SIR SYED's Mission in the 21st Century

SIR SYED's Mission in the 21st Century

In the present century, Muslims the world over and specially in India are passing through a deeply troubling phase. The Babri Masjid Demolition, the 9/11 attacks, the Gujarat genocide, the London blasts, have placed Muslims in a vulnerable position wherever they are. Where does all this hatred and suspicion leave an honest God-fearing Muslim in the present world?


You must be wondering how all this is connected with the Aligarh Movement and why am I bringing up this topic here today?

Well, it so happens that about a century ago the Muslims of India were passing through a somewhat similar crisis. It was then that a man of stature stood up and led them from darkness to light. His message was simple and to the point - Follow the path of knowledge and do so with an open mind and heart. He said - 'Study and revere the Holy Scriptures of all religions and let not hatred blur your vision." Syed Ahmad Khan the leading light of Aligarh Movement urged Muslims of India to imbibe moral values and develop large-hearted tolerance.


I believe his vision was a panoramic vision, which had all these characteristics

  1. It evaluated the condition of Muslims of that time. – It is very important to have a realistic insight into the current state of affairs or THE PRESENT stage in every age.

  2. His perceptions of where the world was headed in the next hundred years- That is a foresight for an enlightened view of THE FUTURE.

  3. And his knowledge of history or hindsight – which gave him an intelligent grasp of The Past.

Now if we want to have a vision for Indian Muslims in the 21st century, we have to have that same insight, the same hindsight and the same foresight.


The condition of Indian Muslims today - The Present. According to the latest Sachar report -


94.9% of Muslims are below poverty line.

Muslims High School passed 7.2%

Muslims enrolled in colleges: 6.5%

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everybody knows those statistics by heart now !

But the trouble with Muslims all around the world – whether in majority or in minority -- is that they are no longer proactive and productive. We need to emphasize the role of a Creative Minority -- creative is the one who is original in thought and original in action. Muslims can be of real benefit to the world only when they regain that faculty -- rather than dreaming about regaining the Past Glory. Glory comes not as result of poetry or "poetical" dreams, but only through original thoughts, creative study and analysis and positive action. In one word, it is nothing but Proactive action. Any addition of reaction to this formula mars the whole process and sends the social groups off the course.


Most efforts for promoting Muslim education have been in the form of making demands on the State but without understanding the limits of the educational bureaucracy of the government.


It shows the ignorance of the Muslim Intelligentsia that in the next 100 years after Sir Syed, they could not come up with more Educational Institutions for Muslims.


Syed Ahmad Khan started the Aligarh college to bridge the divide between traditional Islamic and ‘modern’ education.

But, now the modern educational system operates with the false assumption of the superiority of Western civilisation and the inferiority of Muslim culture. It has led to alienation of modern-educated Muslims from their own community and to an enormous educational dualism.


On one side you have the Seculars, the Communists, the Leftists and Rightists and on the other hand are a few Ulama who continue to hold the traditional Madrasa strongholds. Each group views the other with suspicion , with contempt , with disdain.


Whereas, what we need is a vision, which could unite all these extremes together.

The call for today is the setting up of a Muslim Educational Board to help promote both reforms in Modern schools AND Madrasas.


Sufi shrines and Waqf Boards, with the vast sums of money at their disposal, should set up ‘modern’ educational institutions catering to the poor among the community.


But, in the end it is WE as torch-bearers of Sir Syed, who should have the responsibility of educating our children, as well as children of those who are less fortunate than us.


A movement is needed amongst the products of AMU spread out all over the world to co-ordinate their efforts and not only strengthen AMU, but plant similar saplings all over India to cater to the increasing demands of removal of illiteracy and poverty amongst the Muslims of India.


The second point should be our perception of where the world is headed for today.- The Future.


We observe that throughout major periods of human history the world seems to have excelled only in the art of be preparing for war. It's what humanity seems to know the best. The unlearned lesson of the 20th century is that we've gotten far too good at making war. The structure of our society - government, industry, the media - can gear up for war at a moment's notice, no matter how hateful the idea may be in the souls of ordinary men and women. The will of the majority for peace is displaced by the will of the minority for war.


So we have to train our generation and the next for Tolerance and let not hatred blur our vision, as Sir Syed had said.


That again comes with education. Learning about the life-style, religion and works of others creates an atmosphere of mutual understanding and shows us ways of tolerating the other point of view.


Lessons from History – The Past.

What does History say about the priority Muslims gave to Education in the past?

I will only quote the answer from Will Durant's Story of Civilization. This American philosopher and historian writes, "When Baghdad was destroyed by the Mongols it had thirty-six public libraries. Private libraries were numberless. It was a fashion among the rich to have an ample collection of books. A physician refused the invitation of the Sultan of Bokhara to come and live at his court, on the ground that he would need 400 camels to transport his library. Al-Waqidi, dying, left 600 boxes of books, each box so heavy that two men were needed to carry it. Princes like Sahab Ibn Abbas in the 10th century might own as many books as could be found in all the libraries of Europe combined."


These words of Will Durant, say a lot about Muslims' thirst for knowledge at the time that Islam was at its zenith. I believe, also, these words say a lot about the priority Sir Syed must have given to education. We as individuals, as a family, as a society, should do no less.


I have a healthy respect for Sir Syed, the man.I do not denigrate him, nor do I idolise him.

I feel he was different from the others in the sense that he was a combination of a delightful mixture of a Thinker, a Philosopher and a Practical Man. When you look at people, you find people on one side of the spectrum who are Thinkers and great writers but they don't get off the ground. Then on the other side you just have practical people who want to do things , but do not bother much about any theoretical basis of that work.Very very few have the excellent combination of both .


It is only people who have both these attributes AND the charisma of bringing different people together on a common platform, who are able to do something which History is proud to record.


Dr. Tayyaba Abidin Qidwai
AMU 1978, Muscat, Oman

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