Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (SSAK) remains a controversial personality, not only amongst Hindus but also among Muslims.
SSAK belonged to the elite class among Muslims. His family had been in the service of Mughals. He has witnessed the decline of the Mughal power in India. This was the time when Muslim community in India was passing through the phase of depression. He was concerned about the state of his community. SSAK believed that the upliftment of the community is possible only with modernization of Islam. He believed that Islam as a religion is most compatible with science and rationalism.
He started publishing a magazine titled TEHZEEB UL AKHLAQ. Through his magazine, he started denouncing the outdated customs and traditions. He founded a society for scientific research in Gazipur, UP. Later on society was shifted to Aligarh.
He also founded a journal for the promotion of scientific research known as INDIAN INSTITUTE GAZETTE. He was convinced that the upliftment of the Muslims is possible only when they will adopt scientific learning. He used to say that “Muslim youth should hold book of science in one hand and Koran in the other hand.” SSAK came to be criticized by ‘orthodox sections’ from the Muslim community because of his scientific and modernist approach.
SSAK as originator of two-nation theory.
There is a transition in the ideas of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan.
Initially he was an advocate of Hindu Muslim unity. He used to say that Hindus and Muslims are the two eyes of the beautiful bride – India. He advised Muslims to avoid eating beef, respecting the sentiments of Hindu neighbours. However later on his views changed. Reason for the change. Language controversy in Awadh province – Up till now Urdu in Persian script has been the official language. By this time there was the growth of the movement for Hindi. The supporters of Hindi felt that Hindi has become the language of masses, hence Hindi should replace Urdu as the official language.
The controversy took ugly turn, neither Muslims were ready to accept Hindi nor Hindus were ready to continue Urdu as the official language. The entire controversy disappointed SSAK. He came to the conclusion that neither Hindus will agree to what Muslims want, nor Muslims will agree to what Hindus want. He even assumed that with the passing time, more and more controversial issues will emerge and hence co-existence will not be possible. In the interest of peace, it is better if both live as separate communities. It is because of such thinking he has been called as the originator of two-nation theory.
Why SSAK was controversial among Hindus?
SSAK was concerned about the state of frustration faced by his community. It was true that Mughal power was in the state of decline but it was also true that Muslims were discriminated by the British. Britishers thought Muslims were responsible for the revolt of 1857. Hence they started discriminating against Muslims and started following preferential policy towards Hindus. SSAK realized British are the new force emerging in India. He had a foresight to understand that British rule is going to exist for long, hence there is no point opposing British. On the other hand, Muslim community is hardly in a position to resist the British power.
Hence in a given situation, the best approach will be to join hands with the British. Since he believed that modernization and education is the only way to uplift community, only British could provide such resources which is needed for the achievement of the goal.
SSAK wrote “Asbab I Bagawate Hind”, CAUSES OF THE REVOLT OF 1857. In the book, he has shown that Muslims were not responsible for the revolt. It was the wrong policies of the British which forced people for revolt. He has also mentioned number of instances where Muslims helped, saving the lives of British officials.
Later on SSAK wrote an article titled THE LOYAL MOHAMMADANS OF INDIA. In his article, he has expressed the loyalty of the Muslims towards British. He has advised Muslims to stay away from Indian National Congress. The main reason was not that congress was dominated by Hindus, but the real reason was that he felt that British are going to stay in India for long and there is no point entering into confrontation with the rising power.
For above reasons, he was criticized by Hindus as opportunists, the leader of community rather than leader of nation unlike other Muslim leader like Badruddin Tayyabji who remained the member of INC.
SSAK was successful in getting the help of the British in the establishment of Mohammadan Anglo-Oriental college in Aligarh, which later on became Aligarh Muslim University.
His status among Muslims is at par with Raja Ram Mohan Roy among Hindus. Though he became controversial, yet he emerges as the tallest leader among Muslims in the sub-continent. No other Muslim leader had contributed for the upliftment of the Muslim community till date in the way SSAK contributed. Muslim youth in present times is passing through the similar frustration and stagnation. There is a need of the leader like SSAK at present who can guide Muslims towards the importance of educational empowerment and stay away from politicization and radicalization.