Tahir Mahmood.jpg

Tahir Mahmood spent much of his childhood in Saudi Arabia, but is now the most prolific editor on the Urdu Wikipedia. Photo by Tahir Mahmood, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0.

“I am trying to help the Urdu Wikipedia reach the community-set goal of 100,000 articles. In the process, I crossed the 100,000 edits milestone. This makes me happy.”

This statement highlights the intensely-spirited approach of Tahir Mahmood Qureshi, who has become the first Urdu Wikipedian to surpass 100,000 edits. Though originally from Pakistan, Tahir spent most of his childhood in Saudi Arabia, and attended university in Cyprus. His background means he is familiar and comfortable speaking English, Arabic, and Greek. When it came to Wikipedia, though, Tahir chose to contribute mainly in Urdu.

As one of his colleagues on the Urdu Wikipedia, I congratulated him on his remarkable feat. I then took the opportunity to ask some questions to the man behind the username.

I was surprised to learn that he works in a well-respected Saudi Arabian company, and is in charge of networking and operations. Yet Tahir still finds the time to edit the Urdu Wikipedia with great enthusiasm and dedication.

He credits his achievement to his family support, as well as the general atmosphere of the Urdu Wikipedia. The community is friendly and free from conflict. He started editing on the English Wikipedia as early as 2009, but switched to the Urdu-language Wikipedia in 2012 when he discovered the project in his native language. Adding knowledge in Urdu, that was freely usable by others, was a thrilling and satisfying experience.

Soon, Tahir became a prolific contributor. He was eventually granted administrator and bureaucrat rights by the community, allowing him to perform more technical maintenance tasks. Tahir has an excellent track record of sustaining Urdu content and supporting users, enthusiastically helping to improve templates and categories, guiding new users, fixing missing links, and engaging in other admin tasks – on top of creating and editing new content for the project.

But Tahir’s strongest attributes are his vision and his team spirit. He points out that Urdu Wikipedia is currently ranked 61st in terms of article numbers, bettering its status from 90th last year, as a result of collective effort. It boasts the 14th-highest “article depth” of all Wikipedia projects. The community, however, is far from complacent. Rather, they are working on ways to add even more content, and to improve the encyclopedia’s quality.

“I personally compare the Urdu Wikipedia with the Arabic, Persian and Hindi Wikipedias,” he says. “I believe that we still have a long way to go.”

Tahir spoke about his efforts in reaching the community-set goal of 100,000 articles on the Urdu Wikipedia. As result of his untiring involvement in the process, Tahir surpassed 100,000 edits, becoming the first Urdu Wikipedian to do so.

As something of a team leader, Tahir notes he is just one of many contributors to the Urdu Wikipedia helping to reach this lofty goal. He speaks particularly highly of Mohammed Shoaib’s technical expertise, Obaid Raza’s linguistic knowledge, and Ameen Akbar’s great all-round ability. Tahir also mentioned thirteen other very active Wikipedians, including many with good knowledge of other languages, as being excellent colleagues to work alongside.

Tahir recalled his participation in the Urdu Wikipedia community group call reported on Wikimedia blog last year. He also spoke of the success of Wikipedia meetup events in Karachi, Pakistan, some years ago, and suggests that planning similar meetups in the near future could help to enlist new editors for the Urdu Wikipedia.

Urdu is under no threat of extinction, as it is the national language of Pakistan, and there are good number of Urdu publications in the subcontinent. Tahir is, however, disappointed that the use of Urdu, especially on digital and social media, is poor. “Many well-known media outlets make basic mistakes in spelling and grammar,” he says.

Tahir believes these mistakes are coming from the new generation of “Roman Urdu” users, who write traditional Urdu using the Latin alphabet to get around the relative lack of support for Urdu characters. He urges these Urdu speakers to instead acquaint themselves with Urdu keyboard, and to write in traditional Urdu script. He sees Urdu Wikipedia as the most appropriate platform on which to learn and use these skills.

Syed Muzammiluddin
Indian Wikimedian