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Sir Syed – A luminous star & a champion of education

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan

By Yaqoob Murtaza

In the current millennium, the prevalent situation in world particularly in India is very grotesque and not healthy for minority communities. India is such a secular and democratic country, where false narrative are dominating and plain lies are now being as truth, where the freedom of expression seems to be impossible and to question on the policies of government has attracted sedition charges, where there is no value of life and the concept of brotherhood, tolerance, unity, fraternity, humanity, peace, religious harmony, and secular character of the country is in threatening situation, where the  differences in the ideas and opinions are not acceptable, where the minorities and marginalized people are continuously being deprived of their rights, where the citizenship of the minorities is in danger and uncertainty, where the people are not feeling safe and secure within the territory of India and they are living in the state of threat and fear, where marginalized people, particularly Muslims are passing through deeply troubling phase, bizarre situation and crucial condition.

In fact, they are facing many social, economic and political issues like education problem, economic crisis, political instability which caused them to live a miserable life and deprived them from dignified life and justice has become inaccessible.

To overcome these problems and to come out from the prevalent critical condition, we should tend to look to our forbearers for guidance and inspiration, so that we can imbibe lessons from their life and experiences and can adopt their values which would be an instrument for socio economic changes of Muslim community. For the such issues which we face in the contemporary world, one such forbearer is Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (may his soul rest in peace) (17 Oct 1817 – 27 March 1898) founder of Mohammedan Anglo Oriental College which letter blossomed into the Central University in 1920, who faced similar issues and Muslims of India were passing through a somewhat similar crisis. In that difficult situation, Sir Syed Ahmed, a man of productive action, strong desire, progressive vision, universal mission stood up alone and led them from darkness to light.

Sir Syed was a true Muslim pragmatist, staunch educationist, a historian, a thinker, social reformer, versatile writer, an activist and Idealist especially forbearer of Muslim Renaissance in the 19th Century.

‘A Champion of Education’-

The present situation of Muslims in the field of education and their condition economically are worse than Dalits as per the Sachar committee report of 2011. In this critical situation, what we have to do is that we must re-read Sir Syed Ahmed who started the movement of education among the Muslims community in the 19th Century. He realized the backwardness of Muslims in the field of education, and searched for the causes of economic crisis and understood that the economic future of Muslim was threatened by the rigidity of their orthodox outlook to modern Science and Technology. He strongly believed that the Muslim society would not progress without the acquisition of Western education and Science. He observed that education is the only tool to empower poor, backward, and Muslim community. His supreme interest was intellectual development of the people through modern education. In his work, he explained how Iman (Iman) could go hand in hand with progressive scientific and political ideas.

His message was to the point. Follow the path of knowledge with open mind, open eyes, and with the bottom of heart. He said “study and revere the Holy scriptures of all religions and let not hatred blur your vision”. He never distinguished modern education from religious education and suggested one of the best education systems advocating the combination of both educations. He said ” the Holy Quran will be in our right-hand, natural Sciences will be in our left hand and the crown of La Ilaha Illallah Muhammadur Rasulullah will be on our head “. , in a limited amount of time, he performed unlimited tasks that surprised not only Muslim society but the whole world, and made him the most prominent Muslim politician and reformist in the 19th Century. Father of nation- Mahatama Gandhi said “Sir Syed was the Champion of Education”. Now, we as the torch bearer of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, must have responsibility to educate our children as well as children of those who are not able to educate their children so that they can stand on their legs and live a dignified life.

Religious Harmony & Re-establishment of Multicultural Society

In the present scenario, where heat and hatred are being spread, where the glory of humanism, brotherhood, and large-hearted religious tolerance is continuously decreasing, where religion is being used an instrument of violence, where aggressive nationalism and mob lynching have taken the life of many innocent, where the existence of multicultural society has become difficult. In this critical situation, we must look Sir Syed Ahmad Khan who was the believer of multicultural society and flag bearer of religious harmony. He believed that “all communities irrespective of any discrimination should be given equal status”. He advised Indian Muslim to imbibe moral values and to develop large hearted religious tolerance, feeling of brotherhood and to cultivate friendship with the people of other religions. He always advocated Hindu-Muslim unity and considered them as two eyes of beautiful bride as well as he regarded Hindu, Muslim only religious word nothing more.

He said ” Hindu and Muslims are two eyes of beautiful bride that is Hindustan. Weakness of any one of them will spoil the beauty of the bride”. In a lecture at Gurdaspur Punjab he stated ” O Hindus and Muslims!  Do you belong to a country other than India? Don’t you live on this soil and are you not buried under it or cremated on its Ghats? Hindu and Muslim are nothing but a religious word. All Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians who live in this country are one Nation”.

Feeling of Oneness Among Various Sects of Muslims: A Need of Time-

In the present century, Muslim are divided into various sects and they do not come forward to co-operate each other in any circumstances. Moreover, they have founded their separate mosques and Madaris and separate Jama’at (organizations) which led them to divert from the teachings of Islam and Quran and they do not have feeling of oneness among them while Quran is one, Hadith is same, prophet is same but they are following old based traditional path. The Holy Quran and Hadith are present for their guidance but they do not tend to understand the true messages of Quran and imbibe lessons from it in order to reunite themselves.

To stop this obstacle, we should look to Sir Syed Ahmed Khan who did his best endeavors to reunite Muslim Community. The mission of Sir Syed or Aligarh Movement was not only to improve educational backwardness of Muslim but also was to reunite different sects of Muslim on a common platform in order to regain our past glory and lost status.  Despite being a devout Muslim, Sir Syed who had pain for the bad condition of Muslim society, was criticized and the verdict of ‘Kufr’ was issued against him by orthodox religious scholars. But Sir Syed was an exceptional man in all regards, he was a man of selflessness, self-sacrifice and a man of productive action. The strong passion of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan can be understood by his statement. “Many of you do not want to donate money for college because of my involvement. But consider the mosque all of us pray there but cleaning is done by someone whom you hold to be inferior. So, think me as a cleaner of Mosque but please donate the mosque”.

The dream of Sir Syed has not been completed yet.  For the fulfillment of his purpose, what we need, is broad vision, positive thought, creative study, positive step, productive action and tolerance with acceptance, no matter how strong differences we have on some points. Then we can regain our past glory and carve out a leading existence in the world especially in our country where the governmental agencies and social media are not playing their roles on the basis of secular and democratic structure but they are doing on communal ground in accordance with the plan of the ruling party.

Stickiness over core values of life

We are living in an era, where to adopt ethical values of life has become very difficult and to stand on core values of life seems to be a revolutionary act in itself, where the people forget all their past after attaining better standard of life and try to show their superiority over their community and yearns for bubble fame, extreme applause, admirable words, rather than actual and substantial work.  In this stage, we must imbibe lesson from the mission of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan which embodied in a binding hope for future. He has dedicated his entire life to serve his nation. Throughout his career and struggled for the betterment of Muslims and never missed any chance for their betterment.

A very motivate thing which we find in his entire life is that, he served under East India Company but never compromised on his core values of life. He always followed the principles of life, no matter how much crucial the circumstances were! and how much difficult the era was!  During the time of Revolt of 1857, Sir Syed was serving under East India company and he was loyal to British but obtained close knowledge about British colonial politics and policies during his service. Recent after the Revolt of 1857  Sir Syed wrote a booklet “The cause of Indian Revolt ” and openly criticized those British policies which caused the rebellion.

Another educative aspect of his life is his simplicity and sacrificing nature that’s why he traveled throughout the country asking people for funds and endowments for the Mohammedan Anglo-oriental college. He requested his friends and relatives who invited him for lunch or dinner to donate the amount for the college.  Such selflessness, self-sacrifice and perseverance on core values of life are the need and call of our time.

Result of Universal Mission

In the 19th century, when Sir Syed was striving consistently for the upliftment of Muslims, the circumstances were very critical because only handful people came to support for Sir Syed, that’s why the future of Sir Syed’s mission was not looking stable before him. But he had an abiding hope and a universal Mission as he expressed in his words ” Sons of MAO college should go forth throughout the length and breath of the land to preach the message of free enquiry, of large-hearted toleration and of pure morality “. This is only the result of his universal mission that his message reached to the corners of the world in a limited amount of time.

Leadership is Not an Issue but Its Acceptance

It is said that the leadership is a big issue for Muslim community. But the question is, is it true?  If we go through history, we will be able to understand the whole discourse and come to a conclusion that the leadership is not an issue but the acceptance of leadership is the real issue and the lack of leadership was never been such an issue for this community.

For instance, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was a great educationist and prominent political leader but Muslim community did not accept him with whole heartedly. Sir Syed Ahmad khan is another example. Undoubtedly, he was the ‘ champion of education’ and a great thinker but the contemporary Muslims did not accept him and compelled him to do act like an ordinary man. He was forced to ask for the grant, fund and endowment but he never ashamed of what he was doing. So, he went out with begging boil, asking the people like a beggar to donate for MAO college for its development.  A great leader, who always struggled for the upliftment of Muslims in the field of education and economics as well as for the bright and glorious future of their children, was treated in such a manner while there was no mistake on his part. What he was doing, it was only for the betterment of Muslims society.

Sir Syed open minded, broad vision, true action, lofty goals ,devotion beyond dedication ,vision of united and harmonious India, productive action, establishment of multicultural society, willingness for upliftment of Muslims, his stand to get justice and not to compromise on his core values of life, his sacrifice, his strong passion for the education of children, his selflessness, his conduct and his simplicity  render him greatest not only for us but the future generation too. What a nice word Maulvi Abdul Haqq said about Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. He says “people say – Sir Syed founded a college. No, he did not only establish a college but revived a nation, developed the concept of nationality, breathed the interest of education in dead hearts, decorated the all aspects of life and enlightened them. He looked knowledge, literature, ideology, language, politics, journalism, and religion with liberal outlook. He did his best to fulfil the needs of time and made every effort to nullify negative thoughts and false ideas, and guided us towards rationalisation and research which we have forgotten in the obedience of old age culture and tradition”. Really, Sir Syed was a luminous start around him gathered many galaxies, and his entire life is a shining beacon which can lead us through the challenges and issues which we may face in this contemporary world.


Yaqoob Murtaza is a student of law at Aligarh Muslim University , Malappuram Centre .

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