By Abdul Momin
Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, a great social reformer, philosopher, educationist, and champion of Hindu-Muslim unity, was born on 17th October. The date is marked as Sir Syed Day. Students and Alumni of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) observe this day around the globe with great enthusiasm.
Undoubtedly, the day has great significance for the students and alumni of AMU, as the founder of their beloved institution, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan blessed this world on the day.
The greatness of a person is determined by his contribution to the society. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s contributions to the Muslim community and to the nation are well known. His message and the mission of the Aligarh Movement is now extremely clear and evident. Be it Aligarh Muslim University or its alumni around the globe; they are the ambassadors of Sir Syed’s vision and mission. The responsibility now rests with “Aligs” around the globe to emulate Sir Syed. Amidst the current plight of Indian Muslims, keeping alive the spirit of Aligarh Movement and Sir Syed’s mission becomes more crucial than ever. As we commemorate Sir Syed Day, let us all revisit Sir Syed’s approach and methods and take a pledge to carry on the Aligarh Movement in a constructive way.
The Plight of Indian Muslims after 1857 revolt and the mission of Sir Syed
Go back to the days of freedom struggle and specifically to the days of 1857’s revolt, the emergence of Sir Syed in Indian History can be traced from this period. The revolt of 1857 did not result in favour of Indians. For Indian Muslims, it was nearly a catastrophe. They experienced atrocities, humiliation, mental torture by British troops, and had a state of restlessness and cluelessness as they do now. Britishers thought that the Muslims are responsible for Anti-British uprising in India, so they were continuously making attempts to disregard and dehumanise the Indian Muslims. There were serious attempts from the Britishers’ end to weaken the Indian Muslims socially, politically, psychologically, and economically. As a result, Muslims were underrepresented in Govt. offices. G. Ali Khan quoted, there was “scarcely any Government office … in which a Muhammadan can hope for any post above the rank of poster, messenger, filler of inkpots and menders of pens”.
The oppressive and harsh attitude of Britishers resulted in socio and economic backwardness of Indian Muslims. Although the rule of Britishers over India was unjust at any cost, and both Muslims and Hindus opposed it, but at a greater level, the Britishers targeted Muslims and favoured the Hindus in several ways. This biasness and hatred of Britishers for a community created such a terrible condition that even survival was nearly impossible for the majority of Indian Muslims.
Sir Syed was deeply troubled by the consequences of 1857’s revolt, which led to Indian Muslims being more vulnerable than ever. He himself was the victim of this tragedy, her mother passed away just shortly after, and his house was looted and some of his cousin brothers were killed by British’s troops during the tragedy.
Shan Muhammed Saheb stated that “Sir Syed Ahmad Khan felt agitated so much so that he passed numerous restless nights”.
The consequences of the revolt led Sir Syed to stand up for Indian Muslims. In 1859, he wrote Asbab-i-Bagabat-e-Hind (an essay by Sir Syed on the causes of 1857’s revolt). With this, he successfully managed to explain the Britishers what caused the revolt to break out against them in India. Consequently, British’s Parliament considered all the major recommendations of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and, they also agreed to enact the Indian Council Act 1861 which provided, for the first time, inclusion of three Indian members to the legislative council of Calcutta and also their perception for Indian Muslims got changed. Sir Syed better understood that Indian Muslims are way behind to their fellow citizens and there are several reasons to it; one of them is ignorance. For the mainstreaming of Indian Muslims, it was necessary to aware them about the modern sciences, English language, socio-political, and metaphysical issues. To cater this, he started periodicals such as “The Aligarh Institute Gazette”, and Tahzibul Akhlaq, or the Muslim Social Reformer. He also established Scientific Society in 1863 which used to translate the major work in the field of sciences and arts into Urdu language so that Muslims could read them easily. In 1875, he founded Mohammadan Anglo-Oriental College, now Aligarh Muslim University, which is his most significant educational contribution to the community and the nation.
The institution is home to students from India as well as outside the India. The role of this institution in developing the community is immense. Its alumni are everywhere in the world. The mission of Sir Syed was not only to established MAO college at Aligarh, but he was aspired to establish a network of Muslim Managed educational institutions throughout the country. In spite of the passage of time, Sir Syed’s mission and thoughts remain relevant. The Alig community around the world should now carry forward his mission.
Sir Syed Day celebration should aim to revitalize the Aligarh Movement:
A man is remembered after his death for his good deeds. Are not Sir Syed’s deeds enough? Of course, they are. In all honesty, he deserved an honour for his good work. However, paying tribute to a great man should only be in terms of noble and generous acts. The occasion should be seen as an opportunity to recall and propagate his message and mission through organising seminars, conferences, discussions on his thoughts, ideas and mission, and most importantly commitment to take at least one social initiative for the betterment of the community each year. The aim should be to take the Aligarh Movement to the last mile by ensuring access to education to every child of the community.
Observing Sir Syed Day in a ritualistic manner would not benefit anyone. Possibly, it will minimize the impact of mission of Sir Syed on its own people by reducing the seriousness of new generations becoming “alig” each year. Ergo, the day should be celebrated with the objective to replicate Sir Syed’s dialogue techniques with the State, to revive the intellectual and academic spirit in the community, to promote his thoughts, and to keep the Aligarh Movement progressing by following his commitment and eagerness to uplift the Muslim community and to serve the nation.