Aligarh Movement

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The Aligarh Movement

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (SAK) was born in 1817 and began his career as an official of the British govt at the age of 20. During the mutiny he remained 150 % loyal to the Brits. He saved the local Europeans i.e. at Bijnor by successful diplomacy, first with the mutineers and then with Nawab Mahmud Khan. His loyalty was recognized by the Brits.

SAK utilized the goodwill for the benefit of fellow Muslims. Aware about the deplorable conditions of the Muslims he attributed their plight to their innate conservatism, which made them averse to English education and Western culture. Think about it! some 100 plus years later a similar problem continues to plague the Muslims of the sub-continent be it in India or England.

Since the Brits believed that it was the Muslims were the chief instigators of the Mutiny the community lost support and political patronage. SAK took upon himself the responsibility of bridging the gulf, bringing about a political rapprochement between the Brits and Muslims and introducing modern education among the Muslims.

To achieve the first objective he urged the Muslims to give up their fruitless, vindictive and sentimental opposition to the British. He gradually convinced them that their future interests depended entirely on favors from the govt, which could happen only if they cooperated with the Brits.

On the other hand he persuaded the Brits that the Muslims were not disloyal to the crown and the Muslims got swayed in 1857 by leading the war against the Brits but with a little tact, generous forgiveness by the Brits could make Muslims British supporters.

This offer by SAK was perfectly timed. Happy to get rid of Muslim rule, the Hindus welcomed Brit rule that made the rulers favor the Hindus initially. But two generations of Western education had aroused revolutionary ideas in the Hindu mind called anti-Brit. Divide and rule was the Brit policy. So they seized SAK's offer by enlisting support of the politically undeveloped Muslim community and holding it as a counterpoise to the progressive Hindu community. A fair idea of the nature and extent of Brit change is given in Hunter’s book, 'The Indian Musalmans', that was published in 1871.

Next SAK devoted himself to the regeneration of his community. He raised his voice against Muslim orthodoxy in order to prove that there is nothing in the Koran, which stands in the way of Muslims taking to English education and imbibing rational, advanced and scientific ideas of the West. Basically he followed Raja Rammohan Roy’s footsteps. He met with violent opposition from within the community but prevailed.

SAK regarded Western knowledge, through English education, as the foundation of all real progress. In 1864 he established an English school in Ghazipur. In 1869 he visited England where he received a cordial welcome and met with Queen Victoria.

While SAK attempts to uplift Muslims is appreciated, it is painful to note that it had as its background a supreme contempt for Indians. In a letter from London dated 15/10/1869 he wrote, “Without the flattering of the English, I can truly say that the natives of India, high and low etc when contrasted with the English in education, manners and uprightness, are as like them as a dirty animal is to be able and handsome man. Do you look upon an animal as a thing to be honored? The English have reason for believing us in India to be imbecile brutes”. Sir Syed Ahmad by Graham pg 183-184. Full letter is in chapter 3.

SAK was intoxicated with the wine of Western culture in the same way as the first generation of English educated Hindus. What he wrote was anti national and exceeded all limits of decency. Some attempt to pardon him saying he was young. Is 52 young?

While in England SAK conceived the idea of having a Muslim college like Oxford and Cambridge. The result was the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh, the foundation stone of which was laid by Lord Lytton on 8/01/1877. The Muslim community benefited as much from it as the Hindu college founded sixty years ago.

SAK also started the Muhammadan Educational Conference as a general forum for spreading liberal ideas among the members of his community. SAK did a great job for Muslims. However, in its ultimate form it took an anti-Congress and anti-Hindu view which is very evident after you read SAK’s thoughts and British role ahead.