International Seminar on Sir Syed Ahmad Khan

Dr. Khalid Mubashshir and Manzar Imam

New Delhi: At a time when Indian society was on the verge of collapse, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan tried to protect it and save it from breaking, viewed Prof Talat Ahmad, Vice Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI). He was speaking at the inaugural session of a three-day international seminar (2-4 February, 2018) on contemporary relevance of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-1898), founder of the Muhammadan Anglo Oriental College, which later became the famous Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). The inaugural session of the seminar, jointly organized by Department of Urdu, JMI and National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language on the occasion of bicentennial birthday celebrations of the nineteenth century Muslim educationalist and reformist, was held at the auditorium of Faculty of Engineering, JMI on Friday, 2 February, 2018.

Sir Syed’s significance has increased all the more in the twenty-first century, making it crucial to study his thoughts on language and literature. His contribution holds great significance for us especially in the field of education, the VC said adding that Jamia in fact was an expansion of AMU. The other important contribution of Sir Syed is the idea of Hindu-Muslim unity, he said.

In his keynote address Prof Iftekhar Alam Khan, former Director of Sir Syed Academy, AMU, extensively quoted historian William Dalrymple and others to bring home the point that Sir Syed’s educational movement was the result of his vision and farsightedness. He was “opposed to blind following” and proposed to adapt to social change. His views of the mundane and religious issues were quite distinct wherein he made it clear that one must not unnecessarily bring one’s religion while dealing with worldly affairs. Rather, one should try to find a path where this dichotomy could be avoided. For Sir Syed, it even served one’s faith better, said Khan.

Renowned Urdu scholar of France Prof Alain Desoulieres made some terse comments about Sir Syed’s view of education, his take on religion in the light of views of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and, Sir Syed’s own criticism of French orientalist Garcin de Tassy (1794-1878). In his detailed paper presented on 3 February Desoulieres termed Sir Syed as a versatile personality who left impressions on all spheres of life and who provided new directions in varied domains of religion, culture, politics, philosophy, history, poetry, literature, journalism. He has been “the tallest figure with an encyclopedic knowledge the like of whom the eastern civilization has not produced during the last two centuries”, said Desoulieres.

Sir Syed was the mujaddid (revivalist) of a different kind of his time, said Prof Wahajuddin Alvi, Dean, Faculty of Humanities and Languages. For Alvi Sir Syed approached Indian history, culture, religion and customs with a new perspective making them relevant to the contemporary challenges and realities and to issues which are still relevant.

Speaking as a chief guest in the concluding session noted literary critic Prof Shamim Hanafi remarked, “A major part of Sir Syed’s success in the current times lies in his scientific approach and rationality”. Because of the meaning and efficacy of his mission Sir Syed continues to be an ideal and unquestionably relevant even today. Hanafi also lauded Sir Syed’s ‘administrative prowess’. In the presidential address Prof Siddiqur Rahman Kidwai observed that challenging the negative values of his times remains the greatest contribution of Sir Syed. He built a new structure on the foundations of old values and legacies. Therefore all later reformative movements find convergence with the Aligarh Movement, he asserted.

Around 20 papers were read on different aspects of the life and works of Sir Syed by senior academicians and research scholars. About half a dozen books written by faculty members and research scholars of the university’s Urdu Department (Prof Kausar Mazhari, Dr Nadim Ahmad, Ghazala Fatma, Dr Nausheen Hassan) were also lunched on this occasion besides unveiling the current issue of its quarterly journal Armughan which features classical genres of poetry and the state of research and criticism on the same.

Prof Shehpar Rasool, HoD, Department of Urdu, JMI highlighted the significance of the papers stating that they will shed light on different aspects of the life of Sir Syed when published in the form of a book. Dr Khalid Mubashshir compered the session. The programme convener, Prof Ahmad Mahfooz underlined the significance of the seminar and termed all the papers meaningful and relevant to the objectives of the seminar. The audience showed an overwhelming response to the papers read.

The papers presented covered  a wide range of topics like “Sir Syed and Modern Ilm-al-Kalam”, “Khutbat-e-Ahmadiyya: A Great Scholarly Work”, “Aasar-us-Sanadid (The Remnants of the Ancient Heroes): Yesterday and Today”, “Exposition of Sir Syed’s Thought and Tahzeeb-ul-Akhlaq”, “Maulana Azad’s Views on the Educational Philosophy of Sir Syed”, “Sir Syed and Deputy Nazeer Ahmad”, “Sir Syed and Maulana Hali”, “Sir Syed and Shibli”, “Sir Syed’s Contemporary Relevance”, “Sir Syed and His Contemporary Prose”, “Historiography of Sir Syed” “Civilizational Thoughts of Sir Syed”, “Literary Imaginations of Sir Syed”, “Sir Syed’s London Travelogue”, “The Impact of England Journey on Sir Syed’s Thought Process”, “Sir Syed: In the Eyes of Non-Muslim Scholars”, “Important Aspects of Sir Syed’s Personality”, “Sir Syed as a Journalist”, “The Literary Journalism of Urdu and Sir Syed” and “Sir Syed’s Letters”.

Prof Altaf Ahmad Azmi, Prof Anis Ashfaq, Prof Qazi Ubaidur Rahman Hashmi, Prof Quddus Jawed, Prof Mohammad Zakir, Javed Danish, Dr Ali Javed, Muzaffar Hussain Syed, presided over the proceedings of different sessions which were attended by renowned literary figures including famous dramatist Javed Danish (Canada), Prof Iqtidar Mohammad Khan, Prof Ishaq Ahmad, Prof Khalid Mahmood, Prof Zafar Ahmad Siddiqui, Maryam Sikandar (London), Prof Mazhar Mehdi, Prof Aijaz Ali Arshad, Prof Ali Ahmad Fatmi, Prof Shahnaz Anjum, Prof Durga Prasad, Dr Mohammad Sohrab, Prof Abdul Haleem Akhgar, Prof Ali Zaheen Naqvi, Prof Sagheer Afraheem, Prof Shahzad Anjum, Prof Siraj Ajmali, Asrar Jaamayee, Dr Asif Zahri, Dr Noman Qaisar, Dr Shama Afroz Zaidi, Dr Sultana Wahidi, Dr Umair Manzar, Dr Adil Hayat, Dr Rehman Musawwir, Dr Safdar Imam Qadri, Dr Rasheed Ashraf Khan, Dr Saqib Imran, Dr Sarwarul Hoda, Dr Mohammad Mushtak (Tijarwi), Dr Naushad Manzar, Irfan Waheed, Dr Mohammad Adam, Dr Muhammad Muqim, Dr Syed Tanvir Hussain, Tasneem Kausar. Scholars from across the country and students and faculty members from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Jamia Millia Islamia and Delhi University were also present.

(Dr Khalid Mubashshir is Assistant Professor, Department of Urdu, JMI and Manzar Imam is a PhD Fellow at the Academy of International Studies, JMI)