May 5, 2014 By Omar Khalidi

Muslim Print Journalism in India: A Course Correction

Media3Newspapers and magazines everywhere have played a major role in informing the readers and influencing public opinion since the press began in India in the nineteenth century. Like in all other aspects of modernization, Muslims lagged behind almost every group in journalism. This article reviews English language Muslim press in India since independence and suggests concrete steps for improvement.

Leaving aside Muslim journalism in Persian and Urdu for the time being, we know of a handful of English newspapers and magazines the community members ran since the last hundred years. Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar’s (1876-1931) Comrade and Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948)’s Dawn, which was founded in Delhi in 1941 come to mind. Comrade was like a flash in the pan, as it published for barely 3 years, 1911-14. Dawn departed to Karachi at the dawn of independence and Pakistan’s creation.

Between August 1947 and early 1950s, there was no English press devoted to Muslim issues. From around mid 1950s to mid 1960s only two low circulation magazines covered stories of Muslim interest: one was Victor Courtois, (d. 1960) a Belgian Catholic’s paper published from 1955 to 1960 in Calcutta and Siraat of Indian Union Muslim League, published in Madras in the 1960s. The Jamaat-i Islami’s Radiance was launched in 1963. The Jamiat al-Ulama collected 600,000 rupees in the 1960s to start an English daily newspaper but failed to accomplish the goal.

For the next two decades, Radiance shined over as the only paper in English focusing on Muslim issues, albeit from a Jamaat-i Islami perspective, until Syed Shahabuddin, a retired IFS officer and politician (b. 1924) began his Muslim India in 1983, which folded up in December 2002; then The Milli Gazette resumed it in 2003 only to close it in January 2005. Given Syed Shahabuddin’s amazing energy, it is unsurprising that he revived Muslim India, a second time in 2008.

In mid 1990s, Muslim elite in Delhi led by Sayyid Abulhasan Ali Nadwi, Syed Hamid and Hakim Abdulhamid and some businessmen tried to launch a daily newspaper in English. The effort was fruitless. Instead, Syed Hamid began a tabloid One Nation Chronicle in October 1989 in Delhi but it failed to make a mark and changed as a fortnightly under a new name Nation and the World and it is still published. A Bangalore-based businessman A.W. Saadatullah Khan started a fortnightly Islamic Voice in 1987, which began an online edition in 2004. At the dawn of the twentieth century Zafarulislam Khan began The Milli Gazette in New Delhi in January 2000. The most recent additions are the Eastern Crescent, run by Markaz al-Maarif of Assam since 2006 and Eastern Post of Kolkata which began in August 2007.

Regardless of its intellectual and physical qualities, Radiance remains the oldest surviving magazine. Its subtitle “Views weekly,” aptly sums up the majority of its contents, “views,” which are just that, not always backed up by data. Muslim India’s contents are not original but copied from other sources. Islamic Voice is advertisement intensive, with some original and copied articles. The Milli Gazette publishes longer pieces, but like other magazines discussed here, they are devoid of statistics. Given that India is a vast country and the resources of the magazines meagre, it is understandable that Islamic Voice and The Milli Gazette’s contents are south and north intensive. The emergence Eastern Post is welcome addition for the coverage of West Bengal for its large Muslim population.

Journalism in Theory

What does one expect from any journalistic writing? A minimum is a story based on the simple, eminently logical, straightforward principle of who, what, where, when, and why? Does the press devoted to Muslim issues in India follow the principle? If not why not? What can be done about it? The present writer has read almost all magazines listed here from Radiance since 1963 to Eastern Post, which started in 2007. I find that all the magazines do an extremely poor job of reporting factual news by not strictly following the ideal journalistic norms of who, what, where, when and why.

Lack of professionalism in Writing

A majority of the times, there is little clarity in the news. Often names of places are assumed to be known even if they are obscure villages in a vast country like India. No indication is given of their location within a state, much less within a district. Maps are of course rarely provided. Dates are routinely absent. Many stories begin with words like “recently,” “sometime back,” “some years ago,” with no attempt at precision. Life spans of even the most famous persons are seldom given. Terms, concepts, ideas, abbreviations, and acronyms often go unexplained or unexpanded. Headlines often do not explain the content and usually written without adequate background. Most of the stories are without statistics, much less statistics over time for comparative purposes. Original source of articles are often missing or deliberately not included to give the impression that these articles are original to the magazine.

Themes and Topics of Muslim Journalism

Regarding topics and themes within the papers, there is an excessive preoccupation with the “Islamic, Muslim World,” meaning mostly the Middle East and within it, the Palestine issue. Nothing original is written about these topics as none of the journalists has a first hand experience of the region. There seems to be little realization among the editors and management that nobody cares to read unoriginal writings about places far off from India.

All of the Muslim magazines lack journalists in the field to cover even the important events and developments in their own immediate physical neighbourhood. This was dramatically illustrated when both Radiance and The Milli Gazette failed to cover Batla House police encounters of unarmed civilian Muslims in September 2008 in New Delhi. It is shocking that neither of the two magazines had staff to be deployed in an area literally walking distance from their offices. Instead both merely copied the findings of NGOS and Jamia Millia Islamia faculty findings.
What can be done? Suggested Topics for Investigative Journalism


I have been an avid reader of Radiance, Muslim India, Islamic Voice, and The Milli Gazette. The editors and management of all four magazines are my friends and I have written for all four. So what I say here is on the lines of Allama Iqbal’s famous line, “Khugar-i hamd se thoda sa gila bhi sun lay,” hear the complaints of an avid admirer! My major works, Khaki and Ethnic Violence in India, 2003 and Muslims in Indian Economy, 2006, are replete with references to all three print magazines. I have cited them so many times—wherever appropriate, of course—that at least one reviewer of my book complained of my reliance on Radiance, of course forgetting that I have cited Economic & Political Weekly, Organizer and numerous other Indian journals as well. My plea therefore is for the magazines cited here to consider the following topics for investigation:

1. Compare development—number of schools, hospitals, roads, irrigation and power, water and sanitation—in Muslim majority districts or taaluqas/tahsils with Hindu-majority districts and sub-districts. An excellent comparison would be Murshidabad with Birbhum, for example. Or Muslim majority taaluqas of Bidar, Karnataka with Hindu-majority taaluqas in the same district.
2. Investigate the working of Haj Committees, Urdu Academies, Minorities Commissions, Madrasa Boards, and Waqf Boards—both at national and central levels.
3. Monitor the performance of Muslim members of state legislatures, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. Do they speak out or they are absent from attendance of the legislatures? If present, are they speaking out at all? How many bills did they introduce or participate in debates?
4. Scrutinize the activities of Muslim organizations and individuals who collect money from Muslims. Do Muslim organizations give accounts of zakat, fitraht, khairat, sadaqat, or goods—skins of sacrificial animals collected every year. Asking for accounts is to make the organizations and individuals accountable to the community. An organization with transparent accounts is likely to attract more funds, not less.
5. Audit the performance of Muslim educational institutions receiving funds from the state. For example, what is the intellectual and scientific output of Aligarh and Jamia faculty members since last six decades? Have they published any of their research in peer-reviewed journals of national and international reputation? What in particular is their contribution to studies on the economic and political situation of Indian Muslims?
6. Don’t forget that all reportage must be based on the simple, eminently logical, straightforward principle of who, what, where, when, and why? They will vastly improve the quality of the contents.

These are suggested topics. Further topics and themes can ensue if the brains of the community and its well-wishers everywhere can participate in an open conversation free from personal vendettas and selfish agendas.


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