By Zafar Agha
October 24, 2017
Today India is celebrating the bi-centenary of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. Sir Syed is not the name of a person but a movement. Sir Syed’s movement is one of the key movements launched by Indian Muslims. Sir Syed’s Movement is relevant even today as it was when Sir Syed was alive. This is because the Indian Muslims were intellectually backward in Sir Syed’s times; they are more or less the same even today.
Sir Syed’s movement aimed at liberating Muslims from feudal thoughts and keeping them abreast with modern industrial civilization. Generally it is believed that Sir Syed is well-regarded just because he tried to motivate the Indian Muslims toward seeking modern education. Why Sir Syed wanted Indian Muslims to seek modern education? To solve this mystery, it is imperative to understand Sir Syed’s movement.
Downfall of Mughals was not only an end of an aristocratic system but with that a civilization and institutions associated with it also came to an end. Many political, social, economic and cultural values became void overnight. For example till 1857 Indian madrasas were the source of education. But with the proliferation of English schools and colleges with modern education, new syllabus emerged. Which made the centuries old madrasas and their syllabus irrelevant. Similarly Britishers brought new laws and new courts with them, which made the judicial system based on qazis during Muslim period ineffective. The Persian language which was once the court language became worthless.
After 1857 Muslims were left in the dark. Now the question that haunted Indian Muslim was, what he should do and where he should go for his survival? On his one side was the glorious past and on his other side was a new present and future with industrial civilization brought by Britishers. In the decade of 1860s after the fall of Mughals, for the first time Muslims looked out for an answer to the above question; as a result two schools of thoughts emerged. The first one was Darul Uloom Deoband and the other was Sir Syed Movement.
Deoband movement’s focal point was that the main reason behind Muslims’ downfall was that they deviated from basic Islamic principles. The solution lies in revival of Islam which can be done only through madrasas hence the Deoband movement began with the establishment of Madrasa Darul Uloom which is running even today.
As against that, Sir Syed originated a quite different school of thought. He sought to synchronize the Islamic faith with scientific and progressive ideas. He foresighted that the educational backwardness of Muslims would lead them astray, so he focused all his attention towards educational upliftment of Muslims.
The new world according to Sir Syed would be a modern world based on industrial revolution which was already founded in the west. He was in favour of democratic world as against feudal world. His thoughts were democratic and progressive in nature. He had the vision of a secular political system. He guided Muslims towards his vision.
Sir Syed searched another source to link Muslims with modern world, which was scientific temper. Everyone knows that Sir Syed developed scientific temper before establishing Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental School and college. The society primarily aimed at developing scientific temper among Muslims. His efforts to synchronize religion with modernity were a remarkable venture. He foresaw the imperative need for Muslims to acquire proficiency in English language and modern sciences if the community were to maintain its social and political identity. He also observed that education can only improve the worsening economic condition of the Muslims in India. This ideology of his holds good even today. Establishment of Aligarh Muslim University, his greatest achievement was also part of his endeavour.
Even today Muslims are overwhelmed by feudal values which became the cause of Mughal downfall. A small section of our community adopted English education but general Muslims lack scientific temper even today. Such customs and traditions are prevalent today which have nothing to do with Islam. In short Muslim today is far away from intellectual renaissance and is facing degeneration.
On the occasion of the 200th birth anniversary of this an ardent reformer we need to revive Sir Syed’s Movement.