Syed Ahmad Taqvi commonly known as Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (1817-1898) the founder of the Mohammadan Anglo-Oriental College later Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) was a scholar par-excellence, educationist, social reformer, a philosopher and certainly a saviour. A complete review and nuanced understanding of his intellectual services, patiently and sincerely, is beyond the capacity of this article; however, it’s an attempt to understand his fundamental teachings on his 204th birth anniversary which is being celebrated across the world by his admirers and students of the AMU as ‘Sir Syed Day’.
As we are celebrating his birthday at a time when false narratives and distortion of history are peaking and easily passed on as a norm, the teachings of Sir Syed become ever more important. His message was loud and clear to become educationally sound and embrace science for a greater mental outlook and broader vision; a lead to, safeguarding one’s social and political identity, therefore, leaving lesser scope for distortion and diversions (as one of the aspects). Apparently, these were the concerns and considerations that he went onto lay the foundation of the school in Aligarh which later became University under the pen name of ‘Oxford of the East’. It is because of his tireless efforts and hard work that Muslims of the Indian Sub-Continent were able to prepare themselves for the ‘Muslim Consciousness’ and it was in this backdrop that the poet of the east, Dr. Sir Allama Iqbal described Syed in these classical words: ‘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.’
In the aftermath of 1875 revolt when he wrote a pamphlet titled Asbab-e-Baghawat-e-Hind (The Causes of the Indian Revolt). He explained the reasons of the revolt from a native perspective. As he would write “Post-Ghadar (revolt), I was not disappointed by looting of my house and loss of belongings. I was disturbed due to the ruination of my Qaum…I gave up the idea of migration and decided to struggle for the rebuilding of the Qaum.” As Munsif (Journalist) by profession, Syed used his pen and writings for the social and educational reforms. It was under him that the celebrated journal under the name of Tahzeeb-ul- Akhlaq (Social Reformer) was founded. He was probably the first intellectual to present the meaning of culture as it was prevalent in the West in the 19th century. When defining the aims of Tehzeeb-ul-Akhlaq in its first edition, he wrote: “The objective of issuing this journal is to persuade Indian Muslims to adopt a complete degree of civilisation, meaning culture, so that the hatred with which the civilised (cultured) nations view them should go away and they may also be said to be [one of the] exalted and cultured nations of the world.”
He, in his last message that is engraved on a big sandstone pillar in one of the University Circle’s 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 hair, 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”. These lines indeed best summarizes his philosophy and what he struggled for in his entire life, essentially for the upliftment of Muslim Qaom by imparting education, discipline and moral values for a prosperous Qaom.
What would have been the response of Syed today? If he were alive, he would have definitely launched a new movement of education for everyone as a communitarian philosopher. As one of the authors put it: ‘He was a prosaic pragmatist who made practical prescriptions for dragging his qaum out of the despondency, in which they had been wallowing. He had the insight to know what had gone wrong, and pragmatism to suggest what was needed to be done’. The fact is that we have completely forgotten the message and great legacy of Syed. Both time and circumstances demand from us to revisit his philosophy and build a society he dreamt of. That will be perhaps be the best tribute to this legendary—Sir Syed Ahmad Khan—the protagonist of the Indian Sub-continent.
Of all, the Alig fraternity principally must revisit their role and every birthday of his should be an opportunity for an honest introspection–the blaze of the celebrations should not blind us to the harsh realities. Syed breathed last on March 27, 1898, and was buried in the premises of the Jamia Masjid of University. His grave is covered with a sheet of green grass with a special purpose. And the purpose is ‘the man who gave a new life’ to the uneducated class by stressing upon them the ‘values of education and discipline’ who was among harbingers of renaissance and continues to ‘serve nature even after death’.
On 17th October, 2021 – 204th birthday anniversary of Syed–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, 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 countless people. This great son of South Asia had renaissance potential for the future generations to come. And because of his role he played; he has a permanent place in the history of the Muslim world in general and Indian Sub-continent in particular.
Sham darr sham jalaingay teray yaadou kai chirag
Nasal darr nasal tera dard numaya hoga
Happy 204th Birthday, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan! May your soul rest in peace and heaven, Aameen!
Authors are Kashmiri Aligs