Sir Syed Ahmad Khan
Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was the greatest Muslim reformer and political leader of the 19th Century. After receiving education in Persian and Arabic he took up the Government service.Sir Syed Ahmad Khan came forward to guide the destinies of his co-religionists and help them steer through stormy seas of ignorance and superstition to safe shores of confidence and fresh aspirations. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, one of the pioneers of the freedom movement of the Indo-Pakistan, was the torch-bearer in imparting modern scientific education to the down-trodden and ill-educated Muslims of the sub-continent to enable them to stand up to the political and socio-economic needs of the time. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan stands out as an important landmark in the development of Muslim thought in the South Asian sub-continent. Sir Syed was the founder of the Aligarh Movement which was the most important movement after the struggle of 1857. He opposed the campaign started by Hindus to replace Urdu by Hindi. The objective of this campaign was to ruin the Muslim civilization and culture by destroying Urdu.
Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, born at Delhi, India on 17th October, 1817 in a renowned family of scholars and statesmen. He was a Muslim educator, jurist and author, principal motivating force behind the revival of Indian Islam in the late 19th century and educated like all Muslims of his day under the traditional system of education.
Sir Syed Ahmad Khan started his career by entering into government service as a Sarishadar at Delhi in 1836. His works, in Urdu, include Essays on the Life of Muhammad (PBUH) (187) and commentaries on the Bible and on the Quran. In 1888 he was made a Knight Commander of the Star of India. After the War of Independence of 1857, he wrote his famous thesis entitled "Loyal Mohammadans of India". He wrote his Risala-dar-Asbab-i-Bhagawati-i-Hind and Ahkam-i-Ta’am-i-Ahl-i-Kitab and other pamphlets to further his educational ideas.
In 1864, he established a School at Ghazipur where the English language along with eastern languages was also taught to Muslims. He founded a Scientific Society. Here he started the periodical which was first called Scientific Society Papers and later, the Aligarh Institute Gazette.
He visited England in 1869 and, on his return, started his famous movement for the establishment of the Muslim University. It started the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College in 1898 and gradually expanded it to be raised to the status of a University in 1920. He started a monthly journal called the Tehzib-al-akhlaq. It’s object was to bring home to the Muslims the need for liberalizing their religious thought and turning to western education in order to regain their former prosperity. The Translation Society established at Ghazipur in 1864, whose objective was to translate books from European languages into Urdu, was being managed by Syed Ahmad’s lifelong friend, Raja Jai Kishan Das. Similarly, the British Indian Association established in 1866 with the object of keeping in touch with the members of the House of Commons was composed of both Hindus and Muslims.
The death of Syed’s father left the family in financial difficulties, and after a limited education Syed had to work for his livelihood. Starting as a clerk with the East India Company in 1938, he qualified three years later as a sub-judge and served in the judicial department at various places.
Syed Ahmed had a versatile personality, and his position in the judicial department left him time to be active in many fields. His career as an author (in Urdu) started at the age of 23 with religious tracts. In 1847 he brought out a noteworthy book, Athar Assandid ("Monuments of the Great"), on the antiquities of Delhi. Even more important was his pamphlet "The Causes of the Indian Revolt". During the Indian Mutiny of 1857 he had taken the side of the British, but the weakness and errors of the British administration that had led to dissatisfaction and countrywide explosion. Widely read by British officials, it had considerable influence on British Policy.
His interest in religion was also active and lifelong. He began a sympathetic interpretation of the Bible, wrote Essay on the Life of Muhammad (PBUH) (translated into English by his son), and founded time to write several volumes of a modernist commentary on the Quran. In these works he sought to harmonise the Islamic faith with scientific and politically progressive ideas of his time.
The supreme interest of Syed’s life was, however, education – in its widest sense, He began establishing schools, at Muradabad (1858) and Ghazipur (1863). A more ambitious undertaking was the foundation of the Scientific Society, which published translations of many educational texts and issued a bilingual journal – in Urdu and English
These institutions were for the use of all citizens and were jointly operated by the Hindus and Muslims. In the late 1860s there occurred developments that were alert the course of his activities. In 1867 he has transferred to Benares, a city on the Ganges with great religious significance for Hindus. At about the same time a movement started at Benares to replace Urdu, the language cultivated ,.by the Muslims, with Hindi. This movement and the attempts to substitute Hind for Urdu publications of the Scientific Society convinced Syed that the paths of the Hindus and the Muslims must diverge. Thus, when during a visit to England (1869-70) he prepared plans for a great educational institution, they were "a Muslim Cambridge." On his return he set up a committee for the purpose and also started an influential journal, Tahdhib al-Akhlaq "Social Reform"), for the "uplift and reform the Muslim". A Muslim school was established at Aligarh in May 1875, and after his retirement in 1876, Syed devoted himself to enlarging it into a college. In January 1977 the Viceroy laid the foundation stone of the college. In spite of conservation opposition to Syed’s projects, the college made rapid progress. In 1886 Syed organised the All-India Muhammadan Educational Conference, which met annually at different places to promote education and to provide the Muslims with a common platform. Until the founding of the Muslim League in 1906, it was the principal national centre of Indian Islam.
Syed advised the Muslims against joining active politics and to concentrate instead on education. Later, when some Muslims joined the Indian National Congress, he came out strongly against that organisation and its objectives, which included the establishment of parliamentary democracy in India. He argued that, in a country where communal divisions were all-important and education and political organisations were confined to a few classes, parliamentary democracy would work only inequitably. Muslims, generally, followed his advice and abstained from politics until several years later when they had established their own political organisation i.e. Muslim League.
This great scholar and leader died on 27th March, 1898, at Aligarh, India