By Qutub Ahmed Siddiqui for Twocircles.net
For a number of journalists, a report or a story remains just that: a story that needs to be published before they start on another one. For Abu Aimal Akram Ali, 42, a freelance investigative journalist from Hyderabad, it is precisely the opposite. Over the past eight years, his work has not been only to write stories, but almost live them; and ensure that not only is a story reported, but action is also taken so that the idea of a report comes full circle: from awareness to action.
Abu Aimal, the youngest of all his siblings, showed promise in his teenage years too: he was a state level boxing champion before completing his Intermediate in Commerce. Interestingly, journalism was not even close to the original dream of Ali: he wanted to chase his dream of becoming a successful businessman. Like all business startups, he too needed some investments, and did not give up even after his failed attempts to convince his family, Abu Aimal succeeded in becoming a successful dealer of Hero cycles in Hyderabad. The turning point for the Hyderabad-based journalist came in 2007, when Khan Lateef Khan of “Munsif” daily (one of Hyderabad’s most respected Urdu newspaper) was searching for some reliable information on Hyderabad-WAKF. It was Abu Aimal who was helpful. Khan was impressed with Abu Aimal’s contacts, which were more resourceful and reliable than an experienced journalist; it was this encounter with Khan that encouraged Abu Aimal to become an investigative journalist. Though Abu Aimal never had a formal education in journalism, Khan encouraged Abu Aimal to join Munsif as an investigative journalist and use the nom de plume of Abu Aimal (father of Aimal) in his work. Speaking to Twocircles.net, Abu Aimal said, “I give all credit to Khan Lateef Khan for recognising my talent and inspiring me to be a journalist”.
Abu Aimal now works as a freelance journalist and has his own website www.azadreporter.com along with a small team to assist him. Prior to freelance journalism, Abu Aimal was associated with Munsif & Siasat Daily of Hyderabad. Abu Aimal is known for his comprehensive coverage of issues that catch everyone’s attention. Notably, his coverage on various Wakf irregularities that ran into crores of rupees and his work on exposing how WAKF properties were being illegally taken over by land grabbers etc. One such example of his journalism was on 15th Sep 20111 in Siasat Daily, when he started a 100-day column dedicated to 100 non-functional Masjids within Hyderabad.
On his work, Abu Aimal says, “My eight years of investigative journalism allowed me to record 132 masjids around Hyderabad, which had no government records nor Wakf records.” Through his works, he has been able to successfully re-open 20 Masjids and is working towards re-opening others in near future”.
Abu Aimal has also ensured that he uses social media in an extremely effective manner. He bought the attention of his Facebook followers towards his on-going struggle to educate and highlight our community leaders and members about the Masjids that are empty/non-functional within Hyderabad limits. His regular posts and updates about various Masjid and history associated to them moved his followers. One such example was when he covered a story of Masjid-E-Falaknuma, a Masjid that was built on a hill top 100 feet above the ground level,
Though it was situated in a Muslim dominated area, no one cared to re-open the Masjid. His efforts, coupled by his coordination with government authorities, helped the restoration of the Masjid that was long forgotten by our community. Another similar example was the restoration of a Masjid in Agricultural University, Hyderabad that was non-operational for almost 30 years.
By positively inspiring his followers over Facebook, Abu Aimal started sharing stories of poor and needy individuals from our community. His meticulous background analysis coupled with photo journalism touched his followers, allowing more and more people to come forward to help poor and needy.
Impressed by his investigative journalism, Munsif daily published an article dedicated to Abu Aimal by calling him “Abu Aimal Wiki Leaks of Hyderabad”. On many occasions, Abu Aimal has been invited by Maulana Azad University, Hyderabad as a guest lecturer on Investigative Journalism.
His current project, “Azad Foundation”, is an example of how his work has positively impacted people intro contributing, and caring, for social causes. The project needed an investment of Rs 12 lakh; however Abu Aimal had only Rs 50,000 on him. But Aimal says, “Allah (SWT) has provided resources through my friends and Facebook followers to collect all 12 lakh and Azad Foundation is already marching towards its success.”
When asked why he left Siasat Daily, Abu Aimal says, “Every News daily has its rules and regulations to write news articles. I felt that being employed limited my freedom to write, hence I established my own website www.azadreporter.com & with the basic staff.”
Aimal’s work is not limited to Muslims; he has a secular approach towards all downtrodden people irrespective of any cast or religion. His foundation has recently initiated a project to visit railway platforms, bus stops on every Saturday 12 AM and distributing blankets, sleeping mats, etc., to people who sleep there. He regularly visits government hospitals within Hyderabad and after carefully enquiring about needy patients, he hands over envelopes containing Rs 2,000 to the needy, without inquiring about their caste or creed.
Currently, Abu Aimal has 50,000-plus followers on Facebook and with their help, he established the Azad Khidmat Trust. The primary motto of this trust is to uplift poor and needy Muslim women by imparting necessary training in sewing, computer and communication skills, free medical treatment and regular Islamic classes. Every week, a respected personality is invited to Azad Trust for delivering an inspiring lecture. After successful completion of the course, each pass-out will be assisted to find self-employment opportunities.
About his upcoming projects, Abu Aimal quotes “we are planning to open a clinic with free treatment for about 100 patients per day and soon we are launching free ambulance service for all.”
Finally, when asked what inspires him, he quotes “I always remember my death and though I try to avoid, a constant thought process runs in my mind: what if I die tomorrow? What will I leave behind? I always ponder upon this and I realise I won’t take anything. Instead, I should leave something which can be carried forward by others; hence, I should develop Azad foundation which can continue all good work.”