Sir Syed Ahamed Khan (1817-1898) was an ardent reformer who worked to reconcile modern scientific thought with Islam. This was to be done, of course, not by attacking any basic belief, but by a rationalistic interpretation of scripture. He pointed out the basic similarities between Islam and Christianity. He was opposed to any allegiance to the Turkish Khalifat. He also tried to reform the social abuses in the Muslim community. He attacked purdah (the seclusion of women) among the Muslims. He condemned the systems of ‘piri’ and ‘muridi’. He also condemned the institution of slavery and described it un-Islamic. His progressive ideas were propagated through his magazine ‘Tahazib-ul-Akhlaq’. In his ‘Commentaries of the Quran’, he criticized the narrow outlook of traditional interpreters.
Above all, he was anxious to put a new type of education. He advocated English education for the regeneration of the Muslims in India. The beginnings of the national movement frightened him, for he thought that any opposition to the British authorities would deprive him of their help in his educational program. That help appeared to him to be essential, and so he tried to tone down anti-British sentiments among the Muslims and to turn them away from the National Congress, which was taking shape then. One of the declared objects of the Aligarh College was “to make the Musulmans of India worthy and useful subjects of the British Crown.” He was not opposed to the National Congress because he considered it predominantly a Hindu organization; he opposed it because he thought it was politically too aggressive (though it was mild enough in those days), and he wanted British help and cooperation. He tried to show that Muslims as a whole had no rebelled during the Mutiny and that many had remained loyal to the British power.
He was in no way anti-Hindu or communally separatist. Repeatedly he emphasized that religious differences should have no political or national significance. “Do we not inhabit in the same land?” he said. “Remember that the words Hindu and Mohammedan are only meant for religious distinction; otherwise all person, whether Hindu or Mohammedan, even the Christians who reside in this country, are all in this particular respect belonging to one and the same nation.”
Sir Syed received various rewards in his life. He was chosen as a member of Imperial Legislative Counsil in 1878 and later was conferred Knighthood in 1888. He passed away in 1898 and very rarely after his death the Muslim community of India could find the leader of his personality and intelligence.
1. Caliph or Khalifa of Turkestan was considered to be the head of Muslims all over the world in those days.
2. Tahazib-ul-Akhlaq (Improvement of Manners and Morals) was an Urdu magazine started by Sir Syed in 1870.
3. Aligarh school was established by Sir Syed in 1875, which later became Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College, which finally became Aligarh Muslim University by the law of parliament in 1920 after his death.
4. As quoted by Jawaharlal Nehru in his Discovery of India.
5. The Great Revolt of 1857.