In keeping with Sir Syed's Vision of spread of Modern Scientific Education

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Sir Syed Ahmad Khan CSI (17 October 1817 – 27 March 1898), born Syed Ahmad Taqvi; commonly known as Sir Syed, was an Anglophile Indian Muslim pragmatist, Islamic modernist, great philosopher and social activist of nineteenth-century India. An eminent scholar who transformed Muslim education in India to a new height. He worked for the British East India Company and was one of the founders of the Aligarh Muslim University. Born into Mughal nobility, Sir Syed earned a reputation as a distinguished scholar while working as a jurist for the British East India Company's rule in India. During the Indian Revolution of 1857, he remained loyal to the British Empire and was noted for his actions in saving European lives. After the rebellion, he penned the booklet The Causes of the Indian Mutiny – a daring critique, at the time, of British policies that he blamed for causing the revolt. Believing that the future of Muslims was threatened by the rigidity of their orthodox outlook, Sir Syed began promoting Western-style scientific education by founding modern schools and journals and organizing Muslim entrepreneurs. Towards this goal, Sir Syed founded the famous Aligarh Muslim University (AMU)(earlier known as Anglo- Muhammadan Oriental College) in 1875 to promote the social, scientific, and economic development of Indian Muslims. Since then AMU has come a long way producing many great Muslim scholars and eminent personalities across this vast subcontinent. His vision to spread modern scientific education across the country was originally for both Muslims and Hindus which later became Muslim specific after Urdu Hindi language controversy. It is his vision that has been helping the Muslim community to give birth to many famous scholars who in turn spread his vision. His vision has been stood firm for centuries. An insight into his dynamic visions to spread modern scientific education is illustrated below.


  1. The Beginning: Influential Hindu and Muslim politicians of his time viewed Sir Syed with great suspicion, since he called upon Muslims to loyally serve the British Empire. Sir Syed promoted the adoption of Urdu as the lingua franca of all Indian Muslims and mentored a rising generation of Muslim politicians and entrepreneurs. Before the Hindi–Urdu controversy, he was interested in the education of both Muslims and Hindus and visualized India as a "beautiful bride, whose one eye was Hindu and, the other, Muslim". As a result of this view, he was regarded as a reformer and nationalist leader.
  2. The Change: There was a sudden change in Sir Syed's views after the Urdu controversy: his education and reformist policies became Muslim-specific and he fought for the status of Urdu. His biographer, Hali, wrote: "One day as Sir Syed was discussing educational affairs of Muslims with Mr. Shakespeare – the then Commissioner of Banaras – Mr. Shakespeare looked surprised and asked him, "This is the first time when I have heard you talking specifically about Muslims. Before this, you used to talk about the welfare of the common Indians. Sir Syed then told him, "Now I am convinced that the two communities (Muslims and Hindus) will not put their hearts in any venture together. This is nothing (it is just the beginning), in the coming times, and ever-increasing hatred and animosity appear on the horizon simply because of those who are regarded as educated. Those who will be around will witness it.", (Hali, 1993). As a great visionary, we are witnessing it as it is happening that Sir Syed had truly told before one and a half centuries ago. It's been a bone of contention between these two major communities of our country since that time with no solution to date. In 1842, Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar–II conferred upon Sir Syed the title of Javad-ud Daulah, conferred upon Sir Syed's grandfather Syed Hadi by Emperor Shah Alam II around the middle of the 18th century.
  3. Finding Problem Areas And Fixing: He opposed ignorance, superstitions, and evil customs prevalent in Muslim society. He firmly believed that Muslim society would not progress without the acquisition of western education and science. Through the 1850s, Syed Ahmed Khan began developing a strong passion for education. While pursuing studies of different subjects including European [jurisprudence], Sir Syed began to realize the advantages of Western-style education, which was being offered at newly established colleges across India. Despite being a devout Muslim, Sir Syed criticized the influence of traditional dogma and religious orthodoxy, which had made most Indian Muslims suspicious of British influences.Sir Syed began feeling increasingly concerned for the future of Muslim communities. A scion of Mughal nobility, Sir Syed had been reared in the finest traditions of Muslim élite culture and was aware of the steady decline of Muslim political power across India. The animosity between the British and Muslims before and after the rebellion (First War of Independence) of 1857 threatened to marginalize Muslim communities across India for many generations. Sir Syed intensified his work to promote co-operation with British authorities, promoting loyalty to the Empire amongst Indian Muslims. Committed to working for the upliftment of Muslims, Sir Syed founded a modern Madrassa in Muradabad in 1859; this was one of the first religious schools to impart scientific education. He established another modern school in Ghazipur in 1863.
  4. The Creation: Upon his transfer to Aligarh in 1864, Sir Syed began working wholeheartedly as an educator. He founded the Scientific Society of Aligarh, the first scientific association of its kind in India. Modeling it after the Royal Society and the Royal Asiatic Society, Sir Syed assembled Muslim scholars from different parts of the country. The Society held annual conferences disbursed funds for educational causes and regularly published a journal on scientific subjects in English and Urdu. Sir Syed felt that the socio-economic future of Muslims was threatened by their orthodox aversions to modern science and technology. He published many writings promoting liberal, rational interpretations of Islamic scriptures. On 1 April 1869, he went, along with his son Syed Mahmood, to England, where he was awarded the Order of the Star of India from the British Government on 6 August 1869. Traveling across England, he visited its colleges and was inspired by the culture of learning established after the Renaissance. Sir Syed returned to India in the following year determined to build a "Muslim Cambridge." Upon his return, he organized the "Committee for the Better Diffusion and Advancement of Learning among Muhammadans" (Muslims) on 26 December 1870. Sir Syed described his vision of the institution he proposed to establish in an article written sometime in 1872 and re-printed in the Aligarh Institute Gazette of 5 April 1911:

“I may appear to be dreaming and talking like Shaikh Chilli, but we aim to turn this MAO College into a University similar to that of Oxford or Cambridge. Like the churches of Oxford and Cambridge, there will be mosques attached to each College... The College will have a dispensary with a Doctor and a compounder, besides an Unani Hakim. It will be mandatory for boys in residence to join the congregational prayers (Namaz) at all five times. Students of other religions will be exempted from this religious observance. Muslim students will have a uniform consisting of a black alpaca, half-sleeved chugha, and a red Fez cap... Bad and abusive words which boys generally pick up and get used to, will be strictly prohibited. Even such a word as a "liar" will be treated as an abuse to be prohibited. They will have food either on tables of European style or on chaukis in the manner of the Arabs... Smoking of cigarette or huqqa and the chewing of betels shall be strictly prohibited. No corporal punishment or any such punishment as is likely to injure a student's self-respect will be permissible... It will be strictly enforced that Shia and Sunni boys shall not discuss their religious differences in the College or the boarding house. At present, it is like a daydream. I pray to God that this dream may come true."

This very quote speaks all about his great vision that has been playing a very crucial role in shaping up the Muslim society that we see in today’s India. It is his vision that we are living today; it is a vision that gave birth to the great Muslim personalities in a country where Muslims are being cornered in every field owing to century-long bone of contentions. He is self-contained. Being a legend who lived up to his vision and dreams, Sir Syed left no stone unturned on his part in the field of upbringing and the spreading of modern scientific education. In 1878, Sir Syed was nominated to the Viceroy's Legislative Council. He testified before the education commission to promote the establishment of more colleges and schools across India. In the same year, Sir Syed founded the Muhammadan Association to promote political co-operation amongst Indian Muslims from different parts of the country. In 1886, he organized the All India Muhammadan Educational Conference in Aligarh, which promoted his vision of modern education and political unity for Muslims. His works made him the most prominent Muslim politician in 19th century India, often influencing the attitude of Muslims on various national issues. He supported the efforts of Indian political leaders Surendranath Banerjea and Dadabhai Naoroji to obtain representation for Indians in the government and civil services. In 1883, he founded the Muhammadan Civil Service Fund Association to encourage and support the entry of Muslim graduates into the Indian Civil Service (ICS). While fearful of the loss of Muslim political power owing to the community's backwardness, Sir Syed was also averse to the prospect of democratic self-government, which would give control of government to the Hindu-majority population: "At this time our nation is in a bad state in regards education and wealth, but God has given us the light of religion and the Quran is present for our guidance, which has ordained them and us to be friends. Now God has made them rulers over us. Therefore we should cultivate friendship with them and should adopt that method by which their rule may remain permanent and firm in India, and may not pass into the hands of the Bengalis... If we join the political movement of the Bengalis our nation will reap a loss, for we do not want to become subjects of the Hindus instead of the subjects of the "people of the Book..."


Regarding the title itself, there is a big question ‘How far we have developed AMU along with schools and colleges under its administration from where Sir Syed left?’

  • A Brief Look Up: The Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College became Aligarh Muslim University in 1920. The main campus of AMU is located in the city of Aligarh. Spread over 467.6 hectares in the city of Aligarh, AMU offers more than 300 courses in the traditional and modern branches of education. In the beginning, the college was affiliated with the University of Calcutta but became an affiliate of Allahabad University in 1885. Around 1900 efforts began to make the college its university.

Its range of courses was expanded and a girls' school was added in 1907 before it became the Aligarh Muslim University in 1920. The university was designed to train Muslims for government service in India and prepare them for advanced training in British universities. In 1927, a school for the blind was established and, the following year, a medical school was attached to the university. By the end of the 1930s, the university had developed an Engineering faculty. In 2012, the university was ranked 5th by India Today. In 2013, the University ranked 9th in the top 10 higher education institutions in India by Times Higher Education World University Rankings. In 2015 the National Assessment and Accreditation Council rated the school 3.35/A. In 2015 university Rank 2nd by Times Higher Education. Besides all these AMU is running 10 schools up to the senior secondary level at present. This has been the progress that has been made so far over the century in line with keeping Sir Syed’s vision to spread modern scientific education from where he left.

  • Spreading Sir Syed’s Vision Out Of Amu Campus: Though the AMU is being funded by Union Government of India under its guidelines, Sir Syed’s vision is seemingly still on a halt at Aligarh only. After the nightmare partition of India Pakistan in 1947, Muslims in India are inhabited sparsely across the vast subcontinent, and it’s not feasible for every Muslim youth to get access to this elite University for study or to get to know Sir Syed’s Golden visions to spread modern science education. Sir Syed’s golden vision to spread modern science education has been just kept revolving around the 467.6 hectares campus of AMU over the past century or so. Although the campus of the AMU or the existing government rules which would forbid the AMU to open colleges and schools under its administration in other parts of this vast country Sir Syed’s golden vision to spread modern science education is not limited by boundaries or any rules. His golden vision may be adopted anywhere in this country. Therefore it is high time for us to take a call on our modern day’s great scholars and its Alumnus to take forward his vision to spread science education out of the boundaries of Aligarh. Historians, scholars, and the Alumnus of AMU who would have a better understanding of Sir Syed’s vision can be instrumental in taking forward his vision across this vast subcontinent.

At least a senior secondary level schools with all the golden vision Sir Syed may be opened across the country under the administrative control of AMU if permissible by existing Government rules and guidelines or separately. A senior secondary level school well equipped with all modern teaching and learning gadgets and concrete infrastructure at par with schools of the same standard in Europe or America. This is what Sir Syed wanted to see in every far and nook corner of this country. To execute this very idea AMU's alumni who have become successful with lucrative jobs, coveted positions in many Government institutions have to unite together and work on to make it happen Sir Syed’s vision to spread modern science education reaches every far and nook corner of this country. If the existing Government rules and guidelines do not permit to open schools directly under AMU’s administration and guidelines like the existing 10 schools up to senior secondary level school, it is the responsibility of every one of us to ensure that such schools with same guidelines at par with existing 10 schools under AMU at Aligarh are opened across the different region of this country.

Assuming that 7 such schools are being proposed to open across the different regions of this country, Srinagar, Ahmadabad, Mumbai, Trivandrum, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Jorhat (Assam) may be earmarked.The opening of such schools at the abovementioned places will enable our young students to reach from any part of the country. Proposals may be made to Government for special sanction to open such schools in those places to keep in line with Sir Syed’s vision to spread modern science education. The same matter may be taken into consideration by Alumnus association on its gathering so that Sir Syed’s vision reaches every far and nook corner of this country. As the title itself mentioned, Laboratories, Libraries and Research centers at AMU may be developed at the highest level at par with the world's top-class universities. Efforts may be made by the University administration to raise the necessary infrastructure. A similar effort may be made to transform the existing 10 senior secondary schools at par with those world's top-class schools. More than a century after its foundation the AMU is yet to make a mark in World's top-ranking universities list. His vision and dreams will be fulfilled when the AMU and 10 senior secondary schools under its administration gets a permanent place in the world's top-ranking list. Therefore it is high time for every one of us to understand Sir Syed’s golden vision and start working on it. Being a long term visionary Sir Syed rightly foresaw the future of Muslims in India before none of the other Muslim scholars did and died giving his last breath to uplift social and educational standards of Muslims in India. Today his vision is becoming a long distant story that finds little space amongst modern Muslim scholars. Yet the present status of the social life of Muslims across the country is not better than those he had foreseen centuries ago. We should adopt measures to spread his vision and work in line with that vision to develop standards of modern science education amongst Muslims. Many events to promote awareness amongst Muslims about his vision may be organized throughout the country apart from such essay competition. State-wise Alumni associations of AMU may be advised to organized promotional events on the eve Sir Syed’s Birthday celebration every year. So that his vision is known to every Muslim intellectual, scholars, and youths. Thus affecting the mind of such Muslim masses to work in line with the vision to spread modern science education. More young Muslim students may be encouraged to take modern science education to get out of religious stigma and discrimination faced by Muslims in this country. Our prime target should be to ensure his dream to see a stable and well educated Muslim society in India be achieved in the coming decade or so while in keeping his vision to spread modern science education.


Being an educational reformist Sir Syed will be remembered for his valuable contribution in the field of upliftment of Muslim education in India. We can't just imagine our present-day education standard without his golden vision to spread modern scientific education. In the wake of his 158th birth anniversary, we must take a pledge that we will render every effort to keep his vision alive and uplift Muslim education in all possible ways. Regarded widely as the mentor of 19th- and 20th century Muslims, entrepreneurs, and politicians.

He remained the most influential Muslim politician in India, Battling illnesses and old age, Sir Syed died on 27 March 1898. Sir Syed is widely commemorated across South Asia as a great Muslim reformer and visionary. Syed Ahmed Khan was knighted by the British government in 1888 and was awarded Knight Commander of The Order of Star of India for his loyalty to the British crown, through his membership of the Imperial Legislative Council and in the following year he received an LL.D. honoris causa from the Edinburgh University. The university he founded remains one of India's most prominent institutions. Prominent alumni of Aligarh include Muslim political leaders Maulana Mohammad Ali, Abdur Rab Nishtar, Maulana Shaukat Ali, and Maulvi Abdul Haq, who is hailed in Pakistan as Baba-e-Urdu (Father of Urdu). The first two Prime Ministers of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan, and Khawaja Nazimuddin, as well as the late Indian President Dr. Zakir Hussain, are amongst Aligarh's most famous graduates. In India, Sir Syed is commemorated as a pioneer who worked for the socio-political upliftment of Indian Muslims.

Written By

MS Hussain Lilong Bazar Masjid Road Prize Winning Essay, Sir Syed’s All India Essay Competition 2015