A balanced view on Sir Syed Ahmed khan-Dr Israr’s holistic approach
With the arrival of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s birthday, people have ignited discussions about him, turning the pages of history to discuss about a man who might have a contentious & a murky reputation but certainly owns a personality which is hard to ignore! Different people opine differently about him & his role in shaping the structural future of Indian Sub Continent & the Muslims inhabiting it. But I believe Dr Israr’s view of the stalwart is both unbiased & balanced. He calls a spade a spade with utmost precision & historical integrity. He does not fall into extremes of either blindly hero worshipping him (without taking into account the shortcomings he exhibited) or plainly rejecting him & his service in totality.
Dr Israr posits that Sir Syed’s personality had two main highlights. On the one hand he was a sincere well wisher of the Muslim community & on the other hand he unfortunately gave in to the idea of Scientism. What Sir Syed missed (or ignored) is the scientific method which is based on empiricism & induction is fundamentally dynamic & cannot be considered as a ‘permanent’ yardstick for religion. Ignoring this, he was too much in awe of the modern science that he couldn’t afford to accept anything (divine) which did not fall in line with the realm of physics. Dr Israr considers him as a modern reflection or a manifestation of classical ‘muatazilla’ who gave a decisive preference to aqal (intellect) over naqal (divine text). This philosophy is beautifully refuted by Ibn Taymiyyah in his famous work ‘Dar at-Ta’arud al-Aql wan-Naql’. There are various examples in the works of Sir Syed that substantiate the above claim for e.g; he denied the personified existence of angels declaring that these are actually the forces of nature that operate in the universe. He denies the miracles of the Prophets mentioned in the Quran & struggles very hard to concoct ‘scientific explanations’ of miracles like ‘Moosa’s staff bifurcating the ocean’. Similarly he interprets the ‘jinn beings’ as those humans who have a very short temper & thus denying the personified existence of ‘jinns’ coming under the axe of scientific inferiority complex. Dr Israr goes as far as to say that Sir Syed in a sense laid the foundation for ‘Quraniyoon’ (the Quran only movement) & the practice of ‘inkaar e hadees’.
But balancing the seesaw, Dr Israr honestly & heavily praises him & his religiosity! He calls him a deeply religious Muslim who contained an intense love for the Prophet. Narrating the incident of 1861 when Sir William Muir wrote the book “the life of Mohammad” in which he attacked the personality of the Prophet (which was one the main motives of Oreintalism). This troubled Sir Syed to the extent that he decided to refute the book for the purpose of which he even considered to sell his house to generate the finances required! Once this same oreintalist, Sir William Muir requested Sir Syed to let his wife interact with the women of his house to which he refused by saying that ‘our women perform hijab even before unknown women’, this signifies his staunch religiosity. Apart from his religiosity he was a sincere well wisher of the Muslims who kindled the tradition of modern education amongst Muslims, the importance of which cannot be undermined considering the socio cultural context he was living in. Against much opposition the establishment of Mohammaden Anglo Oriental College (MAO) at Aligarh in the year 1875 is one of his unique achievements which undisputedly sets him apart from other contemporaries. Without a doubt this college transformed into not only a university later on but in fact into a ‘movement’ which has played its part in various fields and continues to be in limelight.
In nutshell, we need to understand that no human being (except the Prophet) lived a perfect life! There are many shades to every single human being. It is extremely unfair to pick a weak point of a person & then run a smear campaign based on it! There is good & bad in every human being. Neither should we carve a prophet out of a common man nor a Satan. Be just & call a spade a spade!
Author is student of Islam, Philosophy and Mysticism. He can be mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are exclusively personal and do not necessarily reflect the position or editorial policy of Oracle Opinions.