Education and Careers

SIR SYED AHMAD KHAN: The Guardian of Muslims

Following is the text of the essay which won the first prize in the All India Essay Writing Competition organised by the Aligarh Muslim University on the 197th Birth anniversary of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. Mr. Raza announced to donate the prize money Rs. 25,000 to the AMU Alumni Fund soon after he received the prize during the Sir Syed Day Commemoration Meeting on 17 October, 2014.

“Sir Syed was the Prophet of Education.”Mahatma Gandhi

Syed Mohammad Muttaqi, a Mughal Courtier, and Aziz un Nissa were blessed with a baby boy on Friday, 17th of October 1817 whom the world now recognises as Sir Syed Ahmad Khan-a visionary educationist; a thought provoking writer; a philanthropist statesman; an authoritative historian, a messiah and the founder of Oxford of East-The Aligarh Muslim University.

Sir Syed was educated in the traditional education at home but that did not deter him from accomplishing himself in almost all the branches of learning. He had a keen interest in the literary gatherings and cultural activities of the city and attended the Mughal Darbar during the lifetime of his father.  However, due to death of his father in 1837 he was compelled to work, in order to sustain his family, and thus joined East India Company as a Clerk in 1838. By dint of his perseverance, within a period of three years, he qualified as a Munsiff, serving in the judicial department at various places and it was at the time when he was in Bijnore, that the ‘Revolt of 1857’ broke out. During the Revolt Sir Syed remained loyal to the British and saved several British lives. The Revolt was crushed and peace bought but Muslims were ousted from all responsible positions which concerned Sir Syed and he attempted to showcase the causes that led to the Revolt through his book Asbab-e-Baghawat-e-Hind, rightly lamenting the poor hold of the British officials on Indian opinion, culture and religion as well as the socio-economic aspects as the reasons behind the uprising.

The British, on the other hand, held Muslims responsible for the Revolt and declared Muslims as anti-government which led to economic impoverishment of Muslims. Sir Syed witnessed this prevailing situation and could foresee the uncertain future of Muslims if task of reconciling was not taken at hand. He perceived the immeasurable potential of education as an effective instrument for changing the mindset of the people and for social reconstruction. He wished to create a sense of scientific temperament among the Muslims of India and facilitate the availability of modern knowledge of Science to them. He championed the cause of modern education during those times when Indians in general and Muslims in particular considered getting modern education as a grave sin. Towards this end, he established schools, at Moradabad in 1858 and Ghazipur in 1863 with emphasis on modern education, especially science and technology. However, with the acceptance of modern education he was not for neglect of Islamic education: both were to go on simultaneously. In order to avoid confusion he often said, “Philosophy will be in our right hand and Natural Science in our left, and the crown of there is no god but Allah and Mohammad His Prophet will adorn our heads.”

In 1864, a more ambitious idea was given shape with the foundation of the Scientific Society, which aimed at infusing scientific temper, critical inquiry and objectivity in Muslims so that they could assimilate modern knowledge. It also published vernacular translations of many educational texts and brought out a bilingual journal in Urdu and English. In order to acquaint himself with the pattern of education and the civic institutions of England, Sir Syed visited famous institutions in England. It was during his stay in England, from 1869-1870, that he contemplated the foundation of the Oxford of East and on return set up a committee for the purpose. In 1875, Sir Syed founded the Madarsatul Uloom which, in 1877, blossomed into Mohammedan Anglo Oriental College. The foundation stone of the college was laid on 8th January, 1877 by Lord Lytton. The speech which Sir Syed delivered on this occasion is thought provoking as he said, “The seed that we sow today may grow up a mighty tree whose branches like the Banyan of the soil may take firm roots in the ground and in their turn, themselves send forth fresh vigorous saplings and its alumni may go forth to the length and breadth of the land, preaching the gospel of truth, honesty, piety and large hearted tolerance". By the time of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s demise, the college had attained a prominent position in the country. Later, after his death, his sincere followers carried forward his mission in line with his last message, wherein he said, “Oh My dear Children, You have reached a particular stage and remember one thing that when I undertook the task, there was criticism all around against me, abuses were hurled upon me, life had become so difficult for me that I aged before my age, I lost my hairs, my eyesight, but not my vision. My vision never dimmed, my determination never failed, I built this institution for you and I am sure, you will carry the light of this institution far and wide, darkness will disappear from all around.” It was the result of the untiring efforts, never-faltering commitment, and unfailing dedication of the sincere followers of Sir Syed that aided in the transformation from college to university in 1920 and since then the institution is known as Aligarh Muslim University-the Oxford of East.


The Aligarh Muslim University has, since its inception, believed passionately in the transformative power of education. The founder of this towering citadel of learning, Sir Syed, was of the view that, ‘education was a means of fostering and cultivating the inherent potentialities of the child. He believed that through education mankind individually and collectively, could march towards progressive development.’ Aligarh Muslim University has the distinction of being one of the three institutions of National Importance in India with an enriching history of its own spanning over more than a century and a half as a frontrunner of enlightenment, reason, rationality, aesthetics and faith. This institution, true to the vision of its founder, has emerged as a center of academic excellence with character-building and free-thinking as the main function of the University, which has always remained a significant contributor to the socio-cultural, political, scientific and intellectual discourses of the nation in the pre and post-independence journeys.

Aligarh Muslim University has scripted its own success stories in Indian higher education. This has been recognised through the years with a vast array of accolades including being recognised recently at 3rd Rank among Indian Universities in Asia Ranking and at 50 Rank among top 100 institutions of higher learning in BRICS group by the Times Higher Education, UK for the year 2014.

Aligarh Muslim University is a dream home to the ‘Alig Biradari’ consisting of more than 25,000 students, 1,500 staff and a shared common purpose anchored by excellence in teaching and research and the need to apply knowledge to benefit society. The Aligarh Muslim University has a strong alumni base that has made valuable contribution to every city, every region and to the national policy, in almost every walk of life, in almost 90 countries in the world where they have spread so far.

TOWARDS OXFORD OF WORLD: A World Class University

This Oxford of East will be entering its 100th anniversary year, as a university, in 2020 by which it has aspired to become a World Class University: more determined than ever to enable the graduates to go into the world believing they can make a difference and that the education at Aligarh has prepared them for whatever the future may bring. Aligarh Muslim University, no doubt, has the potential to be the Oxford of the World and it all requires is concentrated and channelised efforts and the following proposals are suggestive in that regard:

Quality Research

The robust foundation of any world class university stands on the trellis of Quality Research and Innovation. For nearly last two hundred years, neo-classical economics had recognized only two factors of production: labour and capital. However, by virtue of transition, Innovation and knowledge are replacing capital and energy as the primary wealth-creating assets. Today, almost all new concepts originate from the research labs of Harvard and Oxford: the World Class Universities. Sir Syed once said, "Look forward, learn modern knowledge, and do not waste time in studies of old subjects of no value." The ‘Alig Biradari’ has a lot to learn from this saying of its founder and look forward and not only learn rather invent modern knowledge.

Research was, is and shall continue to be the most important element for any world class university for obvious reasons. First, knowledge is the only medium of exchange through which universities deal and collaborate amongst themselves. Second, the creation, interpretation and codification of knowledge, as research, are the activities that distinguish world class universities from other universities, and most other educational institutions. Third, research has become one of the indexes of global competition between nations, and many national governments spend a good part of their GDP for Research and Development as a principal aspect of economic competitiveness. Finally, research is the index of value in global competition between individual universities that is fostered and expressed in the rankings.

 Aligarh Muslim University has the largest number of research scholars on its rolls, who if properly guided and moulded can bring out epoch-making qualitative research in their respective fields. The research activities going on at Aligarh need to be reoriented with focus on quality research in those fields and areas which have seen little or no research till date. Acquisition of knowledge of science and technology, as Sir Syed believed, is the only solution for the problems of Muslims. The new concepts, be it of Science, Mathematics, Commerce or Theology, should emerge from the research laboratories located in the intellectual campus of Aligarh, which shall aid to transform this institution into a world class university. The research at Aligarh ought to be towed to such standards that, it aids in expanding the frontiers of knowledge; at its best, inspiring the next generation of researchers, and having a real impact in the growth of modern knowledge as the economies today concentrate on not being ‘wealth based’ rather ‘knowledge based.’

Aligarh Muslim University needs to restructure its approach on such lines so that the university is internationally renowned for the quality and diversity of its research. The quality of research that is undertaken in a university plays an important role to determine its stature because the research can turn to be a source of fundamental knowledge and, occasionally, as industrially relevant technology in modern knowledge-based economies. Such research output, apart from being scientifically and technologically informative and economically fruitful, shall boost the brand image of Aligarh.

Further, as Sir Syed opposed theoretical knowledge and opined that education should aim at the harmonious cultivation of the physical, moral, intellectual and aesthetic sides of human nature, Aligarh Muslim University, being a front runner for world class status, should also be about the relationship between the research that is pursued and the education that the students receive. By involving students in the research process, the University shall produce graduates who are critical independent thinkers and learners, highly competent at problem solving, excellent communicators, and thus have all the potential to be great contributors to society and the torchbearers of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan.

The aim of research at Aligarh should be to maximise the benefits of research by advancing fundamental knowledge and contributing to better public policy, improved health outcomes, economic prosperity, social cohesion, international development, community identity, the arts, culture and the quality of life. Sir Syed's vision and efforts were a key factor in the 20th century challenge of transforming reluctant Indian Muslims from a traditional education system to one with a modern focus. Now, in the 21st century, it is a challenge for Aligarh Muslim University to embrace the need of dynamic knowledge-based industries and transform its focus so that the University is at the centre of this dramatic evolution which is the need of hour.

Sir Syed believed that the basis of all progress is that you should bring all treasures of knowledge under your control. Over the next 30 years, the world will need to address some very complex problems. The University should take a lead and include in its scale of research climate change and the human response to it; food and water security; carbon reduction, sustainable energy and the ongoing depletion of fossil fuels; improving intercultural understanding; prospects for sustainable economic prosperity and the equitable distribution of wealth; the social consequences of ageing, obesity and dementia; and the promotion of global health. These challenges are enormous, but given our transformation to a World Class University, the Aligarh Muslim University has to show how it can begin to tackle them by working across disciplinary boundaries.

Documenting Research

Documenting research and subsequent publishing of it is an integral part of the quality research process which not helps in showcasing the research work being done in the laboratory but also adds to the stature of the institution.

The lives of many thousands of people all over the country have gone a sea change as a result of quality education they received at Aligarh. It is an established fact that Aligarh does not produce simple graduates rather transforms young souls into cultured individuals with a scientific bent of mind: a unique blend of ‘Aligarh Tahzeeb’ and modern education.

The time has come when the Alig Biradari’ should recognise its social responsibility and work towards impacting the lives of thousand across the globe by documenting and publishing quality research. It is a sine qua non for a university with ambitions of being a world class university that it is committed to invest in areas of academic scholarship and research which generate scientific and technological solutions, influence key decision-makers and impact positively on society. The investment can be best made by publishing quality journals that are recognised as the ‘Bible’ by those committed to research across the globe.

Discovering Innovators

Sir Syed during his stay in England expressing his wish said "I wish that youth of India should follow the example of young men and women of England who are religiously engaged in the hard work of industrial development of their country.” Industrial Development of any country, today, depends not on Capital and Labour as factors of production rather have been replaced by Innovation and Knowledge. The technological developments in the 20th century have transformed the majority of wealth-creating work from ‘physically-based’ to ‘knowledge-based’. Now, if innovation is the business of the future, universities are at the core of that business.

World Class Universities are widely cited as a critical institutional actor in national innovation systems for the role of Universities is primarily twofold: production of well-educated graduates; and, the conduct of research and development.

The transformation journey of Aligarh Muslim University to a World Class University will be cut short if it is able to reform itself as a ‘Sun of Innovative World’ on the World Map. Aligarh, no doubt, has a high concentration of talent amongst students and academic staff; possesses abundant resources for a comprehensive learning environment; and has potential to produce advanced research; and which if coupled with an environment for innovation shall definitely encourage strategic vision, innovation and flexibility. Innovation today draws more heavily on fundamental knowledge, an important output of Aligarh, and thus it becomes necessary to create an atmosphere where the research and innovation activities could be nurtured and enhanced and where both innovative minds as well as their innovation finds appreciation.

According to Sir Syed, “learning by doing, observation, playing and freedom of expression play an important role in methods of teaching. Sir Syed also recommended scientific and experimental method. He said “in old times, theories could be propounded and rebutted sitting in the sequestrated places, now it is the experimental age. To prove or to disprove anything you have to be in the laboratories.”

The future stature of Aligarh nationally and internationally will depend substantially on the protection that it has acquired, for research and innovation. The number of Patents, registered in favour of the Staff and Students, Trade Marks of the medicinal products that originate from its manufacturing units and the Copyright of the research works does matter a lot in World Rankings.

Creating Future Leaders

Aligarh Muslim University can proudly boast of having produced number of international leaders like Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Abdul Matin Chowdhri, Abdur Rehman, Hasrat MohaniMaulana Mohammad Ali, Maulana Shaukat Ali, Mazharul Haq, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai, Raja Mahinder Pratap Singh, Saifuddin Kichloo, etc. apart from various heads of nations like Zakir Hussain, Hamid Ansari, Amin Hilmi Didi, Abdul Maamoon, Liaqat Ali Khan, Mohammad Ayub Khan, Sheikh Abdullah and the front runners in other fields like Judiciary, Bureaucracy, Academics, Sports, Performing Arts and others.

However, for past few decades Aligarh has ceased to produce leaders of international stature. Aligarh Muslim University needs to restart the production of the ‘Leaders of Tomorrow’ who shall be the Brand Ambassadors of Brand Aligarh. Sir Syed's birth anniversary is a good occasion to start the transformation of students into enlightened leaders of tomorrow who shall spread the gospel of his thoughts.  In essence, Aligarh should be involved in creating such leaders who will espouse the mission of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and work for the betterment of community for he said, “I hope you will try to set an example in both scholarly pursuits and the practice of Islam. Only then will our community be honored and respected.”The ‘Alig Biradari’ ought not to forget that the World-class universities attract the most able students and have a high proportion of international and postgraduate research students.

Faculty Advisor

World Class Universities across the globe have the system of Faculty Advisors and Aligarh needs to imbibe this system at the earliest. The system of Faculty Advisor facilitates the creation of an atmosphere of trust where a student can feel free to talk about his situation in complete confidentiality to his Faculty Advisor, usually a Professor.  The Faculty Advisor usually helps his student by providing information about rules, regulations and requirements governing specific degree programs; offering guidance on choosing majors and minors, registering for competitions and upcoming deadlines; helping in managing academic situation during periods of personal, financial, or medical difficulty; and serving as direct link to other University resources.

Add On Courses

The primary aim of any World Class University is to produce World Class Graduates with cent percent chances of employment. However, in the present competitive era, the recruiters not only look for essential qualifications rather prefer additional qualifications. The Aligarh Muslim University, in order to increase the chances of employment of its graduates, ought to introduce Add-On Courses in order to keep pace with the demand of the industry. These short duration career oriented courses can run parallel to the conventional Bachelor’s degree as a part time course and will enhance the employment opportunities of the graduates. For instance, a Student of Social Welfare can have a Diploma in Industrial Relations and Labour Laws as an Add-On. Similarly, a student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Arts could pursue a course in Event Management.

Choice Based Credit System

The transformation from Oxford of East to Oxford of World will not be complete until Aligarh Muslim University switches over from the prevalent traditional method-teacher centric-to modern method-student centric-of teaching and evaluation. Choice Based Credit System (CBCS), or a cafeteria like system is the solution for this type of transformation from the traditional teacher oriented education to a student-centered education. Under this system the students have a good deal of freedom in designing their own curriculum to suit their needs. The students have provision to take any course offered in any department as long as they fulfill the prerequisites for that course and can take as many courses as they can handle.

Sir Syed Ahmad Khanwas of the view that “any method of teaching that makes the learner creative and constructive should be followed. He was not in favour of traditional methods of teaching as it encouraged memorisation and failed to prepare the child for the real life.” On the same analogy, the present system prevalent at Aligarh Muslim University is one with Teacher Centric Approach. In such approach the teacher never introspects as to "Why am I teaching this, what will students do after this exposure or what are the kinds of activities the students should be engaged to have learning opportunities?." Further, in this traditional system there no sufficient opportunities for Group work, Individual work, Data collection, Field work, Quizzes, Community involvement etc. This traditional system also lacks from certain context based approaches with no room for inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary studies, little choice for field of study, no scope to introduce latest knowledge in the curriculum.

The Choice Based Credit System is far better for it primarily focuses on Inter-disciplinary approaches which enable integration of concepts, theories, techniques, and perspectives from two or more disciplines to advance fundamental understanding or to solve problems whose solutions are beyond the scope of a single discipline. The other beneficial features are that the students learn at their own pace, can choose electives from a wide range of courses, undergo additional courses, adopt an interdisciplinary approach in learning, enhance skill by taking up project work, entrepreneurship and vocational training apart from making best use of the expertise of available faculty.

The Aligarh Muslim University should, at the earliest possible time, formulate a committee for implementing the student centric method and work towards bridging the gap between professional and liberal education as to promote students mobility and employability.


Among the galaxy of great men of India in second half of the nineteenth century, Sir Syed was one of the most prominent. His greatness is to be measured by his impression made on the society and the transition effect on thoughts and action. Aligarh Muslim University is a result of his revolutionary thought process, and it has reached the zenith of education in the world only because the robust foundation was laid by a great crusader against ignorance: Sir Syed Ahmad Khan- one of those dynamic and revolutionary figures of history who has moulded the destinies of nations and changed the course of time.

Today, Aligarh Muslim University is considered as a citadel of learning and the time is not far when it will be called as the Oxford of World-The Mecca of Education. To achieve that status we need not look for any inspiration; rather we just need to go back to the teachings of our founder and imbibe them in true spirit and letter. Emphasising the importance of modern education, Sir Syed once said, "Oh, my friend, reflect on this-that each time has its own colour, and unless you adapt yourselves to the circumstances of the time your work cannot prosper. In the time of Akbar, men of learning, poets and historians were respected, people then tried to acquire learning and science and this was the cause of their glory and honour. That time has gone. And now we have the British Government, and we have to consider in what way we can now attain the honour. I believe that without higher education it is impossible now to acquire honour."

These words of Sir Syed have got great value even today and suggest the way out of the web of backwardness: higher modern education as the elixir for all problems of Muslims. True to the words of Majaz, Time will behold the moment and testify when each and every line of his notable work-AMU Tarana-will prove itself. In his words..............

jo abr yahaaN se uThThega, vo saare jahaaN par barsegaa

har juu-e-ravaan par barsegaa, har koh-e-garaaN par barsegaa

har sard-o-saman par barsegaa, har dasht-o-daman par barsegaa

Khud apne chaman par barsegaa, GhairoN ke chaman par barsegaa

har shahr-e-tarab par garjegaa, har qasr-e-tarab par kaRkegaa

ye abr hameshaa barsaa hai, ye abr hameshaa barsegaa

ye abr hameshaa barsaa hai, ye abr hameshaa barsegaa

ye abr hameshaa barsaa hai, ye abr hameshaa barsegaa

barsegaa, barsegaa, barsegaa..


Received from Rahat Abrar, PRO, AMU

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