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12/16/2009
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Preface

 

Syed Ahmad Khan (18171898) is one of the most dynamic and resplendent personalities of the 19th century. At once a theologian, scholar, social reformer, educationist, politician, author and journalist, he contributed many essential elements to the resurgence of modern India. "Amongst the mighty forces", wrote a well-informed contemporary, "which have been silently changing the aspect of affairs in India during the last forty years, Syed Ahmad Khan's name will, to future generations, occupy a conspicuous place." In fact, he was the first Muslim in modern India to catch a glimpse of the dynamic character of the coming age and he dedicated his whole life to what he thought to be the supreme need of the hour—the uplift of Indians by apprising them of the problems of the modem world. He ignored all hurdles in his way and strove, patiently and incessantly, to bring about a re-orientation in the outlook and behavior of the Indians, particularly the Muslims, who were more backward in education and learning than any other Indian community. He thus became a social and a moral force which accelerated the processes of transition from the medieval to the modern age.

The year 1857 is a turning point in the history of the Indian Muslims. The Muslim political power which had been gradually declining from the beginning of the 18th Century touched its nadir in 1857. The Mughal Empire was finally liquidated in the terrible blood bath of 1857. But it was more than a polity; it symbolized a culture round which the entire fabric of Muslim social behaviour had been woven through the centuries. Its collapse therefore dried up the sources of a milieu and left the Muslims helpless and broken. Steeped in medievalism, broken hearted and frustrated, they found themselves in a blind alley, without any means of livelihood and reduced to a state of abject poverty and utter economic destitution. Sir Syed was deeply touched at this schism of their soul. He applied his mind to the task of creating conditions in which the community could make up leeway^. Ultimately he found in education the panacea of all the ills of the contemporary Muslim society.

The M.A.O. College which Sir Syed founded has been characterized by Sir Hamilton Gibb as "the first modernist institution in Islam." This college was both an institution and a movement. It popularized modern education amongst the Muslims and initiated an era of brisk activity to extricate the Muslim mind from the outmoded patterns of thought and behaviour. As years rolled on, it became a nucleus round which all efforts for adjustment to a changing social order were centered.

Syed Ahmad was a man of great resolution and perseverance. When he set his mind on anything and was convinced of its validity, he never allowed any consideration or, difficulty to stand in his way. When he pitched his tent on the site of the old barracks at Aligarh, where according to Professor Arnold, the wolves howled at night, and spread out before his friends the plans of his future college, they laughed at him. But undeterred by their taunts and ridicule, he pursued his schemes vigorously and with a singleness of purpose which was remarkable.

 

Syed Ahmad's education was medieval and Oriental. He never received any formal instruction in English but by sheer dint of personal effort he gained some smattering of the language and was able to understand and speak a few sentences. "He was a remarkable product of Oriental learning," writes the author of his biography in the Natesan series, "whatever noble work Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Vidyasagar, Keshub Chandra Sen\ Ranade and Dadabhai Naoroji had done in the cause of India in their Deep at the fountain-heads of Western civilization and culture. In Sir Syed it was different. It is certainly to his credit that he mastered the principles of the British constitution and the principles of Occidental Jurisprudence so perfectly. Brought up as an Oriental scholar, he rose to be the apostle of English learning amongst his co-religionists."

Considered in the broad, perspective of Islamic history, Syed Ahmad's educational movement was an unique experiment of its kind. In its valedictory address to him, the Anjuman-i-Islamia of Jullundur said:

"There were great educational establishments in Turkey and Spain when the Mahomedans were in power, but they were maintained at state expense. In

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