Khan: Reform Personified

Khan: Reform Personified

Sir Sayed Ahmad Khan wanted Muslims to excel in the field of emerging sciences

Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan was a great socio-religious reformist of the 19th century. Mutiny of 1857 brought severe changes in the sub-continent. Many Muslims took active part in this revolt against the British Empire. After its failure the British authorities’ severely persecuted many Muslims and a great gulf created between Muslims and the British. William Hunter in his book “Indian Musalmans” vehemently criticized Muslims generally for their role against the Empire. Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan wrote a book “Causes of the Mutiny” in which he vigorously tried to narrow down the gap between the Muslims and the British. He removed many misunderstandings against the Muslims which were caused by the book of Hunter. By his book and by many other ways he succeeded in convincing the majority of the British government that the mutiny was a general racist revolt and not peculiar to Muslims. 

Sir Sayyid’s thought regarding the politics was that it is God who gives kingdoms and political authority to people. He was against any kind of revolt against the British Empire. He considered it an unnecessary cause of chaos and bloodshed. He instead prompted Muslims in particular and the Indians in general to remain loyal to the British Government for their own betterment. He especially instigated Muslims to excel in the field of emerging sciences and education.

The greatest contribution of Sir Sayyid was the establishment of Anglo-oriental Mohammadan College which later became the well-known Aligarh Muslim University. He faced many hardships and many conservative ‘ulama issued fatwa’s against him. Majority of the ‘ulama were against the English and modern physical scientific education because they thought it to be a Satanic trap to deceive Muslims from the true knowledge. But Sir Sayyid and his associates did not think so. Sir Sayyid considered modern education as the primal pre-requisite for the progress and development of Muslims. Due to the emergence of the physical sciences in the 18th century many Muslims became skeptic and doubtful about the teachings of Islam. To remove this skepticism and doubt, Sir Sayyid interpreted Islam in a scientific way. He interpreted the miracles in the Qur’an as the natural events which seemed supernatural superficially. He stressed the need and importance of peaceful co-existence with the people belonging to other faiths. He presented Islam in a humanistic and universal manner. Sir Sayyid wrote the interpretation or the exegesis of the Holy Qur’an in two volumes which he could not complete due to his death. But he covered a major part of Qur’an. He brought out his magazine “Tahzeeb-ul-Akhlaq” and succeeded to inculcate a new passion amongst Muslims for acquiring modern education. 

Sir Sayyid defended the Holy person of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) against the allegations of Sir William Muir which he wrote in his book “The Life of Muhammad”.  The book based its argument on the information collected from a close study of some Muslim sources and was acclaimed as a great help to the missionary in his spiritual onslaught on Islam. Sir William had pointed to the institution of divorce, polygamy, and slavery with the finger of scorn, though towards the end he was constrained to admit that Islam had ‘banned for ever many of the darker elements of superstition  …idolatry vanished before the battle-cry of Islam; the doctrine of the unity and infinite perfections of God…became a living principle in the hearts and lives of the followers of Muhammad…brotherly love is inculcated…within the circles of the faith…orphans to be protected, and slaves treated with consideration; intoxicating drinks prohibited, so that Mohammadanism may boast of a degree of temperance unknown to any other creed. Sir Sayyid wrote a long biography of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) known as “Essays on the Life of Muhammad and Subjects Subsidiary Therto” in which he removed many misunderstanding against Islam and Prophet. (Life of Muhammad, p.521). It is said that he had to sell his household effects and borrow heavily to meet the expenses of the publication.

Sir Syed’s contribution for the amelioration and empowerment of the Muslims is great. He gave significance to the education of the Muslim community and succeeded in it. His institutions such as the College and the Muslim Educational Conference continued to influence intellectuals till this day and will continue to do so in the years to come unhindered. Allam Iqbal described the personality of his stature in best possible manner. He said: “The real greatness of the man (Sir Sayyid) consists in the fact that he was the first Indian Muslim who felt the need of a fresh orientation of Islam and worked for it’’ (Sir Allama Iqbal).

Author teaches at Department of Islamic Studies, Govt. Degree College Pulwama.