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The Founder Of AMU Who Valued ‘Rationalism’ Above All Else: Syed Ahmad & His Legacy

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By Majid Alam

It has been just days since Sir Syed Day (October 20) was celebrated in one of the oldest universities of India, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). Being criticised for being anti-national among the nation, and westernized and unorthodox among the Muslim Conservative Society, he was a mentor to a vast section of people deprived of literacy and basic education. With a vision of creating an institution like Oxford in the East, he initiated in bringing about the Aligarh Movement, which led to the formation of the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College in 1875 which later came to be known as the Aligarh Muslim University in 1920.

The Interpretation Of “Qaum”

The Urdu word Qaum (country) has been cited in many of his works. It means a community of people who share a common language, culture, ethnicity, descent, and/or history. But the reference is often made in the context of Muslims and Hindus together forming a ‘Hindustan’ or undivided India in pre-colonial days. He attempted to showcase the causes that led to the 1857 Revolt through his book Asbab-e-Baghawat-e-Hind, lamenting the poor hold of the British officials on Indian opinion, culture and religion also discussing the socio-economic reasons behind the uprising. His concern was for both communities who lacked development and education at the hands of British.

The Development Of Muslims

At that time, Non-Western societies, especially the Muslim world had led their efforts in bringing substantial changes unlike the drastic changes of the Industrial Revolution. Personalities like Muhammad Abduh, Jamal Al-Din Afghani, Mohammad Allama Iqbal and Sir Syed Ahmad Khan were some intellectuals who did the same to amend the situation. What we find today in Aligarh Muslim University is a replica of the efforts put in by the same man single-handedly. He was not against the preaching of religious text or the study of religion; but he stood for a view in which religion, science and philosophy could run parallel with each other. He suggested that the limitations of the Philosophy could be met with each other.

Gap With Political And Religious Institutions

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan once said, “A present day analysis clearly shows that no one is worth the title of Imam and also no one, not even a head of state, is worth being entitled to be called a Khalifa (caliph) of the prophet.” He faced severe criticism from religious institutions for westernizing the youth in a time when it was considered essential for everyone to restrain knowledge to religion and epics. Science and Philosophy were considered alien and satanic. Analysing the concern for the future of the youth, he fought against cultural norms.

Sir Syed saw the Hindu-Urdu controversy as a gap between the two communities i.e. Hindus and Muslims which could not be bridged. Urdu, the language of India at that time, was the Indian version of Persian, which had been brought to the country by the Mughals. Urdu then came to be seen as the language of Muslims while Hindi was seen to be of Hindus. The formation of the Indian National Congress was a major event coinciding with the controversy. Syed Ahmad Khan sought the aim of the Congress as to the development of a particular community. So, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan remained aloof from the movement and concentrated his efforts toward educating and fulfilling his aims. Therefore, he is often criticized for being the leader of the Separate country or the division of India into Pakistan.

Sir Syed Today

Sir Syed is seen today in textbooks as a writer, journalist, educational reformer, thinker and above all a humanist. What we see in practical life today is the citadel of learning, Aligarh Muslim University which is enshrined with all those ideals depicted in the work of the devoted and veteran reformer. Looking back, we find the man who lived two centuries ago still modern as his ideals and perceptions are still relevant and acceptable in this era of challenges. He is rightly called by Mohammed Asim Siddiqui as “the man who knew tomorrow”.

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  1. K

    Learn to write better first, although effort is good but you miserably failed to hold on the reader till end of the article, pathetic,…. writer failed to express his ideas
    My reaction would be…..one of the worst article I ever read…..improve your english

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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