Tue. Jun 25th, 2024
Dr Amin Rehmani

Nov 2 is the 144th birth anniversary of the Aga Khan III, and the centenary celebrations of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) that began in December 2020, it is befitting to highlight the exemplary role of Aga Khan the IIIrd (1877-1957)  in establishing the AMU. Sir Syed had already founded, the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College (MAO) at Aligarh to bring Muslims out of anarchy. His dream of turning MAO into a university, on lines of Oxford and Cambridge, could not have materialized without the war-footing efforts of Sir Sultan Mohamed Shah Aga Khan III.

Highly impressed with Sir Syed’s efforts towards Muslim education, the two leaders first discussed the matter in 1896. Having a deep interest in MAO and concern for the education of Muslims, the Aga Khan presided over the annual Muhammadan Educational Conference (MEC) in 1902.  Speaking earnestly to establish a Muslim university, he eloquently outlined its vision. He genuinely believed in ameliorating the falling conditions of Muslims through education he said,

we must unite … for their redemption and first and foremost an effort must now be made for the foundation of a university where Moslem youths can learn, in addition to modern sciences, knowledge of their glorious past and religion (with) honesty, and self-sacrifice … and where the whole atmosphere may give more attention to the character than mere examination.

He believed in making Aligarh University, ‘a Moslem Oxford’. For him building a University was a matter of saving Islam for which Muslims must demonstrate self-sacrifice otherwise, ‘must I not conclude that we do not care whether the faith of Islam is dead or not? His vision was to have for Muslims an “intellectual and moral capital, which shall be the hope of elevated ideas and pure ideals, a centre from which light and guidance shall be diffused amongst the youth …, hold(ing) up to the world … the justice and virtue and purity of our beloved faith”.

Addressing MEC in 1904 in Bombay, he sounded optimistic about ‘signs of dawn’. The Aga Khan reiterated that it would be unfortunate if instruction and passing of examinations were mistaken for education and learning. Therefore, “the farsighted amongst the Moslems of India desire a university where the standard of learning shall be the highest and where, with scientific training, there shall be the religious and moral education,’ the latter being ‘the soul of education and any divorce between the two, ‘would lead to disaster’.

Maintaining a balance between secular and religious education never lost sight of his aim of a Muslim university. Alas, even today, our education system, generally speaking, has not realized such an aim. Our scientific and secular minds are trained on one line and religious minds on the other and this duality has led to disaster and dire consequences. Ironically, our education system still emphasizes more on rote learning and mere passing of examinations with little regard for the quality of education.

The Aga Khan made an emotional appeal to the MEC audience:

… I beg of you that a cause of a Central University – a University which, please Heaven, may rank someday with Oxford, Leipzig and Paris and home of great ideas and noble ideal, … a University where the teaching of history and the literature of the East may not be scamped (sic) over for mere parrot-like knowledge of Western thought, and where our youth may enjoy, … a Moslem atmosphere – should not be forgotten ….

In 1911, he reiterated that launching the University was a daunting task that required efforts on missionary zeal. He implored equally to the prince and peasants to contribute funds. He argued that in the population of 60 million Moslems in India, “one million could afford one rupee ahead from every Moslem family….”.Besides addressing Muslim gatherings, he wrote letters in newspapers, gave interviews and used government forums. In his interview to the Times of India in 1912, the Aga Khan termed the Government’s demand ‘fair and reasonable’ to collect Rs. 35, 00,000 for granting the Charter. “Our motto must be ‘work and sacrifice, not talk”.

As chairman of the fundraising committee, he worked tirelessly, travelling all over India. He said, ‘as a mendicant, I am now going out to beg, from house to house and from street to street for the children of Moslem India’. Due to his stupendous efforts, he collected 3 million rupees, his contribution was Rs. 100,000. This finally paved way for the foundation of AMU on December 17, 1920. His Highness was appointed its first founding pro-Chancellor.

Addressing the Aga Khan at AMU in 1936, the then vice-chancellor Dr Ziauddin stated that the dream of Sir Syed could only be realized by His Highness. Aga Khan once said, “When I look back on all that the AMU has stood for and achieved, this is, without doubt, one of the facts of my life which I can record and contemplate with real and abiding satisfaction”.

AMU was established with such visionary ideals as were dreamed by Sir Syed and articulated by the Aga Khan. The University began its centenary celebrations in December 2020. AMU website gives facts and history of Sir Syed as the founder of the university, but ironically, there is hardly any mention of the Aga Khan III contribution in the establishment of the University and in realizing the dream of Sir Syed into a reality. There is only a passing reference under a write up on Begum Sultan Jahan Hall concerning his funding to AMU and his appointment as a first Pro-Chancellor along with Begum Sultan Jahan.  Under Sir Shah Sulaiman Hall, one of the hostels is named after him. Under riding club, it is mentioned that Agha Khan helped it financially amongst many others.

It is hoped that the University, during its centenary celebrations, would pay befitting tributes to him for his contribution and efforts without which the AMU would not have come into existence.

Note: Most quotations here are taken from K. K. Aziz, (ed. 1998) Aga Khan III Selected speeches and writings of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah. Vol. 1 Kegan Paul International: London and New York.

By Dr. Amin Rehmani

The author is a writer, Educationist, PhD. from the University of London. His areas of interest include, curriculum development, teacher education, teaching and learning and assessment. His writings are available at AKU e- Commons and academia.edu

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