By Neloofar Qureshi
While addressing a seminar titled “Human rights violations and Kashmir,” Hurriyat (G) Chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani said, “From past many decades Christians are imparting education to our children. It is unfortunate that we have not been able to set up even a single educational institute at par with these Christian Missionary schools.” While the anguish of the patriarch is certainly heart rendering, the unfortunate part is that we ourselves are responsible for this sorry state of affairs.
Education has always played a very crucial role in the betterment of every community. However, certain segments within our society as well as some distinguished elders feel otherwise. They are convinced that an ‘all inclusive’ syllabi encompassing academics and extracurricular activity is a ‘conspiracy’ to destroy the ‘cultural identity’ of the Kashmiris and to ‘divert’ the youth from their ‘national duties’. So, while one may lament the absence of schools which can compete with Christian Missionary schools, we have nobody but ourselves to blame, because, by accepting illogical theories or even maintaining a discreet silence on this issue, we have become abettors in this crime against our very own children!
In the later part of the nineteenth century, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, a social reformer saw a need for Muslims to acquire proficiency in the English language and Western sciences if the community were to maintain its social and political influence in India. So, in 1875, he set up an educational institution named Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh (which is today known as the Aligarh Muslim University). It was a path breaking concept, (which I’m sure would have certainly evoked a hostile response from the clergy). Yet, Sir Syed went ahead and his creation proved to be an important catalyst in a process of social change among Muslims. When the noted Orientalist Sir Hamilton Gibb analyzed the history of Muslim transition from the medieval to the modern way of life, he characterized this College as "the first modernist institution in Islam". Did this ‘modernist institution’ destroy the ‘cultural identity’ of Muslims?
Sir Syed patterned the Mohammedan Anglo- Oriental College on the lines of the Oxford and Cambridge Universities that he had visited on a trip to England. His objective was to build a college in tune with the British education system but without compromising its Islamic values and he succeeded. So, it is unfortunate that today, that even when we have the example of Aligarh Muslim University before us which bears testimony to the fact that education and religious values can flourish side by side, we still have people amongst our midst who proclaim that the Western pattern of education will destroy Kashmiri culture and erode Islamic values (I’m certain that had he been alive, Sir Syed would have had a hearty laugh!).
For those who are against education for girls, it may be of interest to know that the Aligarh Muslim University established a school for girls in 1907. This school must have been popular, because in 1921 it became a High School and was recognized as Undergraduate College in 1937! And for those who strongly feel that a woman’s place is by the hearth at home, it may come as a surprise that as early as 1920, when the college was transformed into Muslim University, the first Chancellor of the university was a female- Her Highness Sultan Jahan Begum, of Bhopal!
Sir Syed was himself the alumni of another ‘modernistic’ school- the famous Anglo-Arabic Madrasa or the Delhi College. This institution has a unique history- it was established in 1692 as a madrasas during Aurangzeb’s reign by Ghaziuddin Khan. It got its present name in 1825 and gained eminence for encouraging ‘new education’ or ‘nayee taleem’. Due to this, it emerged as the centre of Delhi’s renaissance of the 1830’s and 40’s when it kindled nationwide debate on the merits of Oriental and Western learning. It goes to the credit of our forefathers, who showed exceptional foresight and maturity by accommodating various disciplines to make it a veritable repository of knowledge. Since the emphasis was on holistic education, the faculty was not restricted to Muslims alone but comprised experts from various fields. Thus, eminent scholars like Dr Aloys Sprenger, Master Ram Chander and Maulvi Zakaullah were amongst the faculty members of this unique seat of learning.
Even today, many of us consider Christians as inimical to Islam. But that does not seem to have been the case two hundred years ago. Because, had it been so, then the Anglo-Arabic Madrasa would not have had Christians as Principals from 1836 to 1845- Mr. Frederick Taylor (from 1836 to 1840) and Mr Botros, (from 1841 to 1845). For this institute, pursuit of knowledge was all that mattered and there were no inhibitions in incorporating new disciplines. In 1827, English, Mathematics and Natural Sciences were introduced. Five years later, the ‘Vernacular Translation Society’ was formed which translated the best works in German, French and English into Urdu. (The idea being fed to us today that the mind of Muslims would get ‘contaminated’ by Western thoughts, probably did not seem to have occurred to our forefathers and time bears testimony to the fact they were not wrong!)
Unfortunately, today we seem to be voluntarily reverting back to the dark ages by letting emotions over-ride our rationality in considering broad based education as a ‘threat’ to our identity and culture. Luckily, there have been exceptions.Why did the late Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq send his son Umar to Burnhall School Srinagar which is run by the Diocese of Jammu-Srinagar Education Society? His role as the next Mirwaiz had already been spelled out, so enrolling him in a madrassa would have sufficed. Yet, the late Mirwaiz was a visionary who had faith in the power of Islam as well as his son. Did Umar’s education in a Missionary school ‘corrupt’ his mind? Did he ‘forsake’ the ‘cause’? The simple answer is ‘No’. On the contrary, he used his education to champion the Kashmir issue in the international fora with such vigour and conviction that the prestigious Time magazine called him “Kashmir’s Last and Greatest Hope.” Mirwaiz Umar is a living example of what can be achieved through ‘inclusive’ education.
In one of his lecture Sir Syed had stated: “The main reason behind the establishment of this institution, as I am sure all of you know, was the wretched dependence of Muslims, which had been debasing the position day after day. Their religious fanaticism did not let them avail the educational facilities provided by the government schools and colleges. It was, therefore, deemed necessary to make some special arrangement for their education...” The situation today is similar, but since the vision, commitment and determination which Sir Syed had for the upliftment of the community is missing, it has become more expedient to use education as a ‘tool’ of protest instead of emancipation.
Tail piece: If our youth is being ‘subverted’ through education, then the culprits are non others than ourselves. George Santayana had once said that, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” So, are we now at least ready to learn before it is too late?
Source: Kashmir Observer