Sir Syed Ahmed Khan – سر سید احمد خان
October 17th 1817 – March 27 1898
Commonly known as Sir Syed, was an Indian educator and politician, and an Islamic reformer and modernist.
Sir Syed pioneered modern education for the Muslim community in India by founding the Muhammedan Anglo-Oriental College, which later developed into the Aligarh Muslim University. His work gave rise to a new generation of Muslim intellectuals and politicians who composed the Aligarh movement to secure the political future of Muslims in India.
In 1842, Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar II revived upon Syed Ahmad Khan the title of Javad-ud Daulah, conferred upon Syed Ahmad’s grandfather Syed Hadi by Emperor Shah Alam II in about the middle of the eighteenth century. The Emperor added to it the additional title of Arif Jang. The conferment of these titles was symbolic of Syed Ahmad Khan’s incorporation into the nobility of Delhi.
Born into Muslim nobility, Sir Syed earned a reputation as a distinguished scholar while working as a jurist for the British East India Company. During the Indian Rebellion of 1857 he remained loyal to the British and was noted for his actions in saving European lives.
After the rebellion he penned the booklet Asbab-e-Baghawat-e-Hind (The Causes of the Indian Mutiny) — a daring critique, at the time, of British policies that he blamed for causing the revolt. Believing that the future of Muslims was threatened by the rigidity of their orthodox outlook, Sir Syed began promoting Western-style scientific education by founding modern schools and journals and organising Muslim intellectuals. Towards this goal, Sir Syed founded the Muhammedan Anglo-Oriental College in 1875 with the aim of promoting social and economic development of Indian Muslims.
One of the most influential Muslim politicians of his time, Sir Syed was suspicious of the Indian independence movement and called upon Muslims to loyally serve the British Raj. He denounced nationalist organisations such as the Indian National Congress, instead forming organisations to promote Muslim unity and pro-British attitudes and activities. Sir Syed promoted the adoption of Urdu as the lingua franca of all Indian Muslims, and mentored a rising generation of Muslim politicians and intellectuals. Although hailed as a great Muslim leader and social reformer, Sir Syed remains the subject of controversy for his views on Hindu-Muslim issues.
1855, he finished his highly scholarly, very well researched and illustrated edition of Abul Fazl’s Ai’n-e Akbari, itself an extraordinarily difficult book. Having finished the work to his satisfaction, and believing that Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib was a person who would appreciate his labours, Syed Ahmad approached the great Ghalib to write a taqriz (in the convention of the times, a laudatory foreword) for it. Ghalib obliged, but what he did produce was a short Persian poem castigating the Ai’n-e Akbari, and by implication, the imperial, sumptuous, literate and learned Mughal culture of which it was a product. The least that could be said against it was that the book had little value even as an antique document. Ghalib practically reprimanded Syed Ahmad Khan for wasting his talents and time on dead things. Worse, he praised sky-high the “sahibs of England” who at that time held all the keys to all the a’ins in this world.
This poem is often referred to but has never translated in English. Shamsur Rahman Faruqi wrote an English translation.The translation is accurate if lacking the felicity of the original:
Good news my friends, this ancient book’s door
Is now open, because of the Syed’s grace and fortune,
The eye began to see, the arm found strength That which was wrapped in ancient clothes, now put on a new dress.
And this idea of his, to establish its text and edit the A’in Puts to shame his exalted capability and potential,
He put his heart to a task and pleased himself And made himself an auspicious, free servant.
One who isn’t capable of admiring his quality Would no doubt praise him for this task,
For such a task, of which this book is the basis Only an hypocrite can offer praise.
I, who am the enemy of pretence And have a sense of my own truthfulness,
If I don’t give him praise for this task It’s proper that I find occasion to praise.
I have nothing to say to the perverse None know what I know of arts and letters,
In the whole world, this merchandise has no buyer. What profit could my Master hope from it?
It should be said, it’s an excellent inventory So what’s there to see that’s worth seeing?
And if you talk with me of Laws and Rules Open your eyes, and in this ancient halting-place
Look at the Sahibs of England. Look at the style and practice of these, 13
See what Laws and Rules they have made for all to see What none ever saw, they have produced.
Mirza Ghalib produce this poem
Science and skills grew at the hands of these skilled ones
Their efforts overtook the efforts of the forebears.
This is the people that owns the right to Laws and Rules None knows to rule a land better than they,
Justice and Wisdom they’ve made as one They have given hundreds of laws to India.
The fire that one brought out of stone How well these skilled ones bring out from straw!
What spell have they struck on water That a vapour drives the boat in water!
Sometimes the vapour takes the boat down the sea Sometimes the vapour brings down the sky to the plains.
Vapour makes the sky-wheel go round and round Vapour is now like bullocks, or horses.
Vapour makes the ship speed Making wind and wave redundant.
Their instruments make music without the bow They make words fly high like birds:
Oh don’t you see that these wise people Get news from thousands of miles in a couple of breaths?
They inject fire into air And the air glows like embers,
Go to London, for in that shining garden The city is bright in the night, without candles.
Look at the businesses of the knowledgeable ones: In every discipline, a hundred innovators!
Before the Laws and Rules that the times now have All others have become things of yesteryears,
Wise and sensitive and prudent one, does your book Have such good and elegant Laws?
When one sees such a treasure house of gems Why should one glean corn from that other harvest?
Well, if you speak of its style, it’s good No, it’s much better than all else that you seek
But every good always has a better too If there’s a head, there’s also a crown for it.
Don’t regard that Generous Source as niggardly It’s a Date-Palm which drops sweet light, like dates.
Worshipping the Dead is not an auspicious thing And wouldn’t you too think that it’s no more than just words?
The Rule of silence pleases my heart, Ghalib You spoke well doubtless, not speaking is well too.
Here in this world your creed is to worship all the Prophet’s children, Go past praising, your Law asks you to pray
For Syed Ahmad Khan-e Arif Jang Who is made up entirely of wisdom and splendour
Let there be from God all that he might wish for Let an auspicious star lead all his affairs.
The poem was unexpected, but it came at the time when Syed Ahmad Khan’s thought and feelings themselves were inclining toward change. Ghalib seemed to be acutely aware of a European [English]-sponsored change in world polity, especially Indian polity. Syed Ahmad might well have been piqued at Ghalib’s admonitions, but he would also have realized that Ghalib’s reading of the situation, though not nuanced enough, was basically accurate. Syed Ahmad Khan may also have felt that he, being better informed about the English and the outside world, should have himself seen the change that now seemed to be just round the corner. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan never again wrote a word in praise of the Ai’n-e Akbari and in fact gave up taking active interest in history and archealogy, and became a social reformer.
Sir Syed Ahmed Khan lived the last two decades of his life in Aligarh, regarded widely as the mentor of 19th- and 20th century Muslim intellectuals and politicians. He remained the most influential Muslim politician in India, with his opinions guiding the convictions of a large majority of Muslims. Battling illnesses and old age, Sir Syed died on March 27, 1898. He was buried besides Sir Sye Masjid inside the campus of the Aligarh University. His funeral was attended by thousands of students, Muslim leaders and British officials. Sir Syed is widely commemorated across South Asia as a great Muslim reformer and visionary.
At the same time, Sir Syed sought to politically ally Muslims to the British government. An avowed loyalist of the British Empire, Sir Syed was nominated as a member of the Civil Service Commission in 1887 by Lord Dufferin. In 1888, he established the United Patriotic Association at Aligarh to promote political co-operation with the British and Muslim participation in the government. Syed Ahmed Khan was knighted by the British government in 1888 and in the following year he received an LL.D. honoris causa from the Edinburgh University.
The university he founded remains one of India’s most prominent institutions. Prominent alumni of Aligarh include Muslim political leaders Maulana Mohammad Ali, Abdur Rab Nishtar, Maulana Shaukat Ali and Maulvi Abdul Haq, who is hailed in Pakistan as Baba-e-Urdu (Father of Urdu). The first two Prime Ministers of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan and Khawaja Nazimuddin, as well as the late Indian President Dr. Zakir Hussain, are amongst Aligarh’s most famous graduates. In India, Sir Syed is commemorated as a pioneer who worked for the socio-political upliftment of Indian Muslims, Sir Syed is also hailed as a founding father of Pakistan for his role in developing a Muslim political class independent of Hindu-majority organisations. The Sir Syed University of Engineering and Technology was established in honour of Sir Syed in Karachi and is a leading technical institution in Pakistan. Furthermore, Sir Syed Government Girls College in Karachi, Pakistan is also named in the honour of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. Today he has family living in Denmark, India, Pakistan and UK.
Sir Syed began focusing on writing, from the age of 23 (in 1840), on various subjects (from mechanics to educational issues), mainly in Urdu, where he wrote, at least, 6000 pages. His career as an author began when he published a series of treatises in Urdu on religious subjects in 1842. He published the book A’thar-as-sanadid (Great Monuments) documenting antiquities of Delhi dating from the medieval era. This work earned him the reputation of a cultured scholar. In 1842, he completed the Jila-ul-Qulub bi Zikr-il Mahbub and the Tuhfa-i-Hasan, along with the Tahsil fi jar-i-Saqil in 1844. These works focused on religious and cultural subjects. In 1852, he published the two works Namiqa dar bayan masala tasawwur-i-Shaikh and Silsilat ul-Mulk. He released the second edition of A’thar-as-sanadid in 1854. He also penned a commentary on the Bible — the first by a Muslim — in which he argued that Islam was the closest religion to Christianity, with a common lineage from Abrahamic religions. His other writings such as Loyal Muhammadans of India, Tabyin-ul-Kalam and A Series of Essays on the Life of Muhammad and Subjects Subsidiary Therein helped to create cordial relations between the British authorities and the Muslim community.
Throughout his life Syed Ahmad found time for literary and Scholarly pursuits. The range of his literary and Scholarly interests was very wide: history, politics, archaeology, journalism, literature, religion and science. The scope of his major writings is indeed amazing, majority are listed as follows:
1. Act No. 10 (Stamp Act) 1862.
2. Act No. 14 (Limitation) Act 1859-1864.
3. Act No. 16 (Regarding registration of documents) – Allygurh, 1864.
4. Ahkam Tu’am Ahl-Kitab, Kanpur, 1868.
5. Al-Du’a Wa’l Istajaba, Agra, 1892.
6. Al-Nazar Fi Ba’z Masa’il Imam Al-Ghazzali, Agra.
7. Izalat ul-Chain as Zi’al Qarnain, Agra, 1889.
8. Zila al-Qulub ba Zikr al-Mahbub, Delhi, 1843.
9. Khulq al-Insan ala ma fi al-Quran, Agra, 1892.
10. Kimiya-i-Sa’dat, 2 fasl, 1883.
11. Mazumm ba nisbat tanazzul ulum-i-diniya wa Arabiya wa falsafa-i- Yunaniya, Agra, 1857.
12. Namiqa fi Bayan Mas’ala Tasawwur al-Shaikh, Aligarh, 1883.
13. Rah-i-Sunnat dar rad-i-bid’at, Aligarh, 1883.
14. Risala Ibtal-i-Ghulami, Agra, 1893.
15. Risala ho wal Mojud, 1880.
16. Risala Tahqiq Lafzi-i-Nassara, 1860.
17. Tabyin-ul-Kalam fi Tafsir-al-turat-wa’l Injil ala Mullat-al-Islam (The Mohomedan Commentary on the Holy Bible).
18. Tafsir-ul-Qura’n Vol. I Aligarh, 1880, Vol. II Aligarh, 1882, Agra, 1903. Vol. III Aligarh, 1885 Vol. IV Aligarh, 1888 Vol. V Aligarh, 1892. Vol. VI Aligarh, 1895 Vol. VII Agra, 1904.
19. Tafsir al-Jinn Wa’l Jan ala ma fi al-Qur’an, Rahmani Press, Lahore, 1893, Agra, 1891.
20. Tafsir-a-Samawat, Agra.
21. Tahrir fi Usul al-Tafsir, Agra, 1892.
22. Tarjama fawa’id al-afkar fi amal al-farjar, Delhi 1846.
23. Tarqim fi qisa ashab al-kahf wal-Raqim, Agra, 1889.
24. Tasfiyad al’Aquid (Being the correspondence between Syed Ahmad Khan and Maulana Muhammad Qasim of Deobund).
Title page of Commentary of Quran by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan
25. A’in-e-Akbari (Edition with Illustration), Delhi.
26. Asar-us-Sanadid (i) Syed-ul-Akhbar, 1847, (II) Mata-i-Sultani, 1852.
27. Description des monument de Delhi in 1852, D’a Pre Le Texte Hindostani De Saiyid Ahmad Khan (tr. by M. Garcin De Tassy), Paris, 1861.
28. Jam-i-Jum, Akbarabad, 1940.
29. Silsilat-ul-Muluk, Ashraf ul Mataba’, Delhi, 1852.
30. Tarikh-i-Firoz Shahi (Edition), Asiatic Society, Calcutta, 1862.
31. Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri (edition Aligarh, 1864.
32. Al-Khutbat al-Ahmadiya fi’l Arab wa’I Sirat al-Muhammadiya : Aligarh, 1900, English translation, London, 1869-70.
33. Sirat-i-Faridiya, Agra, 1896.
34. Tuhfa-i-Hasan, Aligarh, 1883.
35. Asbab-i-Bhaghwat-i-Hind, Urdu 1858 and English edition, Banaras.
36. Lecture Indian National Congress Madras Par, Kanpur, 1887.
37. Lectures on the Act XVI of 1864, delivered on the 4th Dec., 1864 for the Scientific Society, Allygurh, 1864.
38. Musalmanon ki qismat ka faisla (taqarir-e-Syed Ahmad Khan wa Syed Mehdi Ali Khan etc.) Agra, 1894.
39. On Hunter’s :Our Indian Mussulmans’ London, 1872.
40. Present State of Indian Politics (Consisting of lectures and Speeches) Allahabad, 1888.
41. Sarkashi Zilla Binjor, Agra 1858.
42. Iltimas be Khidmat Sakinan-i-Hindustan dar bad tarraqi ta’ lim ahl-i.Hind, Ghazipore, 1863.
43. Lecture dar bab targhib wa tahris talim itfal-i-Musalmanan, in 1895, Agra 1896.
44. Lecture Madrasaat ul-Ulum Aligarh Key Tarikhi halat aur jadid Waqi’at Par, Agra. 1889.
45. Lecture Ijlas Dahum Muhammadan Educational Conference, Agra, 1896.
46. Lecture Muta’liq Ijlas Yazdahum Muhammadan Educational Conference, Agra, 1896.
47. Majmu’a Resolution Haye dah sala (Resolutions passed by the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental Educational Conference from 1886 to 1895) ed. by Sir Syed Ahmad, Agra, 1896.
48. Report Salana (Annual Report of the Boarding House of Madrasat-ul- Ulum 1879-1880).
49. Khutut-i-Sir Syed, ed Ross Masud, 1924.
50. Majuma Lecture Kaye Sir Syed ed. Munshi Sirajuddin, Sadhora 1892.
51. Maqalat-i-Sir-Syed ed. by ‘Abdullah Khvesgri, Aligarh, 1952.
52. Maqalat-i-Sir Syed, ed. By Muhammad Ismail, Lahore,
53. Makatib-i-Sir Syed, Mustaq Husain, Delhi, 1960.
54. Maktubat-i-Sir Syed, Muhammad Ismail Panipati, Lahore, 1959.
55. Makummal Majumua Lectures wa speeches. ed. Malik Fazaluddin, Lahore, 1900.
56. Muktubat al-Khullan ed. Mohd. Usman Maqbul, Aligarh 1915.
57. Tasanif-i-Ahmadiya (Collection of Syed Ahmad Khan’s works on religions topics) in 8 parts.
58. On the Use of the Sector (Urdu), Syed-ul-Akbar, 1846.
59. Qaul-i-Matin dar Ibtal-i-Harkat i Zamin, Delhi, 1848.
60. Tashil fi Jar-a-Saqil, Agra, 1844.
61. Ik Nadan Khuda Parast aur Dana dunyadar Ki Kahani, Badaon, 1910.
62. Kalamat-ul-Haqq, Aligarh
Journals, Reports Proceedings, Etc.
2. Aligarh Institute Gazette.
3. Proceedings of the Muhammadans Educational Conference.
4. An Account of the Loyal Muhammadans of India, Parts I, II, III Moufussel Press, Meerut, 1860.
5. Proceedings of the Scientific Society.
6. Bye-Laws of the Scientific Society.
7. Addresses and speeches relating to the Muhammedan Anglo-Oriental College in Aligarh (1875–1898) ed. Nawab Mohsin-ul-Mulk, Aligarh, 1898