Recently Aligarh Muslim University celebrated the 200th birth anniversary of its founder Sir Syed Ahmad Khan who is widely known as a renaissance man responsible for the emancipation of the Muslims of subcontinent from the hornet’s nest to an ambiance where they held their heads high with pride. The people of subcontinent especially Muslims owe Sir Syed a lot. According to a Kashmiri proverb if they would wash his feet and then drink that water, even that won’t be enough to pay off for the struggle that Sir Syed did for the Muslims of subcontinent.
After the Revolt of 1857, Muslim community was worst hit. They were killed in large numbers, their house were looted and burnt down and their property was ransacked. Sir Syed’s house in New Delhi was one of them. The Muslims of Indian subcontinent got economically weak, politically shattered, socially segregated and educationally backward. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was very much disappointed about the condition of the Muslims. They were limping waywardly towards darkness and it was he who grabbed the hand of this downtrodden community and brought them towards the light. He felt a need of revival so as to rescue them and to bring them back on track. He took this great onus on his own shoulders and started a movement in the name of ‘Aligarh Movement’ which was the first step towards the social, political, economic and educational upliftment of the Muslims of subcontinent.
Through Aligarh Movement, he was more concerned and focused on implementing modern and scientific education on Muslims. In 1864 he laid the foundation of Scientific Society in Aligarh (An organization which used to translate the scientific works of English and other European languages into Urdu and Hindi). Since science was not a prevalent course of study among Muslims. So his idea was very tough to implement. Initially he was branded as a British agent and declared as non-Muslim by his own community. He was of the stance that if you have to implement the modern education in India, you have to work in collaboration with the British. When asked about the rivalry with British he asserted that while living in a river you can’t fight with the crocodile. No doubt you have to tackle her as she is your biggest huddle but you need to follow a strategy. And when you have your own interests, you need to develope a close acquaintanceship with her.
In 1861 Sir William Muir wrote ‘Life of Mahomet’ and criticized Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h) in it. The Muslims of India got enraged when they heard about the book as Muir had insulted the Holy Prophet in this book. This marked the watershed in the history of Aligarh Movement. Religious sentiments are one of the delicate sentiments in human beings which promptly get hurt. At that time, Muslim sentiments were hurt. Amid this cold unrest, a delegation met Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and sought permission to fight the British with swords and canes. At that crucial juncture what Sir Syed told them is still written in golden words and is considered as an intellectual and mature answer. He told them, “You can’t succeed in defeating a book with a sword. You have to fight the book with a book. Even if you succeed in defeating it, that would definitely be a temporary success. You have to reply with a book to seek the permanent success.”
Now the question was who would write a book in response to Muir’s ‘Life of Mahomet’? Muslim community was educationally backward at that time. They don’t possess the capacity and capability to write a book and that too in English to counter the book of an orientalist and scholar of Islam. The job was very difficult. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan again came forward and decided to write about it. The decision was never easy to made. But his love for the Holy Prophet (p.b.u.h), his dedication, hard work, anthusiasm and curiosity made it look easy. Apart from the trust and expectations of the nation there were many dangers and difficulties looming and hovering over his head. Firstly, there was a threat of arrest from the British government. Secondly, he had to study those various books and references quoted by the author. Thirdly, those books were not available in India and he had to undertake the journey of England to study them as most of them were only available in the British Museum. He decided to bother all these hardships and went to England. In England, going through those references, he wrote more than a dozen rejoinders and got them published in The Pioneer and other periodicals in 1870. Later he got them published in a book titled, “Khutbat-e-Ahmadiya.” For his work he was appreciated worldwide by the Muslim community. Even William Muir was impressed and sought forgiveness.
Sir Syed’s stay in England was another watershed in the history of Aligarh Movement. He had an opportunity to visit the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge where he saw students studying in smart classrooms, sophisticated libraries, well built and advanced laboratories amid mooching around in green and well maintained parks in the University campuses over discussions and deliberations. Back home his people were devoid of these facilities. It was there, where he discovered the problem behind the educational backwardness of his people and decided to set the ‘Oxford of the East’ in India.
After returning back, he started campaigning to set up a college in Aligarh. He collaborated with the British government and sought experts from England to implement the modern education in his college. While campaigning he faced a lot of hardships and criticism and that too from his own community for whom he was doing all this. But despite of all the odds he remained adamant and didn’t budge from his cause. He finally laid the foundation of Muhammadan Anglo Oriental College at Aligarh in 1875.
Sir Syed was not disappointed by the treatment he received from his community. He was well acquainted of the fact that the people are short sighted. They are not exposed to the world outside. He told the people that we can’t send our wards to the great universities of Oxford and Cambridge but we can make one in India and sought their contribution and help for setting up of college. Gradually by his hard work, people started getting more and more interested and the college gained the fame not only among Muslims but in other communities as well, because the college was based on secular grounds. There was no discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, religion etc. The students and the staff was the conglomeration of all the communities viz Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians etc. That was the key element of the success of this college.
Shortly after his death, the college was made into a full fledged university known as the great Aligarh Muslim University and today the fruit of this university is being reaped not only by Indian society but by the whole world especially the sub continental countries. This was all possible because of the hard work, dedication and the commitment of this renaissance man, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan.
Aligarh Muslim University is not only an educational institute but a movement. A movement for the upliftment of the Muslims of subcontinent. It also played a major role in the freedom movement of Indian. It was the vision of Sir Syed who sought the solution of every problem through education and was succeeded. His vision had an association with the vision of Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h) who says, “Knowledge is the biggest tool”. Sir Syed was of the view that this tool has the power to tackle any huddle in your way. Knowledge makes you well-off and when you are economically sound, you can raise your voice against the atrocities, asperities and austerities around you. Otherwise your belly is never in a position to support your cause. He never braced violence and termed non-violence, the key spirit to success. He gave pen in the hands of his youth to fight the problems when they were enraged enough to consume themselves for a mere cause. Had he given the sword in their hands, the condition of the Muslims of the subcontinent would have been something else. They would have been dwindling somewhere.
We in Kashmir are in desperate need of this renaissance man and the movement he started to overcome the dogma we are going through. We are in one or the other way facing the same problems. Be it the burning of schools, daily upheavals or the chaos all around, we verily need to follow Sir Syed and his ideology of education non-violently. We have to give pen in the hands of our youth who of course are angry at this time, but it would be better for them in the long run. We have to encourage them for higher education outside the state or abroad, if possible. Only then can they realise their stand that where they are. Unless you see the light, you can’t imagine about the darkness you are in. You are like a frog in the pond who has no idea about the rivers and oceans.
Education is the only way out through which we can atleast anticipate the things to change automatically in a well cognizant and non-violent way. The violence is leading us nowhere, we are only consuming without a fruitful result. Moreover, we don’t have to strive that much as Sir Syed did. Our job is much easier than him. Our society is far more literate and intelligent than his. Only a direction is needed to this intellectual but downtrodden society. Our land is fertile enough to germinate the seed of Sir Syed’s ideology but only a little bit of moisture is needed. As Dr. Iqbal (r.a) says:
“Of his barren acres, Iqbal is not despair”
“Need of a little rain and the fertility emanates”.
Author is working on his debut novel ‘The Ensnared Childhood’. He is presently pursuing bachelors in English literature at Aligarh Muslim University and hails from Frisal Kulgam Kashmir. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org