Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and 100 Years of AMU

The Aligarh Muslim University came into being on 14 September 1920 by The Aligarh Muslim University Act. (Act No XL 1920) from Mohammaden Anglo Oriental College (MAO College) founded by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan at Aligarh. Hundred years down the line in history, Aligs (pass outs from the University) all across the globe are celebrating the Centenary celebrations (100 years) of the alma mater where the monumental buildings in the campus having historical importance (nowadays serving as different departments and many as residential hostels)  stand witness to the century of glory and pride; to the efforts of those men under the dynamic leadership of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan who dreamed about transforming lives of millions by ways of imparting modern education. The Aligarh Muslim University stands there with 100 years of dignity, honor and esteem. The Aligarh Movement and the University finds inseparable place in the Indian history with particular reference to Indian National Movement which finds its roots deeply embedded in it. With the creation of this University, the new era of educational maturity started in the Indian Sub-continent where the ignorant masses were made to understand the importance of education which later changed the political landscape of the whole Sub-continent. While Aligs across the globe are celebrating hundred years of Aligarh Muslim University this year, in 2020, it’s also imperative to celebrate 17th October which Aligs know by Sir Syed Day with same fervor, pride, honor and dignity by remembering the greatest works he did for the uplift of the downtrodden.

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was born in Delhi to a middle class, pious family on 17th October 1817 and got many honors from the British including Knighthood, Knight Commander of the Order of the Star of India (KCSI), Khan Bahadur and LL.D Honoris causa from the Edinburg University for his selfless services towards the society. His only ambition was to make educationally backward society equipped with modern education so that they can compete with modern world in science and technology. “He was highly disappointed by the political situation in the aftermath of the Revolt of 1857 with pathetic conditions particularly of Muslims and felt deeply pained to see the educational backwardness dominating the masses. It was the time when the British imperialism had firmly gripped India and the fall of Mughal Empire had an impact on the Muslims as they were suspected of masterminding the 1857 Revolt, hence subjected to ill treatment and other harsh punishments. By careful analysis of the situation in the backdrop of this revolt,  and with British at the helm of affairs, he foresaw that the modern education was the only tool to uplift the condition of educationally backward masses. Only a person who is having full knowledge of science and theology can compete and have pace with modern world.

In his famous speech at the foundation of MAO College on 08th January 1877, he said, “From the seed which we sow today, there may spring up a mighty tree, whose branches, shall in their turn strike firm roots into the earth, and themselves send forth new and vigorous saplings” to his last message as engraved on a big sandstone pillar which stands tall in one of the University Circle’s he clearly says, “Oh my dear children, you have reached a particular stage, and remember one thing that when I undertook the task, there was criticism all around against me, abuses were hurled upon me, life had become so difficult for me that I aged before my age, I lost my hairs, my eyesight, but not my vision.

My vision never dimmed, my determination never failed, I built this institution for you and I am sure, you will carry the light of this institution far and wide, darkness will disappear from all around”. This summarizes his lifetime struggle and achievements as well. The first speech at the foundation of MAO College reflects his belief in his ideas, dedication, honesty, sincerity, farsightedness, and clarity of vision. In his last message where he felt that he had reached the milestone and set up the path, it is quite evident that how turbulent his years of struggle would have been but he safeguarded his vision with honesty and watered the seeds of his belief with sincerity and hard work. His last message is full of pain inflicted to him by his critics, full of pride acknowledging the support and belief of his friends they put in him with foundation of MAO College and last part of the message is laced with hope where he is entrusting future generations with a responsibility of safeguarding this institute by following his advice; competiting with modern world with wisdom. His ideas about education were based on teachings of theology, science and morality where he greatly focused on moral education as well.

L to R: Nawab Mohsinul Mulk, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Justice Syed Mahmood (Pic Credits: Internet)

Though he was himself better placed at different positions across his professional career but educational backwardness among people pained him all the time. His was a firm belief that competitions can be won only with knowledge (both religious as well as worldly). His thoughts transcended religious orthodoxy of the times when learning English language was considered as blasphemous, hence attracting criticism. He was initially posted at Muradabad where he worked in Court and always remained busy in thoughts about uplifting the social and educational life of the backward society. Apart from being punctual in his professional duties, he set up a school based on his ideas there in Muradabad in year 1858, a year after Revolt. This is the first practical thing on which he started to work and five years later in 1863 he set up another school in Ghazipur. Setting schools and convincing people to send their children for modern education was met with great criticism owing to educational backwardness as only few realized the true message, but this did not shatter his ideas rather made him grow stronger day by day. In the year 1864 he started “Scientific Society” at Aligarh where he entrusted scholars to translate the great scientific works into Urdu and Hindi to make it understandable to masses as English not only by ways of imperialism but by language was also considered as a social taboo. The translations of the scientific works were to minimize the gaps and filling the voids which orthodox ways of life had created between science and theology. This was the foundations for “Aligarh Movement” with its main objective as establishment of modern system of education with establishing Mohammaden Anglo Oriental College (MAO) which later turned to be a University.

On 17th October, 2020 – 203rd birthday of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan – the Aligs from Jammu & Kashmir stand in unison with millions of Aligs across the world to pay rich tributes to Founding Father of our Alma mater,  Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, and his associates who believed in him in those turbulent times when he was transforming his ideas into actions. We are thankful to those great men and great women of the times who stayed like a rock behind the visionary man and gave us the great seat of learning which has transformed lives of millions. As a tribute Majaz Laucknowi has rightly summarized it as:

Sham dar sham jalaingay teray yaadou kai chirag

Nasal dar nasal tera dard numaya hoga

The author has studied Geology at Aligarh Muslim University.