Khwaja Altaf Hussain ‘Hali’, an Urdu poet, writer and social reformer was born in Panipat, Punjab in 1837. He was not only a great poet but, a critic, a teacher, a reformer and an impressive prose-writer. He was the last pupil of ‘Mirza Ghalib’ and a close friend of ‘Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’, founder of Aligarh Muslim University. Circumstances did not allow him to get formal education in a school or college, but through sustained self-effort, he managed to acquire, perfect command of Urdu, Persian and Arabic, and a good working knowledge of English. He later moved to Delhi where he wished to study the Islamic theology and poetic tradition. He was forced to return home, and pursued a government job until displaced by the Independence movement of 1857. After this, he drifted from job to job for several years, and finally settled in Lahore in the mid-1870s.

Hali, on request of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan he wrote the famous Mussadas: ‘Musaddas e-Madd o-Jazr e-Islam’ which was published in 1879. Halis' Mussadas was about the rise and fall of the Muslims. Mussadas took Muslim of India by storm. It created a wide spread awakening amongst the Muslims of India. Its extracts are still being taught in Muslim schools and recited in religious and educational functions. Hali was the first major poet to put forward “the theory that literature should be harnessed into the service of the community, and made to advance the cause of social welfare and betterment.” Altaf Hussain Hali, served the Aligarh movement with considerable dedication, validating Sir Syed Ahmad's call for change among Muslims. His simple and deeply moving poetry inspired millions and awakened a decadent people to revive their lost glory and look to the future with renewed hope. Hali’s construction of Islam, his understanding of himself as a Muslim, and as an Indian living in British India, are crucial in tracing the historical development of Islam in South Asia. He shared a political heritage and language, which helped reconstruct Muslim identity in the 19th century. Hali came into prominence during one of the darkest hours of Indian Muslim history. The Muslims had taken lead in India's first war of independence against the British in 1857, and after losing the war had to face the brunt of the victor's revenge.

As a poet he did not confine himself within the bounds of the ghazal, but successfully exploited the other poetic forms such as the Nazm, the Rubai, and the Marsia. More particularly, he harnessed his poetic abilities to the higher aims of social and moral edification. His famous long poem, ‘Musaddas-e-Hali’, examines the state of social and moral degradation prevalent in the then contemporary Muslim society. His ‘Muqaddama-e-Shair-o-Shairi’, which he wrote as a preface of his Diwan, is regarded as a pioneering work of literary criticism.

He has also written memorable biographies of ‘Ghalib’, ‘Saadi’, ‘Shirazi’, and ‘Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’, entitled respectively, ‘Yaadgar-e-Ghalib’, ‘Hayat-e-Saadi’, and ‘Hayat-e-Javed’. His poem "Barkha-Rut," describes the beauties of nature in the rainy season; "Hub-e-Watan," underscores the virtues of patriotism; while "Bewa Ki Munajaat" focuses on the plight of widows in Indian society. Hali’s interests were wide-ranging, and his literary abilities were commensurate with his humanitarian aims. His patriotic nazm like ‘Hubbe Watan’ went a long way in fostering Hindu-Muslim unity that was being undermined by the British. In his novel, ‘Majlis-un Nisan’, Hali emphasizes the need of educating women. His marsia on Ghalib is also a well acclaimed work.

Hali passed away on 30th September 1914 in Panipat


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