His legacy endures as a symbol of progress, enlightenment, and unity, serving as a beacon of hope for modern India
Prof Jasim Mohammad
SIR SYED AHMAD KHAN stands as an iconic figure in Indian history, celebrated as a true champion of education, social reform, and unwavering national unity. As we commemorate the centenary of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), it is vital to shed light on his immense contributions to the Indian fabric, his fervent patriotism, and his dedication to the cause of fostering a harmonious society.
His journey began with a profound belief in modern education’s transformative power, not only for individuals but for the entire nation. He envisioned a society that could empower itself through contemporary learning and embrace the values of scientific understanding. His most remarkable legacy was the establishment of Madarsatul Uloom in Aligarh in 1875, a pioneering institution that has since evolved into the prestigious Aligarh Muslim University. AMU has produced countless luminaries, from freedom fighters to poets, writers, scientists, thinkers, and politicians, all contributing to the grand tapestry of modern India.
This great visionary’s aspirations transcended the confines of AMU. Sir Syed aimed to create a network of educational institutions managed by Muslims, founded the All India Muslim Educational Conference, and aspired to model his Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College on the revered institutions of Oxford and Cambridge. His Aligarh Movement became a catalyst, fanning the flames of transformation within the Muslim community, and serving as a bridge between age-old traditions and modern values. His clarion call was clear: “A true Indian is one who must hold the Holy Quran in one hand and scientific knowledge in the other.”
Despite facing vehement opposition from orthodox quarters, who even sought a fatwa against him, Sir Syed remained resolute in his quest for rational interpretations of religious decrees. He was a torchbearer of Hindu-Muslim unity, perceiving India as a beautiful bride with Hindus and Muslims as her two sparkling eyes. His focus primarily rested on the educational upliftment of the Muslim community, recognizing that their educational backwardness could lead them astray in the realm of national politics.
His thoughts were not only emancipatory and progressive but also profoundly democratic. He laid the foundation for the secular nature of Indian governance long before it became an established tenet. He emphasized the importance of English proficiency and modern sciences for Muslims, enabling them to maintain their social and political identity.
His commitment to religious harmony was evident as he discouraged the slaughter of cows and promoted respect for Hindu sentiments, recommending the use of goat and sheep for Eid-al-Adha. AMU, from its inception, has embraced students from diverse backgrounds, with its first graduate being a Hindu named Ishwari Prasad.
His journey was not without its trials and tribulations. He found himself compelled to seek grants for the development of MAO College, but his indomitable spirit and passion for uplifting the Muslim community propelled him forward. His intentions were solely focused on bettering the lives of one of the world’s largest communities.
His contributions extended beyond education. He launched two journals, The Aligarh Institute Gazette and Tehzibul Akhlaq, which served as vehicles for social reform and the promotion of modernization. He sought to modernize Madrasas and their curricula to meet the evolving needs of society.
His efforts to instill self-esteem in the Muslim community and revive the Urdu language remain integral aspects of his legacy. He encouraged Muslims to take pride in their identity and beliefs, laying the foundation for the institution that is Aligarh Muslim University.
He also championed freedom of expression and opposed any suppression of opinions, irrespective of religious, community, or government pressures. His approach to education was holistic, emphasizing character building alongside academic knowledge. He believed that a thorough understanding of Islam and the Quran was essential, even as he re-examined the foundations of Islamic faith.
His life and character instilled a sense of self-worth and self-respect among Indian Muslims at a time when these qualities were rare. He sought to raise the moral ground of society, promote unity, and bring about meaningful changes in governance from the grassroots level. His commitment to women’s rights, condemnation of polygamy, and advocacy for widow remarriage marked his quest for social reform.
His vision remains a guiding light for India. He envisioned an empowered society and recognized that wisdom, comprehension, character, and social identity were the keys to empowerment. He understood the need for unity in a diverse country like India, calling upon the Muslim community to represent Islam with character, knowledge, tolerance, and piety.
His ideals and principles continue to inspire generations, reminding us of the power of education and the strength of character. His legacy endures as a symbol of progress, enlightenment, and unity, serving as a beacon of hope for modern India.
Author is Professor in Comparative Literature and Former Media Advisor of Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh. The article first appeared in RisingKashmir.