Sir Syed Ahmad Khan



Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, one of the architects of modern India was born on October 17, 1817 in Delhi.  His father Syed Mohammad Muttaqi was a Mughal noble descendent who had, in the time of Akbar, migrated to India from Herat.                                                                                 

  The 1857 revolt was one of the turning points of Syed Ahmad’s life.  Before it, his career had been that of a civil servant and a scholar.  Most of the historical works, which were to win him an honorary fellowship of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, were completed before 1857. In 1847, he published the famous archaeological masterpiece, Asarus Sanadeed’ – a book that provided a wealth of information on countless historical monuments in Delhi from the eight hundred year long Muslim era.    
In 1855, he published yet another book Ain-e-Akbari’.  After the 1857 revolt, Syed Ahmad authored the marvelous bookAsbab-e-Baghawat-e-Hind' (The causes of Indian Revolt).  The publication of this book in 1859 was, in fact, Syed Ahmad’s induction to public life.  He also witnessed the terrible revenge the British wrought on Delhi and its inhabitants after the city was recaptured in September 1857.  At personal level, he found an uncle and a cousin dead; his aunt died of thirst before his eyes; he succeeded in rescuing his mother only for her to die because of the privations she had experienced.  Muslims were the main target of the Government’s wrath.    
  In spite of all the suffering, Syed Ahmad was highly impressed by the culture and customs of Western society.  He instituted Scientific Society in 1864 to create a scientific temperament among the Muslims and to make the Western knowledge available to Indians in their own language.  He got translated many scientific works from English into Urdu.  
The Aligarh Institute Gazette, an organ of the Scientific Society was started in March 1866 and succeeded in agitating the minds in the traditional Muslim Society.  Anyone with a poor level of commitment would have backed off in the face of strong opposition but Sir Syed responded by bringing out another journal Tehzibul Akhlaq which was rightly named in English as ‘Mohammedan Social Reformer’.  The Tehzibul Akhlaq succeeded in infusing a new desire amongst Muslims for acquiring modern knowledge.  It also gave a new direction to Muslim social and political thought.  It advocated the stance that Muslims should avoid getting involved in political issues until they achieved parity with the Hindu community in the field of  education.

Along with his search for a solution to the community's backwardness, he continued writing for various causes. He wrote to defend Islam against the attacks of Christian missionaries, and to overcome religious prejudices.

Sir Syed finally reached to the conclusion that education was the main cause of the backwardness of the community. He thus rose to establish the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh


He wanted this College to act as a bridge between the old and the new, the East and the West.  While he fully appreciated the need and urgency of imparting instruction based on Western learning, he was not oblivious of the value of oriental learning and wanted to preserve and transmit to posterity the rich legacy of the past. He, therefore, decided to keep a fine balance between the two. 

 For a man born into a feudal family that had experienced the trauma of a declining Mughal empire, he was highly pragmatic in his outlook and attitude. The College he founded was the visible embodiment of reason and progress.

The aim of Sir Syed was not merely restricted to establishing a college at Aligarh but at spreading a network of Muslim Managed educational institutions throughout the length and breadth of the country. To this end, he instituted All India Mohammedan Educational Conference. The Aligarh Movement motivated the Muslims to help open a number of educational institutions.  

  Sir Syed was the member of the Viceroy’s Legislative Council from 1878-82.  He presented evidence to Hunter Education Commission of 1882, and  served on the Public Service Commission of 1887. He was knighted in 1888.  In 1889 he received honorary LLD from Edinburgh University. He died on March 27, 1898 and was buried next to the mosque at AMU.