The Other Sheikh Abdullah

No, he’s not the National Conference’s founder Sheikh Abdullah, who is a prominent figure of Kashmir, but the other Dr. Sheikh Abdullah, popularly known as Papa Mian.
The Other Sheikh Abdullah
Representational Photo

While trying to peek into the historical section of Mualana Azad Library of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), I came across a stunning fact about the other Sheikh Abdullah who was the real reformist.  

No, he's not the National Conference's founder Sheikh Abdullah, who is a prominent figure of Kashmir, but the other Dr. Sheikh Abdullah, popularly known as Papa Mian.  He was born on June 21, 1874, in a village in Poonch district of Jammu and Kashmir, and he was among the most towering personalities of AMU.

The fact is that, except few, hardly any Kashmiri here, like me, had any idea about the 'real' Sheikh Abdullah, after whom AMU's Abdullah College was named. This is one of the main reasons that Sheikh Abdullah, the founder of NC, is enjoying a lot of popularity here due to the coincidence in names.

Abdullah (Papa Mian), a reverted Muslim, moved to Aligarh at a young age and laid the foundation stone of women education in Aligarh.  Then he never went back to Kashmir. The founder of Women's college (Abdullah College) of Aligarh Muslim University, Abdullah had completed his schooling at Lahore.  Being impressed with the visionary ideas of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, he had shifted to Aligarh for higher studies.  After taking the degrees of B.A., LLB, AMU awarded him the degree of LLD in 1950.

AMU history says that he was very closely associated with the Aligarh Movement and has also served AMU as the member of Executive Council of the varsity from 1920 to 1928, Treasurer and the member of university court from 1920 till his death. Conferred with the title of 'Khan Bahadur' in 1935, Abdullah was also awarded Padam Bhushan in 1964.

Abdullah pressed for women's education and wrote many articles in different journals.  He also started a monthly womens' magazine called Khatoon in 1904.

In order to start a school for girls here, AMU'S history reveals that Abdullah led a delegation to Lt. Governor of United Province and also wrote a proposal to promote women's education to Begum Sultan Jahan, the ruler of Bhopal. Begum Sultan Jahan accepted the proposal and One Hundred Rupees per month grant was allocated to him for women's education.

On 19th October, 1906, he managed to start a girls school with five students and one teacher at a rented facility in Aligarh town. After a lot of struggle, Abdullah and his wife Waheed Jahan Begum (popularly known as Ala Bi) finally succeeded to lay the foundation stone of the first girl's hostel on November 7, 1911.

Abdullah's daughters, Begum Khatun Jahan and Mumtaz Jahan have also served as principals of the Women's College. Khatun Jahan had returned from England's Ladies University after completing her M.A. in Education. 

Sheikh Abdullah spent his whole life in Aligarh and in March 1965, he was laid to rest here. 

(Nayeem Showkat Khan is a research scholar at Department of Mass Communication, Aligarh Muslim University. Feedback at

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