Sir Syed Day Special: Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-1898) was not only the founder of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) but was also the founder of modern thought among Muslims. He emerged a great leader who fulfilled the duty of giving a new historical turn to the middle class Muslim society and giving a new hope amid the post-1857 turmoil in which Muslims reeled. During his productive life, he assumed a prominent role in all kinds of academic and national pursuits for educational, political, religious, social, literary, and creative purposes and left an indelible mark in every field of life, in particular in educational matters which were close to his heart.
The idea of Aligarh took the form of an educational movement that led the Muslims towards a new thought and futurism. Today “Sir Syed Zade” of the institution established by him are spread in every corner of the world. This is the reason why Sir Syed is considered one of the architects of modern India and the educational institution established by him is called “the first modernist institution in Islam” by prominent orientalist Hamilton Gibb. He tried to recognise the struggle of Sir Syed in the wider global context of Islamic history.
To quote him: “In this way, Sir Syed’s achievements are compared to those of Midhat Pasha and Fawad Pasha of Turkey, Hojat al-Islam Sheikh Hadi of Iran, Mustafa Kamil of Egypt, Amir al-Din Pasha of Tunisia, Amir al-Qadir of Algeria, Imam Muhammad Masnousi of Tripoli, Seyyed Jamal al-Din Afghani of Afghanistan and Mufti Alam Jan of Russia. Study with”.
Pre-1857, Sir Syed emerged as a political thinker. Before Ghadar, Sir Syed’s literary contribution can be traced in Jam-i-Jim, Jala-ul-Qoloob Ba Zikar-ul-Mehboob, Asar us Sanadid. After the fateful 1857, he wrote Tarikh Sarkishee Bijnor, The causes of the Indian revolt, Risala Khairkhawan-i-Muslims, and Tabeen Al-Kalam. They became the instrument of understanding with the then rulers. Post-1857, whatever he wrote, said or did, a large part of it is related to the political reformation of Muslims. Sir Syed considered education a means and means of political recovery.
Influenced by the circumstances, accidents, and events of 1857, Sir Syed dedicated his life and formulated a political strategy for the needs of the community and the nation, due to which he played a key role in preventing India from becoming a Muslim Spain. It can be considered his greatest achievement for the Millat-e-Islamiya. However, a majority of scholars failed to pay due treatment. Asrar Alam, the author of “Sir Syed’s Vision”, while discussing his personality and achievements, though, has written, “In India, a genius like Sir Syed could hardly be born in the nation of Islam, with the exception of Ghalib. Andalus became Spain only because no Sir Syed was born there in the fifteenth century. This achievement of Sir Syed will remain alive in history.
Professor Rashid Ahmad Siddiqui, in one of his articles on ‘Aligarh Movement’, has said about Sir Syed’s critics: “Sir Sayyid’s critics did not consider what a terrible accident Ghadar was in favour of Muslims and what historical events Muslims were suffering from. Sir Syed did not want the fate of the Muslims in India to happen similar to Spain.”
Sir Syed published the Urdu translation of the obituary of Yahya Qurtubi in his magazine Institute Gazette on January 1, 1881, because if the Muslims did not understand the requirements of the time and did not reform themselves, then there would be another Spain. Sir Syed wrote in this magazine that Syed Yahya al-Qurtubi al-Andalusi wrote to his contemporaries in his obituary, “We weep for our nation at this time. The difference between us and him is that he wept for what had happened and we wept for what happened to our nation.” It is Wally. He wept over the dead and we mourn over the corpses that are alive and lifeless.”
After the first war of Independence, Sir Syed’s dream of national revival was realised in Aligarh. Historian Prof. Ishtiaq Ahmed Zalli, while addressing the Sir Syed Day celebrations on 17 October 2019, said: “When the political authorities were passing away, Sir Syed laid the foundation of a new kingdom of knowledge and knowledge. It was not only a school where credentials required for government jobs were provided, but it also served the cultural and psychological needs of Muslims. Sir Syed was also aware of the needs of his defeated nation and the resources that could be provided to fulfill them. The construction of the beautiful and magnificent buildings of Madrasaul Uloom was also a part of this plan. No other institution in the country could become such a center of national hopes, aspirations, devotion, and love as this institution of Sir Syed.”
In one of his essays entitled “Madrasatul Uloom Mussulman”, the self-published Darsgah, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan had set expectations for the students of the future Muslim University.
“Looking at the history of the ancient Muslims proves that when they had the development of education in Spain, in the universities of Cordoba and Granada, students of all nations and religions were taught with great pleasure, and people of every nation and religion I read We hope to God that this madrasa al-ul-Uloom will also get the same old lost honour and good name by teaching every nation.”
Sir Auckland Colvin, the translator of Sir Syed’s essay “The Reasons of Sarkashi Hindustan Ka Jawab Mazmoon”, while addressing the students while visiting this institution as the Uttar Pradesh Governor during Sir Syed’s lifetime, had to admit that “to be educated at Aligarh College is a certificate of respectability for every man in the eyes of the British and Indians”. They (students) take with them the seal of education and training there and the intellect and mind of the person under whose supervision their education and training takes place, he added
In advancing the educational mission of Sir Syed, those young comrades were the hands and arms of Sir Syed, but a few scholars and intellectuals have criticised the religious thoughts and ideas of Sir Syed. Among the companions of Sir Syed himself, Maulvi Muhammad Samiullah Khan, Khwaja Muhammad Yusuf, Mohsin Mulk, Waqarul Mulk, Deputy Nazir Ahmad, and Allama Shibli Nomani had differences. Sir Syed kept the examples of Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani, Imam Ghazali, and Imam Rabbani before him again and obtained Faizan from them. These religious leaders also had to face severe opposition in their reform efforts. Sir Syed was well aware that every new movement is nurtured in the embrace of differences.
Sir Syed was, in fact, the founder of a new intellectual movement among the Muslims and the pioneer of the movement of Ijtihad and criticism of religion. He was the pioneer in modern India who investigated the principles of religion and established the principles of modern theology for the defense of religion. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was a bitter critic of Sir Syed’s political ideas, but he did not eschew words to praise Sir Syed’s modern knowledge of Kalam. According to him: Dr. Bashir Ahmad Dar is among the intellectuals who made Sir Syed’s religious thoughts the subject of his research and writing. According to him, “Sir Syed was the first person of the modern era who felt the need for a new interpretation of Islam which is comprehensive, modern, and progressive”.
Christian William Trall, who figures prominently among the scholars who have done research work on the subject of new knowledge of Islam in the reconstruction of Islam based on Sir Syed’s thought, said: “Sir Syed’s real achievement is that he stopped his co-religionists from hating the West and told them that modern Western sciences are not harmful to their religion.”
Khawaja Altaf Hussain Hali’s Hayat-e Javed, which is the biography of Syed, is considered an authentic book in the Urdu language. Later, researchers found some material in this book not authentic. Prof. Shafey Kidwai has pointed out a few mistakes in the Hayat-e-Javed in his recent book on Sir Syed.
Major and important work on Sir Syed is the publication of sixteen volumes of “Maqalat Sir Syed” by Ismail Panipati, which was published by Majlis-e-Taraqi-e Adab, Lahore, and these articles also have a reference status, but scholars who have studied the original writing of Sir Syed, have put question marks on some of the material in the book. In this regard, Sir Syed Academy has now decided to publish the articles by editing them.
Similarly, the last message of Sir Syed in English is engraved on a huge stone at Duck Point near the Engineering College, President Gate on Muslim University Road. Where and when did Sir Syed give this last message? It is still shrouded in mystery and scholars are engaged in finding the date and forum where Sir Syed delivered this message.
The author is former director, Urdu Academy. Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh