100 Years of Aligarh Muslim University: The Journey Continues

This month Aligarh Muslim University celebrated its Centenary. Series of events are planned at the University for this joyous occasion. The Story of Aligarh Muslim University started after the first war of independence in 1857. At that time, Sir Syed was posted at Bijnour as Sadr Amin. He saw the destruction brought upon Indians and particularly Muslims after the Colonial Power suppressed the independence movement. Sir Syed was deeply affected by what he saw. He was so distraught that he even planned to migrate to some other country. Sir Syed decided to stay and work for the upliftment for the community as he himself said that it would be an act of cowardice to leave the community in such dire straits at such crucial stage of their history and settle abroad.

To achieve his aim of uplifting the community from the quagmire of poverty and illiteracy that it found itself, Sir Syed worked simultaneously at several fronts. While on the one hand he was trying to inculcate scientific temperament among the Indian Muslims by establishing Scientific Society in 1864 and bringing out magazine like Tehzeeb-ul- Akhlaq (Mohammedan Social Reformer) in 1871. On the other he was urging them to adopt modern education. Naturally he faced multi faceted opposition also.

It was on 1 April 1869 he embarked on a journey of England where his son, Syed Mehmood, got scholarship for higher education. Sir Syed’s stay in England lasted for 17 months. The visit brought major change in Sir Syed’s outlook. Although the underlying factor for his England visit was to collect material to write rebuttal of Sir William Muir’s book on Prophet Mohammad (Peace be upon him). During his stay in England Sir Syed visited colleges and universities and was inspired to started a “Muslim Cambridge” back home. Back in India, Sir Syed hit the ground running and immediately started working on his plan.

After seeing the advancement in Science and Technology, Sir Syed realised that the only way forward for the community was to embrace the new Science. However, back in India he faced stiff resistance from the community as the community felt that educating their children in English would make them Christaan (Christian). Despite all the adversities Sir Syed showed his character and stood his ground and worked till his death to achieve his purpose. He was lucky in a sense that he got the support of many intellectuals of his times. Similarly many in the landed aristocracy wholeheartedly supported him. Among the intellectual giants who supported Sir Syed in his endeavour are Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali, Allama Shibli Nomani, Nawab Muhsinul Mulk etc. Personally Sir Syed did everything to raise funds for his College. He begged, danced on stage, played lottery, sang on stage and what not. In his last message Sir Syed said that “

To achieve his goal of uplifting the Muslim community, he started Madrasatul Uloom Musalmanan-e-Hind at Aligarh. The Madrasa opened its doors to students on 24 May 1875 to coincide with the 56th birthday of Queen Victoria. Two years down the line it became Mohammadan Anglo Oriental College at Aligarh on 8 January 1887. The inaugural function of the establishment of the College was presided by the the then Viceroy and Governor General of India, Lord Lytton, in the presence of Sir Syed and other dignitaries. Lord Lytton laid the foundation stone of the college. The address presented by Sir Syed to the Lord Lytton said that “from the seed we sow today, there may spring a mighty tree, whose branches like those of banyan of the soil, shall in their turn strike firm roots into the earth, and themselves send forth new and vigorous sapling: that this college may expand in a University whose sons shall go forth throughout the length and breadth of the land to preach the gospel of free enquiry, of large hearted toleration and of pure morality

Later when Lord Ripon, the Viceroy, visited Aligarh in 1884, Sir Syed said: “Some day when our endowments are sufficient, we would request the Government to confer upon us the legal status of an independent University.” In July 1906, Badruddin Tyabji said in an address to the Aligarh College Association in England: “If, as I hope, Aligarh develops into a university it will become the centre of attraction of education for all Mohammedans, not only from the various Mohammedan schools and colleges of India, but also, it may be, from all other parts of the Mohammedan world“. The college later became University on 9 September 1920 through a bill passed in the Imperial Legislative Assembly.

Today Aligarh Muslim University is one of the Central University of the Republic of India and has been consistently ranked amongst the India’s best Universities. The University is spread over 467.6 hectares (1155 acres) in the city of Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh. Presently the University offers more than 300 courses in the traditional and modern branches of education. The University has about 28000 students, more than 1300 teaching staff and about 5600 non teaching staff on its rolls. The University boasts of 12 faculties comprising of 98 teaching departments. Besides there are 3 academies and 15 centers and institutions in the University. However, the heart and the soul of the University is its residential character. Most of the staff and students reside inside the campus. There are 19 halls of residence for students with 80 hostels. Besides the University runs one primary school and seven high schools including one for the visually challenged and two senior secondary schools, one each for boys and girls.

There are ample opportunities for sports and cultural activities on campus thus providing for all round development of students. The University maintains Willingdon Cricket Ground for Cricket, Meston Swimming pool for swimming, Gymkhana, Hockey field with asto turf besides several football grounds, skating rink, basketball, volleyball and Lawn Tennis facilities. The University also has a hiking and mountaineering club. However, the University Riding Club is its crowning glory. It is more than 100 years old riding club with excellent horses and coaching facilities. Riding Club has its own riding ground for practice. Yours truly is a former member of the riding club having earned my horsemanship certificate from Janab Hamid Ansari Sahib during his tenure as Vice Chancellor of the University. For Cultural activities there is General Education Centre which boasts of Kennedy Auditorium. The activities in General Education Centre are organised through Drama Club, Music Club (Hindustani and Western Music), Literary Club and Film Club.

The University also runs three off campus in the districts of Malappuram (Kerala), Murshidabad (Bengal) and Kishanganj (Bihar). These campuses offer MBA and integrated B.A.L.L.B. courses.

Its alumni are spread all over the length and breadth of the globe as envisaged by the sage himself. The alumni of the University have established schools, colleges and universities all over the globe and have advanced the cause of education. However, there is still lot to be done particularly in India. Various reports make it clear that Muslims in India lack behind other communities in education. The situation is even worst when it comes to higher education. It is time for Muslims of India to take initiative and invest all their time, energy and money in raising their educational standards. It is time for them to rededicate themselves to learning and contribute even more to the progress and prosperity of India and humanity at large.

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