By Dr Syed Javaid Zaidi
Today marks the 200th birth anniversary of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Indian reformer, visionary and father of modern Indian education. He came from a family of nobles of the Mughal court. He laid the foundation of modern scientific education in undivided India and established Mohamodan Anglo Oriental (MAO) College at Aligarh in 1875, which later became Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). It was considered the Oxford of India and cradle of modern scientific education in the Indian subcontinent.
The movement of Muslim awakening initiated by Sir Syed came to be known as the Aligarh Movement. In 1864, he founded the ‘The Scientific Society’ and launched Tahzeeb-ul-Akhlaq magazine. In 1886 he established Muslim educational conference to convey the message of education to the Muslim masses.
Sir Syed’s famous speech, which he made while laying the foundation of MAO College by Lord Lytton on 18 January 1877, is the soul of Aligarh Movement, where he said, “From the seed which we sow today, there may spring up a mighty tree, whose branches, shall in their turn strike firm roots into the earth, and themselves send forth new and vigorous saplings”.
In 1872, Sir Syed laid the education plan of the institution, which stated that the institution would be established on the pattern of Oxford and Cambridge University as a residential institution having a grand mosque and a boarding house. The dress of the college will be a Turkish cap and Sherwani (or thobe). Five times prayer will be compulsory for the Muslim students.
He wanted to prepare students who will hold Qur’an in the right hand and science in the left, and a crown of La-ilah Illallah Muhammadur Rasul Allah on their head.
Sir Syed once in a lecture said that getting degrees is not sufficient without moral training and service to the community. So, Taaleem, Tarbiat and Tahzeeb (3Ts) are enshrined in the AMU character.
The alumni of AMU pays tribute to this great man by celebrating October 17 as the Sir Syed Day world over.
AMU produced distinguished luminaries, who took the message of Sir Syed all over the world, including Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh, Dr Zakir Husain, President of India; Dr Hamid Ansari, Vice President of India; Ayyab Khan, the President of Pakistan; Mansoor Ali, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh; Amin Hilmi, President of Maldives; Liaqat Ali Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan; Hameedullah Khan, ruler of the State of Bhopal; Raouf Pasha, statesman of Palestine; Dr Dato, politician and statesman of South Africa, and Ali Brothers.
The alumni of AMU have established hundreds of institutions and colleges across the Indian subcontinent and are providing scholarships and financial assistance to thousands of needy and underprivileged students.
Sir Syed breathed his last on 27 March 1898. He said in his last message “I undertook the particular task, there was criticism all around me but my vision and determination never dimmed and failed. I built this institution for you and I am sure you will carry the light of this institution far and wide till darkness disappeared all around.”
Sir Syed’s message and mission are still relevant today. It is very important to have a realistic insight into the current state of affairs. The perceptions of where the world was headed in the next hundred years: That is a foresight for an enlightened view of the future.
The writer is the alumnus of AMU. He is the Chair Professor of Chemical Engineering and QAFAC Chair at Qatar University. He can be reached at [email protected]
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