Syed Mahmud was the second of the three offspring of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. He was born on May 24, 1850, in Delhi. He followed his father wherever he was posted and received his schooling in Moradabad and Aligarh. Additionally, Syed Mahmud attended the Government College in Delhi before enrolling at Queen’s College in Benaras. The British government in India then awarded him a scholarship to pursue further education in England.
Syed Mahmud was one of the first Indians to attend Cambridge University and also the first Muslim to serve as a High Court judge in the British Raj. In addition to that he actively contributed to the creation of laws by sending detailed remarks on proposed legislation to the legislative councils of both the Lieutenant Governor of the North-Western Provinces and the Governor-General of India. Syed Mahmud played a significant part in the formulation of “Anglo-Muhammadan Law,” a synthesis of Islamic and British jurisprudence that is still widely used in the Muslim world.
The talented son of Sir Syed, Justice Mahmud, returned to Aligarh and officially joined the Aligarh Movement after leaving the judicial branch of the British Raj and served as his father’s primary advisor for all of his educational and nation-building initiatives from the outset of the movement. As for Syed Ahmad, he was less frequent in the English language, and hence, all his correspondence was taken by Syed Mahmud.
He also outlined the constitution “Khwast-Garan-e-Taraqqi-e-Talim-e Musalmanan”, which was intended to gauge Muslims’ attitudes toward English education.
To get their perspectives and insights on the reasons for Muslim backwardness and to solicit suggestions for solutions, Syed Mahmud had prepared a questionnaire for respectable Muslims. He was the one who designed the entire education plan for the Indian Muslims. Even the building’s structure, such as that of Sir Syed Hall and Strachey Hall for the intended College, was sketched out by him. In addition to his exalted judicial position, Justice Mahmud took time from his duties as the High Court’s judge to look after the appointments of teachers, academic standards, finance, and official correspondence of Mohammadan Anglo-Oriental College. He was active in educational ventures outside of MAO College as well. During the Ripon administration, Syed Mahmud was appointed as one of the commissioners of the 1882 Education Commission, investigating the state of education in India.
An Urdu translation of the 1872 Law of Evidence and its subsequent amendments, published in 1876, was Syed Mahmood’s first contribution to the legal literature of British India. In 1895, he published a revised version of the lectures he had delivered at the Muhammadan Educational Conference entitled ‘A History of English Education in India’. He also contributed articles to the Aligarh Institute Gazette and the Calcutta Review.
Every dream of Sir Syed regarding Muslim upliftment was given a practical shape by his son and how much the Aligarh Movement owes to his untiring efforts is very difficult to assess.
After the retirement, he devoted the rest of his life to the development of Mohammadan Anglo-Oriental College. He taught English literature in the College and consistently promoted initiatives to foster cordial relationships between teachers and learners. Syed Mahmud also helped his father plan the sessions of the Mohammadan Educational Conference and was a very active member of the organization.
When Sir Syed Ahmad Khan passed away on March 27, 1898, Syed Mahmud held the office of the Honorary Secretary of the College. Later, after being convinced by others, he also accepted the Presidentship of Trustees which empowered him to superintend over the meetings of the same.
His health had been declining since 1896, and five years after his father’s death, he breathed his last in 1903 at Sitapur, where he spent the last days of his life with his cousins. The deceased was brought to Aligarh and buried next to his father in the courtyard of the University Mosque. Contemporaries note that he was assembling a multi-volume work on Muslim law, but this remained unfinished at the time of his death.