Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sir Syed & Muslims 06-11-03

Sir Syed and Muslim Renaissance
Aligarh Magazine
Federation of Aligarh Alumni Association of America
November 3, 2006
Mirza Akhtar Beg

“Sir Syed”, the name evokes a sense of gratitude for the graduates of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). Yet many more, Aligarians at heart, who have not even visited AMU, share the feeling, because to them AMU and Sir Syed are synonymous with the Muslim renaissance in modern times. Though Sir Syed’s efforts were directed towards Muslim awakening, they were in confluence with the awakening of all communities in India. The institutions he founded were open to all, and all got educated at institutions such as AMU.

Many books and hundreds of articles have been written about Sir Syed. He was a scholar, a jurist and an author with an expansive view of Islam. His legacy is that of an educator, who pioneered modern education and helped, cajoled and even goaded the Muslim community in India to embrace it. To this end, he founded the Mohammaden Anglo Oriental (MAO) College, which eventually fulfilled his dream by becoming the Aligarh Muslim University. To his admirers he is an iconic figure, to be revered and emulated. To his detractors he was a Muslim partisan and a supporter of the British hegemony.

All these descriptors are a part of a complex personality. They present a two dimensional caricature of a thoughtful, energetic, intellectual, caught in the web of history in very unsettled and rapidly changing times. He rose above the mendacity and mediocrity of his times. He aimed with passion to achieve meaningful changes for Muslims, to liberate them from the clutches of medieval attitudes, without falling into the sectarian trap of being against other communities.
Syed Ahmed, known to posterity as Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (Bahadur) was born on October 17, 1817 and passed away on March 27, 1898. Sir and Khan Bahadur both were honorific titles from the British. Aligarians lovingly call him “ Sir Syed”. He was a renaissance man, intellectually liberal, yet deeply rooted in his culture and religion. He considered it eminently Islamic to adapt modern scientific ideas from the West.

It is difficult to understand the leaders of 19th century India, from a political and chronological gap of a century, without considering the turbulent times, when the old ways were dying of decay and the new had not quite taken shape. The best way to understand Sir Syed is to put one self in his position.

Historical setting:
India of today was not even a dream two hundred years ago when Syed Ahmad was born. The idea of nationalism did not exist. The idea of a politically united democratic India evolved in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in the wake of British consolidation of power and spread of western education. The geographical understanding of India was fragmented. Indians were Indians in the same sense as feudal Europeans were Europeans. The personal identity sprang from cast, family, occupation, religion, the place of birth and the mother tongue.

In the early 19th Century the government for Indians was the feudal ruler, such as the local Chaudhary, Rao, Raja or Nawab, who owed allegiance to the agent (Subedar) of an even more remote nominal ruler the Mughal Emperor. The life was in complete subservience to the local ruler, who collected taxes for himself and his overlord. The justice was at the mercy of the Raja, Nawab, Taluqedar, or other ranks with vague powers.

The golden age of Mughals was a thing of the nostalgic past. It precipitously declined after the death of Emperor Aurangzeb, in 1707. The internecine succession struggles for the Mughal throne provided opportunities for the regional governors to grow stronger and accrue more power by expansion at the cost of other governors and the successive week Mughal Emperors.
South India known as Deccan, fragmented in four kingdoms - the Sultans of Maysore, Nizams of Hydrabad, Nawab of Carnatac and Maratha Peshwas. They were independent in all but name. In this mix of contending powers, the Chartered European trading companies started to expand from their coastal foot-holds in India. The most successful was the British East India Company (The Company) with strong governorates in Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. The French contended for power, but were marginalized because of Napoleon’s final defeat in Europe in 1815. The Company, mostly by default, accrued more and more power to dominate the whole of Indian subcontinent within a century. Neither the Indian rulers nor the Company could have foreseen the potential for its expansion and eventual direct rule by the British Crown in 1858.

The feudal Indian princes were overtly or stealthily being challenged, and bested by the British military might, and monopolistic industrial, mercantile, system. The Company realized the advantage of being a mercenary, in arms, and technology to the highest bidder among the contending states. In return their aim was to get advantages in land grants, and monopoly trading. The company employed Indian soldiers, paid and commanded them better than the Indian rulers. In hind-sight we know that whoever controlled the commerce and the commercial routes, ended up controlling the land that eventually led to vast colonial empires.
With the weakening of the Mughal power the Subedars, appointees of the Emperor gradually became hereditary vassal states and eventually quasi-independent rulers. The Marathas from Western Ghats quickly expanded in the first half of the 18th century. Unable to sustain the authority of Peshwa from Poona they eventually split in to four independent powers forming a confederacy, occupying the western and central India all the way to Delhi. In late 1780s the Maratha, ‘Scindia’ of Gwalior forced Shah Alam the Emperor to cede him the land revenue over a sprawling territory. For the sake of appearances he was also named the Vazir, which in effect was the power of regency controlling the Emperor.

At the same time, the northwestern India suffered constant invasions from the Afghans and Persians. The Persian King, Nadir Shah invaded India, occupied, sacked and looted Delhi in 1739. The Afghan, Ahmad Shah Abdali occupied Panjab, sacked and looted Delhi in 1756 again. Ahmad Shah defeated and broke the power of the Maratha confederacy in 1761 in the 3rd battle of Panipat. By the beginning of the 19th century, a century of warfare by contending governors, the country in general and particularly the area around Delhi was devastated.
The Mughal Emperors were reduced to being titular heads, controlled by regional warlords vying for power. The mercenary soldiers were paid by the revenue from reparations and looting of the subjugated territories. The rapacious warfare had completely destroyed the feudal economy and the people were left in endemic, crushing poverty and chaos. The disbanded Maratha soldiers (Pindari) became marauding gangs in north central India, there were roving bands of bandits called Looteras menacing North India. In the prevailing anarchy, groups called “thugs” with a long tradition of ritually looting and killing way farers, menaced the North-South trade routes. They were especially strong in the Narbada valley.

In this power vacuum the Company expanded its domains in Deccan by finally defeating Tipu Sultan in 1799, in collusion with the Marathas and Nizam. Later, one by one they subdued the Nizam with hegemonic peace treaty and defeated the Maratha power in 1819 exiling the Peshwa to Kanpur.

The Company occupied Bengal by defeating Sirajuddaula the Nawab of Bengal at Plassy in 1757 by bribing Mir Jafar, his uncle and the commander of the Army. The Company installed Mir Jafar as a puppet and usurped the authority of tax collection (Diwani). Seven years later in 1864, at Buxar in Bihar, the Company decisively defeated the combined forces of the Mughal Emperor and the Nawab of Awadh. Suddenly the Company became the de facto ruler of the whole of Eastern India by virtue of obtaining the right to revenue from these lands all the way to Awadh with nominally recognition of the Mughal sovereignty. That is how the chief British district administrator acquired the designation of “the Collector”.

By 1845 the Company had extended its control over Sindh. Punjab was so destroyed by marauding armies for a century that the Muslims happily accepted the peace offered by the 37 years rule of the Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh. After his death the Sikh kingdom imploded by dynastic wars. The British defeated the Sikhs and picked up the pieces in 1849, completing the Company’s dominance of India. The Mughal Emperor was now a vassal at the Company’s mercy. He survived on subsistence stipend. The regional princes paid homage to the Company which now ruled most of India.

Rule of the East India Company:
The rule of the Company was economically exploitative, but compared to more than hundred years of wars and pillaging, the peace it provided was welcome to the average Indian. The Company mollified the Nawabs and Rajas by sparing their principalities as quasi independent vassal states, controlled by a powerful Company agent, called “the Resident”. The Company established a direct administration in each district. The judicial system was fair and swift for the native Indians. In effect, the Company’s imposed peace was welcomed by all; even those who lost power accepted it grudgingly.

The Company brought industrial modernization to India, to facilitate communication and travel for their administrative and military advantages. Telegraph lines connected the centers of the company power a little before 1857. To make Indians better serve the Company Raj, colleges were established in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras and Agra. In Delhi, the Madrssah-Ghaziuddin was renamed as Delhi College in 1825, to teach western Science and English. Many upper caste Hindus took advantage of the new education in the British controlled provinces. The ruling class of Muslims having lost power to the British was distrustful of western influences and considered the western education as inimical to their interests and injurious to Islam.

By mid 19th century the Company controlled the whole of India and it became avaricious to eliminate all Indian rulers a fast as possible. Lord Dalhousie became the Governor General in early 1850s. In order to impose direct Company rule more quickly, he brazenly instituted the “doctrine of lapse”. That is states without a ’natural’ heir would be incorporated in the Company Raj on the death of the ruler. To earn more income from exploiting India, extra tariffs were imposed on Indian goods, injuring the Indian industry making it uncompetitive. The Indians were beginning to get restless.

These were the precarious and pernicious times that Syed Ahmad was born in and faced as a young man.

Syed Ahmad’s early Life:
Syed Ahmad was a scion of a well connected nobility of the Mughal Court. His father Mir Muhammad Muttaqi was a confidant of Akbar Shah II, the father of the last Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar. His maternal grand father Khwaja Farriduddin was Vazir in the same court for a short time. His paternal grand father Syed Hadi held a high position Mansab in the court of Alamgir II in 1750s (Malik, 1980).

This was a time when the Mughal Emperor was reduced to being a figure-head and his writ had no meaning outside the walls of the Red Fort. The Emperor and about two thousand princes and hangers on lived in dire poverty subsisting on a penurious allowance from the Resident of the Company. Most of the lesser princes in the Red Fort some times went hungry. The Mughal emperor and his court were a decaying hollow shell with no power or will to resist.

Syed Ahmad and his older brother Syed Muhammad were raised, steeped in Mughal culture in wealthy surroundings fallen on hard times. Their upbringing was mostly overseen by their mother Aziz-un-Nisa. She stressed discipline and education. Syed Ahmad was home schooled by well known tutors as was the custom for the ruling class. He was educated in Arabic, Persian, Urdu, followed by Islamic jurisprudence, mathematics and astronomy, a customary good education.

Syed Ahmad lived a carefree life of indulgence until his father died in 1838. With the Mughal court in terrible straits, all it could award were high sounding titles without any substance. So Syed Ahmad joined the service of the Company as a law Clerk at the Company Courts in Agra. Two years later he was promoted to the position of Munsif. In 1845 his elder brother also died leaving him responsible for the welfare of the whole family and his dependence on the Company became critical.

Syed Ahmad, the Scholar:
Syed Ahmad was well educated, his job and interest exposed him to a comparative study of Shariah and the British laws. He became a serious student of Islamic and Indian history. He was challenged by the momentous changes, with the old world in shambles. Islamic civilization was being challenged by the western Christian powers. He started publishing on religious subjects in Urdu in 1842, followed by a description and history of the great monuments of Delhi (Asarus Sanadid).

From 1842 to 1852 he published many works, such as, Jila-ul-Qulub bi Zikr il Mahbub, Tuhfa-i-Hasan, Tahsil fi jar-i-Saqil, Namiqa dar bayan masala tasawwur-i-shaikh, and Silsilat ul-Mulk.
Syed Ahmad’s view of history and Islamic renaissance was greatly influenced by Shah Wali-ullah (1703-1762). Waliullah advocated an updated curriculum of Islamic education to be taught in Urdu, the language of the people. To achieve this Waliullah initiated the first translation of Quran in Urdu against the opinions of orthodox Ulema; he is also credited with an effort to translate Quran in Sanskrit. Waliullah preached an interpretation of Islam based on Quran and Sunnah, cleansed of the pre Islamic tribal traditions that had seeped in the early Islamic culture. He strongly believed in the value of Ijtehad – a contemporary interpretation of Quran and Hadeeth, based Shariah with increasing knowledge and changing times. Waliullah appreciated Ghazali's synthesis of orthodoxy with genteel Sufi thoughts.

Syed Ahmad gradually came to the rationalistic (Mutazalite) expansive view of Islam. While most Ulema and their followers were drawing inwards, casting aspersions on the Western sciences as devils work, Delhi College, with Science and English as part of its curriculum was steadily attracting notice. Syed Ahmad befriended Imam Bakhsh Sahbaiy a professor of Persian at Delhi Collage. Later Zakaullah and Nazir Ahmad, two alumni of Delhi College along with the great poet, Altaf Husain Hali, an admirer of the college, became his ardent supporters and helped him develop his ideas on education (Malik, 1980).

Before 1857 Syed Ahmad did not care to know much about Christianity and held the usual hostile view, common in those days. In 1858 he started a comparative study of Quran and Bible, in preparation of his commentary on the Bible. He hired translators to help him understand Bible. (Lelyweld, 1978). With his increasing understanding of Sciences and western advancements, he was getting uncomfortable with the usual orthodox interpretations of Quran and Sunnah.

His visit to England in1869 fully exposed him to the Western intellectual ferment rife in Europe. This thought provoking exposure made him examine his beliefs critically.. Das Kapital of Marx had been published in 1867; Darwin’s observations of natural selections were published as the Origin of species in 1859, taking the intellectual world by storm. Though he did not comment on these events, he was intellectually challenged to understand new scientific ideas in the light of Islam.

Syed Ahmad augmented his faith with reason in order to better understanding and appreciate Quran. He is quoted as having said, “I am fully convinced that the Work of God and the Word of God can never be antagonistic to each other; we may, through the fault of our knowledge, sometimes make mistakes in understanding the meaning of the Word.” He was quite aware of the changing and incomplete nature of science. He knew that many theories of the science inherited from the Greeks have been proven wrong or inadequate. Therefore even the present scientific theories were also subject to change. The challenge is to carry on growth in scientific knowledge without a clash with Quran.

Quran, in Surah Imran (3:7) refers to the allegorical nature of many verses about natural phenomena. The choice is either to believe blindly or to interpret them with advancing knowledge for better understanding. Sir Syed took delight in affirming that his rationalism, “As our knowledge of the Work of God improves, our understanding of the Word of God must change.” (Lelyveld, 1978). Syed Ahmad faced a determined opposition to his ideas by the orthodoxy. He was ridiculed as being “Nachuri”, that is naturalist rather than Islamic.
Syed Ahmad supported, perhaps pioneered, science based explanations as a principle for the Quranic interpretation. He cogently argued that just as classical commentators had accepted the understanding of God’s throne, hands and eyes as metaphorical descriptions, similarly the descriptions of heaven, hell, and hoors should be considered metaphorical. He felt that Meraj can be understood as a journey of the mind. He firmly believed that with God all things are possible, but we understand according to the intellect God has bestowed on us and has enjoined us to use in his service.

Going against the orthodox view extracted a price. Criticism of Syed Ahmad’s religious views threatened to undermine his educational efforts. Several members of the committee withheld their approval of courses, pending the selection of religious text books for the MAO College. One of his most vocal critics, Ali Bakhsh Khan even traveled to Makkah to get a Fatwa (edict) condemning Syed Ahmad and his ideas (Lelyveld, 1978). He was not very successful in strongly establishing his rationalistic approach in his lifetime, but he did blaze a trail for the modern Muslim Scholars to follow.

Syed Ahmad helped renew the early Islamic, Mutazalite (rationalist) approach to Islam that has yet to take root in many Muslim societies. Muslims in many Islamic countries, even after a century of his passing have not yet been exposed to the idea of freewill, intellectual excellence in pursuit of knowledge that Islam enjoins and Sir Syed practiced.

The revolt of 1857 and Syed Ahmad’s attitude:
The revolt of 1857 called the Sepoy Mutiny by the British and the first war of independence by the modern Indians did start as a mutiny by the Company’s Indian soldiers at Meerut on the 10th of May. They marched to Delhi and proclaimed a reluctant Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar as their leader. Soon the rebellion spread and the areas around Delhi and most of todays UP were in flames. The better-known centers of rebellion were Kanpur, Jhansi and Lucknow. It was a horrible period for those who were caught in that whirl-wind.

The Company was able to crush the Indian struggle with very few British soldiers for two main reasons. First the struggle was essentially confined to a very limited region of the then Northern provinces (present Western UP) , Awadh and the present North Bihar. The rest of India - the South India, most of Bengal, Panjab, Sindh and Afghan provinces did not participate. Second, after initial fear of rebellion in these areas, the Company was able to draw soldiers from there. It took almost a year to crush the revolt. In August 1858 the British Crown dissolved the East India Company and India became a part of the Queens Imperial domains.

Syed Ahmad was posted in Bijnor during the early conflagration in the summer of 1857. He saw up close the smooth functioning of the British administration, the general sense of wellbeing and a good justice system with which he was intimately involved. For about a hundred years before the Company took charge, Rohilla leaders such as Najaf Khan and later his son had been responsible for terrible carnage in the this area called Rohailkhand (Northwestern UP) (Edwards, 1971). In his very critical book, “History of the Bijnor Rebellion” (translation by Malik and Dembo 1982), based on his observations of events and his intimate involvement in the administration; Syed Ahmad takes a very dim view of the motives of leaders like Nawab Mahmud Khan, of Najibabad, who paid homage but turned once they felt the Company was weak. Their rule of a few months was cruel and inept.

He saw the indignities heaped on the British families that were reprehensible to his sense of honor. He lamented the return of chaos and carnage that had bedeviled North India for more than a century. He saw the shifting rivalry between the Muslim Nawabs and Hindu Rajas. The treachery between the Shia Nawabs of Awadh and the Sunni Rohillas was also evident, all paying lip service to the Emperor but looking for their own interests. Thus the British with a few battalions, augmented by practically an all Indian force of Sikhs, Panjabis, Pathans and South Indians were able to crush rebellion. There was heroism by some leaders but there was no coordination and the Indian heroes did not get any support from their compatriots.

Aftermath of 1857:
In reaction to the rebellion and atrocities committed by the Indians, the British revenge was swift and brutal. The British rewarded those who had helped and supported them, and punished those, especially the Muslim elite from Delhi, Northern Province and Awadh, whom they blamed for providing leadership of the rebellion. The British justice that the Indians had so admired was discarded when it came to punishing those suspected of participation in the rebellion.

Syed Ahmad was shocked by the British attitude and felt obliged to write the most important and difficult book of his life; his seminal work, Risalah Asbabe Baghawate Hind (the causes of the Indian Revolt). It required courage. In the prevailing atmosphere of revenge, it could have landed him in a lot of trouble and ended his carrier. The book challenged the British thinking that the Indians were ingrates, who understood only force. He strongly criticized the Company’s administration for exactly that attitude. He cataloged the failings of the Company, their ignorance of Indian culture and cruelty of their rule. He particularly took the Company to task for being too greedy and obsessed with profits with little regard for the welfare of the people (Malik, 1980).

Fortunately for Syed Ahmad the book was well received among the policy makers in Britain. The British officers he had helped, when they were in dire need remembered his kindness and grace. He was offered a land grant. He refused it, as he did not want to be tied down to the property. The ill treatment of Muslims following the rebellion became a major concern to him. Muslims, who had finally lost all power and even the appearance of power, reciprocated this ill feeling and withdrew in a shell that manifested itself as not only anti British feelings, but also anti-modernization.

Syed Ahmad’s Educational Efforts:
The Company’s occupation of India started from Calcutta, Bombay and Madras presidencies, mostly by defeating Muslims rulers. The average non Muslim population was not affected, except in Bombay where they defeated the Marathas. Therefore The Hindus from Bengal and Madras and the Parsees from Bombay were preferred for employment and were exposed to the modern British education for more than three generations. They were commercially successful in the new set up and found better positions in the hierarchy of the British administration. Syed Ahmad became fully convinced that the way back to success for the Muslims was also through modern western education particularly in the sciences.

To propagate education with western orientation he helped establish Schools everywhere he was posted. A modern Madarsa was established in Moradabad in 1859. In 1861 his wife Parsa Begum (Mubarak) died. He took charge of his two young sons and a daughter and plunged deeper in his quest for better education for Indian Muslims. While posted at Ghazipur he established a similar school there in 1863. He helped start a Homeopathic hospital at Banaras in 1867. He established the “translation society” to help impart modern education in Hindustani. Because of differences with Raja Sheo Prasad, his partner in that enterprise over whether the ‘vernacular’ be Hindi or Urdu he gave up that idea and decided on English as the medium of higher education.

While posted at Aligarh in 1864 ,he started the Scientific Society of Aligarh, patterned after the Royal Society. The Society included Muslim and Hindu. It awarded grants for education and published journals in Urdu and English.

Syed Ahmad, had developed lasting friendships with British and Hindu colleagues during his long service. He drew on their support in his educational efforts in later years.

In 1869 Syed Ahmad incurred debt and traveled to England to learn first hand the methods and system of education, administration and society from what he considered to be the source of modernization. He enrolled his son Syed Mahmud at Christ College Cambridge, while he met Englishman from all classes and befriended those who received him well and were helpful in his aim for advancing the cause of Muslim education and eradication of ill will towards Muslims. He visited Universities, Colleges and technical institution, with the aim of establishing a Cambridge like residential institution at Aligarh.

On his return from England a year and a half later Syed Ahmad organized the “Committee for Better Diffusion of Learning among Muhammadans” to spearhead the effort of establishing a college at Aligarh. He began publishing a Journal, ‘Tahzibul Akhlaq’ to spread the idea of modern education. This enormous effort had many detractors. He was even declared to be an apostate (Kafir) by some Ulema. Nevertheless overcoming impediments from many directions including the British Collector and many of his detractors, he obtained enough funds from Muslims, British and a few Hindus to lay the foundation stone of a High School in May 1875. To devote full time for his quest of a Cambridge at Aligarh, he took voluntary retirement from the Judicial Service. He finally succeeded in inviting Lord Lytton, the Viceroy to lay the foundation stone of the MAO College in January 1877.

His wish was to establish a University, but he did not have enough resources to achieve it in his lifetime. MAO College finally became the Aligarh Muslim University in 1920.

Political attitudes of Syed Ahmad:
Syed Ahmad became, perhaps the most well known Muslim leader in India. His opinions on education and administration were sought in the British as well as Indian councils. He was firmly of the opinion that Muslims were not developed enough to indulge in anti British politics at that stage and hoped for the evolution of political framework in British India in such a way that Indians will ultimately achieve parity with the British. He had advocated such a development in his book ‘the Causes of the Indian Mutiny’. With the gradual opening up of the services to the Indians, he considered an eventual parity between the British and the Indians a natural outcome.

He supported the efforts of Dada Bhai Naoroji and Surendra Nath Banerjee for inclusion of Indians in the Civil Service. But he opposed the formation of the Indian National Congress and the participation of Muslims in what he considered to be anti British organization. He was skeptical of political parties. It is easy to criticize him in hind sight, but in view of intellectual and emotional historic journey from the decadent times of his youth and the toll the rebellion of 1857 took, it is not difficult to understand that he was averse to destabilizing forces and believed in gradual evolution of parity with the British.

Syed Ahmad grew up with Urdu/ Hindustani being the connective language among the languages and dialects in India. He considered Urdu to be the quintessential bridge among all the Indian languages, in effect lingua-franca. He was extremely disturbed by the sudden demands for replacement of Urdu by Hindi as official language in UP in 1860s and 70s. He considered it to be an effort to divide Hindus and Muslims and spoke passionately about maintaining the comity among the communities. He worked vigorously for Muslim participation in all levels of government, policy making bodies and national life. He was for Muslim progress not by pulling down others, but by the effort and excellence of Muslims to join others.

Syed Ahmad received knighthood from the British government in 1888 and became Sir Syed. He had been member of the Viceroys Legislative Council in 1878 and Civil Service Commission in 1887. But his first and most important effort was always the MAO College. One of the greatest disappointments he faced in later years was the embezzlement of funds by an accountant of the College. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan breathed his last after a brief illness on March 27, 1898.

Sir Syed’s Legacy:
Sir Syed is celebrated by legions of Aligarians, and many more infused with the Aligarh spirit, all over the world. He achieved enough success for one life time, but his success is much greater as it keeps multiplying many times over by a yearly crop of graduates from AMU. The scholars helping the spread of education are his true legacy. His intellectual progeny is a gift to India and many countries emulating his ideas.

Sir Syed passed away before the politics in India became completely polarized in the mid 20th century and the idea of an independent Indian Republic took shape. It is erroneous to assign him credit or blame for the political actions of the generations that came after him. He does get credit for creating an institution where generations to come get educated and learn to think for themselves independently. They join and pursue competing and often opposite political ideologies. This is what the British system that he so admired, as well as all modern democratic political systems are based upon.

Sir Syed lived in very troubled and fast changing times, in which many perished and many others particularly from the ruling class were lost in despair, but he learnt from experiences, struggled emotionally and intellectually to rise above the misery, to help and uplift his fellow beings and his community. He put the welfare of others before his comfort and left an example to be emulated.

Sir Syed was a proponent of education and civil dialogue in resolving problems. He differed with many of his friends and without animus, pursued his course in establishing an institution of modern learning. In these troubled times, more than a century after his death, his message and methods beckon Muslims in India and indeed all over world, to aspire for the best education possible and instead of arms use ideas and knowledge to resolve disputes and work for a better tomorrow for the Muslims as well as the humanity.

The 17th of October is celebrated as the ‘Sir Syed Day’ by Aligarians all over the world. Their effort in propagation of Sir Syed’s ideals by establishing many more colleges and universities are truly valuable tributes.

Sir Syed was a pioneer who single mindedly, with the help of supporters and friends created an institution that keeps on educating in many more disciplines than he could have known. New Aligarians graduate every year to carry the torch of education that he lit more than a century ago. In the words of Majaz enshrined in his poem “Nazr-i-Aligarh” ( Now the AMU anthem,) his legacy is:

“Jo abr yhaN sey utthey ga; Woh saarey JahaN par barsey ga.”
Poems can not be transliterated effectively. To suit English cadence, my sense of the above line, with apology to Majaz is:
“The spray from this fountain showers the whole world with knowledge.”

Malik, Hafeez; 1980; Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan and Muslim Modernization in India and Pakistan; Columbia University Press, New York.
Mallik , Hafeez and Dembo, Morris; 1982; Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan’s History of the Bijnor Rebellion, Idarah-i Adabiyat-i Dilli, Delhi, India.
Lelyweld, David; 1978; Aligarh’s First generation; Princeton University Press, NJ
Edwards, Michael; 1971, King of the World, Taplinger Publishing Company Inc.
Barnett, Richard B; 1980; North India between Empires; University of California Press, Berkley, CA.

No comments: