Sir Syed Ahmed Khan flourished from 1817 to 1898. As the founder of Aligarh movement, he is ranked among the greatest Muslim reformers of the 19th century. He came to the rescue of his co-religionists after the War of Independence (1857) when the British unleashed a wave of vengeance against the Muslims. As a result of the atrocities of the British, the Muslims were cut of the mainstream of political, social, economic and educational development. At this critical juncture Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was the first Muslim to realize that if the Muslims continued to keep themselves aloof then they would be completely absorbed by the Hindu community.
Conditions Of Muslims After The War Of Independence (1857):
The British considered Muslims to be responsible for the War of Independence. Thus, they subjected them to all sorts of cruelties. Leading Muslim leaders were hanged or sentenced to jail and their properties were confiscated. Moreover, they were denied important government jobs. Resultantly, the ratio of Muslim representation went on dwindling till 1871 when the number of Muslim government servants almost came to a naught. According to William Hunter’s disclosure in his book "The Indian Mussalmans" published in 1871.
"In the three grades of Assistant Government engineers, there were fourteen Hindus and not one Mussalman; among the apprentices, there were four Hindus and two Englishmen and not one Mussalman. Among the Sub-Engineers there were 24 Hindus to one Mussalman. In the office of Accounts there were 50 names of Hindus and not one Mussalman and in the upper subordinate department there were 22 Hindus and again not one Mussalman."
Ashok Mehta, an Indian Socialist Leader, thrown light on the misery of the Muslims after the war in his book entitled "The communal Triangle" in these words, "Not only were the Muslims economically crushed, educationally and socially also their position was deliberately depressed by the government. In 1870, the Muhammadan pleaders presented two memorials to the High Court pointing out that while closed holidays allowed to the Christians were sixty and those to Hindus were fifty-two, only eleven were granted to the Muhammadans."
Sir Syed's Services For The Renaissance Of Muslims:
Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was the founder of Aligarh Movement which checked the decline of the Muslims in political, social, educational and economic spheres. He devoted his whole life for the renaissance of his co-religionists and succeeded in pulling them out of the depths of ignorance and backwardness. His services can be summed up as under:
i) Sir Syed’s Educational Services
ii) Sir Syed’s Political Services
iii) Sir Syed’s Literary works
iv) Sir Syed’s Social Services
i) Sir Syed’s Educational Services:
Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was the first Muslim leader who realized the importance of education for his people. In order to equip Muslim with the ornament of knowledge, he opened many educational institutions and societies which revolutionised the life of the Muslims.
• Two Madrassahs in Muradabad (1858) and Ghaziabad (1862) which imparted education in Persian.
• In 1864, Sir Syed laid the foundation of a Scientific Society which translated English works into Urdu.
• M.A.O High School was founded in 1875.
• In 1877, M.A.O High School was given the status of a college and inaugurated by Viceroy Lord Lytton. Later on, this college became a University in 1920A.D.
Muhammadan Educational Conference:
Sir Syed Ahmed khan established Muhammadan Educational Conference in 1886 in order to bring political awareness among the Muslims. The Conference held its annual conferences regularly till 1906 when in its Dhaka session All-India Muslim League was founded.
ii) Political Service:
Sir Syed Ahmed khan rendered meritorious political services in order to defend the rights of the Muslims. His services were as under:
• After the War of Independence 1857, sir Syed compiled a pamphlet entitled Rasala-i-Asbab-e-Baghawat-i-Hind, in which he explained to the British that the Muslims were not the only force behind the catastrophe of 1857. He enlisted the following factors which led to the uprising.
a) Misunderstanding of the people about the rulers.
b) Maladministration by the army.
c) Government’s unawareness of the conditions and grievance of the people.
d) Promulgation of regulations which were contrary to the wishes of the people.
• Sir Syed Ahmed khan wrote a commentary on William hunter’s book.
• He is regarded as one of the greatest exponents of Two-Nation theory because after the Hindu-Urdu controversy he was convinced that Hindus were not sincere towards the Muslims. Answering a query of Mr. Shakespeare, Commissioner of Banaras, he remarked." Now I am convinced that both these communities will not join whole-heartedly in anything though, at present, there was no open hostility between the two communities, but on account of the so-called educated people it will increase immensely in future."
• Sir Syed founded a Patriotic Association in order to counter the anti-Muslim propaganda by the Hindus.
• Soon after the establishment of Indian National Congress, he came to realise that it was a purely Hindu organisation. Consequently, he asked the Muslims to desist taking part in its activities.
• He proposed the system of separate electorate for the Muslims in order to protect the political rights of the Muslim Community. He highlighted his views in this regard in a speech in 1883 by saying, "The system of representation by election means the representation of the views and interests of the majority of the population".
iii) Sir Syed’s Literary Works:
Sir Syed Ahmed khan was not only a prominent educationalist but also a capable author. His writings include the following:
• Asarul Sanadid
• Tarikh Sarkashi-e-Bijnaur
• Risalah Ahkam-i-Ta’am-i-Ahle-Kitab
• Risalah Tehzib-Ul-Akhlaq
iv) Sir Syed’s Social Services:
Sir Syed wanted that Muslims of the Sub-continent should get an honourable position in the Hindu dominated society. For this purpose he not only opened many schools but also established an orphanage at Muradabad to provide refuge to the orphan Muslim children. In fact his whole life revolved round his desire for the betterment of his community.
He took several steps for the revival and betterment of the Muslims. He wrote the most influential magazine Tehzib-ul-Akhlaq in which he outlined the ethical aspects of the Muslims’ life. In this magazine he criticized the conservative way of the Muslims and advised them to adopt new trends of life.
He set himself to the task of protecting the Urdu from being faded away and replaced by English. He worked laboriously for the promotion of Urdu and gave a new tone and colour to the Urdu literature. He founded Anjuman-i-Tarki-i-Urdu which worked for the protection of Urdu. He wrote another magazine as Ahkam-i-Ta’am-i-Ahle-Kitab in which the principles and etiquettes of eating and dinning in Islam were discussed. In this magazine Sir Syed wrote that it was not against Islam to eat with the Christians on the same table. He gave references from the Quran and proved that it was not un-Islamic to eat with a nation who was the bearer of Holy book.
v) Sir Syed’s Religious Services:
Sir Syed rendered many religious services through his movement.
• Essay On Life Of Muhammad (PBUH)
William Muir, a Christian writer, wrote a book, "Life of Muhammad of (PBUH)" and used derogatory remarks against the last prophet of Islam. Sir Syed took frequent notices of his book and wrote essays on the life of (PBUH) named Kutbat-i-Ahmadiyah in which he gave befitting reply to William Muir.
Sir Syed also wrote a commentary on Bible in a philosophical style and explained the similarities between the Islam and Christianity with solid arguments.
vi) Sir Syed As A Pioneer Of Two-Nation Theory:
Sir Syed was the first Muslim leader of the Sub-continent who used the word nation (quam) for the Muslims. In clear language, he pronounced that the Hindus and the Muslims were two different communities with different interests. After learning bitter lesson from the Hindi-Urdu controversy, he reached the conclusion that both the communities could not work together. His views were evident in his speech delivered in 1886, in which he said, "the system of representation by election means the representation of the views and thoughts of the majority of the population. In a country like India where caste distinctions still exist, where there is no fusion of interests of various races, where religious differences are still violent, where education in the modern sense has not made an equal or proportionate progress among all sections of the population. I am convinced that the introduction of the principles of the election pure or simple by the representation of various interests in the local boards and district councils would be attended with the evils of greater significance than pure economic consideration. The larger community would totally override the interests of the smaller community". According to V.A Smith:
"Sir Syed was not concerned with material things only. His Movement was one of general reforms. It was inspired by the thought that the Muslims of India were separate people and nation who must not be absorbed with Hinduism."
Aligarh movement means that movement which was inspired by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, his colleagues and Muslim students of M.A.O College (later Aligarh University). The students of Aligarh College fired by the spirit of Muslim nationalism spread throughout the country and became the torch bearer of Two-Nation Theory. Thus, the quest of the Muslims for their national identity took the shape of a movement which resulted in the renaissance of the Muslims in the 19th century. This movement revolutionized the economic, social, and political status of the Muslims. However, Sir Syed was the chief architect of this movement. He worked day and night for the revival of Muslim glory. After the failure of the War of Independence in 1957, the Muslims became the victims of the wrath of the British rulers and they were subjected to an unprecedented systematic process of suppression and elimination. On the other hand the British rulers favoured the Hindus by granting them important government jobs in plenty. Thus the tide was turned on the Muslim community within a short span of time witnessed a steep fall from the high pedestal of the ruling class to a politically neglected and economically depressed minority.
In the pretext of above mentioned efforts of Sir Syed we come to know that he took the responsibility of the renaissance of Muslim glory and to achieve its destination he guided the Muslim ship to a right direction and took it to a definite position where Muslims could mould their lives according to the pristine principles of Islam. Undoubtedly, Sir Syed’s Aligarh Movement was the pioneer of two-nation theory which injected life in the dormant body of Muslim nation. He restored confidence among Muslims and fought for their political, religious, cultural, social and economic rights. He died on 27th March 1898.
The greatest Muslim reformer and statesman of the 19th Century, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was born in Delhi on October 17, 1817. His family on the maternal and paternal side had close contacts with the Mughal court. His maternal grandfather, Khwajah Farid was a Wazir in the court of Akbar Shah II. His paternal grandfather Syed Hadi held a mansab and the title of Jawwad Ali Khan in the court of Alamgir II. His father, Mir Muttaqi, had been close to Akbar Shah since the days of his prince-hood. Syed Ahmad’s mother, Aziz-un-Nisa, took a great deal of interest in the education and upbringing of her son. She imposed a rigid discipline on him and Sir Syed himself admitted that her supervision counted for much in the formation of his character.
The early years of Sir Syed’s life were spent in the atmosphere of the family of a Mughal noble. There was nothing in young Syed’s habits or behavior to suggest that he was different from other boys, though he was distinguished on account of his extraordinary physique. As a boy he learnt swimming and archery, which were favorite sports of the well-to-do class in those days.
Sir Syed received his education under the old system. He learnt to read the Quran under a female teacher at his home. After this, he was put in the charge of Maulvi Hamid-ud-Din, the first of his private tutors. Having completed a course in Persian and Arabic, he took to the study of mathematics, which was a favorite subject of the maternal side of his family. He later became interested in medicine and studied some well-known books on the subject. However, he soon gave it up without completing the full course. At the age of 18 or 19 his formal education came to an end but he continued his studies privately. He started taking a keen interest in the literary gatherings and cultural activities of the city.
The death of his father in 1838 left the family in difficulties. Thus young Syed was compelled at the early age of 21 to look for a career. He decided to enter the service of the East India Company. He started his career as Sarishtedar in a court of law. He became Naib Munshi in 1839 and Munshi in 1841. In 1858 he was promoted and appointed as Sadar-us-Sadur at Muradabad. In 1867 he was promoted and posted as the judge of the Small Causes Court. He retired in 1876. He spent the rest of his life for Aligarh College and the Muslims of South Asia.
Sir Syed’s greatest achievement was his Aligarh Movement, which was primarily an educational venture. He established Gulshan School at Muradabad in 1859, Victoria School at Ghazipur in 1863, and a scientific society in 1864. When Sir Syed was posted at Aligarh in 1867, he started the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental School in the city. Sir Syed got the opportunity to visit England in 1869-70. During his stay, he studied the British educational system and appreciated it. On his return home he decided to make M. A. O. High School on the pattern of British boarding schools. The School later became a college in 1875. The status of University was given to the college after the death of Sir Syed in 1920. M. A. O. High School, College and University played a big role in the awareness of the Muslims of South Asia.
Unlike other Muslim leaders of his time, Sir Syed was of the view that Muslims should have friendship with the British if they want to take their due rights. To achieve this he did a lot to convince the British that Muslims were not against them. On the other hand, he tried his best to convince the Muslims that if they did not befriend the British, they could not achieve their goals. Sir Syed wrote many books and journals to remove the misunderstandings between Muslims and the British. The most significant of his literary works were his pamphlets “Loyal Muhammadans of India” and “Cause of Indian Revolt”. He also wrote a commentary on the Bible, in which he attempted to prove that Islam is the closest religion to Christianity.
Sir Syed asked the Muslims of his time not to participate in politics unless and until they got modern education. He was of the view that Muslims could not succeed in the field of western politics without knowing the system. He was invited to attend the first session of the Indian National Congress and to join the organization but he refused to accept the offer. He also asked the Muslims to keep themselves away from the Congress and predicted that the party would prove to be a pure Hindu party in the times to come. By establishing the Muhammadan Educational Conference, he provided Muslims with a platform on which he could discuss their political problems. Sir Syed is known as the founder of Two-Nation Theory in the modern era.
In the beginning of 1898 he started keeping abnormally quiet. For hours he would not utter a word to friends who visited him. Medical aid proved ineffective. His condition became critical on 24th of March. On the morning of March 27, a severe headache further worsened it. He expired the same evening in the house of Haji Ismail Khan, where he had been shifted 10 or 12 days earlier. He was buried the following afternoon in the compound of the Mosque of Aligarh College. He was mourned by a large number of friends and admirers both within and outside South Asia.
This article was last updated on Sunday, June 01, 2003