With sounds from a percussion instrument mounted on a bicycle in the background – the kind one never gets to listen to elsewhere at Aligarh Muslim University – I stepped in through the main gate and was right outside of Dr Zakir Hussain Library at Jamia Milia Islamia (JMI). It was then that my friend, a former engineering student of JMI, pointed his finger towards the pavement and announced, “Welcome to India’s best Muslim university.” I laughed and followed him.
He kept asking me why I laughed but I smiled and dodged the question. There was a silence somewhere deep inside of me. However, a din seemed to be encircling this strong silence, but all in vain. My friend tried to poke me again, and this time I stopped and said, “yes, you’re right. Jamia is one of India’s best universities.”
“I wish it was Aligarh, but I feel sorry for it,” he said and paused.
“I feel sorry for you too,” I said.
“Come on, man. You can’t compare Jamia with AMU. Aligarh is average. I mean, there is no comparison,” he said.
“Yes, brother, you’re right. Aligarh can’t be compared with Jamia or any other university. There’s a lot of difference. Aligarh is an idea. Jamia is a university,” I replied.
“What is that? What is the idea?” he asked, irritated.
Dear brother, Aligarh is more than a university. In the shape of AMU, Sir Syed provided us with the blueprint of his dream which he worked on throughout his life. Sir Syed’s dream of this “culture of decency” is a hybrid that combines the best moral values with the operational ingenuity of modern education.
This idea of Aligarh – known more as a movement than an academic institution – aimed to motivate the Muslims to help open a number of educational institutions across the country to spread both modern as well as moral education among Muslims. The idea was never limited to the tasks of academic activities but it aimed to revive the economic, political, cultural, educational and social condition of Muslims.
In the words of the great founder, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan – when he founded Aligarh Muslim University (then, Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College) in 1875, the idea of Aligarh may be symbolised as being – “from the seed which we sow today, there may spring up a mighty tree, whose branches, like those of the banyan of the soil, shall in their turn, strike firm roots into the earth, and themselves send forth new and vigorous saplings”.
Aligarh University has been the beacon of light for the Muslim community generation after generation. This tree has been spreading its roots and branches across borders and skies for years now. New saplings are performing miracles every now and then. Some saplings are trying their best to plant the branches of the mighty tree in and across nations.
Jamia Milia Islamia happens to be one of the most prominent branches of the mighty tree. However, many other saplings might not be aware that they are branches of the Aligarh tree. There’s no doubt that this old tree may be withering now, but it has done its job.
I stopped and tried to peek into the eyes of the fellow sapling of the Aligarh tree. The sound produced by the ringing bells of cycles in the background smashed the silence. Sounds replaced the silence.
(Nayeem – a research scholar at the Department of Mass Communication, Aligarh Muslim University – teaches at the Dept of Journalism and Mass Communication, Govt College for Women, MA Road, Srinagar, Kashmir.)