“Modern institution or madrassa” – Sir Syed’s fight for the Muslim University of Aligarh


Aligarh Muslim University Archive Photo | Communal room

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IIf 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). promotion 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 for acquiring scientific knowledge and to 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 born 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, 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.


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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 been observing the “infiltration” of madrassa students into AMU for some time. “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.


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After a fifteen-year struggle, the 1981 Aligarh Muslim University (Amendment) Act was passed. Overall, it responds to the aspirations of Indian Muslims, defining the university as “the educational institution of their choice established by Muslims in India, originally Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College, Aligarh and which was later incorporated under the name of Aligarh Muslim University ‘. No other law in the past has conferred the kind of powers on AMU that this law has. It sees the Muslims of India as a unified body, and the University Tribunal, which has become the supreme body of government, represents the entire Muslim population of India. Those who fought for AMU status across India in the 1920s must have smiled from above when the AMU (Amendment) Act, 1981, stated in Section 5 (2) C , that he “empowered the University to promote in particular the educational and cultural advancement of Muslims in India.”

AMU may have opened its off-campus centers, but the main campus needs to get back on its feet. It must maintain its reputation as a modern and progressive institution committed to training young people capable of sustaining rational and scientific thought. Sir Syed, argues Asghar Abbas, could easily have established a large madrassa if he wanted to. He struggled to instill new thinking, a rational and scientific disposition, among Muslims. He was opposed by traditional clerics because he challenged many established ideas and values. “I am saddened that they are turning a modern institution into a sort of madrassa with a great infrastructure. We will not do Sir Syed’s legacy and memories justice if AMU ends up becoming a madrassa, even though officially it is a university, ”Abbas said. Some people on campus are also worried about a new phenomenon, the growing fault lines due to bigotry. Although Shiites and Sunnis pray here and have different prayer times, some students and teachers are increasingly avoiding congregations in the huge Jama Masjid at AMU.

On another occasion, the former PRO and Director of the Urdu Academy at AMU, Rahat Abrar, was asked to investigate a commotion in part of the school’s students for visually impaired students. Abrar found out that a group of boys wanted to come out of the hostel campus and pray in a Sunni mosque in the market because the imam of the mosque on the school premises was a Deobandi. The campus had been cleansed of such narrow sectarian sentiments earlier. Incidents like these undermine the ideals and values ​​that Sir Syed stood for. He had dreamed of founding an institution where Hindus would not be forced to observe Muslim religious practices, while Muslims were to keep their bigotry aside and put their hearts and minds to develop into a healthy and self-reliant community.

This excerpt from “Aligarh Muslim University: The Making of the Modern Indian Muslim” by Mohammed Wajihuddin was published with the permission of HarperCollins India.

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