Remembering Sir Syed the Natury

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan

Today as we commemorate the 122nd death anniversary of the Great Syed, the founder of what is now Aligarh Muslim University, I am going to repeat what I had once before reiterated, (and been severely reprimanded for writing the same by some ignorant “Old Boys” and so-called “Alumni”): The founder of MAO College died a disillusioned and forsaken man in a rented room situated behind Panwali Kothi (near Nishat Kothi, where now Aligarh Public School is located) on 27th March 1898. Most of his friends (some who succeeded him, and all who benefited from him) had abandoned him and were even critical to him. When he died a lonely death in a rented room away from his own college and bungalow, and his demise was announced, his janaza (funeral) was attended by very few. He was however laid to rest within the Jami’ Mosque which he had erected.

27th March is a reminder that we at Aligarh are actually Ibnul Waqt – and side only for ascending stars, and quickly forget all those who help create us or help us stand in this world!

We are good at paying lip-service and believe in self-serving aggrandisement!

The man who died today 122 years ago was an aristocrat who through education turned into a Civil Servant. All through his life he fought against ignorance and the social rot in his community. He was a Munsif of the British who witnessed the Revolt and saw the decline of his community. He did not look the other way but decided to work for the upliftment of his Community. On the one hand he wrote Asbab-i Baghawat-i Hind (Causes for the Revolt) to make the English realise that it was the Muslims who alone were responsible for the Revolt! To the Community he had another message: don’t boycott the English and their language. Also along with being religious, use logic, be scientific! He was not only a theoretician! Apart from his Asar us Sanadīd (Remnants of the Past) which was his way to tell the British and his own countrymen, the past greatness, he endeavoured to open the Mahomeddan Angl-Oriental College where the Muslims and others would gain modern education. His endeavour was to create an institution which would supply administrators to the rulers. MAO College was envisioned on the lines of Cambridge and Oxford! He went door to door from Punjab to Bengal with a begging bowl for funds and students for his College. The first student was a Hindu, donors were Hindus, Shias and Sunnis. He envisaged a mosque where all would pray together with no difference of Sunnis or Shias. He encouraged Shaikh Abdullah to work for a school for girls.

What did he get in return? The theologians declared him a Kafir, an Apostate, he was derisively called a “Natury“, a follower of Darwin, his cartoons were made (some preserved in Maulana Azad Library) and he was condemned and derided!

It was only much later that the community started recognising him: but then they appropriated him in a manner that now he is taken to be the chief of the orthodox Muslims of the subcontinent! He died much before the idea of partition was even jokingly thought about, but some (who actually belong to the strand which had ever opposed him in his lifetime) tried to thrust upon him the idea of Pakistan!

Sir Syed was an unorthodox modern thinker who opposed religious extremism and stood for a re-interpretation of Islam as it was understood then! He was an innovator of his time and a real scholar to boot. He was the most practical Muslim of the 19th Century North India 🇮🇳

Today as we remember him, let us once again resolve to fight the evils in our society: the ignorance, inequities and the resultant backwardness. Let us become what Sir Syed wanted us to: enlightened citizens of India who have both the science and the piety as our weapons! Let us drive out the blind orthodoxy and embrace enlightened thoughts and attitudes. Let us imbibe and invoke Sir Syed in our practical life, resurrect him and help in achieving his dreams to the full and utmost: that will be the greatest tribute to him!