Engr. Mohammad Zakir Ali Khan, Honorary General Secretary Aligarh Muslim University Old Boys Association of Pakistan, talks to Images on Sunday regarding the role of the University in the creation of Pakistan

The alumni of Aligarh Muslim University take pride in their association with their Alma Mater and its rich traditions. The University can trace its roots to a madressah established by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in 1875 which grew into the Mohammedan Anglo Oriental (MAO) College. In 1920, the College gained the status of a residential university and came to be named the Aligarh Muslim University.

Established with the primary objective of uplifting the intellectual standards of Indian Muslims who were, till then, averse to western education, Aligarh Muslim University was not simply an educational institution but also served as a training ground for the Muslim youth of British India, preparing them to play a leading role in all walks of life, from politics to sports. The students from Aligarh University also went on to play a vital role in the Pakistan Movement.

“I was at Aligarh University from 1940 to 1948, a time when the Pakistan movement was at its peak,” says Mr Khan. “ Though there were a number of universities in India at the time, Aligarh stood out as the institution attended by students from all over the country. Another distinguishing feature was that students from all sects and classes studied together and there was no discrimination on any basis whatsoever. The only criterion was that the student should perform well.

“Prior to 1935, the Muslim League was seen as an elitist group while Congress had its roots in the masses. After winning the 1935 elections, the Congress launched its campaign to suppress the Muslims. This convinced many Muslim leaders of the need to create a sense of identity amongst the Muslims. Bahadur Yar Jang, a true orator, who had a degree of influence over Muslims as well as Raja Sahab Mehmoodabad rose to the occasion. As did Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Usmani, a close friend of the Quaid, who played a vital role and wrote articles in several magazines to foster support for Pakistan.

“When the Pakistan movement gained momentum after the Pakistan Resolution of 1940, Aligarh University encouraged its students to participate in the struggle for independence. Quaid-i-Azam first came to the University in 1940 and would then visit almost every year. Due to its peculiar characteristics the Aligarh University provided a ready-made and well trained crop of workers to help spread the Quaid’s message.

“Students were well versed in campaigning as elections were held regularly at the University and were organised in a very systematic fashion and the candidates were chosen for their qualifications. This way the Muslim League was able to recruit trained workers. The students would meet the leaders of the Pakistan Movement who would send them in groups to all corners of the country to spread the message and to encourage students there to join the movement. As boys from all areas studied at the University, they also worked for the cause of Pakistan when they went to their hometowns and so the message spread.

“Even after the creation of Pakistan, eminent scholars who had studied at Aligarh stepped up to serve the new nation, some of their own accord and some in response to the Quaid’s call. A number of people who served the newly independent state at important posts were former students of Aligarh; they included people like, Prof. Amir Hussain Siddiqi, A.B.A. Haleem, etc.

“We cannot say that there was no contribution by the female students of Aligarh in the Pakistan Movement. Though female students observed purdah and had separate classes, they attended Quaid-i-Azam’s public addresses (jalsas), wrote articles in women’s magazines, encouraged people to join the Pakistan movement and talked about the advantages of having a separate homeland. One can say that if women hadn’t played their role, their children would not have stood up to the occasion as it is the mother who cultivates such ideas in her children. The women’s role can be highlighted by the fact that the first Vice Chancellor of Aligarh University was a woman, Nawab Sultan Jehan of Bhopal; Bi Amma (mother of Mohammadd Ali) and Mohammad Ali’s wife also played their role.

“I first met the Quaid in 1940 in Aligarh. After his speech one day, Dr Ziauddin brought him to our sports ground, where I was standing with some other students; we went close to his car, shook hands with him and said that we wanted to know more about Pakistan to which the Quaid replied that we should study the literature and then come to him prepared with questions.

“One can recall an interesting instance when Quaid-i-Azam delivered a speech at Aligarh city. He started with a few words of Urdu: “Bhayoon! Assalam Alaikum, Pakistan ki kunjee aap kay hath hai, Pakistan khazana hai aur us ki kunjee aap kay hath hai, is ka kholna aap ka kaam hai”. After this he switched over to English but the whole crowd kept sitting and listening to him, though most of them could not comprehend what he was saying. The Quaid knew that even if the people did not understand him, whatever he said left its mark on them and he was right in this estimation as many students set aside their studies to work for Pakistan. They came to Sindh, to Punjab, to NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) to take part in the election campaign. It is believed that if the Muslim League had lost the 1946 election there wouldn’t be a Pakistan to talk about.

“Not only Quaid-i-Azam but Liaquat Ali Khan also visited Aligarh University. They would come separately and were always accompanied by provincial leaders like Sardar Abdul Rab Nishtar, etc. The Quaid told the students that they should not worry about the loss of an academic year or two as they were dedicating that time towards the great cause of making a nation.

“People used to question Quaid-i-Azam’s belief that the various provinces of Pakistan with their diverse cultures and languages could live as one nation. The Quaid said that if anyone did not believe that this could happen, he should go to Aligarh and bear witness to how students from Ceylon, Burma, Bihar, Sri Lanka, etc. were living together, and if they could live in harmony in Aligarh why couldn’t they do so in Pakistan. In the hostel, three or four students would be living in one room; initially there would be some reservation, but in a few days they would mingle with each other and all differences would disappear.

“When we talk about the Aligarh spirit one can mention a lot of things, like brotherhood, unity, equality, etc. but the most suitable is ‘rising to the occasion’ and the students of Aligarh have frequently demonstrated this. The best example comes from Sir Syed’s life itself which shows that the true Aligarh spirit is to set up educational institutions where scientific learning is a must. If it was not so, the Aligarh spirit would not have been upheld. We have preserved that spirit and the ‘Sir Syed University of Engineering and Technology’ is a proof of that; it was set up by the Aligarh Muslim University Old Boys Association (AMUOBA) in 1994 (though the charter formalities were comleted in 195), after the establishment of universities by the private sector was allowed in 1993. As provided in the University Act, the President of AMUOBA became the first Chancellor of the University and Dr A. T. Khan, former Vice Chancellor of NED University, was appointed as the first VC of Sir Syed University. Before that AMUOBA had set up the Aligarh Institute of Technology; in fact, the presence of this institute facilitated in getting the charter of the University as we had the infrastructure.

“There are many universities whose academic standard may have been better than Aligarh’s but none of them can compete when it comes to character building, which is a hallmark of Aligarh University. The University also holds the distinction that six of its former students have risen to the status of president or prime minister of a country; no other university can compete in this regard.

“In 1964, the Aligarh Old Boys Association presented a plan to the then Government to establish two universities, one in Khuzdar and one in East Pakistan, on the pattern of Aligarh University. Though initially the government appreciated the idea, later it rejected the plan saying that no doubt Aligarh University had played its part in the creation of Pakistan but such institutions were no longer needed.”

Aligarh Muslim University acted as the centrepiece for the intellectual revolution of the subcontinental Muslims, and now the Aligarh Old Boys Association and the institutions created by it continue to uphold the lofty ideals that are necessary for building Pakistan in line with the enlightened vision that Sir Syed would have had for it.

Note: In the picture of Khwaja Nazimuddin which appeared in the article entitled ‘An evergreen shade’ in this slot last week, the gentleman to the right of the PM was Syed Fida Hassan

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