Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (SSAK) And His Contribution

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In this lecture we will discuss the following topics.

  • The significance and contribution of the Aligarh Movement.
  • We will discuss SSAK advice to the Muslims to avoid active politics. In this connection we will discuss no. of things, one Hindi-Urdu Controversy then the formation of Congress in 1885 and the Hindu Extremist Movements.
  • We will discuss the use of the term nation by SSAK for the Muslims of this region.
  • Then we will talk about Other Educational Movements that were developed in different Parts of India and that also contributed in spreading education and new awareness amongst the Muslims of this region. Now let’s take up the 1st item.

The significance and contribution of the Aligarh Movement:


The contribution and significance of this movement for the revival and regeneration of the Muslims of this region. Aligarh developed as the most important centre of the intellectual development for the Muslims of South Asia and its students those who studied at Aligarh College came from all over India from different parts of India; they were coming from Punjab, Bengal Frontier and were also from South India. In a way it had become a focal point for the Muslims of South Asia for their education.

MAO College

In addition to this there were a lot of intellectual activities going on for example publication of different books and the activities of Scientific Society and through these activities there was a lot of intellectual stimulation which was provided by the Aligarh Movement. Then this movement created students who combined to different traditions. The students learned modern knowledge English language, modern western philosophy and they also acquired Islamic knowledge and this was a significant feature of this Aligarh College that while giving modern education to the students they should not be de-linked from their roots and if you are de-linked from your roots you become rootless. In order to deal with the criticism that western education would alienate our young people from its teachings and principles Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (SSAK) and his colleagues proved that modern education and Islamic education can be brought together.

Awakening of Muslims Youth

The 3rd major achievement of the Aligarh Education System was that it brought forward a group of students who were very conscious of what was happening in India and outside India. This educated class that developed in India was instrumental in promoting Muslim identity and also advocating the Muslim demands to the govt and to others because on the one hand this educated class could communicated with the rulers because they knew the language and modern knowledge philosophy and the thinking that had developed there. So they were able to communicate with the rulers. On the other hand they held their roots in culture therefore they could also communicate with the ordinary people for mobilization and make them conscious of what made them different from others.

Another, important contribution of this movement was that it inspired educational movements in India.

And the last major contribution of this movement was that the Mohammedan Educational Conference that was created by these Muslim leaders had become a kind of a forum where Muslims from different parts of India would come together and they would discuss not only education but all those issues which were of great concern to Muslims and since the meetings of MEC were being held in different places it was able to communicate the message of the Aligarh Movement all over India. It also brought together like minded Muslims to pursue the goals and ideals of promotion of education and improvement of Muslims all over India. We can say that the Aligarh Movement played a pivotal role in generating the Muslims who were facing a serious psychological depression and economic setback after 1857.

SSAK advice to the Muslims to avoiding politics:

SSAK and his colleagues advised Muslims to avoid active politics. He was of the opinion that at this stage Muslims should not get involved in active politics. He was not inherently opposed to politics. The point he was presenting was that at that stage and given the problems and conditions of the Muslims at that time, they should stay away from active politics and concentrate on education.

Education Funding

SSAK used to say that at that time Muslim needed education, education and education. If we look at the facts and the data that was available at that time about the education of Muslims and others in India then we can understand why SS was so particular about education. I give you an example from 1859 to 1875 only 20 Muslims were able to get graduation degree from the educational institutions which the British colonial administration had set up in India. Against this during the same period 715 Hindus got the graduation degrees, so you can compare the figure 20 verses 715.

Modern Education

The concern at that time was that if they get involved in active politics and they don’t pay attention to acquiring modern education they will be left behind and the gap between the Muslims and others will widen and ultimately the Muslims would suffer. He wanted that over a period of time there should be a group of Muslims who had modern education and who could fit into the modern system which the British had introduced, “The Modern State System”the administration which was set up by the British and you can only fit in this system if you get jobs and you had an interaction with this system only if you could get modern education and SSAK thought that if Muslims have an education then they become relevant to the changed conditions and they will be able to meet with the challenges of the time.

Perception About Muslims

There was another reason why he was emphasizing education that much. He thought that if Muslims get too much involved in active politics then the perception that Muslims are against the British will be reinforced and the misunderstandings that had developed between the Muslims and the British would increase but if they have education, they get the requisite qualification that misunderstanding will be removed and they will be among those people who could be playing important role under the British.

A number of other developments during the same period influenced the advice which SS and his colleagues were giving that is advice to acquire modern knowledge, capability to deal with the changed conditions one such incident is describe as the HIND-URDU CONTROVERSY.


In brief this was a kind of movement started in 1867 in the city of BENARAS for replacing Urdu with Hindi written in DEVNAGRI script. If you look at the background of Urdu you will find that this language developed during the Muslim rule in India and a derived from Arabic, Persian and local Indian languages that were prevalent at that time and this was the language which the soldier begin to speak but over a period of time this became a popular language, a language of the common man level. Although the Non-Muslims also spoke and use this language but somehow it got associated with Muslim cultural heritage and Muslim identity.

Now when the British established themselves in India, they changed the official language of India in 1837 from PERSIAN to English but at the lower level in many states Urdu was very popular. In 1867 many Hindus started a movement that Urdu should not be used in courts and at the lower level or in administration at the lower level, instead Hindi should be used which is written in Devnagri script. This movement was a kind of a shock for SSAK and his colleagues who were working for the welfare and betterment of all the people but here he realized that Muslims and their heritage is being targeted, so an organization URDU DEFENCE SOCIETY was set up in 1873.The objective of this organization was that Urdu should not be replaced, Urdu should be continued to be used because it is a language which is widely understood and spoken at the ordinary person level. To these people the movement was undermining and spoiling the atmosphere and SSAK and his colleagues were very much disappointed by this development.

Formation of Congress in 1885:

Another important development of that period was the establishment of Congress party. Congress was established in 1885.It was set up by a group of Indian who were western educated and they thought that they must have a forum of their own to present their demands to the British govt and also to bring the diverse people together. The interesting thing about the establishment of Congress in 1885 is that British played a significant role in its establishment. In fact a number of British retired civil servants were associated with the Congress. The founder of Congress was A O HUME a British in nationality and a retired civil servant who served in India. He brought together other educated Indians who set up this organization. The Congress party claimed to represent all the Indians, it had Muslims in it. Some of its presidents were Muslims but Muslim representation was all the time very limited and with the passage of time, Muslim membership in the Congress in the early years declined. The reason was that SSAK and other leaders advocated that Muslims should stay away from Congress; they should not get actively involved with the congress party.

One major argument which they were giving was that SSAK had advised the Muslims to avoid active politics.

The Interests of Muslims

The second reason which was advocated at that time was that the kind of programme, the Congress was advocating did not protect Muslim interests, two of the demands which the Congress made were to be describe as adversely effecting the Muslim interests, one demand was recruitment to civil service through competitive exams. The Muslim point of view at that time was that such a system can function successfully where education is widely spread and different groups different classes have education. If you have education perhaps there can be competition but in a situation where Muslims did not have much education then this would work against the interests of the Muslims. The second principle which was advocated at that time was the elective principle that is Indians should be elected to different institutions which the British were setting up.SS and his colleagues maintained that this elective principle did not help or did not serve the Muslims because pure and simple democratic system did not take into account the ground realities in India the differences between the Muslims and the others and any democratic system must be built by keeping in view the ground reality so he was not opposed to democratic or elective system but he wanted that this should be introduced with due consideration in India.


  • In order to present this point of view the Muslims established at Aligarh in 1888.The objective was to show to the British that all Indians were not part of Congress, Congress does not represent each and every segment of Indian society.
  • The 2nd objective was to create a forum which is not a part of Congress.
  • To present the demands to the British govt to encourage Muslims to avoid agitational politics so that they can concentrate on education.

Hindu Extremist Movements:

Now in addition to this the 3rd major development that affected the Muslims at that time was the emergence of Hindu revivalist and extremists movements at that time. Many Hindu revivalist movements came into existence in the last quarter of the 19th century especially during the last decade of the 19th century. The primary focus of these revivalist movements were revival of Hinduism and to purify Hinduism from the corrupting influence that had developed which mean the British and the Islamic influences but at the operational level these movements were targeting Muslims more than the British. I may give you few examples of these movements just to give you an idea, The ARIYA SAMAAJ MOVEMENT was set up in1877.It was a Hindu revival movement then you can also look at the role of a Hindu leader D G TILAK who was pursuing these objectives in a very aggressive manner then we can talk about COW PROTECTION MOVEMENT that was launched. Different associations were set up for this kind of demand then you also had SHEVA JI TEHRIKS or movements set up during that period.

Muslims became more target of these movements, the reason was that the British were rulers so they could not be easily targeted by these movements where as the Muslims were living in the same society at the same level in the cities, in the villages all over India therefore they could be targeted and they did suffer and there were lot of communal riots during these years and this development that is Hindu Extremist Movements also transformed the thinking of the Muslims and in 1903 Muslims established an organization called.


Basically to protect and promote their interests given the kind of scenario I have presented to you. It is in this context that Muslims seriously started to think in term of a Nation.

The Concept of Muslim Nationhood

If you look at the contribution of SSAK and his colleagues, initially he was working for the betterment of whole of India, Muslims in particular and others in general however the incidents I have narrated like Hindi-Urdu Controversy, Hindu Revivalist Movements and similar developments led to a change in SS,s thinking’s. Gradually he came to the conclusion that Muslims and others may not be able to work together harmoniously with shared objectives. You know at one time SS said that Hindus and Muslims are two eyes of a bride that is India.

However after all that experience we have discussed his attitude changed and he talked about Muslims as a nation as an entity that will work differently and separately from others. So in a way the term Muslims began to be used by SSAK and subsequently in the 20th century this became the kind of a general concept that was used for Muslims of South Asia. Now we have talked about Aligarh Movement its contribution to state and society at that time we have also discussed how the attitude of the Muslim leaders changed toward the political issues that is why they advised the Muslims to stay away from active politics and concentrate on education.

Other Educational Movements:

In addition to the Aligarh Movement, there were some other movements for spreading education amongst the Muslims, movements to prepare the Muslims to deal with the changed and different situation.


One important movement was DAR-UL-ALOOM DEOBAND. Deoband at that time was a village, a small village in Utterpardesh that is Indian state and in 1867 some religious scholars established an Islamic school in a mosque in Deoband village at that time. Nobody knew in 1867 that this small school attached with the mosque in rather an unknown village would become an important centre of learning in India and that is what happened. With the passage of time this grew into an independent institution and ultimately got the status of DAR-UL-ALOOM.This institution was set up by Islamic religious scholars, it was a kind of a response to the establishment of the British rule and degeneration and decay of the Muslims. These scholars thought that by going back to Islam they will be able to revive the glory of the Muslims and regenerate them. In fact, with the passage of time this school became the centre of Islamic scholarship in India and Pakistan described as DEOBANDI tradition. Its old students established similar schools all over India and Pakistan. In the political domain these scholars were divided between the Congress and the Muslim League. Some of these scholars were influenced by the Congress philosophy and supported Congress. There were a number of Islamic scholars associated with this school who supported the cause of Pakistan who worked for Pakistan. I can give you one or two examples for example Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi, Mehmud-ul-Hassan, Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Usmani; these were the people who worked for Pakistan and supported the establishment of Pakistan.


Another important institution that developed during that time was NADWA-TUL-ULMA LUCKNOW.This was also an institution set up by Islamic scholars in order to regenerate Muslims through Islamic and religious education. This school also produced a number of eminent scholars who had profound influence and impact on Muslim thinking in this Sub-Continent.


In addition to these institutions there were several other institutions and organizations which were influenced by the thinking and philosophy of the Aligarh Movement. One such movement was ANJUMAN-E-HIMAYAT-E-ISLAM that was set up in Lahore and with the passage of time this organization established schools and colleges where Muslims got education. It established a series of Islamia schools and Islamia colleges, some of those colleges are still functioning in Pakistan. In 1972, those institutions which were with the Anjuman-e Himayat-e-Islam were taken over by the govt under its nationalization policy. However, these schools played a very important role in developing Muslim Consciousness and that was the objective of this organization when it was established in the last century.

  • The objective was to safeguard Islamic values
  • Second role was to counter the role of the Christian missionaries that were working all over India and Anjuman wanted to counter that.
  • The other objective was to promote education and Islamic values and to do the upbringing of the young people on modern as well as Islamic lines.

Therefore the Anjuman played a very significant role in developing the new generation of the educated Muslims. If you go to a couple of years before independence that is if you go to the 40s, during these years the students as well as the old students of Aligarh that is which had become a university by that time so the old boys of Aligarh and those who were studying in Aligarh at that time as well as the students of different colleges were very active in taking the message of the Quaid-e-Azam and the Muslim League to far and remote areas in India especially in Punjab. In fact these students played a very important role in the success of the ML in the 1946 elections which the ML contested and succeeded in capturing most of the Muslim seats and all this was due to the active role played by these students of these institutions.


In addition to these institutions there were several other institutions but I will mention only two in order to give you some examples of the point that I am making. SIND MADRASSA-TUL-ISLAM in Karachi was another important centre of learning for the Muslims. This madrassa also followed the tradition that developed at Aligarh. It combined modern education education with Islamic education. It tried to produce those students who knew both kinds of education.


ISLAMIA COLLEGE PESHAWAR is another important institution whose products that is old students were very active in the Pakistan Movement and in fact his college had played very important role in spreading education amongst the Muslims 0f the NWFP.

Concluding Remarks

So, in this way we can say that the Aligarh Movement plus some other institutions some of them were set up by the religious scholars and some were influenced by the Aligarh Movement were the institutions that in fact transformed the Muslim community and enable them to meet the challenges of the time.


Imran Ali said...

very nice and useful artical thanks to share

Anonymous said...

Thankyou so much for sharing this valuable article :)

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