THE year 2019 marked Muhammad Hasan Askari’s centennial. But it passed almost unnoticed, unlike the centenaries of N.M. Rashid, Miraji, Manto and many others.

Aside from a few articles or special issues published by literary journals to commemorate the occasion, not much activity took place in literary arena on Hasan Askari’s 100th birthday. Of course, Manto, Rashid, Miraji and others whose centennials were organised were literary colossi and they deserved it in every way. But was Askari of a lesser stature? Not at all, by no means. Then why this indifference? Can one deny the indelible marks that Askari left on Urdu literature and especially criticism? Can one forget the ripples that Askari’s writings made and that still keep on hitting the shores 40 years after his death?

Hasan Askari, one of Urdu’s most influential modern-day critics, had established, almost single-handedly, a new school of thought in Urdu literature and criticism, which is known as ‘rivayet ka dabistan’, or traditionalist school of thought. Later on, the scholars and critics who in a way or the other became a part of Askari’s school or traditionalist school include Saleem Ahmed, Jamal Panipati, Siraj-i-Muneer, Tehseen Firaqi, Suhail Umer, Mubeen Mirza, Aziz Ibn-ul-Hasan and many more. Those who were partially or temporarily impressed or inspired by Askari include some big names too like Shamsur Rahman Farooqi, Mumtaz Shirin, Suhail Ahmed Khan and Muhammad Umer Memon.

One of the reasons Askari’s centenary elicited a tepid response is that the traditionalists are on the retreat these days and can hardly offer their views without running the risk of being demonised in media, both mainstream and social (this writer, too, has on some occasions received some pointed queries through emails and SMSs). But there still are some writers and critics who are influenced by traditionalist ideology and present their views boldly and unapologetically. One such critic is Dr Aziz Ibn-ul-Hasan and his book on Askari is among the works that have been published to coincide with Askari’s centenary.

The book, titled Muhammad Hasan Askari: Adabi Aur Fikri Safar (or Muhammad Hasan Askari: Literary and Intellectual Journey) was published in November last year, exactly a hundred years after Askari’s birth. It is a detailed biography of Hasan Askari as well as a critical analysis of his mental and intellectual development, his critical theories, his so-called mercurial attitude that made him change his views often and his disapproval of certain aspects of Western culture and Western philosophy.

Beginning right from Askari’s birth in Sarawah, district of Meerut, UP, on November 5, 1919, the book takes the reader to a journey through Askari’s life and his intellectual pursuits, his ideology, his cultural and intellectual views, how he was inspired by the French orientalist René Guénon and how he developed his peculiar worldview through years of deep study, research and analysis. One of the most interesting parts of the book are the ones that narrate Askari’s mental odyssey through terrains like scepticism, progressivism, Modernism and, finally, religion and particularly Sufism and Islam. It also tells of Askari’s skirmishes with proponents of different ideologies, especially during his movement for Pakistani literature and Islamic literature.

To tell the story of Askari’s 40-year-long literary career and its vicissitudes, Aziz Ibn-ul-Hasan has consulted a large number of sources that include books, articles, interviews and letters. In fact it was his PhD dissertation from which Aziz Ibn-ul-Hasan has carved out this intriguing book. In his earlier works too Aziz Ibn-ul-Hasan had shown acumen for analysing literary theories and critical notions with a remarkable insight. Shamim Hanafi in his article published in special issue of Istia’ara, a literary magazine published form Lahore, says that “the zeal and the sense of responsibility with which Aziz Ibn-ul-Hasan has taken upon himself to study and analyse Askari and his critical theories, no other person has done it”.

Hanafi adds that “Urdu’s new criticism begins with Askari and Miraji and having passed through Intizar Hussain, Qurratulain Hyder, Mumtaz Shirin and Shamsur Rahman Farooqi comes back to Askari. Askari is not only Urdu’s greatest critic but he is also the most far-sighted, tolerant, unbiased and interesting critic too”. The book has been published by Iqbal International Institute, Intern­ational Islamic University, Islamabad.

Another book on Askari to mark his 100th birthday is Muhammad Hasan Askari: Shakhs-o-Aks. Published by Lahore’s Aks Publications, it is a collection of articles on Muhammad Hasan Askari. Written by some well-know scholars and compiled by Prof Ishtiaq Ahmed, the book presents 15 essays, some of them pen-sketches, and they cover Askari as a person. These pieces record Askari’s personal life and he is reflected as a loving, kind and humble person who adored reading and contemplation.

Aside from Istia’ara, Lahore, a special issue on Askari was also published by Urdu Adab, the quarterly literary journal published by Delhi’s Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu.

Muhammad Hasan Askari died in Karachi on January 18, 1978.

Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2020