Sir Syed Ahmed Khan born on October 17, 1817 at Delhi, and died March 27, 1898 at Aligarh, was a Muslim educator, jurist, and author, founder of the Mohammedan Anglo Oriental College at Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, India. His father, who received an allowance from the Mughal administration, became something of a religious recluse; his maternal grandfather had twice served as prime minister of the Mughal emperor of his time and had also held positions of trust under the East India Company. Sir Syed's brother established one of the first printing presses at Delhi and started one of the earliest newspapers in Urdu.
The death of Sir Syed's father left the family in financial difficulties. For his livelihood, he started his career as a clerk with the East India Company in 1838. He qualified three years later as a sub-judge and served in the judicial department at various places.
Sir Syed Ahmad had a versatile personality, and his position in the judicial department left him time to be active in many fields. His career as an author (in Urdu) started at the age of 23 with religious tracts. In 1847 he brought out a noteworthy book, Athar Assanadid ("Monuments of the Great"), on the antiquities of Delhi.
Even more important was his pamphlet, "The Causes of the Indian Revolt". In this booklet he ably and fearlessly laid bare the weaknesses and errors of the British administration that had led to dissatisfaction and a countrywide explosion. Widely read by British officials, it had considerable influence on British policy.
His interest in religion was also active and lifelong. He began a sympathetic interpretation of the Bible, wrote Essay on the Life of Muhammad (PBUH) (translated into English by his son), and founded time to write several volumes of a modernist commentary on the Quran. In these works he sought to harmonise the Islamic faith with scientific and politically progressive ideas of his time.
The supreme interest of Sir Syed's life was education, in its widest sense. He began by establishing schools, at Muradabad (1858) and Ghazipur (1863). A more ambitious undertaking was the foundation of the Scientific Society, which published translations of many educational texts and issued a bilingual journal, in Urdu and English.
These institutions were for the use of all citizens and were jointly operated by the Hindus and the Muslims. During a visit to England (1869-70) he prepared plans for a great educational institution, they were for "a Muslim Cambridge". On his return he set up a committee for the purpose and also started an influential journal, Tahdhib al-Akhlaq ("Social Reform"), for the "uplift and reform of the Muslim".
Establishment of Aligarh Institute
A Muslim school was established at Aligarh in May 1875, and, after his retirement in 1876, Sir Syed devoted himself to enlarging it into a college. In January 1877 the foundation stone of the college was laid by the Viceroy. This college made rapid progress. In 1886 Sir Syed organized the All-India Muhammadan Educational Conference, which met annually at different places to promote education and to provide the Muslims with a common platform. Sir Syed advised the Muslims against joining active politics and to concentrate instead on education. Until the founding of the Muslim League in 1906, it was the principal national centre of Indian Islam.
Later, when some Muslims joined the Indian National Congress, he came out strongly against that organisation and its objectives, which included the establishment of parliamentary democracy in India. He argued that, in a country where communal divisions were all-important and education and political organisations were confined to a few classes, parliamentary democracy would work only inequitably. Muslims, generally, followed his advice and abstained from politics until several years later when they had established their own political organisation i.e. Muslim League.
This great scholar and leader died on 27 March, 1898, at Aligarh, India. May Allah rest his soul in peace.