Sir Syed Ahmed Khan flourished from 1817 to 1898. As the founder of the 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 off 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.
Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and His Contributions
The great emancipator of the Indian Muslims Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was born in Delhi in 1817. This is the period when the great Mughal Empire was close to a complete collapse. Sir Syed’s family had already joined the East India Company and his maternal grandfather served in Iran and Burma under the British government. Sir Syed got interested in English from his maternal family. SM Ikram writes, “For this insight into the affairs of the state and first contacts with Western learning and civilization he was indebted to his maternal grandfather…” (S. M. Ikram, Modern Muslim India, p.18). Sir Syed was very healthy by birth and his grandfather remarked: “A Jat has been born in our family.” (Ibid., p. 19) The death of Sir Syed forced him to join the British as head clerk in 1839. The death of his brother made him serious and energetic to face the neuroses of life courageously.
Another event that changed him entirely was the War of Independence in 1857. In 1841, he passed the examination and became sub-judge. On the eve of the War of Independence, he was performing the duties as sub-judge in Bijnore. He established educational institutions and after coming to Aligarh he rejuvenated his aspirations to work for the depressed Muslims of the Subcontinent. He devoted his entire life for this purpose to bring the Muslims close to the British. He died on March 27, 1898, and was buried in Aligarh.
Sir Syed took the responsibility for the Indian Muslims when they had been thrown in backwardness, depression, and humiliation. The British held them criminal of the War while the Hindus had won the British being anti-Muslim force. In such an environment, Sir Syed guided his community to rejoin life. To Dr Qalb-i-Abid, “Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was among a very few leaders produced by Muslim India, who like Mohammad Ali Jinnah made a tremendous contribution in guiding the destinies of the Indian Muslims.” (Dr Q. Abid, Muslim Struggle for Independence, p. 11.)
Aligarh Movement As An Instrument Of Muslim Renaissance:
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 torchbearer of Two-Nation Theory. Thus, the quest of the Muslims for their national identity took the shape of a movement that 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.
The War of Independence in 1857 ended in a disaster for the Muslims. The British believed that the Muslims were responsible for the war of 1857 and therefore, they were subjected to ruthless punishment and merciless revenge. The British had always looked upon the Muslims as their enemies because they had ousted them from power. With the war of 1857, this feeling was intensified and every attempt was made to ruin and suppress the Muslims forever. Thus the Mughal rule came to an end and the sub-continent went directly under the British crown.
Conditions Of Muslims After The War Of Independence (1857):
After the failure of the War of Independence in 1857, 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 favored 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.
According to W.W Hunter:- According to William Hunter’s disclosure in his book “The Indian Mussalmans” published in 1871.
“All sorts of employments great and small are being gradually snatched away from the Muhammadans and bestowed on men of other races, particularly the Hind.”
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 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 Educational Services:
After the Muslim rule, the new rulers, the British, implemented a new educational policy with drastic changes. The policy restricted Arabic, Persian and religious education in schools and made English the only medium of instruction as well as the official language in 1835. A wrong attitude of everything modern and Western, and disinclination to make use of the opportunities opening under the new regime was created among the Muslims. This tendency had it continued long, would have proved disastrous for the Muslim community.
Such were the days of despair and despondency when Sir Syed appeared on the horizon of Muslim India to rescue them. Sir Syed had the conviction that the regeneration of the Indian Muslims had not at all visualized that mankind had entered a very important phase of its existence, i.e. an era of science and learning which was the source of progress and prosperity for the British. Therefore, modern education became the pivot of his movement for the regeneration of the Indian Muslims, which brought a complete orientation in their lives. He tried to transform Muslim minds from a medieval outlook to a modern one.
Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was the first Muslim leader who realized the importance of education for his people. In order to equip Muslims with the ornament of knowledge, he opened many educational institutions and societies which revolutionized 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.
He had two immediate objectives in view:
1) To remove the state of tension between the Muslims and the British government, and
2) To induce them to get jobs and other facilities under the new government.
According To Chaudhary Muhammad Ali:
“The monumental work of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was the founding of M.A.O College at Aligarh in 1877. He had wanted to build a university, but his wish could only be fulfilled some twenty years after his death when the college grew into the Aligarh Muslim University. The college at Aligarh was more than an educational institution; it was the symbol of a broad Movement affecting every phase of Muslim life—-social, economic, political, literary and religious.
In the views of V.A. Smith:-
“In 1920, the college (M.A.O College) became the Aligarh Muslim University Aligarh both enabled the talented young Muslim to compete on terms with the Hindu for government service and in public life, and gave him a dynamic which his community seemed to have lost.”
Acquisition Of Western Knowledge:
According To Dr. I.H. Qureshi:-
“The Muslims were inimical to Western education for three reasons: they considered it inferior to traditional Islamic learning it was being forced upon them by foreign people and they saw no of it for themselves. To learn English and acquire Western knowledge went against their pride, their memory of bygone superiority and their attachment to the learning of Islam. They thought that an education saturated with Christianity might corrupt their beliefs. Syed fought these attitudes with heroic courage. Through speeches, articles, pamphlets, scientific and translation societies and schools he slowly converted his people to his line of thought.”
Sir Syed Ahmad Khan made modern education the way to progress
Hali and Shibli were also associated with the Aligarh Movement.
Sir Syed’s first and foremost objective was to modernize the Muslims following the Western cultural values that could create a friendly atmosphere for the two communities. He motivated his community to learn Western philosophy and English literature to get along with the ruling people.
Therefore, in order to fulfill this desire, he started the Aligarh movement. He had two immediate objectives in
1) To remove the state of tension between the Muslims and the British government, and
2) To induce them to get jobs and other facilities under the new government.
To him, this was the only way for the Muslims to prosper.
1. To create an atmosphere of mutual understanding between the British government and the Muslims
2. To motivate the Muslims to learn Western education
3. To persuade Muslims to abstain from agitational politics
Fortunately, Syed Ahmad Khan was able to attract a number of sincere friends who shared his views and helped him. Among them were well-known figures like Nawab Mohsin ul Mulk, Nawab Viqar ul Mulk, Hali, Shibli, Nazir Ahmad, Chiragh Ali, Mohammad Hayat, and Zakaullah. All these personalities advocated the cause set by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. Some English professors like Bech, Morison, Raleigh, and Arnold also contributed greatly to building up the Aligarh college into a first-rate institution.
Syed Ahmad launched his educational movement by setting up Gulshan School at Muradabad – 1859; Victoria School at Gazipur in 1863; Scientific Society for the translation of English works in the native language, Urdu, at Aligarh in 1864; Aligarh Institute Gazette imparting information on history – ancient and modern, the science of agriculture, natural sciences, physical sciences and Advanced Mathematics in 1866; Committee Striving for the Educational Progress of Muslims – 1870; Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental School (MAO) at Aligarh in 1875 at the pattern of English public schools and later raised to the level of college in 1877 and university in 1920; Mohammedan Educational Conference (1886), which met every year to take stock of the educational problems of the Muslims and to persuade them to get modern education and abstain from politics; it later became a political mouthpiece of the Indian Muslims and the forerunner of the All India Muslim League.
Besides his prominent role in the educational uplift of the Muslims, Syed Ahmad Khan’s writings played important role in popularizing the ideals for which the Aligarh stood. His Risala Asbab-i-Baghawat-i-Hind in 1858; and other writings as Loyal Mohammedans of India; Tabyin-ul-Kalam and Khutbat-i-Ahmadiya rooted out the misunderstandings about Islamic teachings and helped create a cordial relation between the British Government and the Indian Muslims and also helped to remove the misunderstanding about Islam and Christianity.
It was this platform from where Syed Ahmad Khan strongly forbade the Muslims to join the Hindu dominated political party, the Indian National Congress. He regretted the Urdu-Hindi controversy initiated by Hindus and predicted that both the nations could no longer live together. He stood for reserved Movement theory, Seats for Muslims, and also promoted the idea that Hindus and Muslims are two distinct nations, which led to the Two-Nation
Syed Ahmad Khan’s Aligarh Movement played a significant role to bring about an intellectual revolution among the Indian Muslims. Thus Aligarh Movement succeeded in achieving its major objectives and boosted up the depressed Muslim community to the real status of a nation.
Sir Syed’s 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 in 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 that 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 the 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’s Attitude Towards The Congress:-
Soon after the establishment of the Indian National Congress, he came to realize that it was a purely Hindu organization. Consequently, he asked the Muslims to desist from taking part in its activities.
According to Dr. I.H. Qureshi:-
“Syed Ahmed Khan asked the Muslims not to join the Congress. This advice was followed by the vast majority of the people. He never wavered in his opposition to the Congress and declared that even if he was told that the Viceroy, the Secretary of State and the whole House of Commons had openly supported the Congress, he would still remain firmly opposed to it, and earnestly begged all Muslims to remain away from it.”
He proposed the system of a 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”.
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.
According To Chaudhary Muhammad Ali:-
To carry the message of reform to the masses, Sir Syed organised the Muslim Educational conference which held public meetings in various parts of the country. The greatest services these meetings did were to arouse a spirit of action and self-help. Schools and colleges modelled on Aligarh were opened in different places. Even the Orthodox Ulema or learned divines, who had denounced Sir Syed as an apostate, came to recognize his great ness. His precepts and example revived hope and self-confidence, showed new ways of organization and co-operative work and opened the door to modern knowledge and economic progress.”
Sir Syed and Politics
In the political arena, Sir Syed carved numerous successes; he eradicated misunderstandings between the Muslims and the British infused due to the past particular incidents. Awakening among the Muslims about the political ups and downs and co-existence in the presence of other nations in India was another contribution of Sir Syed. He motivated the Muslims to absorb the modern education of the West because this was the very motive of the Western expansion in the world. He visualized the bright future of the Muslims if they engaged themselves in Western learning.
Sir Syed won the British confidence and cordial relationship by saving their lives during the War of Independence. He utilized this relationship for the betterment of the Muslims. It was a subtle situation because the government had put the War crimes on the Muslim shoulders and assaulted every aspect of life: “These events were a trauma for the Muslims; …the methods used by them shocked the civilized world. The detestation of Delhi as a centre of Muslim culture was horrendous; Bahadur Shah Zafar…was exiled to Rangoon; Lt. Hodson shot three Mughal princes and later 24 princes were tried and executed; a vast ocean of blood there was; Some Muslims were shot dead and their dead bodies were thrown into the river Jamna…” (Ibid., p. 14). All Muslims were ousted from land, property, and employments that made them third-class citizens of India. This created revengeful sentiments among the Muslims who detested the British, their culture, and civilization. Sir Syed was of the view that the British were a civilized, educated, wise and disciplined nation and occupied India with the new war strategy and munitions that could not be matched by the locals and particularly by the Muslims. Therefore at the juncture, the Muslims should mold themselves according to the pace of time to avoid more disaster.
Sir Syed published Loyal Mohammedans of India and Risala Asbab-i-Baghawat-i-Hind that helped both the nations to redress their grievances. In 1885 the Indian National Congress was founded but Sir Syed warned the Muslims from the sinister aspirations of the Hindus. Another factor was that he intended the Muslims to abstain from the politics that could result in friction with the ruling nation.
Urdu grew as the common language of all the Indians regardless of origin or religion but in 1867 the Benarsi Hindus started a campaign to replace Urdu with Hindi. To gain the objectives, they declared numerous organizations, which discouraged Sir Syed who said to Shakespeare that since now both the nations could not live together. Later the followers of Sir Syed tried their level best to save the Urdu language. Mohsin ul Mulk was the outstanding person who organized the Muslims in defense of Urdu.
Muslims-as a Nation
Sir Syed used the word ‘nation’ for the Muslims. Some writers criticize that he declared Hindus and Muslims one nation. But as a matter of fact, he advocated the Hindu-Muslim unity that meant
‘the working relationship’ between the two nations as once he said: “Hindus and Muslims should try to be of one mind in matters which affected their progress.” He favored a separate electorate for the Muslims in 1883 saying that the majority would override the interests of the minority. (P. Hardy, pp. 136-37)
United Indian Patriotic Association
In 1888, he set up the Patriotic Association to meet the propaganda of the Congress. Muslims and Hindus joined the Association. It advocated the Muslims’ emotions.
Mohammedan Defense Association
In December 1893, Sir Syed founded the Association. Its main purpose was to protect the political, religious, and social rights of the Muslims.
Sir Syed was great because he contributed greatly to the Muslim struggle for identity. Otto von Bismarck served the German nation with the help of all government sources but Sir Syed did the same without all this. To Khalid Bin Sayeed, “Many tributes have been paid to Sir Sayyed, particularly by modern educated Muslims for being daring enough to put forward such views in an age which was by no means liberal or tolerant.” (Dr Khalid Bin Sayeed, Pakistan, the Formative Phase.p#17)
Sir Syed’s Social Services:
Sir Syed wanted that Muslims of the Sub-continent should get an honorable 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 around 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 in 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 color to 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 dining in Islam were discussed. In this magazine, Sir Syed wrote that it was not against Islam to eat with the Christians at the same table. He gave references from the Quran and proved that it was not un-Islamic to eat with a nation that was the bearer of the Holy book.
In the views of V.A Smith,
”Sir Syed was not concerned with material things only. His Movement was one of the general reforms. It was inspired by the thought that the Muslims of India were a separate people or nation who must not be absorbed within Hinduism and that the essence of Islam was consistent with the best that the West had to offer. He was, in fact, a Muslim modernist appealing to general principles outside the scope of the four recognized schools of theology. He accepted the mission of the Holy Prophet and God’s revelation in the Quran. But he claimed that reason was also an attribute of God and Nature His handiwork. The Quran and Islam might therefore be interpreted on the basis of reason to meet modern needs and problems. The achievements of the West so far as they rested on reason might thus be welcomed and assimilated.”
K.K Aziz in his book “The Making Of Pakistan” pays tribute to the great leader in these words,
“Syed’s services to his community may be summarized in three terse phrases: loyalty to the British, devotion to education, aloofness from politics. He preached and practised loyalty to the British rule. From his speeches, writings and letters it is not difficult to read his mind. He based his pro-British attitude on three strong foundations. First, the only way of wiping off the stigma of Muslim instigation of the mutiny was to make friends with the British and thus to make them disabuse their minds of the idea that Muslim were their traditional enemies. He was sagacious enough to realise that British control would not cease in nay foreseeable future. It was ordinary common sense to be on good terms with the rulers.”
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 a befitting reply to William Muir.
Sir Syed also wrote a commentary on Bible in a philosophical style and explained the similarities between Islam and Christianity with solid arguments.
According to Dr. I.H. Qureshi:-
“In religion Syed stood for a rational approach. He argued that revealed truth could be understood best through reason. The revelations of physical sciences could not be ignored in the understanding of religion. He put it pithily when he said that there could be no contradiction between the word of God (revealed truth) and the work of God (the laws of physical science and the phenomena of Nature). It may be argued that this attitude was too naïve in so far as it placed too much confidence in human observation of phenomena at a particular time, nevertheless the basic idea that truth can be understood and interpreted in the light of human knowledge is sound.”
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 a bitter lesson from the Hindi-Urdu controversy, he reached the conclusion that both the communities could not work together.
In January 1883, Sir Syed Ahmed addressed Lord Ripon’s council and said:-
“For socio-political purposes—–the whole of the population of England forms but one community—-the same cannot be said of India. The system of representation by-election means the representation of the views and interests of the majority of the population, and the countries where the population is composed of one race and one creed it is no doubt the best system that can be adopted. But in a country like India where caste distinctions still flourish where there is no fusion of various races where religious distinctions are still violent, where education in its modern sense has not made equal or proportionate progress among all the sections of the population—the system of election pure and simple cannot safely be adopted. 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.”
In the views of K.K Aziz:-
“Muslim India was not a nation by herself. Nor did she claim such a title. But the Muslims had begun to look upon themselves as a separate entity, a different community, and a group apart. This feeling of separateness from others and of oneness among themselves was the first foundation and first symptom of Muslim nationalism in India.”
Effects Of The Aligarh Movement:
According to K.K. Aziz:-
“They came to respect themselves. The pessimism of the post-mutiny days gave way to what was almost a feeling of buoyancy. No longer their loyalty was questioned in British quarters. No longer did the Hindus dismiss them with a shake of the head. They were catching u in education. The Aligarh College was producing graduates who could fill the vacancies in government offices reserved for Muslims.” And further, “By the turn of the century the Muslim community was pulsating with new ideas. Much had been achieved, though much remained undone. The old generation which had tasted the bitter fruit of defeat and disgrace was succeeded by a new generation, young in heart fresh to the opportunities of life, aware of its solidarity and hopeful of the future. Thus by the beginning of the twentieth century Aligarh Movement had become a living dynamic force which after the establishment of All-India Muslim League in 1906 took the shape of the Pakistan Movement.”
Change In British Attitude:
According To Dr. Ishtiaq Hussain Qureshi:-
“From 1858 up to about 1870 nearly all British politicians, authors and administrators unhesitatingly blamed the Muslims for the Mutiny. But in the 1870s a change in British opinion was visible. Men like Sir Richard Temple, Sir John Stratchy and W.H. Gregory came forward to argue that Muslim India was not disloyal and that the unpleasant past should be forgotten.”
In the pretext of the 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 the right direction and took it to a definite position where Muslims could mold their lives according to the pristine principles of Islam. Undoubtedly, Sir Syed’s Aligarh Movement was the pioneer of the two-nation theory which injected life into the dormant body of the Muslim nation. He restored confidence among Muslims and fought for their political, religious, cultural, social, and economic rights. He died on 27th March 1898.
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