Maulana Zafar Ali Khan


Writer, poet, journalist and freedom champ, Maulana Zafar Ali Khan was born at Kot Mehrath, District Sialkot [Punjab] in 1873. He received his early education in Mission High School, Wazirabad and graduated from Aligarh Muslim University. Thereafter, he was appointed secretary to Nawab Mohsin-ul-Mulk who was then in Bombay. He worked for some time as a translator in Hyderabad, Deccan and rose to the post of Secretary, Home Department. He established a literary reputation by his editorship of the Deccan Review and authorship of a number of books of high literary merit.

In 1908, he came to Lahore and took over the charge of the daily Zamindar, which was founded by his father Maulvi Sirajuddin Ahmad in 1903. He is considered as the father of Urdu journalism, and Zamindar was at one time the most important paper of the Punjab. The Zamindar was an Urdu newspaper launched for the Muslims. It played a great part in the awakening of the Muslim masses and in forming their political outlook despite the fact that it had limited circulation since the Muslims lacked industry and commerce with the result that the advertisements were too meager to cope with the funds needed for the paper. Sometimes he couldn’t pay his staff. Maulana started his career as journalist in extremely odd and unfavorable circumstances. Lahore was center of Urdu publications and all the three well-established newspapers: Partab, Mehrab, and Vi Bharat were owned by Hindus. However, Maulana Zafar Ali Khan and Zamindar rendered matchless services to the Pakistan Movement. The pioneering work of Comrade (started by Maulana Muhammad Ali) and Zamindar has intrinsically to be duly acknowledged. In 1934 when the Punjab Government banned this paper, Maulana Zafar Ali Khan who invariably possessed remarkable courage and mettlesome spirit, sued and got the government orders revoked by the court. Next day he was thankful to God and wrote the a long poem starting from the following verses:

In the Modern Muslim India and the Birth of Pakistan, Dr. S. M. Ikram writes: He was young, forceful and courageous, and enthusiastically responded to the new political trends. In his hands the Zamindar became the most influential Urdu daily of Northern India and his role in politics was second only to that of Ali Brothers and Abul Kalam Azad during the Khilafat movement. It is worth mentioning that the only province of Pakistan, which had adopted Urdu as their own and developed it as their working language was Punjab, because their own mother tongue Punjabi was mostly a spoken language. Its original script “Gurmukhi” was never owned by the Muslims of Punjab because it was associated with the Sikh religious scriptures. Urdu, therefore, became the main written language of Punjab along with English and both were used almost equally as official and academic languages of the province. Punjabi intellectuals, writers, poets and journalists, the foremost among them being Allama Iqbal and Maulana Zafar Ali Khan followed by many other luminaries, enriched Urdu with loving care and made it the premier language of their province. After Delhi and Laukhnauw, Punjab played a great rule in promoting Urdu language. In this respect the book, Punjab main Urdu, written by Hafiz Mahmood Sheerani, is highly informative and knowledgeable.

Maulana Zafar Ali Khan possessed an extraordinary talent also as an orator and was an essayist of exceptional merit. Once as he came to the stage and tried to quote something taking his spectacles out of his pocket, he was hooted down; even a few people started yelling at him. But he remained quite unnerved, found his spectacles, and started speaking again. There was now pin drop silence and the same people who were hooting him exceedingly applauded him owing to his excellent speech and superb command on the language.

In addition to his marvelous capability of journalism, Maulana Zafar Ali Khan had fantastic gift of rhyme. His poems were replete with religious fervor and political sentiments. He was a devotee of Islam and of the Holy Eternally blessed Prophet (SAW) and is well-known for his naat goyee (versified tribute dedicated to the Holy Prophet). He was especially well versed in impromptu compositions. His poetical output has been published in “Baharistan”, “Nigaristan”, and “Chamanistan”. His other works are “Marka-e-Mazhab-o-Science”, “Ghalba-e-Rum”, “Sayr-e-Zulmet” and an opera “Jang-e-Roos-o-Japan”. He was very much impressed by Mela Ram Vafas knack of writing poetry. He thus advised a poetaster:

Because of his fiery temper, he was called Koh-e-aatash-fishaan (Volcano). But at the same time, he did not brook even the slightest caviling about what he spoke or wrote. When Vafa corrected the second line as:

Zafar Ali Khan was so much pleased with this correction that he continued to publish it with his eulogistic remarks in his newspaper for many a day. Besides his prolific poetry and outstanding contribution to journalism, he was a dauntless politician. Most of his life was spent in political activities. He eagerly supported Quaid-i-Azam and the Pakistan Movement. On March 23, 1940, the Lahore Resolution was seconded also by Maulana Zafar Ali Khan along with many others from Punjab. He was one of those intellectuals of Aligarh University who proved that the pen is mightier than the sword and headed powerful movements and dominated the public stage. His love and devotion for the Quaid was above board. Being a great champion of the Muslim cause, he wrote intrepidly against the policies of the British and was a stern critic of the Congress and its leaders. Once when the city of Lahore was visited by Gandhi, he did not spare him and wrote a wonderful poem starting from the lines:

When Sir Sikander Hayat was elected as Chief Minister to the Punjab, Maulana Zafar Ali Khan wrote the following line:

(Before long will come here again the regime of Emperor Akbar [the Great]with Sikander as Abul Fazl and Manoharlal as Todarmal.)
None could emulate him in writing verses extemporaneously. A few pieces of his poetry will show how adeptly he embellished his verses with the most seemly, pleasant and refined words:

The fact is that it was difficult to differentiate whether he was a great writer, a great political figure or a great journalist. He had equal command over English, Urdu, Persian and Arabic. He translated the work of Allama Shibli Nu’mani, al-Farooq so nicely under the title of Life of Umar the Great, Second Caliph of Islam in two volumes. Allama Iqbal paid rich tribute to Maulana Zafar Ali Khan and at oft-times loved to call on him and listen to his naatia poetry. Zafar Ali Khan started several movements like Tehreek Ittehad-i-Millat and Neeli Posh Tehreek under adverse circumstances. He gave a new life to freedom loving people. The Englishmen were strong in the sub-continent but he erased fear of the British from the minds of people. Maulana Zafar Ali Khan wrote a series of articles entitled Sarzamin-i-beyaain (The Land Without Law) dealing with the people of N.W.F.P. having some special grievances against the British administration since their civil liberties were acutely curtailed and the government officers had assumed complete autocratic powers.

After a protracted illness, he expired in 1956 and was buried in Karamabad near Wazirabad.


  16. Ikram, S.M., Modern Muslim India and the Birth of Pakistan, Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 1970.