22 Mar

Aligarh Movement

Aligarh Movement is, in fact, the name of continuous struggle of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan that he launched for the betterment of Muslims. This movement performed the educational, social, religious and literary services for the Muslims, so Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Aligarh Movement are the two names of one and the same thing.

Educational Services

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan opened educational institutions for Muslims so that new paths of progress might open for them, for they had become literally backward. The English introduced English as an official language in place of Persian. Hindus by getting English education, got the jobs but Muslims remained behind terrified. Sir Syed made it clear that it was quite wrong to think that English education would keep them away from religion. Our religion did not forbid to learn English language and Western sciences. Where he put emphasis on the learning of English language there he did not ignore Urdu. He gave full attention to it. He also shifted the Society of Scientific Knowledge to Aligarh. He constituted the committee for the progress of Muslims. The aim of it was the acquisition of the knowledge of the reasons of low strength of Muslims in government’s colleges and schools; and why they gone behind in learning the new sciences. The research showed that the Muslims wanted to have their own institutions for the education of the Muslims. For this purpose Muhammadan College Fund Committee was established. In May 1875 Muhammadan Anglo Oriental High School was established in Aligarh, and after two years the school was upgraded to a college. In a short time it became the important educational institution of Muslims. The reason of it was the availability of the boarding facilities for the students along with the modern and religious education. Sir Syed desired that the college be given the status of a University, but this did not happen in his life time. Twenty years after his death Aligarh College was made a University in 1920.

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan realized that the Aligarh College even after becoming a University would not be able to meet the educational needs of all the Muslims of India. Therefore, he made a way out to spread the message of Aligarh in all the parts of India. For this, he established Muhammadan Educational Conference. The meetings of it were held every year in different cities, and attempts were made to solve the educational and other problems of the Muslims.

Social Services

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan wrote many books and magazines for the social involvement of Muslims. He brought out the magazine ‘Tehzeeb-ul-Akhlaq’ in 1870, in which he narrated the rules and principles to make the Muslims dynamic and effective. He established an orphanage in Muradabad. Sir Syed wanted to bring Muslims socially closer to the English. Therefore he taught new ways of living to the Muslims; coat, pantaloon, modern designing of houses and use of knife and fork in eating. All that was done to curtail the distance among the Muslims and the English. Sir Syed published a pamphlet ‘Loyal Muhammadans of India’ and mentioned the services rendered by the Muslims in saving the lives of the English, so the English should not ignore this aspect of Muslims, and forget the enmity with them.

Religious Services

The Aligarh Movement did not ignore religion, but put great emphasis on it, and negated the superfluous rites. Sir Syed published the Commentary of the Holy Quran in which he tried to prove the Quranic Verses logically and scientifically true, but it was disliked by the religious scholars. He wrote ‘Tabayen-ul-Kalam’ a book on Bible and put more emphasis on the things common in Islam and Christianity. Besides this he wrote an article “Tehqeeq Lufze-Nasara” to remove the misunderstanding from the minds of the English. The English believed that Muslim ‘Nasara’ was a distorted form of ‘Nasarath’, a birth place of Christ, hence they had ridiculed them. He made it clear that there was no truth in that, but the fact was that the word ‘Nasara’ was derived from the Arabic word ‘Nasir’ that means helper of friend. He further clarified that Islam and not forbidden the Muslims from the friendship and eating with Christians provided wine and unlawful things were not served. Therefore he wrote a booklet ‘Ahkam-e-Tuam-e-Ahle-Kitab’. It changed the attitude of many of the Muslims and the English. The publication of these books and pamphlets did not actually mean that he honoured the English in all respects, and wanted to ignore the Islamic rules. He took a firm stand in matters of religion. When an English writer, William Meore, wrote a book “The Life of Muhammad” in which he disgraced the Prophet (PBUH). Sir Syed could not tolerate it and refuted him by writing a book “Khutabat-e-Ahmadiya”.

Political Services

After the war of independence of 1857 the British Government wanted to punish the Muslims by declaring them the real accused of the rebellion. But Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in his magazine “Causes of Indian Revolt” made it clear that Hindus, Muslims and the English were equally responsible for that revolt.

Sir Syed attributed the following reasons to the outbreak of the war of Independence:

  • Non-representation of the Indians in the legislative councils.
  • Forcible conversion of Indians to Christianity.
  • Mismanagement of Indian army.
  • Many other ill-advised measures of the Government which created large scale dissatisfaction among the various sections of society.

On the other hand he advised the Muslims to keep away from politics for the time being because they were far behind in education and the English saw them with suspicious eyes. In 1867, with the rise of Hindi-Urdu controversy, Sir Syed became suspicious of Hindus and said that it was not now possible for Hindus and Muslims to go along together. He said that Hindus and Muslims were two separate nations and could not live together. He also believed that the British parliamentary form of government could not succeed in India because there was not a single nation here. Even by the implementation of the separate electorate the Muslims would not gain a considerable amount of representation. Similarly the Muslims would not get jobs through competitive examination because they were far behind in education. Therefore a quota in jobs might be fixed for Muslims so that they could also have government jobs.

Literary Services

Sir Syed worked very hard for the protection and progress of Urdu language. Hindi Urdu conflict made it clear that Hindus wanted to damage the cultural, social, and literary heritage of the Muslims. He established Urdu Defence Society and defended Urdu language. Due to the opposition of Aligarh, Hindi could not become the official language. He also wrote a book “History of Revolt of Bejnour” in which he mentioned the circumstances and events of war of Independence. “Asaar-Alsanadeed” was the famous book of Sir Syed. It provided the information of old buildings, ruins and historical places. A copy of it was presented to Royal Asiatic Society London, and Sir Syed was awarded the honour of fellowship. Besides this he wrote many other articles.

Effects of Aligarh Movement

Aligarh Movement trained the Muslims how to deal with the prevailing new circumstances. It guided the Muslims in every field of life.

English-Muslim Reconciliation

Due to Aligarh Movement the feelings of hatred against Muslims started diminishing from the hearts of the English. The English started coming closer to the Muslims.

Protection of Rights

Aligarh Movement created an awareness of the protection of rights among the Muslims. Sir Syed spent whole of his life in improving the educational, social, economic and political affairs of the Muslims. Aligarh College was the biggest educational institution of the Muslims. It’s educated persons presented the problems of the masses before the government that considered from favourably. In 1906 the demand for separate electorate forwarded through the Shimla Deputation was accepted.

Supply of Political Leadership

The Muslims got education from Aligarh Movement and made themselves capable to face Hindus and the English. Muslim League was established by the educated political leadership that also owed to Aligarh Movement. Political awareness was created among the masses by Aligarh Movement. In fact the struggle for the establishment was originated from this movement.

Concept of Separate Nation

Aligarh Movement made the Muslims realized that they were a separate nation having a glorious past, and also made it clear that Hindus and Muslims were two nations and could not unite together. Moreover Hindus were not the well-wishers of Muslims. This two nation theory was made the basis of Pakistan Movement by Allama Iqbal and Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah who got a separate homeland for Muslims.

Acquisition of Western Education

Muslims were afraid of western education but they could not make progress without it. As the source of modern sciences was the English language so it was necessary for them to learn it. Therefore, arrangements of western sciences side by side with Islamic education were made in Aligarh College that motivated a large number of Muslims to get education. Aligarh Movement also persuaded other affluent Muslims to start educational institutions; and in a short time the Muslims became prominent in the fields of English and modern education.

 Economic Progress

Aligarh Movement attracted the Muslims towards education and made them enabled to improve their economic conditions. By getting the share in government jobs, the Muslims rose to the higher positions, and in this way the economic condition of the Muslims improved a lot.

Muslim Unity

Aligarh Movement created a sense of Muslims nationality. A Muslim wherever he lives in the world is a member of Muslim ‘Nation’. In 1919 the educated youth of Aligarh College launched Khilafat Movement for the Muslims of Turkey. They created a sense of unity among the Muslims. Hence feelings of union, relationship and brotherhood were developed among them.


The Aligarh Movement injected a life in the dormant body of the Muslim nation and helped them to regain their lost position of eminence and glory. It revived confidence among the Muslims to fight for their economic and social rights. The Aligarh Movement was a broad movement which left its impact on every phase of the Muslim life. The actions taken by Sir Syed left a far reaching impact on the social, economic, religious, political and cultural aspects of the Muslims. His precepts and examples revived hope and self-confidence, showed new ways to progress and opened doors for the Muslims to modern education and economic prosperity.

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and His Contributions

Some personalities leave far-reaching effects in history and the succeeding generations cannot ignore them. Such is the personality of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan who showed the ray of light to the Muslims and enabled them to restore their lost status.

The great emancipator of the Indian Muslims Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was born at Delhi on October 17, 1817. This is the period when the great Mughal Empire was close to a complete collapse. Sir Syed’s family had already joined the East India Company and his maternal grandfather served in Iran and Burma under the British government. Sir Syed got interest in English from his maternal family. S M Ikram writes, “For this insight into the affairs of the state and first contacts with Western learning and civilization he was indebted to his maternal grandfather…” Sir Syed was very healthy by birth and his grandfather remarked: “A Jatt has been born in our family.” He joined the British as head clerk in 1839. The death of his brother made him serious and energetic to face the neuroses of life courageously. Another event that changed him entirely was the War of Independence in 1857. In 1841, he passed examination and became sub-judge. At the eve of the War of Independence he was performing the duties as sub-judge in Bijnore. He established educational institutions and after coming at Aligarh he rejuvenated his aspirations to work for the depressed Muslims of the Subcontinent. He devoted his entire life for this purpose to bring the Muslims close to the British. He died on March 27, 1898 and was buried in Aligarh.

His Services

He took responsibility of the Indian Muslims when they had been thrown in backwardness, depression and humiliation. The British held them criminal of the War while the Hindus had won the British being anti-Muslim force. In such environment, Sir Syed guided his community to rejoin the life. To Dr Qalb-i-Abid, “Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was among a very few leaders produced by Muslim India, who like Mohammad Ali Jinnah made a tremendous contribution in guiding the destinies of the Indian Muslims.”

Sir Syed opened schools, one in Muradabad in 1859 and other in Ghazipur in 1862 so that the children of Muslims might get education. In 1863 he established a society of Scientific Knowledge in Ghazipur. The objective of it was the translation of English books in Urdu so that the inhabitants of the Sub-Continent could have the knowledge of English sciences. After this Sir Syed shifted to Aligarh that remained the center of his activities till his death.

Sir Syed and Politics

In the political arena, Sir Syed carved numerous successes;

He eradicated misunderstandings between the Muslims and the British infused due to the past particular incidents. Awakening among the Muslims about the political ups and downs and co-existence in the presence of other nations in India was another contribution of Sir Syed. He motivated the Muslims to absorb the modern education of the West because this was the very motive of the Western expansion in the world. He visualized the bright future of the Muslims if they engaged themselves in the Western learning.
Sir Syed won the British confidence and cordial relationship by saving their lives during the War of Independence. He utilized this relationship for the betterment of the Muslims. It was a subtle situation because the government had put the War crimes on the Muslim shoulders and assaulted their every aspect of life: “These events were a trauma for the Muslims; the methods used by them shocked the civilized world. The detestation of Delhi as a centre of Muslim culture was horrendous; Bahadur Shah Zafa was exiled to Rangoon; Lt. Hodson shot three Mughal princes and later 24 princes were tried and executed; a vast ocean of blood there was; Some Muslims were shot dead and their dead bodies were thrown into the river Jamna”. All Muslims were ousted from land, property and employments that made them third class citizens of India. This created revengeful sentiments among the Muslims who detested British, their culture and civilization. Sir Syed was of the view that British were a civilized, educated, wise and disciplined nation and occupied India with the new war strategy and munitions that could not be matched by the locals and particularly by the Muslims. Therefore at the juncture the Muslims should mould themselves according to the pace of time to avoid more disaster.

Sir Syed published Loyal Mohammedans of India and Risala Asbab-i-Baghawat i-Hind that helped both the nations to redress their grievances. In 1885 the Indian National Congress was founded but Sir Syed warned the Muslims from the sinister aspirations of the Hindus. Another factor was that he intended the Muslims to abstain from the politics that could result in friction with the ruling nation.

Urdu-Hindi Controversy

Urdu grew as common language of all the Indians regardless of origin or religion but in 1867 the Benarsi Hindus started campaign to replace Urdu by Hindi. To gain the objectives, they declared numerous organizations, which discouraged Sir Syed who said to Shakespeare that since now both the nations could not live together. Later the followers of Sir Syed tried their level best to save Urdu language. Mohsin ul Mulk was the outstanding person who organized the Muslims in defense of Urdu.

Muslims-as a Nation

Sir Syed used the word ‘nation’ for the Muslims. Some writers criticize that he declared Hindus and Muslims one nation. But as a matter of fact, he advocated the Hindu-Muslim unity that meant ‘the working relationship’ between the two nations as once he said: “Hindus and Muslims should try to be of one mind in matters which affected their progress.” He favored separate electorate for the Muslims in 1883 saying that the majority would override the interests of the minority.

United Indian Patriotic Association

In 1888, he set up the Patriotic Association to meet the propaganda of the Congress. Muslims and Hindus joined the Association. It advocated the Muslims’ emotions.

Mohammedan Defense Association

In December 1893, Sir Syed founded the Association. Its main purpose was to protect the political, religious and social rights of the Muslims. Sir Syed was great because he contributed greatly to the Muslim struggle for identity. Otto von Bismarck served the German nation with the help of all government sources but Sir Syed did the same without all this. To Khalid Bin Sayeed, “Many tributes have been paid to Sir Sayyed, particularly by modern educated Muslims for being daring enough to put forward such views in an age which was by no means liberal or tolerant.”

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