Syed Ahmad TaqviBin Syed Muhammad Muttaqi (17 October 1817 – 27 March 1898), commonly known as Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was an Indian Muslim pragmatist, Islamic reformist, philosopher of nineteenth century British India.
Sir Syed was the first who coined the term “Two Nation Theory” to the theory of separate nation of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
He was born in a family which was having strong ties with the Mughal Court. Syed studied the Quran and Sciences within the court. He gave more thrust on Islam's rationalist (Mu'tazila) tradition, and at broader, radical reinterpretation of the Quran to make it compatible with the science and modernity.
He was of the notion that, “Muslim youth should carry the Holy Quran in one hand and the Science in the other hand.”
The Aligarh Muslim University, UP grew out of the work of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, who in the aftermath of the Indian war of Independence of 1857 felt that it was important for Muslims to gain education and become involved in the public life and government services in India.
So, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan being the founder of one of the top institutions (AMU) in India where hundreds and thousands of students receive their education in different careers and fields, every year on 17th of October, AMU and its Alumni celebrate 'Sir Syed Day' in the memory of its founder.
But it is important for all of us to understand the relevance of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in the 21st century. How is he relevant or is he really relevant?
Of course! Sir Syed Ahmad Khan is relevant in 21st century. He is relevant as a role model and a symbol of Empowerment for all the suppressed and disadvantaged people across globe in general and for Muslims across South Asia in particular.
But, I must tell you that people, here and there, often question and criticize us ‘Aligarians’ that we have caged our understanding and perspectives within the centuries-old boundaries set by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan.
Most of them ridicule us on this! But let me tell these people that the vision of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan is such vast and empowering that it should not only be worth-emulating for Muslims but it is equally essential and meaningful to oppressed people of diverse cultures across globe in general (and for our Kashmir in particular).
If such oppressed people along with disadvantaged Muslims world over want to come out of the gloom and vicious spiral of deprivations, it is indispensable that we set our sails right and give shoulder to the wheel that Sir Syed had fashioned for all of us! The wheel of education, emancipation, empowerment and enlightenment!
Also, Sir Syed, the great socio-religious reformist is more relevant in the present times, when people are being suppressed in the name of religion, caste, race, gender and ethnic identities!
The oppression and violence perpetrated against weaker sections of the society in our societies is on its peak. People are being trampled under the feet of capitalism, military might and irrelevant development.
Such policies are being framed by the Governments which have no meaning to the actual and everyday life of a common man.
Instead, rich becomes richer and the poor is further pushed deep into the abyss of suffering and humiliation where from his return is unlikely. Corrupt practices are at galore.
If you look at India it is the number one in Asia in the corruption and transparency index. Gap between rich and poor is increasing after every hour.
Violence perpetrated in the name of religion is on the rise. Poor people are being killed in the name of religion they practice, in the name of food they eatin the name of the region they live in, even in the name of the aspirations they have. So, how will all this stop?
I can’t exaggerate and I can’t say that there is only one option that is that Sir Syed Ahmad Khan is the only role model. No he was not the only one and he is not the only one in history. But we need to recognise and acknowledge the uniqueness of his teaching and methodology, his vision and mission for the disadvantaged masses in the country!
These arguments reflect the miseries and sufferings of the masses:
- One-third of the world’s poor live in India
- Poverty is intensified by the historical caste system
- Employment opportunities are hard to reach to lower social classes/castes
- Infant mortality rate/maternal mortality rate is high in India
- Farmer suicides are on the rise, peasantry is in vicious cycle of poverty
- Children and women in India are at the receiving end. There is gender inequality
- Marginalized sections like SCs, STs, Dalits and Muslims are caught in downward spiral of deprivations
- Child sexual abuse and rapes/molestation cases against the women are at galore
That is why I strongly believe that Sir Syed Ahmad Khan's vision must be integrated and embraced by all the sane leaders (including our leaders in Kashmir) of the deprived sections in this subcontinent in order to set stage for economic, social, political and cultural emancipation and empowerment of the downtrodden.
Do not downsize the personality of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan by making him a Muslim reformer only, his perspectives of teaching and soul of his mission is to revolutionise youth with education so as to achieve peace, prosperity and development in all its senses.
Unfortunately, if we tag his personality as being for only Muslims in India, it will be sheer injustice to his core philosophy. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan is too big a personality to be seen through the lens of religion only.
We need to broaden our analysis so as to find relevance of his teachings in the 21st century for all the suppressed and exploited masses irrespective of religion and region.