Sir Syed Ahmed Khan established All India Muhammadan Educational Congress, later ren­a­med as All India Muslim Educa­tional Conference (AIMEC), in 1886, with the aims of bringing the Muslims of India on one platform, educating the Muslims on modern and scientific lines, promoting research and publications and reforming the Muslim educational systems prevalent at that time.

The AIMEC indeed changed the shape of education in India as well as politics since an extension of the AIMEC was All India Muslim League, the party that was born during AIMEC’s 1906 annual meeting and that ran the Pakistan Movement.

After independence, a part of Sir Syed’s movement moved to Pakistan and continued the mission.

Among the prominent figures that carried the torch in Pakistan was Syed Altaf Ali Barelvi.

Recently, Dr Kehkashan Naz’s PhD dissertation Syed Altaf Ali Barelvi ki taleemi, ilmi aur siyasi khidmaat has appeared in book form — with amendments and additions. Supervised by Prof Dr Syed Jaffar Ahmed and published by Karachi University’s Pakistan Study Centre, the book evaluates — and eulogises — the educational, academic and political services that Altaf Barelvi rendered.

According to the author, Syed Altaf Ali Barelvi was born on July 10, 1905, in Bareli, UP, India (page 120). But this date is incorrect as Altaf Barelvi himself had mentioned in his diary, which the author quotes, too. It reads: “According to high school certificate, which is not correct, my age today Dec 14, 1950, is 45 years, 5 months and 4 days” (p121). This corresponds exactly to his date of birth mentioned by the author and quoted above, but she did not delve further to investigate what his correct date of birth was. She then quotes Altaf Barelvi as saying “I was born in 1905” which leaves the reader guessing if the year is correct and the day and month are inaccurate.

Having passed his BA from Aligarh Muslim University, Altaf Barelvi took admission to LLB but could not finish it since he had begun taking part in local politics. Soon he started rendering social and educational services in his native town Bareli. At the same time, he penned an authentic work on the life of Hafiz Rahmat Khan, the 18th century ruler of Rohilkhand, northern India. First appearing in 1934, the book, Hayat-i-Hafiz Rahmat Khan, proved to be an important and authentic source on the history of Rohilkhand. The book became immensely popular and shot its writer to fame. Later, the book was translated into English and was published from Karachi in 1966.

Altaf Barelvi was selected office secretary of All India Muslim Educational Confe­rence’s Aligarh office. In Ali­garh, Altaf Barelvi established ‘Anjuman-i-musannifeen’, or writers’ association, to promote literary activities. He launched Musannif, a literary magazine from Aligarh. But after independence, the atmosphere at Aligarh had changed. According to Dr Naz, Dr Zakir Hussain Khan had become Aligarh Mus­lim University’s vice chancellor and he was politically inclined to Congress, so Altaf Barelvi, a supporter of Muslim League, developed some differences with him. Because of the political pressures, she writes, the working of Muslim Educational Conference, too, suffered which disheartened Altaf Barelvi and he resigned from the conference. In 1950, he migrated to Pakistan, settling in Karachi.

In January 1951, Altaf Barelvi established, on the lines of the AIMEC, All Pakistan Muslim Educational Conference at Karachi. Major Shamsuddin Mohammad, an old friend of Altaf Barelvi and former minister in Bahawalpur State, who had settled in Karachi, played a vital role in re-establishing the movement in Pakistan. In fact, it was Shamsuddin Mohammad’s house where the conference was founded and initially ran with his financial support. Later, the word ‘Muslim’ was dropped from the nomenclature of the conference. The All Pakistan Educa­tional Conference (APEC) pla­y­ed an all-important role in the educational, literary and cultural life of the nascent country generally and the city of Karachi specially.

The APEC began a publishing house, a library, a free reading room and Sir Syed Girls’ College at Karachi. Though later the government and its various departments began supporting the APEC, it had begun working on education front when even the government of Pakistan was strug­gling to chalk out and implement its education policies. The conference has so far published over 100 books on education, literature, culture, philosophy, science and history.

It launched a literary and research journal Al-Ilm in July 1951, which continued its publication for over 60 years. The book discusses in detail Altaf Barelvi’s books and his articles. Some of his other books include The struggle of Muslims in education, Talib-i-ilm ki diary, Rahi aur rahnuma, Taleem-o-tallum, Ali­garh tehreek aur qaumi nazmen and Maqalat-i-Barelvi.

The book is an authentic source not only on Altaf Barelvi’s life and works but the political and educational history of Indo-Pak subcontinent. Dr Kehkashan Naz has referred to an amazingly large number of research works and has drawn conclusions supported by the evidences. This kind of sifting through source material and painstaking rese­arch is becoming rarer by the day among our research students and scholars. So one can safely say that Pakistan Study Centre has maintained the standard of research for which its publications and research works are known.

Syed Altaf Ali Barelvi died in Karachi on Sept 23, 1986.

Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2017