The historic account of differences among ulama and Sir Sayyid
M. Burhanuddin Qasmi
This refers to the misleading article in your daily “How the clergy wanted Sir Syed beheaded” ( October 19, 2009 ) by a so-called Muslim intellectual Arif Mohammad Khan. Mr. Arif Mohammad has been a Muslim basher throughout his failed political career. And it is not at all surprising that he abused the historical facts to get published in your esteemed daily owing to cheap negative publicity.
Here is the factual account of controversy between mainstream nationalist ulama of India and Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan. I wish it get appropriate room in your publication.
Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-1898) while penning down his loyalty to Queen Victoria after 1857 revolt of India , begins his long letter "The Causes of the Rebellion of India” (Asbâb-e Baghâwat-e Hind ) with the following preface. The original letter or say essay, (which later turned to be a booklet) was written in Urdu, in the Year 1858 and was translated into English and now a part of history. We present the English translation of the preface with courtesy to the Library of Columbia University.
"Obedience and submission become the servant; Forgiveness is the attribute of God: If I should do amiss Reward me as seemeth right in Thine eyes." [in Persian]
In response to the revolt of Hindustan, the essay about the real causes of the rebellion of Hindustan that I had written-- although my heart now wanted to erase them from the page of the times, or rather erase them even from my heart, since the proclamation that Her Excellency the Exalted Ruler, Queen Victoria (long may she reign!) has issued, is a complete cure for every single real cause of that rebellion-- the truth is that having seen the matter of that proclamation, the pen would fall from the hand of the writers of the causes of the rebellion. There has remained no necessity for anyone now to analyze them, because now their cure has become complete.
But to reflect on the real causes of those agitations, and with one's best sincerity to describe the true causes, I consider to be an excellent piece of well-wishing toward my Government. Thus it is incumbent upon me that although their cure has been very well accomplished-- nevertheless, the causes that are in my heart, I should make them too manifest. It's true that many very wise men and experienced people have written on the causes of this rebellion. But I believe that perhaps no Hindustani man has written anything about it. It's better that the opinion of such a person too should remain.
--Sayyid Ahmad Khan "
In 1860-1861, he published another tract, (Risâlah Khair Khawahân Musalmanân) An Account of the Loyal Mahomdans (read Muslims) of India , in which he claimed that the Indian Muslims were the most loyal subjects of the British Raj because of their kindred disposition and because of the principles of their religion. He also wrote a commentary on the Old and the New Testament, Tabîyyan al-kalâm fî’l- tafsîr al-tawrâ wa’l-injîl calâ millat al-islam (The Mahomedan Commentary on the Bible). He attached a fatwâ (religious decree) by Jamal ibn Abd Allâh Umar al-Hanfî, at the end of the book. This fatwâ stated, “as long as some of the peculiar observances of Islam prevailed in [ India ], it is Dâr al-Islam ( Land of Islam ).” And therefore, Jihad against British Raj is Un-Islamic.
This was to counter the Fatwas that had been issued by many Indian ulama; ulama of Deoband were the pioneers, stating that the Indian subcontinent had become a Darul Harb, the land of war. This political overture of Sir Sayyid was favorably received in the British ruling circles in India as well as in Britain and was rewarded both in cash and kinds. And this political deviation of Sayyid Ahmad Khan was the root of all differences between him, the founder Mohamedan Anglo-Oriental College in 1857 which later became Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and Maulana Muhmmad Qasmi Nanautwi founder of Darul Uloom Deoband which later became an ideologue for composite nationalism in India and a pure Islamic learning centre in the sub-continent, and not acquiring modern education or Islamic education by Muslims as wrongly portrayed by some writers including Mr. Arif Mohammad Khan.
Mainstream ulama of India were not against modern education then nor they are today, what they oppose during British rule in India was Briton’s cultural and religious onslaught against India which was strategic part of their anti-British war of India ’s independence.
(A Darul Uloom Deoband graduate and Editor ‘Eastern Crescent’, English monthly, M. Burhanuddin Qasmi is also a poet and Director of Mumbai based institute ‘Markazul Ma’arif Education and Research Centre’. He can be contacted at email@example.com.)
----- Original Message -----
From: Mushfiq Khaja
Sent: Monday, October 19, 2009 5:44 PM
Subject: [nrindians] How the clergy wanted Sir Syed beheaded -- By Arif Mohammed Khan
How the clergy wanted Sir Syed beheaded
By Arif Mohammed Khan
The Times of India
19 October 2009, 02:51am IST
Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was the first Muslim voice of reform in India. He emerged on the scene at a time when Indian Muslim society was sunk in obscurantism and inertia and showed no desire to struggle out of its medieval grooves. The unwholesome influence of clergy had made them view modern education as incompatible with and hostile to religion.
The abortive uprising of 1857 and the cleric call to jihad made Muslims target of British wrath and reprisals. Sir Syed as a judicial officer served the government during the crisis but the aftermath of disturbances deeply impacted him.
He wrote: ‘‘I reflected about the decadence of the Muslim community, and came to the conclusion that modern education alone is the remedy of the ills they are suffering from. I decided on a strategy to disabuse their minds of strong communal belief that the study of European literature and science is anti-religion and promotes disbelief.’’
The objectives of Sir Syed, born in early 19th century (October 17, 1817), were educational and social reforms; he had no desire to dabble in religion. But all his initiatives were opposed in the name of religion.
Describing his dilemma, Sir Syed said: ‘‘We were keen to avoid any discussion of religion, but the problem is that our behaviours, social practices and religious beliefs are so mixed up that no discussion of social reform is possible without provoking a religious controversy.’’ Frustrated with the clergy, he added, ‘‘When urged to give up something harmful, they say it has religious merit and when asked to do something positive they assert it is prohibited by religion. So we have no options but discuss the religious context to push our agenda forward.’’
With this objective, he launched the Mohammedan Social Reformer journal in July 1884. To use his own words, the journal ‘‘played crucial role in fighting the fanaticism that has pushed the community into abyss of ignorance.’’ The journal focused on modern education and social and religious reforms.
The school at Aligarh was launched in 1875. For its success, this project depended wholly on public donations. Sir Syed made notable personal contributions and went overboard in his fund collection drive. He organized lotteries, staged drama and felt no hesitation to visit any place, including red light areas, to collect money. He gratefully acknowledged the help he received and made special mention of Hindus who gave money and material support and did a great favour to the whole (Muslim) community.
The college finally emerged as a University in 1920, 22 years after Sir Syed had breathed his last in 1898. It was a living testimony of the success of Aligarh movement. However, the story shall remain incomplete if no mention is made of the hostility and opposition of the Muslim clergy that Sir Syed faced till he died and still persists in certain quarters.
The intensity of opposition can be understood from the comments of Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi in his book ‘Islamiat aur Maghribiat ki Kashmakash’ written more than 60 years after Sir Syed’s death. Maulana says: ‘‘The education mission of Sir Syed and his advocacy of Western civilization became correlatives and caused apprehensions and doubts in the minds of people. A wave of opposition took hold of the religious circles and his movement met with a simultaneous call for its boycott.’’
First Sir Syed was targeted when he shared food with the British and defended his action in a signed article. The opposition became fierce during his stay in London. Sir Syed responded through a memorandum saying: ‘‘The terrifying call of Kanpur, the lyrical satire of Lucknow, the idle tattle of Agra and Allahabad, the fatwas of Rampur and Bareilly and the snide remarks of holy men of Delhi grieve me not. My heart is overflowing with the idea of welfare of my people and there is no room in it for any anger or rancor.’’
Conscious of cleric hostility Sir Syed offered not to have any role in matters of religious instruction in the college and invited leading clerics to prepare the syllabus. Maulana Qasim Nanotvi and Maulana Yaqoob of Deoband shot down the proposal saying they cannot associate with an institution which will have Shia students on the campus.
Maulana Hali in his biography of Sir Syed says that 60 maulvis and alims had signed fatwas accusing Sir Syed of disbelief and apostasy. There was total consensus among the Indian clerics, only divine approval was missing. Maulvi Ali Bakhsh did the needful and travelled to Mecca and Medina on the pretext of pilgrimage and secured a fatwa calling for beheading of Sir Syed if he repented not and persisted with his plan to establish the college.
Sir Syed was a visionary who pursued his dream ignoring all opposition and aptly remarked, ‘‘I know what they know not and I understand what they understand not.’’ History has proved that he was right and the clergy, as always, utterly wrong.
(Arif Mohammed Khan is a former Union minister)
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