Relevance of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in the 21st Century

Relevance of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in the 21st Century
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By Umair Rashid

Syed Ahmad Taqvi bin Syed Muhammad Muttaqi(17 October 1817 – 27 March 1898), commonly known as Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, was a Muslim pragmatist, Islamic reformist, philosopher of nineteenth century British India. He was born in a family which had strong ties with the Mughal Court. Syed studied the Quran and Sciences within the court. He gave more thrust on Islam’s rationalist (Mu’tazila) tradition, and at broader, radical reinterpretation of the Quran to make it compatible with the science and modernity. Sir Syed was of the notion that, “Muslim youth should carry the Holy Quran in one hand and science in the other hand.” The Aligarh Muslim University, UP grew out of the work of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan who, in the aftermath of the war of Independence of 1857 , felt that it was important for Muslims to gain education and become involved in the public life and government services in British India. So, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was the founder of one of the top institutions (AMU) where hundreds and thousands of students receive their education in different careers and fields. Every year, on 17th of October, AMU and its Alumni celebrate ‘Sir Syed Day’ in the memory of its founder. But, it is important for all of us to understand the relevance of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in the 21st century.
Sir Syed Ahmad Khan is relevant in 21st century. He is relevant as a role model and a symbol of empowerment for all the suppressed and disadvantaged people across globe, in general , and for Muslims , in particular. But, I must tell you that people, here and there, often question and criticize us ‘Aligarians’ that we have caged our understanding and perspectives within the centuries-old boundaries set by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. Bu, t let me tell these people that the vision of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan is such vast and empowering that it should not only be worth-emulating for Muslims but it is equally essential and meaningful to oppressed people of diverse cultures across globe. If such oppressed people along with disadvantaged Muslims world over want to come out of the gloom and vicious spiral of deprivations, it is indispensable that we set our sails right and give shoulder to the wheel that Sir Syed had fashioned for all of us: the wheel of education, emancipation, empowerment and enlightenment!
Also, Sir Syed, the great socio- religious reformist is more relevant in the present times, when people are being suppressed in the name of religion, caste, race, gender and ethnic identities. The oppression and violence perpetrated against weaker sections of the society in our societies is at its peak. People are being trampled under the feet of capitalism, military might and irrelevant development. Such policies are being framed by governments which have no meaning to the actual and everyday life of a common man. Instead, rich become richer and the poor are further pushed deep into the abyss of suffering and humiliation .
I can’t exaggerate and I can’t say that there is only one option, that is, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan is the only role model No he was not the only one and he is not the only one in history! But we need to recognize and acknowledge the uniqueness of his teaching and methodology, his vision and mission for the disadvantaged masses across the world.
I strongly believe that Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s vision must be integrated and embraced by all the sane leaders of the deprived sections in this subcontinent in order to set stage for economic, social, political and cultural emancipation and empowerment of the downtrodden. Do not downsize the personality of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan by making him a Muslim reformer only; his perspectives of teaching and soul of his mission is to revolutionize youth with education so as to achieve peace, prosperity and development in all its senses. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan is too big a personality to be seen through the lens of religion only. We need to broaden our analysis so as to find relevance of his teachings in the 21st century for all the suppressed and exploited masses irrespective of religion and region.

The author is an undergraduate student at Department of Economics, Aligarh Muslim University. He can be reached at: sheikhumairrashid@gmail.com