In a remarkable moment from the chronicles of his monumental life, Sir Syed invited Raja Dev Narayan Singh (A Rajput zamindar) to lay the foundation stone of the Madarsa established at Ghazipur. This courteous gesture of his indeed made a very loud statement regarding his views on maintaining harmony in a country that blossoms with flowers of a variety of seeds. Coming from a family rich in culture and lineage, Sir Syed’s ancestors always believed in the idea of morality and compassion towards humanity. His family always nurtured the idea of togetherness and perhaps these beliefs did pass down to Sir Syed in a very profound manner, shaping him into “a man of reason and tolerance”. To understand the glorious life of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, one needs to dive deep into the thought process that made him commence the voyage of courage and perseverance. He was an opinionated man who dared to reform the mindset of his community and was firm enough to bring them out of a pit of darkness.
The mid-nineteenth century proved to be a downfall for the Muslims of India along the lines of the vanishing glory of the Mughal lineages. All that was left with Muslims was the urge to look back upon the glorious past and long for it. This melancholic environment and the short-sightedness of the Muslims to see the changing norms of the world led to their decline tremendously. The conditions of the Muslims were deteriorating due to their backwardness and static mindset. They started losing opportunities to the aspiring Hindus that emerged from the western-oriented schools established by the British. It was right after the mutiny of 1857 that led to Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s acknowledging the dire situation his community was spiralling into. This made him persevere to start a revolution to protect the identity of his community from going to ash.
Sir Syed was a well-read man who was always irked by the curiosity to gain knowledge regarding anything and everything. He never formally received education and gathered knowledge through mere hard work. A background in oriental education never stopped him from acquiring other languages. He, even though ignorant of the English language, was able to understand the whole British constitution to near perfection. This is the reason why he, by some, was called an admirer of the English men. Misunderstood by most at that time, it took him a whole series of chapters under the name “Tehzibul Akhlaq” to make people understand his perspective on life. It is also wrong to say that he wasn’t impressed by the west. Indeed, he was flattered by the amount of conviction and discipline they showcased in the field of education. The sole reason for his support to the English men was because of the development in the sciences and other fields. He believed that the British Raj gave the people of India a golden opportunity to uplift themselves.
However, it is not to say that he was ignorant of the atrocities that the British Raj had stumbled upon the people of India. He always stood tall as a gigantic peak and was straightforward enough to respond with an equal amount of conviction. During the revolt of 1857, he came forward to speak against the cruel nature of the British. He was the first one to write a whole book in response to the derogatory comments that an Englishman made against Prophet Muhammed (SAW). Sir Syed’s voice and ink were always present when the British needed a reality check. He was a tolerant person who was simply against intolerance. He was a keeper who always tried to appreciate and imbibe the good deeds of others and also wanted others to follow the same path.
It was his visit to Oxford that was his call for awakening and his desire to establish an Oxford in the east as well. This was a dream that Sir Syed used to see in broad daylight and with eyes wide awake at midnight, to bring reform and progressiveness to his community. According to him, it was high time for Muslims to come out of their cocoon and look at where the world was heading. He wanted them to learn and take part in western education to improve the conditions of their community. Many Islamic scholars objected to his idea and issued a fatwa against him. They considered that his ideas would lead Muslims to deviate from the path of Islam and the sunnah ways of life. This was again a test that Sir Syed had to pass and how gracefully he did. He loved his religion as much as any other Muslim did, so much so that he gave his entire life to working for the betterment of his society. That floating white beard was enough to speak on his behalf of how much he cared about Islam and the beautiful culture he was bestowed upon. However, he still answered every question that was posed to him using his sharpest skills, like logic and reasoning. He believed that it wasn’t religion but human minds that were coming in the way of the attainment of knowledge. His beliefs never included excluding or dismissing the traits that one was born with, but rather it was to imbibe good traits from others that added more charm to the personality.
Today, the Aligarh Muslim University stands tall as a true testament to what Sir Syed’s dream was and it continues to water and nurture it. It was Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s consistent dedication and hard work that led to the foundation of this university, which today lies as a gigantic hub for not just Muslims but students from diverse backgrounds rooting for the principles of its founder. Along with sections dedicated to Urdu and Arabic, the university also has sections catering to languages like Sanskrit, English, etc. It is indeed a revolution that was much needed during a time when the conditions of the Muslims were deteriorating and it completely changed the outlook of the people towards the Muslims living in India.