Yesterday marked the 204th birth anniversary of the great man who is regarded as one of the founding fathers of Pakistan, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan – the founder of the Aligarh Movement and a great secular and modernist thinker and reformer in his own right.
However, it is shocking to note that while our school textbooks wax ad nauseam about the services of Sir Syed as the founder of Pakistan and his Aligarh Movement as the pivotal stepping stone towards the attainment of Pakistan, this day curiously went by unnoticed by our ruling elite and media alike. Now the question is why should Sir Syed be forgotten or neglected like this? And even more important than that is the question why should he be remembered, if at all?
Like his fellow co-founders of Pakistan Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Allama Iqbal, he started out as a firm champion of Hindu-Muslim unity but the plight of the Muslims and the callous attitude of the Hindus and the British in the wake of the 1857 War of Independence taught him the value of going it alone with the Muslims. With this lesson in mind, he embarked on the establishment of the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College, which later became Aligarh Muslim University. However he was not only the founder of this hallowed institution, but a scientific and rational Muslim thinker who saw no contradiction between Islam and science. The journal which he founded, Tahzibul Akhlaq, featured translations into Urdu from leading cultural and scientific publications of its time, and pioneered the use of technical terms in Urdu. Added to that, he was a champion of inter-faith understanding who sought to remove differences between Muslims and other faiths peacefully by penning learned exegeses on the revealed books of Christianity and Judaism rather than advocate violence of any sort, as has become the norm in our own ‘modern’ times.
It’s a pity that in Pakistan, Sir Syed has been exclusively marketed as the founder of the Two-Nation Theory and the Aligarh Movement, when his achievements as a forward-thinking Muslim who saw far ahead of his time despite threats from fellow Muslims with medieval mindsets, should be better known and celebrated. For students, Sir Syed’s single-minded dedication to the pursuit of learning English at the ripe old age of 70 should serve as a shining example.
Irfan Munir | Islamabad