How to revive the spirit of Jamia Millia?

A child of India’s freedom movement, Jamia Millia Islamia was a unique experiment in Musim education turned into run-of-the-mill university
The Jamia Millia Islamia was conceived in 1920 as the confluence of Islam and Indian Nationalism, as a laboratory for synthesis of tradition and modernism and as a forum for Hindu-Muslim dialogue and understanding, as a workshop for forging a new Muslim Indian personality which did not share the pro-British ethos of the AMU. Essentially, therefore, Jamia was a child of the Freedom Movement. It was not an institution but a Tehrik. On 29 October, 1920 the Jamia Millia Islamia was inaugurated in Aligarh by Shaikhul Hind Maulana Mahmud Hasan who had just returned on release from Malta. Those who spoke at the inaugural function included Maulana Mohammad Ali, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Mr. Abdul Majeed Khwaja and Dr. Zakir Hussain.

Objective: On this occasion, Shaikhul Hind said “ The chief aim of the University is to keep Muslim education in Muslim hands, entirely free from all external control, so that we may be effectively immune from pernicious alien influences in our ideas and beliefs, our morals and actions, our character and conduct……Our great community should no longer continue to produce cheap slaves from its colleges’.

At the first Convocation, Hakim Ajmal Khan reiterated that the JMI had before it ‘the object of nurturing Islamiyat along with patriotism’. Maulana Mohammad Ali wrote in 1925 that its first objective was to make Muslim Indians ‘Haq-dost’ and ‘Haq-prast’ and the second was to make them patriotic and freedom-lover.

On the objective of the Jamia, Dr. Zakir Hussain recorded in 1938, “Jamia ka sub se bara maqsad yeh hai ki Hindustani Musalman ki aaindah zindagi ka aisa naqsha tyyar kare jis ka markaz mazhab-e-Islam ho aur oos main Hindustan ki quami tahzeeb ka woh rang bhare jo aam insani tahzeeb ke rang main khap jai”. Abid Hussain urged the need to create an alumnus who is ‘insan-e-kamil, sachcha Musalman aur pucca Hindustani’. In 1962, Mujib referred to the post-independence situation and stated that “the state by declaring itself secular has thrown out a challenge to each and every citizen to show that he can enrich civic life by drawing inspiration from the institutional religion which he professes”.

Quoted in Mr. M. H. Ansari’s convocation Address, JMI, 2007 “Human personality like the identity of a community is multi-dimensional and multi-layered and multi-facetted in terms of religion, race, culture and language etc. which needs to be synthesized into a functional whole. This need is not particular to India or to the Muslims. It is universal and the objective is to develop a balanced identity through continuous dialogue, internal as well as global, in quest of a life of dignity and equality, at peace with the surroundings diversity and plurality”.

No doubt, the Muslim Indians face a unique task because they are the second or third largest Muslim community in the world and nearly 15% of the global Muslim population. With faith in Islam and love for their motherland, today they have to come to terms with the forces of modernity, to combat orthodoxy and neutralize hostility. This cannot be achieved through ‘taqlid’ which means intellectual stagnation but through ‘tajdid’, which demands insight, intuition and initiative.

Islam is valid for all times and for all peoples. It is ever-modern because of its inbuilt genius to accommodate itself to change of circumstances. To do so, Islam needs to be reinterpreted through ‘ijtehad’. Sir Syed thought that Islam was in need of a Mujtahid in every age. Iqbal went further and spoke of ‘ijtehad’ in every generation. Today, in view of the complexity of human society, the expansion of human knowledge and the fast pace of change, ‘ijtehad’ has to be a continuous and collective endeavour, not by theologians alone but in creative consultation with all Muslims of knowledge and experience in various aspects of life in order to reform society as well as to keep faith with the principles and mandates of the Shariat.

It is my conjecture that the founders dreamt of the Jamia as a collegium of scholars to undertake ‘ijtehad’. In any case, in its early phase, Jamia was developed by a group of persons committed to the ideals and capable of sacrifice and austerity. They had Ashab-e-Suffa as their model and lived a life which reflected the well known hadith ‘Al Fuqr Fakhri’. Jamia even established a Darul Hikma on the Baghdad model. But this was too big an undertaking for the Jamia with its meager resources.

History: The Jamia Tehrik received much momentum when Zakir Hussain, Abid Hussain and Mohammad Mujib returned to India from abroad after completing their education to devote themselves to the Muslims. Working for its future in realistic and practical terms they found a balance between the dreams of the founders and the hard reality of administering a modern institution, which has to find a market for its products.

The history of the Jamia can be divided in three phases. Phase 1: 1920-29 was marked by the formation of the Foundation Committee of 1922, mostly Khilafat stalwarts, all Muslims. In 1924 Jamia shifted to Delhi and in 1932 the three builders took charge of the Jamia. The Dastur-ul-Amal, 1932, defined the object as follows:

“To provide to the youth of the nation education in all fields of knowledge particularly oriental and Islamic studies”; make them ‘useful members of Islamic civilization, the brave vanguard of Indian nationalism and the true servants of Islam’, to ‘transmit correct information about Islam to the Muslims themselves and to other nations of the world….. inform the Muslims of the beliefs of other religions in India”.

In 1935 Jamia Nagar was inaugurated. In 1938, its second institution after the School, the Teachers College, was founded;

In 1939 the Jamia Millia Society was registered. In its Memorandum of Association, without deviating from the original purpose, the aims and objects of the Jamia were summarized as fellows; “To promote and provide for the religious and secular education of Indians, particularly Muslims, in conformity with sound principles of education and in consonance with the needs of national life and to that end, to establish and maintain suitable educational institutions within the Jamia campus and to set up and organize educational extension centers in Delhi from time to time. 

The medium of instruction at all stages of education in all the institutions of the Jamia shall be Urdu, but instruction may be imparted through the medium of other languages as well.”During its Phase II, between 1939-1946, the Jamia developed the formulation of its Talimi Scheme and implemented it as a unique experiment in education. In 1946 it celebrated its Silver Jubilee. In the midst of the disturbances preceding the Partition, the silver jubilee brought together many leaders of the Congress and the Muslim League on the same dias. Dr. Zakir Hussain made a moving speech in which he appealed to the leaders present on the occasion to strive for peace and harmony. He said; “Aaj mulk men bahami munafirat ki jo aag bharak rahi hai, us men hamara chamanbandi ka kam diwanapan maloom hota hai. Yeh aag sharafat aur insaniyat ki sarzameen ko jhulse deti hai. Is men nek aur mutwazun shkhsiyaton se taza phul kaise paida honge? Haiwanon se bhi past-tar satah-e-ekhlaq par ham insani ekhlaq ko kaise sanwarenge? Is ke liye khidmatguzar kaise paida kar saken ge? Janwaron ki dunya men insaniyat ko kaise sanbhal saken ge? Yeh lafz shayed kuchh sakht maloom hote hon, lekin in halat ke liye jo roz baroz hamare charon taraf phail rahe hain is se sakht lafz bhi bahut naram hote. Ham jo apne kam ke taqazon se bachchon ka ehteram karna sikhte hain , aap ko kiya btayen, ke ham par kiya guzarti hai jab ham sunte hain ke bahimat ke is bohran mein masoom bachche bhi mahfooz nahin hain. Shaer-e- Hindi ne kaha tha ke har bachcha jo duniya mein aata hai apne sath ye payam lata hai, ke khuda abhi insan se puri tarah mayoos nahin hua. Magar kiya hamara desh ka insan apne se itna mayoos ho chuka hai ke in masoom kalyon ko khilne se pahle hi masal dena chahta hai? Khuda ke liye sar jor kar baithiye aur is aag ko bujhaiye. Yeh waqt is tahqeeq ka nahin hai ke aag kis ne lagayee, kaise lagi., aag lagi hui hai, use bujhaiye . yeh mas’ala is qam aur aur us qam ke zinda rahne ka nahin hai, muhazzab insani zindagi aur wahsheyana darindagi men intakhab ka hai, Khuda ke liye is mulk men muhazzab zindagi ki bunyadon ko yun khudne na dijiye.”

This speech is as moving as the historic speech of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad in 1947 in Jama Masjid in Delhi. For the Silver Jubilee Zakir Hussain and his team toured all over the country to collect donations. It is this donation which kept the Jamia going for the next decade. In 1947, when Delhi was burning. Jamia lost its assets, particularly its valuable library in the conflagration. Zakir Saheb himself was miraculously saved at Jalandhar, while traveling to Kashmir.

The “Swansong”: Phase III, 1947-1962 began after Independence and ended with the grant by the UGC of the status of Deemed University in 1962. Phase III (1988-……) begins in 1988 when the Parliament passed the Jamia Millia Islamia Act, dissolving the Society and establishing a Central University. Overnight the Jamia was transformed into a run-of-the mill small university. Community funding dried up; it expanded but lived on state funds. Practically, it became an attached or subordinate office of the central government. Its autonomy was gone. The unique experiment had come to an end. Under the banner of the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat Muslim leaders submitted a memorandum to the President in which they pointed out many flaws and lacunae in the Bill which did not recognize its special, historical or minority character or its original mission or its raison d’eter. The Bill, caused much consternation and disquiet in the Muslim community and the other secular elements. It did not recognize the fact that the Jamia was established by Muslim nationalist leaders and that it had always been managed and administered by the Muslim community, that it was meant to provide secular and religious education, particularly to the Muslims and that, though its doors were never closed to students of other communities, the Muslim community was to be major beneficiary of its educational facilities. Thus the Jamia lost its primary purpose; to create an integrated Muslim personality, nationalist and secular, Muslim and Indian, at the same time, the best example of which in our time have been Abdul Kalam Azad and Zakir Hussain.

Jamia staff, teachers as well as non-teachers, also protested and submitted joint memoranda criticizing the Bill on similar lines. The Muslim India Monthly lamented the demise of JMI, as the Community knew, it in its editorial in October 1988, under the title ‘The Swansong of a Vision’, whose opening paragraph said:

‘The Jamia Millia Islamia Bill was bulldozed through the Parliament at short notice practically without discussion.

Psychological gap: The exercise became another example of the psychological gap between the secular state and the Muslim community. What was intended as a gesture of goodwill towards the Muslim community only served to create misunderstanding and alienation in the community. Of course some individuals were direct beneficiaries of the upgradation to Central University status of a deemed university. That a democratic government should so misjudge the mood of the people and reap bitter harvest is a sad commentary on its style of functioning.

Thus an act of grace has turned into a disgrace; a gesture has given rise to a feeling of imposition, and an occasion of rejoicing, converted into an occasion for lamentation. Knowing fully well that the Jamia Millia Islamia was looked upon by the entire Muslim community as a great heritage of national importance, worthy of being given the status of a full fledged university, there appears to be no reason for not having wide ranging consultations with the representatives of the community before or after introducing the much trumpeted Bill.

Today, an overwhelming section of the community feels that the Act was an act of piracy under which the Government has taken away a Muslim institution from the hands of the Muslim community, destroying in the process its original purpose, its distinctive character and its traditions, no doubt adding yet another University in the process.’

The Act of 1988 is the beginning of a new chapter in Jamia’s history. But it opened a Pandora’s box, because the Bill, as it stands, extracted too high a price from the Muslim community for the grant of Central University status. The Act initiated a struggle for the restoration of the Jamia Millia Islamia to its Muslim character, its object and purpose, the vision of its founding fathers. The struggle both judicial and political continues today at various levels, community, teachers, and students other staff and old boys.

Much Development: The gates of development were opened in 1966, and flung wide open in 1988 though the promise made was not quite fulfilled. In 1967 the School of Social Work was opened; in 1971 came the Institute of Islamic Studies; in 1979, the Engineering College was established which later became a faculty. In 1983, the Mass Communication Research Centre was set up and in 1988, the Third World Academy. It is notable that all these institution relate to the pre-Act period. Of them the Departments of Education, and of the Social Work, the Faculty of Engineering and the Mass Communication Centre are institutions of pride for the Jamia.

In stages, there was deliberate separation of the Jamia from its roots, the Muslim community. As a token, the Act did keep the old titles and designations but nothing more remained. The School which Zakir Saheb had nurtured was neglected. It was no longer a revolutionary experiment in education. The community lost interest. There was disaffection among the students, sometimes instigated by vested interests, like the land mafia. There was no representation of the community in the governing bodies of the University.

The University has grown but the proportion of Muslim students has steadily fallen. Today, Jamia has about 13,000 students of whom about 7,000 are Muslims largely from Delhi, UP and Bihar. Many of them are those who cannot secure admission in any other university in Delhi. Only about 10% of the students have hostel accommodation. The Student’s Union essential to develop leadership qualities does not exist. It is painful to say but the fact remains that Jamia is a minor university in a country which has today more than one million students, in about 750 universities!

There are no doubt 7 Faculties, 26 Departments, 25 Centres against two colleges in 1947. There are 700 university teachers, including 100 professors, against just 10 in 1947, some of whom shuttled between the Jamia College and the Teachers College. The non-teaching staff today number 1500, against just a handful in 1947. The annual intake exceeds 6000. The output, which was only 143 graduates up to 1947, now runs annually into thousands. The budget, which was only a few lakhs in 1947, now exceeds 250 crores. The Library is now housed in a magnificent new building and the entire collection of 3,50,000 books is under digitalization. The campus looks magnificent, with new faculty buildings & a big auditorium, with considerable thought given to beautification. Encroachments have been largely removed but the university needs more space which is possible only with government acquisition. Sports and games and extra-curricular activities and all experiments initiated in the early days to build self-confidence and commitment have been largely given up. The non-resident students, who constitute nearly 90%, do not even have a club where they can be together.

Introspection: The question arises whether a university is only bricks and mortar, structures and greens. The Jamia has apparently given up the basic task of moulding students to imbibe Islamic values and value system. It is no longer engaged in polishing human material till it sparkles and dazzles India & the world.   Since 1988, despite proliferation of teachers and departments, the JMI has produced few academicians of national stature except in the field of history and Urdu Literature. It has produced no public figures, no administrators, no legislators, no judges, no ideologues, no theologians, no economists, no political scientists, no journalists, no jurists, no artists, and no entrepreneurs who have achieved national standing. Yes, it has given us one test cricketer. The Jamia must ask itself what are the reasons. Is it poor material, poor teaching, poor educational environment? Has it lost its soul? Has it become a barren land? It no doubt produces many graduates some of whom are picked up, specially from the Faculty of Engineering, by business firms but most of them struggle as educated unemployed. I feel that the Jamia has lost the certainties with which it began its journey, and today it has no clarity about its purpose and objective, about its mission and goal. Tragically, it cannot pursue the path of excellence. But to pursue the job market, which in any case does not easily open its doors to the Muslim youth, is a problem. This is universal, part of the Muslim tragedy in independent India. It involves the entire Muslim community and the result is for all to see. After Partition and Freedom and 60 years of independence, the Community and the Jamia do not know where they belong. They live in an environment of fear. Collectively, to quote Sachar Report, the community is nearly as backward as the SC/ST and more backward than the non-Muslim OBC’s. It has a disproportionately low share in the assets goods, welfare and services provided by the state. The community feels deprived and frustrated and therefore alienated. There are secular forces in the country but they are busy with their power games. The community cannot even find a shoulder to weep on. It feels defenceless and helpless.   Towards renaissance: But the Jamia experiment deserves a new lease of life, to translate the dreams of its founders in the changed circumstances, in a flourishing India, a shrinking world, expanding science and technology. Jamia is not a lost cause. It can regain its vitality and creativity and become the cradle for the collective awakening of Muslim Indians, weaving a tapestry of Islam in a minority situation with a global interface, of synthesis between tradition and modernity, of harmony among various cultures and communities. Such renaissance will come only out of a new dispensation which will give Jamia not only autonomy but the courage to build a modern university for the Muslim minority in secular, democratic India. Therefore, the restoration of the minority character is the key to its splendid future. Minority character may be difficult to define but it means that the Jamia must pay attention to Islamic civilization and culture, its global dynamics and creative interaction with the Muslim & non-Muslim world; it must restore its linkage with the Muslim community, with leaders of thought and movement in Muslim India and abroad; it means restoring to Urdu its rightful place. Urdu is the second biggest Muslim language of the world and which has expanded to all continents. It means building up relationship with the new resurgent social forces in both the Muslim and non-Muslim societies, particularly the Dalits, the Adibasis and the Shudras and joining their common struggle for due share in governance and economic benefits. Finally, it means building up special linkage with the Muslim world which lies to the west, east and north of South Asia, not to mention the countries in the region.   New focus: To achieve this goal, Jamia needs a new focus in teaching & research: to contribute to the development of Islamic civilization, particularly the modern fiq’h. It needs to attract Muslim students from all over the country and to encourage flow of students from the Muslim regions. It needs to reorganize its faculties and develop them, more logically, and achieve excellence in energy, global economics, Islamic finance, human and minority rights and other areas of contemporary concern. It needs to expand its orbit of social work to cover neglected slums and deprived groups in the neighbourhood and, finally, it needs to serve the community by providing intellectual support for the ongoing Muslim struggle for a place under the sun, participation in governance and development. Indeed, it needs to nurture talent, to ignite the latent creativity of the community, by maximizing residential facilities to at least 50%, reviving the Student Union as a launching pad for future community leaders, by organizing games, sports and extra-curricular activities at all levels from primary school upward and by revitalizing coaching facilities for public and private jobs. Jamia also needs to tap the love and affection of its old boys for utilizing their knowledge, experience and influence and enroll them as Friends of the Jamia, and come closer to the community as a whole. It needs to develop, like the founders did, a band of totally committed teachers. The former VC hoped to make the 21st century the Jamia Century but he never formulated his vision, plan and strategy. The new VC should prepare the blue print and begin with persuading the government to amend the JMI Act, 1988, to restore and recognize its minority character and by giving due representation to the community, the old boys and its staff and students in managing the university. Jamia had a glorious past. As a national heritage it deserves a glorious future. It must become a unique university like the unique school it began. Jamia has to reinvent itself in order to achieve its manifest destiny, as a vital contribution of the Muslim community to the making of future India.