The Musalman: all you need to know about the world’s only handwritten newspaper

By Elton Gomes

Established in 1927, The Musalman is India’s only newspaper that is completely handwritten. The four-page newspaper is based in Chennai, and has roughly 21,000 readers.

In the age of rapid digitisation, the Musalman has stood the test of time, and has been in production since the past 91 years. According to the Hindu, the newspaper was started by Syed Azathulla, who believed that Muslims needed their own voice.

“He (Azathulla) felt there was no voice for Muslims and there should be one,” Sayed Arifullah, the Musalman’s current editor told the Hindu.

Here’s what happened

Although traditional print media around the world may be on the decline, statistics in India show that this trend has not truly caught on, with print media still thriving in the country.

When Azathulla, the newspaper’s current editor, was asked why he chose to take over reigns of running the Musalman from his father, he responded: “It was important that the newspaper be kept running and so I chose to do it. I edit, I write, and I run the paper now,” the Hindu reported.

According to a report by Wired, the Musalman’s headquarters is located near the Wallajah Mosque in Chennai. The newspaper reportedly has a team of six people, four of whom are the katibs or writers, dedicated to the art of Urdu calligraphy.

It takes the editorial team a total of three hours to transform a sheet of paper into a news spreadsheet,  using just a pen, ink, and a ruler.

Gulf News reported that “It takes the katibs (practitioners of the ancient art of Urdu calligraphy) two hours to write from right to left, by hand, on ruled sheets measuring 38cm x 50cm.” Everyday, the masthead of the paper is cut, and stuck onto the paper.

However, if a typo or error is found while writing, the entire page would have to be redone all over again. Arifullah believes in the substantial experience of his katibs: ”My calligraphers are experienced. They have been doing this for the last 25 to 30 years. Nothing goes wrong,” he said, Khaleej Times reported.

Arifullah’s views the Musalman as unique, and says that if it were to change, it would lose its identity. “Over the years a lot (in the publishing industry) has changed but if The Musalman changes, I will not be unique anymore, I will lose respect and credibility,” he told Khaleej Times.

Why you should care

In the present day and age, the Musalman’s existence and success is important, as it emphasises the significance of news provided in a regional language and the importance of the written word. Although technology has nearly taken over every aspect of our lives, the newspaper wants to continue physically writing Urdu—staying true to the painstaking efforts that are part of producing a paper that costs less than a rupee.

The physical activity of writing is also quickly becoming replaced by texting or typing. When was the last time you sat down and literally wrote something that interested you?

The Musalman might be a dying breed, but we need it—to remind us about the dying art and the beauty of the written word.