Modern institution or madrassa? One of the questions this story of Aligarh Muslim University asks


If you walk down the tree-lined road from Bab-e-Syed on the southern outskirts of AMU to Centenary Gate at the northern edge of the university, you may encounter many bearded young men dressed in sherwani. It’s not that sherwani or beards are a new fad on campus. They have always been there. In fact, the Aligarh men’s white cut sherwani and churidar have been a kind of uniform for formal occasions for centuries here.

But in some quarters, the opinion is that they are more visible due to an increasing number of madrassa students joining classes at AMU. Many first-time visitors may mistake the campus for an advanced madrassa. Maulvis, who has already acquired some knowledge of Islamic religious texts, enters traditional secular courses through a provision in the 1981 Aligarh Muslim University Act (Amendment).

Section 5 (2) C of the law mandates the university to “promote the educational and cultural advancement of Muslims in India”. A committee headed by a former pro-VC, Professor Mohammed Shafi, was set up in 1986 to recommend measures for the implementation of this section. Among other things, the Shafi Committee suggested that a center be established to carry out the mandate of the Law.

The Center for the Promotion of Educational and Cultural Advancement of Muslims in India (CPECAMI) was thus established in 1988. It is under the same section 5 (2) C that the Center for the Promotion of Science was established in 1985. Its main objective was to sensitize Muslims to the need to acquire scientific knowledge and promote science education in educational institutions run by Muslims, including madrasas.

So how did AMU, a modern institution for which founder Sir Syed faced strong opposition from the maulvis in the last quarter of the 19th century, became a magnet for madrassa students? ? Many on campus hold two former vice-chancellors – Saiyid Hamid and Lieutenant General (retired) Zameer Uddin Shah – responsible for opening the doors of AMU wide to the maulvis.

Saiyid Hamid was a former AMU student and a retired civil servant. His tenure as VC (1980-1985) saw huge protests from students, one of whom was even killed in police gunfire during a demonstration. But Hamid also introduced many changes. Farrukh Waris, a former AMU student and family friend of Saiyid Hamid, recalls an interesting anecdote about him. She says that when the campaign against Saiyid Hamid became fierce and he too got impatient and wanted to step down, he contacted then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Farrukh Waris says:

“Indira Gandhi told Saiyid Hamid that ek Syed ne AMU qayam kiya aur doosre Syed ko AMU ko bachana hai (One Syed, i.e. Sir Syed, founded AMU and another Syed, or Saiyid Hamid, has had to save him). And Saiyid Hamid spared no effort to not only prevent the university from going to dogs, but he also improved his stature. “

Ishtiaq Ali was a master’s student when the agitation against Saiyid Hamid was at its peak. He was the organizer of the Academic Student Forum, a platform created to support Saiyid Hamid as the student union opposed him. Ishtiaq Ali said several senior students had occupied the hostel’s rooms for years and would not leave them even if the new arrivals struggled to find accommodation.

This problem had become acute during the time of Saiyid Hamid’s predecessor, economist AM Khusro, who allowed lax admissions and other irregularities. Sunil Sethi, then correspondent of India today, had visited the AMU campus in February 1981 to report on the unrest there. He found that an interview given by the eminent historian, Professor Irfan Habib, who was dean of the faculty of social sciences, had further stirred up the agitators. Sethi reported:

“Apparently that’s what Habib said in an interview with the Indian express January 13, 1981 which made them intensify their agitation and demand the immediate suspension of Habib not only as dean of the Faculty but also as professor. In the interview, Habib revealed sordid truths about his university, claiming that “the criminal elements have escalated the problem by entering hostels where they get not only protection but concessions.”

The students began to demand that Habib be suspended for his “insults”.

“On January 23, the students continued their protest to demand ‘assurance’ from the vice-chancellor that Habib would not be allowed to attend the special summons for the visit of Nobel laureate Abdus Salam. Two days later, the VC is gherao and the gherao continues, forcing the VC to close the university indefinitely.

Saiyid Hamid believed the students’ demand to fire Professor Habib was unfair, even though he wanted many hoteliers who had occupied a room for years due to admission to one course or the other to leave the rooms. The students, Ishtiaq Ali recalls, did not understand Saiyid Hamid’s intentions. He was a college sympathizer, not a corrupt man. He brought the university back from the brink, says Ali.

Among the good measures he has taken, there is the relaunch of the Tahzib-ul-Akhlaq, Sir Syed magazine had published shortly after his return from England in 1870. The magazine, as we have seen in previous chapters, had caused a sensation in Muslim society. Saiyid Hamid rightly believed that the magazine was relevant even then.

“Saiyid Hamid was a man of modern thought and a scientific approach. He was a product of this university and had imbibed the spirit of the Aligarh movement. He relaunched the magazine in the hope of reintroducing the scientific temperament among Urdu readers, especially the AMU community, ”recalls retired Urdu professor Asghar Abbas, who has written extensively on Sir Syed.

Abbas had seen Saiyid Hamid very closely and was one of his ardent admirers. So how does he assess Saiyid Hamid’s tenure as VC? He said: “Bus yeh samajh lein ke Syed Hamid ne ek girti huee deewar ko sambhal liya (Saiyid Hamid saved a ruined wall). He breathed new life into a dying institution.

Professor Najma Mahmood, who taught English at AMU, was among those who backed Saiyid Hamid to the end when many students on campus wanted him to step down. In 1984 she wrote an essay in her support in Urdu, which was later included in her book Saiyid Hamid: Ke Gum Usmein Hain Afaaq. Describing Saiyid Hamid’s devotion to AMU, she wrote:

“Saiyid Hamid is an image of Sir Syed. He has a great love for this institution and he can even give his life for it. It is our duty to recognize and respect the greatness of his personality. It is our weakness that we do not see the beauty that is visible to our eyes. Only a jeweler understands the value of a diamond.

As an educator, Saiyid Hamid was truly saddened by the educational backwardness of Muslims. He wanted reforms in madrassa education. Since some of the major madrassas in northern India, such as Darul Uloom in Deoband, Uttar Pradesh, have not sought government support, they have also resisted the introduction of modern subjects into their curricula. . Educators like Saiyid Hamid were in favor of the idea that diplomas issued by some of the main madrassas should be recognized by AMU to allow them admission.

The students of Deoband, Nadwatul Ulema, Lucknow and a few other madrassas have found their way into the “bastion of modernity”. In the same way that all AMU pass-outs are called Aligs, the products of these madrassas bear the name of their institution as a badge of honor. So, a Deoband product is called a Qasmi, because Qasim Nanautvi (1833-1880) was one of the main founders of Darul Uloom Deoband. A graduate of Nadwatul Ulema in Lucknow is called Nadwi.

Ariful Islam, a retired professor of statistics at AMU, has noticed for some time the “infiltration” of madrassa students into AMU. “I too am for the reforms in the teaching of madrasas. But instead of modernizing the madrassas, they are turning a modern institution like AMU into a madrassa, ”he says. He holds Saiyid Hamid responsible for giving an opening to madrassa students, which led to the opening of the floodgates for the maulvis to occupy this first modern educational institution.

If Saiyid Hamid gave a small opening to the madrassa students at AMU, Zameer Uddin Shah, vice-chancellor from 2012-2017, opened the floodgates to let in the maulvis. As part of CPECAMI, he introduced a one-year bridging course for madrassa students. The bridging course has an intake of 100 students, seventy-five boys and twenty-five girls. During the course, they learn English, humanities, law and information technology. Upon successful completion of this course, students receive certificates equivalent to the Twelfth Standard Certificate of Completion at a Standard School.

“Holders of bridge course certificates can sit for entrance exams for various courses at universities like AMU, JMI and Jamia Hamdard. Many Hafizs (those who remember the Quran by heart) and other Maulvis have joined traditional secular courts. Since the madrassas oppose any attempt at modernization, this is the only way by which you can modernize some of those coming out of the madrassas. The madrassa students who take this course will improve their employability in the labor market, ”says Zameer Uddin Shah, now president of the Sir Syed Education Foundation.

The foundation was established while Shah was still VC of AMU, and its aim was to establish good English speaking schools as nurturing institutions for AMU. “The incumbent vice-chancellor was supposed to be the president of the foundation, but that did not happen because according to the constitution of the WBU, it cannot open its schools beyond 25 km from the Jama Masjid. at University. So I remain its president and so far we have created four schools in Uttar Pradesh, ”says Shah.

The biggest flaw plaguing AMU, Shah says, is the alarming quality of education in a few schools run by AMU. Shah had fired thirty teachers who proved ineffective, but they were reinstated by the courts.

“I found that many teachers in these schools educate their own children in good convent schools, but bring them back to the ninth and tenth standards so that they can become internal students and benefit from admission to classes. professionals. Upgrading these schools is essential to ensure that a pool of good students is provided to the university, ”he said.

Shah’s tenure as VC was not without controversies. Among other things, one concerned the refusal to allow female students to visit the university’s central library, the Maulana Azad Library. He made the headlines for several days. Speaking at a reception at Women’s College, reacting to the demand from female students for permission to visit the main library, Shah said, “If you girls are allowed, there will be four times as many boys in. the library. In his memories, The Sarkari Musalman, Shah accuses certain “parasites” of having recorded this statement and of having transmitted it to the media.

Extracted with permission from Aligarh Muslim University: The Making of Modern Indian Muslim, Mohammed Wajihuddin, HarperCollins India.


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