The Blog of Cafe Dissensus Magazine – we DISSENT

Sir Syed’s relevance in contemporary India


By Javid Ahmad Ahanger

The founder of Aligarh Muslim University, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s 201st birth anniversary was celebrated on 17 October 2018 at a time when the whole debate is about nationalism and hyper-nationalism in India. We are living in strange times where false narratives are constructed by none other than ruling establishment [BJP] to push their political project. The party is working overtime to erase the past and create new versions of past on falsehood and lie. The past lies are now accepted as final truths because the rulers of the day don’t like to accept the past reality.

The divisive politics of right-wing parties is the only accepted norm in present-day India. From South to North and East to West, the only principle that has helped the ruling establishment to capture power is mobilizing the voters on a communal platform and other similar issues. It is in this context that we need to re-read Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the pioneer of the Aligarh Movement. His mission of scientific education of society needs special attention in order for us to come out of the present morass. The current wave of aggressive nationalism has already consumed many lives due to an increase in the incidents of lynching and hate crimes. An honest effort should be made to understand the vision of Sir Syed.

Sir Syed realized the importance of modern education and he believed that it is education alone that will help us achieve development, peace, harmony, and the political stability of people. As Sir Syed said, “Look forward, learn modern knowledge; do not waste time in studies of old subjects of no value.” On one hand, Sir Syed stood for reformation and transformation of society on modern lines, especially of Muslims; on the other, he never made any compromise when it came to the question of larger identity of Muslims. What Sir Syed wrote about society and culture 150 years ago, continues to hold true today. In fact, his thinking on many critical issues can still provide us with significant insights to overcome the challenges we are in, because Sir Syed was a firm believer in dialogue and discussion even on the matters of religion.

Sir Syed was a reformist and progressive thinker. His ideas of multiculturalism, denoting equal status for all communities under the state, is relevant in our times. Aligarh Muslim University has always adhered to this vision, despite being in news regarding its minority status, Muslim name, Jinnah’s portrait or the recent incident of Kashmiri students charged with illegal activities.

The main concern and focus of our academics, scholars, thinkers, writers, civil society, and even political class should be to re-consider, re-think, and re-analyze the past glory of humanism and brotherhood. It’s time for us to recontextualize Sir Syed’s vision for the present day, in order to end hate and disparity in name of religion. Without his mission and without the contribution of AMU, this mission of multicultural society will remain a distant dream. Here I recall the prophetic words of Zakir Hussain, the third President of India, who referred to AMU as a laboratory of Indian pluralism. It is this pluralism that needs to be cherished keeping all political differences aside. It is AMU alone that has the ability to create a tolerant multicultural society. Sir Syed was a renaissance man; the students and teachers of this institution must heed his call and ‘do more’.

Javid Ahmad Ahanger is a doctoral candidate at the Department of Political Science, Aligarh Muslim University. He is working on ‘Political Opposition in Jammu and Kashmir’. He can be reached at , and tweets at @1947Ahanger.


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