Special Reports

MJ Akbar on Sir Syed

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Aligarh: Noted journalist MJ Akbar here said that India is most likely to become a modern nation because all the four pillars of modernity through Democracy, adult franchise, secularism, gender and economic equality are the driving forces of progress. He felt that poverty is the sustaining element of Naxalites and this factor may inhibit modernity. Akbar was delivering Sir Syed Memorial lecture on “Muslims and Modernity - Relevance of Sir Syed in 2010” organized by Sir Syed Academy at Kennedy Auditorium, Aligarh Muslim University Aligarh.

Akbar said that during the last two centuries, both Mughal and Othman, also failed to democratize the educational system and ignored new technologies like printing. He pointed out that one of the great men of his time, Syed Ahmad Khan was so depressed by the events of 1857 that he contemplated settling down in Egypt. But he dismissed exile as cowardice and turned to a programme of reform and education for Muslims, urging them to acquire intellectual merits that had made the British victorious and modern scientific temperament and versatility in the English language. This would restore the glory they had lost with the decline of Mughal power. He said that Sir Syed was devoted to lifting Indian Muslims out of what he described, a “fatal shroud of complacent self-esteem”.

Akbar highlighted the role of Sir Syed in  propagating female education and said that Sir Syed was far ahead of his time in demanding education for girls. In 1869, he visited England to admit his son at Cambridge and study the society he admired. He mentions a young girl, Elizabeth Mathews, a maid in the house where he was living. In spite of her poverty, he notes, she would buy a half penny paper called Echo and would delight in reading it. Sir Syed wrote, ‘The Muslims have nothing to fear from adoption of the new education if they simultaneously hold steadfast to their faith, because Islam is not irrational superstition, it is a rational religion which can march hand in hand with the growth of human knowledge’.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 May 2010 on page no. 17

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