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The grand old man of Aligarh
By N Jamal Ansari
|Year 1857 was a milestone in the history of India when the fall of mighty Mughal empire gave way to the complete rule of Britishers. It was the first war of Independence in this year which decided the fate of India. After the collapse of war, Britishers began victimising Muslims, as they held them responsible for the revolt. Muslim community as a whole became target. On the other hand, Muslims tried to resist the Britishers. Like Hindus, they did not proceed to acquire western education. Instead of facing the future, they went in isolation. Due to antipathy towards western education, they lagged behind other communities. It was in such a dark period that Sir Syed Ahmad Khan emerged on the horizon when Muslims needed him most as a Saviour. Official documents also confirm the same. In the Report of the Education Commission of 1882, the following lines are recorded:
"Recognising the backwardness of their community in education certain Musalman gentlemen were determined to discover the remedy and led by Maulvi Sayyad Ahmad Khan, whose life has been one long devotion to the cause of liberal education, they formed themselves into a society with primary purpose ascertaining towards the education offered by (British) Government".
The mission of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan under the banner of Aligarh Movement changed the future of Muslims. The Mohammadan Anglo-Oriental College, conceived in 1869 and established in 1875 now stands as Aligarh Muslim University. Few educational institutions have had such an important role to play as this dream of Sir Syed, who was the grand old man of Aligarh?
Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was born in a noble family at Delhi on October 17, 1817. His ancestors were from Herat (Afghanistan) and migrated to India during the reign of Emperor Akbar (1556-1605) His father Syed Muttaqui was associated with the Court of Emperor Akbar Shah. His mother Aziz-un-Nisa Begum eldest daughter of Khawaja Freeduddin was a pious and educated lady. After the sad demise of his father in 1838, he decided to join government service much against the wishes of his family. He was appointed "Sarishtadar" in the office of Sardar Amin in Delhi. Alongwith discharging his duties on different posts at different places, he continued his literary pursuits also. In 1840 he wrote history of Mughals from Timur to Bahadurshah Zafar under the title "Jam-I-Jum", After the failure of revolt of 1857, he wrote Asbab-I-Baghawat-I-Hind which was translated by Sir Auckland Colvin and Col. Graham in 1873 under the title ‘Causes of the Indian Revolt’, 1857-58. This was the book, which forced Britishers to re-think and re-chart their strategy in India. Consequently the Act of 1861 was passed and Raja Narendra Singh, Raja Dinkar Rao and Raja Dev Narain were taken into Council.
When Sir Syed was posted at Ghazipur, he founded "Scientific Society" on July 9, 1864 as he was deeply interested in introducing science and English education to his suppressed community. In fact the movement to educate Muslim masses was started in the mind of Sir Syed well after 1857 but establishment of scientific society was the firs step to achieve this goal. On the occasion he declared that, "I am sure that those interested in India’s well being will give their hearty aid to this society. "When Sir Syed was transferred to Aligarh, the offices of the society also moved with him. At Aligarh, he retired from service and settled down to guide the community.
Before embarking on his mission he declared: "Philosophy will be in our right hand and Natural sciences in our left. And the crown of ‘There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is His Prophet’ will adorn our heads".
He was straight forward in his approach. He suggested "Never abandon the study of Arabic language. But when our economic betterment and means of leading a comfortable life were bound up with English education, we should pay the attention to it".
Through his journal Tahzibul-ul-Akhlaq, Sir Syed started a campaign among Muslims for the need of English education. On May 24, 1874, a small college was founded under the caring hands of Maulvi Samiullah Khan (1834-1908) with just 11 students. The college was affiliated with Calcutta University in 1877. In 1886, Sir Syed founded the All India Mohammadan Educational Conference to spread the message of Aligarh Movement.
Next phase of Aligarh Movement started after his death on March 27, 1998. Since the eginning Sir Syed had dreamed a University for higher education for the Muslims of India. The Mohammadan Education Conference held its session at Lahore in December, 1898 and a resolution by Mr. Theodore Morrison (1863-1936) of MAO College was moved for the establishment of University at Aligarh".
The resolution of the Foundation Committee was presented to Sir Mohammad Shafi, the Education Member of the Viceroy’s Council and introduced in Viceregal Council on August 27, 1920 which ultimately was passed on September 9, 1920.The ceremony to inaugurate Muslim University took place on December 17, 1920 in Lytton Library and Raja of Mahmudabad was appointed first Vice-Chancellor. In this way the dream of Sir Syed, the grand old man of Aligarh, was fulfilled.
No other educational institution has been the object of so-much criticism as this dream of Sir Syed. For a proper understanding of this institution, it is imperative that one should be familiar with the background of the institution and its contribution to the development of nation’s social and cultural life. Nirad, C. Chaudhri observed that, "Aligarh remains true to the Islamic way of life and it is wise in remaining so. It is trying to retain the socio-cultural distinctiveness of the Muslims only as contributory factor in the creation of a multicultural society in India. It is Islamic without in anyway sacrificing modernisation".
Aligarh has produced all types of figures— Rightists, Leftists, Radicals, Nationalists Congressites and Leaguers. The words of Dr. Zakir Hussain deserve attention. He said, "It seems to me that this institution has a great role to play in the development of India’s national life. The way Aligarh participates in the various walks of life will determine the place of Muslims in India’s national life. The way India conducts itself towards Aligarh will determine largely the form which our national life will acquire in future".
Judged as a whole, Aligarh Muslim University has faithfully mirrored the patriotic fire, the secular outlook, the struggle of independence and the liberal humanism. Aligarians are also trying to catch up the vision of a strong India with a range and references that are at once wide and stimulating.