazme yaraan samjho

Yaron ke jo kutch dagh hain dil par baqi

In 1891, Hali visited Hyderabad as a part of deputation of trustees of Mohammadan Anglo Oriental College, his pension was increased by 25 Hali Sicca to 100 Hali Sicca (Hali, Altaf Hussain, 1927).

Hali’s contribution in the establishment Women’s College, Aligarh Muslim University

After the first war of independence in 1857, there was fierce reprisal from the Britishers. Thousands were hanged and Britishers took control of property of many more. A ten year old girl was one such unfortunate soul. She lost all her family members in 1857 and took refuge with Hali’s family. She spent rest of her life with Hali’s family. Hali was very much impressed by her resilience, patience and piety (Hussain, S. A., 1986). Some of the Hali’s poems are attributed to her. When Sheikh Abdullah started to propagate the idea of a girls school at Aligarh, he faced resistence from the society. To put his point forward, Sheikh Abdullah started a magazine called khatun. In 1905, at the request of Sheikh Abdullah, Hali wrote a poem in support of women’s poem – Chup ki daad (variously translated as homage to the silent and justice for the silent).

Ae maun! behnon! betiyon! dunya ki zeenat tum se hai

mulkon ki basti ho tumhin, qomon ki izzat tum se hai

Go nek mard aksar tumharey naam ke ashiq rahey

par nek hon ya bad, rahey sab muttafiq is per

jab tak jio tum, ilm o danish se raho mahroom yahan

ayi ho jaisi bekhabar, waisi hi jao be khabar (chup ki daad)

Chup ki daad praised women as courageous and caring. The poem talked about the hardships that a women has to undergo in her life. The poem mentioned that men are united in keeping women uneducated and ignorant and want women to remain unaware of knowledge. He besieged men to help women in getting educated and praised Begum Sultan Jahan for her support to the cause and cited her support as proof enough of the truthfulness of the venture. Chup ki daad gained quite popularity and played its role in changing the perception of the society towards women’s education. The poem played important role at a crucial time. The school got support from Begum Sultan Jahan and was opened a few months later (Salim, S., 2021)

The title of Shamsul Ulama

In 1904, Hali was given the title of Shamsul Ulama by the British Government. This title was reserved for the highly learned. The occasion was celebrated everywhere. Allama Shibli Nomani wrote a letter of congratulation. Shibli said “Maulana instead of you I will congratulate the title. Now the title has got respect” (Hussain, S. A., 1986). It would not be out of place to mention that Allama Shibli Nomani himself got the title of Shamsul Ulama from the British Government in 1894 while he was Professor at MAO College. Sir Syed was alive at that time and a grand function was arranged at the college to celebrate the occasion.

Works of Hali

Besides poetry Hali wrote books and articles also. His first book was Tiryaq e Masmoom in 1867. His next book was translation of a geology book from Arabic to Urdu during his stay at Lahore. The copyright of the book was given to University of the Punjab. During his Delhi stay he wrote Hayat e Saadi. His other notable work during that period was Yadgar e Ghalib. His major work in the field of critique of poetry is muqadma sher of shayari. But his magnum opus is biography of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan – Hayat e Jawed. Besides he wrote numerous articles primarily in Aligarh Institute Gazette and Tehzibul Akhlaq (Hali, Altaf Hussain, 1927).

Hali was no doubt a rare person. Very soft spoken but very resolute in his ideas. He talked about women’s education when the society was not ready for it. He openly expressed his ideas without fear or favour. He was a true admirer of Sir Syed and remained associated with the Aligarh Movement till his death. His death was mourned by Allama Iqbal:

Shibli ko ro rahe they abhii ahley gulistan

Hali bhi ho Gaya sue firdosey rah naward

References:

Hameed, Syeda, Syedain (2003)  Hali’s Musaddas: A Story in Verse of the Ebb and Tide of Islam (New Delhi: HarperCollins.

Hussain, Saleha Abid (1986) Yadgar-e-Hali: Tazkira-e-Khwaja Altaf Hussain Hali (5th Edition). New Delhi: Anjuman Taraqi Urdu Hind.

C. Shackle and J. Majeed, Hali’s (1997) Musaddas: the flow and ebb of Islam. Delhi: Oxford University Press

M. Sadiq, A History of Urdu Literature (Delhi, 1995), p. 347.

Urdu re-adaptation of an Arabic classic, al-Rundi’s famous Lament for the fall of Seville.

Ross Masud (1931) Khutut e Sir Syed, Ed. Ross Masud: Badayun  

M. A. Mannan (ed), Selected Letters of Sir Syed Ahmad, Aligarh, 2007

Tignol, E. (2016). A Note on the Origins of Hali’s – Madd-o Jazr-e Islām. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 26(4), 585-589. doi:10.1017/S1356186316000080

Ram Babu Saksena (1940) A History of Urdu Literature, pp. 215-216, Allahabad.

Salim, Saquib (2021, June 6) How Hali’s poem paved way for Women’s College at AMU. Awaztheyouth. Available at: https://www.awazthevoice.in/women-news/how-hali-s-poem-paved-way-for-women-s-college-at-amu-2935.html. Accessed on 2 December 2021.

Hali, Altaf Hussain (1927) Maulana Hali ki khud nosht sawaneh umri, Maarif, May, Vol. 19, No. 5, pp. 344-351.

Reserve Bank of India (2021) Available at: https://rbi.org.in/Scripts/pm_hyderabad.aspx. Accessed on 5 December 2021.

Khursheed, Ata (2015) Maulana Hali aur Aligarh, Tahzibul Akhlaq, Vol.34. No.1, pp. 41-48

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