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Sir Syed and the Genesis of AMU (Shan Muhammad)

Sir Syed was born in an aristocratic family on October 17, 1817. His father Mohammad Muttaqi had been the courtier at the Mughal Court. He was taught by his mother and the leading Ulema of the time. There was no branch of learning he did not touch. By the time he reached the age of 18 years, he acquired great knowledge in almost every subject. His father passed away in 1838, and to meet the financial problems, he entered into the service of the East India Company in the judicial department. By virtue of his hard labour, he soon became a Munsif and when he was in Bijnore, the Revolt of 1857 broke out.

In the wake of cataclysms of 1857, he was highly pained to see the destruction of Muslim families. Since the Muslims were at the forefront of the revolt, the British resolved to crush them. They were reduced to extreme poverty. If ever a man stood in need of a career, he was a Musalman. Sir Syed’s family also suffered from the brutality of the English soldiers. Seeing all these Sir Syed was every pensive.

The hiatus between the victors and the vanquished was great and Sir Syed wanted to bridge the gulf. Conciliation was the only solution to Sir Syed. In the acquisition of western education Sir Syed found the solution of all the problems of Muslims. It would bring them close to British. Their distrust would lessen and government services be provided to them. Now the promotion of western education among the Muslims had become Sir Syed’s main task. He delivered lecturers, asked them to shun their prejudices against the west and created a group of people to support him in his programme. He chose Aligarh, a town 135 Km east of Delhi, as his headquarters for his socio-educational campaign which came to be known as the Aligarh Movement. His sojourn in England enlightened him further on many educational issues. But the majority of Muslims did not accept his ideas. They saw in it heresay and irreligiousness. Sir Syed had to fight hard from his coreligionists to convince them that if they did not take to Western education, they would have no place in British India.

In Sir Syed’s scheme of education, the foundation of a University occupied top priority. Appeals for donation were made and it met with success in spite of the tremendous opposition. Sir Syed moved ahead with his plans for founding a College for Muslims. The Address presented to Lord Lytton who was invited to lay the foundation of the College was exemplary. It touched the Muslim problems and was a unique document. It candidly pointed out that the object of the foundation of the College was ‘to educate the Muslims so that they may be able to appreciate these blessing’ to dispel those illusory traditions of the past which have hindered our progress, to reconcile oriental learning with Western literature and science. He repeatedly said that his scheme of education would not disturb the oriental learning.

He was the most prominent among the Muslim leaders of his time who realized the dynamic force of Western culture and clearly saw that if Islam in India was to adopt itself to the changed situation it must imbibe those elements of Western culture which had made the West so dominant and powerful in Modern India. But it was not to be achieved at the cost of the introduction of heretic ideas in his planned college but through reinterpretation of Islamic scriptures based on rationalism of the age. He had practically no idea of deviating from Islamic teaching. What he intended was that his students should be the best example of theology and science which is evident from his off quoted assertion: “Science shall be in our right hand and Philosophy in our left and on our head shall be the crown: ‘There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is His apostle’.” Thus began the Aligarh Movement, after the name of the town which had become the seat of his movement after his retirement and from where sprang the Mohammadan Anglo-Oriental (M.A.O.) College in 1877 which developed into the Aligarh Muslim University in 1920.Sir Syed was secular in all his activities. The College was mainly founded for educating the Muslims but he never differentiated between Hindu and Muslims. Gold medal were given to the Hindus and Muslims both and on the staff and managing committee Hindu were no less than the Muslims. It was because of the non-communal approach of Sir Syed that the College flourished and the students were found fit for the Government services.

Sir Syed wanted that all Indians should work together for their progress. He talked more of the industrialization and commerce of India and told both the communities to work hard for the development of India. He talked about the Muslims only when he felt that a push was essential to make them go ahead. He did not like the Muslims to join politics at a time when they were in a go-cart stage in education. But it was a temporary phase. He hoped that as soon as the Muslims would get sufficient education, they would naturally go in politics and there would be no restriction on them.

The educational and economic disparity between the two communities was a stumbling block in the nationalist upsurge and unless both were at par it was futile for a backward community to join political movement. Due to this, he not only apposed the Indian National Congress but also Syed Ameer Ali’s Central National Muhamadan Association. This stand of Sir Syed has been justified by the Tribune and many other national papers which supported Sir Syed in his educational campaign and appreciated him. Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. Tara Chand and Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant paid glowing tribute to Sir Syed’s educational programme and secular approach to all problems of India.

Sir Syed passed away on March 27, 1898, but the seed sown by him developed into a full-fledged University in 1920, and is serving the country in all walks of life.

The efforts of Sir Syed were directed at recognizing changing realities & placing the community in a better position to service & adjust in than for. Clearly to Sir Syed’s mind, resistance was not a feasible option at that point of time. With independence & partition the realities changed again. SC’s & ST’s were provided reservation 10% initially but it later on it increased to 22.5%. In 1991, Mandal Commission advocated the reservation for OBC which has been granted in 2008. But when the question came about Muslims, everyone remained silent. Sachchar Committee also advocated reservation of 10% but it is difficult to get 50% reservation in AMU which was formed by Sir Syed who collated donation from each and every sector irrespective of his profession.

*Professor Shan Muhammad has taught Politics in Department of Political Science, AMU, Aligarh. He also served as the Chairman of the department and Sir Syed Academy. He has authored plethora books on Sir Syed and Aligarh Movement. His major anthologies include Indian Muslims (12 Volumes) and The Aligarh Movement (03 Volumes). He was resident member of Mohsin-ul-Mulk Hall during his college days.
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