Women’s role and contribution to Urdu literature and journalism in the eighteenth and nineteenth century remains a relatively under-examined area. CM Naim’s A Most Noble Life: The Biography of Ashrafunnisa Begum (1840-1903), makes an important intervention as it tells the tale of an extraordinary woman who was deeply devoted to the cause of women’s education, and enriches the reader with a wealth of material that highlights the social, cultural, and literary context that shaped the contours of ordinary Muslim women’s lives in the nineteenth century. Interestingly, there are several ‘firsts’ that mark the publication of this biography. Not only is it the first one written in Urdu by a woman; the biographer, Muhammadi Begum (1877-1908) is the first woman to edit a journal in Urdu, and Ashrafunnisa Begum taught at the first school for girls, the Victoria Girls’ School, in Lahore. Translated by a well-known scholar of Urdu literature, this richly annotated and timely translation is a treasure-trove for scholars and readers and adds to the current scholarship on Muslim women in South Asia.
Women Making History
A MOST NOBLE LIFE: THE BIOGRAPHY OF ASHRAFUNNISA BEGUM (1840-1903) by Muhammadi Begum Orient BlackSwan, 2022, 188 pp., ₹630.00
May 2023, volume 47, No 5