Re-Reading Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in Contemporary Milieu
By Javid Ahmad Ahanger
As we celebrated the 201th birth anniversary of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan on 17 October 2018—the founder of Aligarh Muslim University, when the whole debate around the nationalism and hyper-nationalism is round the corner. In fact we are living in strange times where false narratives are constructed by none other than ruling establishment to push their political project. There is great work going to erase the past and set the new versions of past on falsehood and lie. The past lies are now accepted as gossip truths because the rulers of the day don’t like to hear and digest the truth.
There is every attempt to divide the already fragile society to fulfil the political wishes. The divisive politics of right-wing parties is only accepted norm in the present day India. From South to North and East to West, the only principle that has helped the ruling establishment to capture power is mobilizing the voters on communal platform and other similar issues. It is here when Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the pioneer of Aligarh Movement is needed to re-read once again. His mission of scientific educationabout the society needs special attention to come out of the present challenges we live in. In the context of the current wave of aggressive nationalism, that has already consumed many lives due to the increasing incidents of lynching and hate crimes. An honest effort should be made to understand the vision of Sir Syed.
Sir Syed realized the importance of modern education and he believed that it is the education alone that will help to achieve the much needed cherished goals of development, peace, harmony and political stability of people. As Syed said, “Look forward, learn modern knowledge; do not waste time in studies of old subjects of no value.” On one hand Sir Syed stood for reformation and transformation of society on modern lines especially Muslims but on the other he never make any compromise when it come the question of larger identity of Muslims. What Sir Syed wrote about society and human culture 150 years ago continues to hold true. In fact the thinking of Syed on many critical issues can still provide us some significant insights to overcome from the challenges we are in, because Syed was the firm believer of dialogue and discussion even on the matters of religion.
There is no denial to this fact that Sir Syed was a reformist and progressive thinker of his times. His main contribution and relevance at present is Syed was the firm believer of multiculturalism, where all communities irrespective of any discrimination must be allowed to equal status under state. Here it is really a great pleasure and satisfaction that the founding institute [AMU] of Sir Syed has always adhered to the vision of this great soul. Though, the institution has always remained in news sometimes about its Minority issue, Muslim Name, Jinnah Portrait or of now when two Kashmir students were allegedly charged with some un-lawful activities.
However, the main concern and focus of our academicians, scholars, thinkers and writers’civil society and even political class should be to reconsider, rethink, and reanalyse the past glory of humanism and brotherhood.With that we must bring the blurred contours of history and contextualize his [Sir Syed’s] vision to the present day and honest efforts must be made to end the hate and disparity on name of religion. Without his mission and without the contribution of AMU, this mission of multicultural society is only distant dream. Here I recall the prophetic words of Zakir Hussain—the third President of republic of India when he characterized AMU a laboratory of Indian pluralism.
It is this pluralism that needs to be cherished keeping all political differences aside. It is AMU alone that has the power toserve the society than ever before. This great son of the South Asiahad indeed renaissance potential for generations to come. He has a permanent place in the history of the Subcontinent. It is the pupil who pass through this institution had a call from Sir Syed “do more”.
Happy 201th Birthday, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan! May your soul rest in peace!
(The writer is a Doctoral Fellow at the Department of Political Science, Aligarh Muslim University. Email: [email protected], Tweets at: @1947Ahanger)