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Sir Syed Ahmed Khan

Bombay Muslims key in Sir Syed’s Aligarh legacy

October 17, 2023
Ronita Torcato 

On October 17, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) commemorates the 206th birth anniversary of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, a prominent reformer, philosopher, and educator who laid the foundation for several institutions, including the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental (MAO) College, which later evolved into AMU. A fascinating chapter in this story revolves around the influential role played by Bombay Muslims.

Sir Syed, who was knighted by the British in 1888, was born into an affluent family. He championed modern education for Muslims, advocated the use of English alongside Urdu as a common language, and promoted the study of European science and technology. He also founded the All India Mohammedan Educational Conference and the Scientific Society of Aligarh. Furthermore, Sir Syed lent his support to Dadabhai Naoroji and Surendranath Banerjee’s efforts to secure representation for Indians in the government and civil services.

After Sir Syed’s passing in 1898, he was laid to rest near the Jama Masjid on his beloved campus, established in 1875. In 1903, a significant event took place at the co-educational Anjuman i Islam School in Bombay, where Badruddin Tyabji, the first Muslim President of the Indian National Congress and the first Indian Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court, and the founder of Anjuman in 1874, presented a resolution seeking to elevate MAO College into a university.

Bombay was also home to the Khoja Ismaili Imamat, and supporting this resolution, the third Aga Khan and 48th Imam of the Ismailis, Sir Sultan Mohammed Shah, led a delegation in 1906 to meet Lord Minto, the Viceroy and Governor General of India. He further chaired a Committee established in 1911 to drive the establishment of the university and traveled extensively to raise funds for the project. The Aga Khan was later appointed as its first Pro-Chancellor.

Sir Syed, during his visit to Bombay, met with Dadabhai Naoroji, whose city was also the seat of the Dawoodi Bohras. Remarkably, three spiritual heads of the Dawoodi Bohra community, Syedna Taher Saifuddin, his son Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, and grandson Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, assumed the position of AMU Chancellors in 1946, 1999, and 2015, respectively.

Also read: Established by Sir Syed and Muslims of India

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