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Have Indian Muslims failed Sir Syed?

By Zahid Jamil

Indian Muslims around the world are currently commemorating bicentennial celebrations of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the founder of Aligarh Muslim University in India. He was a great visionary who believed that Muslim of India could not progress without modern education. He was a pragmatist Islamic scholar and a reformist whose main objective was to bring about the change in the psyche of Indian Muslims.

Muslim scholars and clergy, over previous couple of hundred years, had embraced radical ideas and myths. In a reaction to British rule, who had captured power from Muslim rulers, religious leaders discouraged modern education, leading to non-progressive attitude of Muslims at large.

AMU Jama Masjid, Aligarh

Born on 17 Oct 2017, Sir Syed belonged to an aristocratic family of Delhi and was thus able to travel to England for higher studies. Upon his return from England, he was ambitious to establish a British style institution which could offer quality education to Muslims. He established Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College in 1875. Surely, his long term vision was not to limit quality education to a few who attended the reputable institution but to inspire Muslims across the nation to achieve similar goal.

Sir Syed, battling sickness and old age died on 27 March 1898. His Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College in Aligarh continued to prosper, eventually becoming a national university in 1920. However, only a select few from a vast majority of relatively poor Muslims could reach there.

It must be noted that by and large, Indian Muslims were under influence of misguided Muslim clergy who vehemently opposed the modern system of education believing that science and logic taught in English was at variance with the tenets of Islam. They looked upon the study of English as little less than embracing of Christianity.

As Indian nation battled to seek independence, political divide between Hindus and Muslims worsened and independence from British also lead to division of the country. A large number of Muslims, many of them educated, from North India migrated to Pakistan. This left Indian Muslims as a minority which had lost trust of Hindu majority. They were pushed to limits, faced discrimination on various fronts. Repeated communal riots weakened them further and they are now counted among the lowest socio-economic communities of India.

Muslim intellectuals, themselves distressed due to partition, failed to follow the great example of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan since independence. They failed to inspire Muslim masses to seek and excel in modern education.

According to latest census data released in 2016, 42.7 per cent of Muslims are illiterate compared to 36.4 of Hindus, 32.5 for Sikhs, 28.2 for Buddhists and 25.6 for Christians.

The situation is worse when it comes to higher education. As per government statistics of 2015, Muslims comprise 14% of India’s population but account for 4.4% of students enrolled in higher education. Looking at primary education, again Muslims fair badly compared to non-Muslims. According to a recent research paper, 63.23 % of Muslim boys drop out at the end of Primary education stage and 78.66% at the end of secondary school. For Muslim girls it is 59.26% at the end of primary education stage and 79.02% at the end of secondary school.

Extremely poor performance in education reflects in jobs, needing qualifications, be it clerical, administrative, technical or professional. Prestigious government jobs have very little representation of Muslims. Muslims had been found to be only 3% in the IAS (Indian Administrative Services), 1.8% in the IFS (Indian Foreign Services) and 4% in the IPS (Indian Police Services). At the same time, Muslims have a very high representation in menial jobs such as rikshaw pullers, handicraft factories workers and other labouring jobs.

Surely Muslims of India continue to struggle and the great vision of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan failed to become a reality.

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