Remembering a Reformer: Sir Syed Ahmed Khan

Posted on October 17, 2008
Filed Under >Saad Qaisar, Education, History, People
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Saad Qaisar

Today (October 17, 2008) marks the 191st birthday of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (1817-1898).

In the history of Indian Sub-Continent, the role Syed Sahib played for Muslims of India deserves golden words. Sir Syed was the most influential leader and social reformer of his time. He felt that the socio-economic future of Muslims was threatened by their orthodox aversions to modern science and technology. He made significant contributions in this regard that had long term implications for the Muslims of India that eventually lead to creation of state of Pakistan.

Either it be his advocacy for Urdu to be recognized by British empire as second language of India & a symbol of Muslim heritage or establishment of a ‘Muslim Cambridge’ in form of MAO college at Aligarh, he is seen as a most vocal figure for the rights of Indian Muslims in the second half of 19th century under British Raj. At Aligarh, Sir Syed formed Scientific Society of Aligarh, the first scientific society of its kind in India that assembled Muslim scholars from across India, held annual conferences, disbursed funds for educational causes and regularly published a journal on scientific subjects in English & Urdu.

His views, at times, challenged orthodox clergy who appeared averse to his message of ‘change’.

Today, as we find our nation amidst divergent schools of thought, when one segment of society is bent towards ultra-liberalism & appear to blindly follow western civilization, more of its bad than good and on other end, there are those who are hell bent to stick to age-old orthodox philosophy, do we await another Syed Sahib that would channelize our energies to the middle path. Or can we revive spirit of Syed Sahib’s life as a guideline in all the issues that confront us as a nation? Men like Syed Sahib are born once in decades, or perhaps, centuries! Are we ready to wait centuries for that to happen or reformulate our thought in-line with modern demands, choice is ours!

As Iqbal rightly put it:

aaen-e-nau say darna, tarz-e Kuhan pe aRna
manzil ye hi katthan hai, qaumoN kee zindagi meiN

‘To be afraid of modern ways, to get stuck on age old patterns, is the biggest hurdle in the life of Nations’.

Photo Credits: Khurram Ali Shafique and

49 responses to “Remembering a Reformer: Sir Syed Ahmed Khan”

  1. Rashad says:

    “I hear from people like you is that Jamat-e-Islami”

    Ibrahim Sahib, I am one of the biggest anti-Jamiat-e-Islami and have supported MQM for more than decades and now Imran Khan. So according to PMA’s logic I am not a Mullah anymore? Wohoo! Now I can sleep well.

    @PMA: You didn’t provide me examples how modern education helped Pakistanis? Do you want to say that today Pakistan is facing financial crisis due to Madrassah students appointed in different ministries? Pakistanis have been committing suicide due to inflation and unemployment, are they all madrassah students?

    It’s interesting to see you abused Urdu medium students. Do I need to remind you that some of our big names were part of Urdu medium schools. Guys like Dr Mohammad Ali Shah(AO Clinic Fame) and Dr.Abdul Qadeer Khan were few of many who earned education in Urdu medium schools.

    Please please PMA, come up with proofs to prove your point. Calling names is very boring thing for me.

  2. Rashad says:


    Since when Islam believes in theocracy? Are you trying to tell me that Islam is just like Sunday school religion? I doubt what you know about Islam and Islamic Shariah other than considering it an excuse for praying 5 times,fasting and other basic things?

    PMA, “Mullahs are bad” is quite childish comment. It doesn’t sound good to discuss things by making such comments. You are free to give your opinion but when you are discussing with your opponents then do try to get serious. You are not talking your like minded people who hardly try to comprehend things other than what have been “injected” in their minds by Western societies. Learn to digest why some one is opposing you rather acting like Pat Robertson and lashing out at others by giving your fatwas like “Millitants,”members of Islamic Camp etc”. And offcourse we are part of Islamic camp! if you are not then why don’t you reveal your belief? I think no one here has any problem to get engage with followers of other religions.

    “We must equip ourselves with modern education so that we can compete with rest of the world”

    So far you guys have done nothing in past 61 years. How can you do now?

  3. PMA says:

    Complains about Sir Syed Ahmad Khan mostly come from our own Islamist camp. He is accused of being Anglophile. It is understandable why Islamists disapprove of him. He was messing with Mullah’s domain. But we must remember that Muslim political, economical and cultural dominance in South Asia ended by mid-eighteenth century. Our traditional educational system was unable to bring us out of the rot we were in. After a century and half of wandering in the dark finally a man of vision pulled us out of our backwardness. Pakistani nation is indebted to this great man and salutes him with honour. But his work is not done yet. We must equip ourselves with modern education so that we can compete with rest of the world.

  4. jusathot says:

    The argument is NOT about education or rather the

  5. YLH says:


    I have all of Jinnah’s speeches… and beyond the fact that he tried to prove that secular democracy was compatible with Islam he doesn’t say anything. The speeches I have quoted are also more tha the 11th August speech (which in of itself was the most important speech and document since it was addressed to the constituent assembly making the constitution and not to some gathering or group of people)… I have quoted atleast 40 or 50 speeches of Jinnah to prove what I said.

    He certainly did not favor the theocratic state that Mullahs favor.

    As for “substantial” proof… I think the appointment of a Hindu Law Minister (Jogindranath had no clue about Islamic law) itself is substantial proof enough that Jinnah wanted a secular state … could you imagine a Law minister in an Islamic state who didn’t even know Islamic law? Even if we were to take away his clear pronouncements on the issue this is enough of a slap on the face everyone who tries to claim what they do.

    As for Jinnah’s references to Islam and Muslims… it must also be remembered that Jinnah called Kemal Ataturk the greatest Musalman of the age worthy of emulation…. and called Turkey the greatest Muslim state of the time. He said so in November 1938 and then repeatedly in the 1940s… and he was well aware of the developments in Turkey … the separation of church and state, the banning of Arabic text etc… his favorite book was H C Armstrong’s Greywolf.

    So given the fact that Jinnah considered religion a matter of personal faith … the fact that he clearly said Pakistan would not be a theocracy to be run by priests with a divine mission (no not the 11th August speech)… the fact that he said clearly
    that sovereignty rested unconditionally with the people (again not the 11th August speech) … the fact he said minorities would be equal citizens without any bar whatsoever (again not the 11th August speech)…. the burden of proof is on you to produce statements that go beyond mere cultural and religious references to Islam or Quran etc… but have a legal bearing … like the 11th August speech which was made to the constituent assembly of Pakistan …

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