Whose Urdu is it anyway?

Urdu has an identity crisis in India -is it an Indian language or just a Muslim language? Liberals will claim that it is a secular language and list names of non-Muslim writers and poets who are still counted among the legends of Urdu. But if it is a secular language and belongs as much to non-Muslims as Muslims of India then “where are the non-Muslim writers, poets, and intellectuals who love Urdu language and literature and have made teaching Urdu a mission of their lives?” asks Arif Iqbal, editor of Urdu Book Review in the Apri-June 2011 issue of the magazine.

Urdu bazar sign

Urdu Bazar Road sign in Delhi, but where is Urdu? [Photo: TwoCircles.net]

But then is it right to say Urdu is a Muslim language? Iqbal asks how many Darul Ulooms have separate departments of Urdu established? and “what are their contributions in collecting and protecting Urdu’s knowledge capital?”

We have been busy discussing in futile debates like what should be Urdu’s script or whether this language should be linked to employment.

There haven been some sensible suggestions e.g. instead of asking for Urdu-medium schools rather ask Urdu to be made an elective subject in school, colleges, and universities. But then Arif Iqbal asks “who will start this struggle?”

Read more about Arif Iqbal and Urdu Book Review here.

To subscribe UBR:

Urdu Book Review
1739/3 (Basement)
New Kohinoor Hotel
Pataudi House
New Delhi 110 002
Phone: 91-9953630788

The Annual Of Urdu Studies: Urdu Scholarship In English Language

Urdu scholarly journal seeks immediate help to continue publishing

News of Urdu’s demise has been written many times. But Urdu has continued to grow at steady pace because of a few dedicated souls, one of them being Prof. Muhammad Umar Memon. He is the editor and publisher of the Annual of Urdu Studies, the only scholarly journal about Urdu in English language.

The Annual of Urdu Studies (AUS) was started in 1980 by Prof. C. M. Naim of the University of Chicago, who published it from 1981 to 1990. Three years later, Prof. Memon at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, took over the responsibility of this journal. He has published this journal without a break since 1993. It is an annual publication and has so far published 24 issues.

Video review of the AUS

The importance of this journal can be gauged from the fact that many eminent writers and scholars have contributed to it, writers like Ralph Russsell, David Matthews, Mushirul Hasan, Alok Rai, Muhammad Hasan Askari, Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, and Agha Shahid Ali among others. About 50 international universities representing 13 countries are its subscribers. It is indexed by many journal databases and therefore its articles are accessible and available to researchers interested in Urdu language and Urdu literary culture of South Asia.

From its inception the journal has been priced so that it is affordable to everyone. In 29 years, when the price of everything else has gone up many fold, the Annual still sells at its original price of $18, plus postage=$25 (for individual subscription), by far the cheapest scholarly journal available. Tastefully published on expensive paper, it is a high quality publication with equally high quality content. In any of its issue you will find scholarly articles about various aspects of Urdu literature, selected Urdu prose and poetry translated especially for the journal. The journal also has a section of selected Urdu works published in Urdu text. All in all, each issue is a collector’s edition and adds to the richness of any library.

Considering that a vast number of people interested in Urdu language live in South Asia and do not have access to libraries or are unable to take out a subscription, the journal has maintained a website since 2001. The current as well as all the 23 back issues of the journal are available at the website for free download; this has increased the usability and accessibility of the journal. But it has also meant that many libraries now prefer to get the journal for free online rather than pay for the printed copy. The AUS has lost many subscriptions since launching the website.

Funding is an important consideration for the continued existence of a scholarly enterprise. The AUS was never run as a business. It also depended on financial support. Since moving to Madison, Wisconsin, the AUS has been partially funded by American Institute of Pakistan Studies (AIPS). It would appear that the AIPS has been trying to stop the funding in the recent years; in fact a committee was setup in 2008 to report to AIPS about whether they should continue their partial funding to the AUS. The committee of Elena Bashir, Jennifer Cole, and Frances Pritchett looked into all aspects of the journal and recommended continuation of funding. But for some reason the AIPS has now acted against the recommendations of its own committee and decided to terminate its full funding in June 2010, offering instead a miniscule amount that will effectively kill this valuable publication.

Prof. Umar Memon

All those who are familiar with this journal will agree that it should not cease publication. Prof. Memon has sent a letter of appeal to supporters around the world for financial help. Support has come from different corners of the world but still not enough and not at the level that will ensure the continued survival of this important journal.

An urgent and big effort is needed to save this journal and Urdu. As the committee wrote in its report, “given the inroads that English is making in South Asia, the future of Urdu depends partly on people around the world taking an interest in it, beyond the narrow scholarly community.” The Annual of Urdu Studies is serving an important need. The AUS is run not as a journal but as a mission by Prof. Memon and Assistant Editor Jane A. Shum, and their important work needs to be supported by people who claim to love Urdu.

Make your contribution/donation by check payable to

The University of Wisconsin / Board of Regents

and mail it to:

Muhammad Umar Memon

Professor Emeritus

Dept. of Languages & Cultures of Asia

University of Wisconsin

1220 Linden Drive

Madison, Wisconsin 53706

(Please Note: The contribution of U.S. donors will be tax deductible. In December such donors will receive a letter of thanks acknowledging their contribution to file with their income tax papers. The University’s Tax ID, in case it is needed, is: EIN 39-1805963.)



Kashif-ul-Huda is a subscriber of the journal and has also contributed one article.