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Birth of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan

Birth of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan

17 October 1817

Syed Ahmed Khan was born in Delhi, the capital of the Mughal Empire to an affluent and aristocratic family that had close ties with the Mughal court. He was educated in the Quran and the sciences. He also received an honorary law degree from the University of Edinburgh later in life. He was a widely read person and studied books on mathematics, medicine, Persian, Arabic, Urdu, etc. His elder brother had set up a printing press in Urdu. It was the first one in Delhi. After his father’s death, he took up employment with his brother’s journal as an editor. He rejected an offer of employment from the Mughal court despite his family being employed in the Mughal court for generations.

Sir Syed was aware of the Mughal Empire’s diminishing power. So he took up work as a clerk with the East India Company. During the 1857 revolt, he lost many relatives. He was highly affected by the defeat of the Mughal Empire.

He wrote a profound booklet ‘Asbab-e-Baghawat-e-Hind’ (Reasons for the Indian Revolt of 1857) which cited British ignorance and aggressive expansion policies as the chief causes of the revolt. Sir Syed stressed on the importance of modern scientific education for Muslims to advance their conditions. He advocated the learning of English. He was also against superstition and evil customs prevalent in society then. He also advocated inter-faith understanding. He was also a scholar on Christianity, and wrote a book, ‘Commentary on the Holy Bible’.

 He believed that Muslim society could move ahead only if rigid orthodoxy was abandoned and pragmatism was adopted. In 1869, he received the Order of the Star of India from the British government. He set up many educational institutes to propagate education, the most significant being the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College (MAOC) which he set up in 1875. This later became the Aligarh Muslim University. The MAOC was instrumental in the Aligarh Movement of the 19th century which was an important movement of a renaissance among Indian Muslims. This had lasting ramifications on the politics, religion and culture of the country. An unintended effect was the propounding of the two- nation theory that ultimately led to calls for creating Pakistan.

Sir Syed is believed to be the first Indian Muslim who understood the need for a fresh orientation of Islam. He founded the Scientific Society of Aligarh modelling it on the Royal Society of England. This society held annual conferences and published and distributed scientific material in English and Urdu. Sir Syed knew that orthodox Muslim hostility to modern science and technology will come in the way of socio- economic improvement. He also gave rational interpretations of Islamic scriptures. Many orthodox groups of that time declared him to be a ‘kafir’. He was an advocate of Urdu as the lingua franca of all Indian Muslims. His works propagated the language and also proposed to the government to use Urdu officially. He was nominated to the Viceroy’s Legislative Council in 1878. He supported Dadabhai Naoroji and Surendranath Banerjee in obtaining representation for Indians in the government and the civil services.

 But he was wary of the rise of Indian nationalism as he thought power would pass into the hands of the Hindus alone. He advocated Muslims to have loyalty to the British. In his own words, “we do not want to become subjects of the Hindus instead of the subjects of the people of the Book.” According to him, modern education was the most important path for improvement in the condition of Indian Muslims. He called for the study of European science and technology. He pointed out that there was no fundamental contradiction between Quran and Natural science.

He founded Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh in 1875 to educate Muslims scientifically. He is regarded as one of the founders of the Two-Nation Theory which says that Hindus and Muslims cannot be one nation. Sir Syed was knighted by the British in 1888. He died on 27 March 1898 aged 80 in Aligarh.

 Political Thoughts of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, one of the foremost leaders of the Muslim society and a Muslim social reformer, was initially a supporter of a nationalist ideology and in favor of Hindu-Muslim unity. But in course of time they became communal. The basic reason behind his communalism was the pathetic condition and backwardness of the Muslims in the immediate social system of that time. The thoughts of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, who is called the foremost leader of the Aligarh movement, can be understood as follows-

  1. Liberal nationalist

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was initially a supporter of nationalist ideology. Like Justice Ranade, Dadabhai

Naoroji and Gopalkrishna Gokhale, Sir Syed Ahmed’s outlook was also that of a moderate nationalist. He had similar views on the need for public representation in the Legislature as did the founders of Indian liberalism. The role played by Sir Syed Ahmed in establishing the British Indian Association and the speeches he made during his tour to raise funds for the Aligarh School led many to hope that his personality The rising Indian nationalism will get an intelligent, experienced and talented leader. However, later the illusion of his being a nationalist was shattered.

  1. Support of Hindu-Muslim unity

In the beginning, Sir Syed too intelligently displayed a moderate approach till he got his footing and

talked about Hindu-Muslim unity. On January 4, 1884, Sir Syed expressed these views on Hindu- Muslim unity in Jalandhar: “Centuries passed. God intended that Hindus and Muslims should be equal partners in the climate of this country, in its production, and for this a Die together live like real brothers. They are two beautiful eyes on the face of this country. I want that forgetting the differences of religion and community, everyone should unite together. Our religions may be different, but Our national approach could not be any different.” It is clear from this that Sir Syed was inspired by the national ideology. It was his wish that both the castes should become a strong organization so that the nation itself could move forward on the path of progress.

  1. Muslim reformists

If we deeply study the works and thoughts of Sir Syed Ahmed, one thing clearly emerges that he was

basically a Muslim reformist. He was against purdah system, polygamy and slavery. The alliance he wanted between the British and the Muslims was actually for the purpose of reforming the Muslim society. He wanted to remove many of the social evils that had crept into the Muslim society. At the same time, he also wanted that the reform should be done with great care and in a peaceful manner and without any attack on the basic principles of Islam. He also started a monthly magazine named Tehjibul Akhlaq to propagate social reforms. The Aligarh movement started by him basically became a means of reforming the Muslim society.

  1. Communal Ideology

Sir Syed changed so completely after 1887 that one cannot believe that he would have been supporting Hindu-

Muslim unity earlier. Some scholars are of the opinion that Theodore Back, the principal of his college, influenced Sir Syed’s ideas. Since then they started opposing Congress and started saying that Hindu Muslims are two different castes which can never become one. Hector Bolimuth wrote that, “Sir Syed was the father of all that eventually originated in the mind of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.” But Dr. Shan Mohammad Hector does not accept this view of Bolimuth. He denied this ideology in his book in these words, “It is true that he was afraid of the dominance of Hindu majority society and envisioned a separate political existence of Muslim society, but the dream of Pakistan was not in the thoughts of Syed Ahmed.” reflected in the thoughts of Jinnah. It is clear that Shan Mohammad Hector could not understand the language of Bolimuth. Hector Bolimath has not even taken the name of Pakistan and Shan Mohammad accepts what he has said.

  1. Disloyalty to popular government

The politics of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was an opportunistic policy based on circumstances. He was not basically a political thinker. He was like a parrot taught only by the Englishman. The echo of the statement of the British was heard in his every opinion. Sir Syed I.C.S. Opposed the demand to conduct the examination in India and to increase the membership of the Dhara Sabhas. He also used to tell his faith in constitutional means and also called representative rule unsuitable for India. Sir Syed Ahmed must have known very well that he would always keep the differences alive, yet he used to say that as long as there are differences between different castes in India, the representative government will make sense. Atrocities of the majority on the minority will further intensify caste and communal differences. Sir Syed’s disloyalty to the popular government is evident from this.


Based on the above discussion, it can be concluded that Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, who was initially a

nationalist and a supporter of Hindu-Muslim unity, later turned communal and openly advocated the cause of Muslims. Although the main reason behind this was the backwardness of the Muslim society and their distance from social progress and progress, but it cannot be denied that even if it is for the purpose of reforming the Muslim society, the communal spirit they supported And tried to separate Muslims from Hindus, the same went ahead and became the reason for partition of India in the form of two-nation theory.