The nearly unfeasible or impossible task of changing people, society, their mindset, behaviour, lifestyle, etc. to bring reform and that too, many years ago when just having two squares of the meal was considered sufficient, can only be done by an exceptional, astonishing and valorous soul: 'Our Sir Syed'!

There is one famous quotation by Malala Yousafzai that

“One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world”.
And this book, this pen, this child, and this teacher is our soothsayer Sir Syed, who came to bless this nation on 17 October 1817.

“It's always easier to make bucks but it’s a lot tougher to make a difference”.

During this prolonged and challenging journey, from changing obsolete society to modernization, he faced several critics, struggles, difficulties, and even was misunderstood by people. But he was sturdy enough to face these complications, he moved on fearlessly. His sole motive since the start was the intellectual and mental development of his people through the introduction of Modern education. Interest and the welfare of the people remained his top priority all through his life. Indeed it was a difficult road on which he stepped but he always believed and preached that

“Difficult roads always lead to beautiful destinations”.

“In order to win the battle, one must know his enemies well”.
Thus he decided to work with British East Company and have a close look at their lifestyle, way of working, mindset, and yes most importantly their next steps. So the very first step he took in the direction of his dreams, was in 1838 when he entered the service of East India Company, he served the British for a long period, became their loyal, and cleverly noticed their each and every activity. From here he learned the importance of the English language. He understood that it was English where they lacked and this is when the roots of Modern Education strengthened in his mind. Almost all the sources, materials, and knowledge of modern arts and science were available only in English and he considered it as a major weapon to fight back against the British and moreover to stand out in life.

But the major challenge in front of him was to win the credence of people as they hated Britishers and he was already portrayed as their loyal. At first, people did not believe him and considered him a crook who is in-friend with Britishers and wanted to make them forget their Arabic language and Arab culture but after a lot of effort and hardships of Sir Syed, they gradually realised that he was a strong supporter of them and is their well-wisher who wants to serve them selflessly.

This was one of Sir Syed's biggest social policies which led English education to a head-start and one step forward towards his goals. From this step to all remaining struggle, he was all alone, no one came forward to support him initially, But “No society can ever be so large as one man with vigour of ambition” and he moved further reluctantly carrying his magnificent vision ahead. He was robust enough to face obstructions and not to let anything come in his way. But the stroke of the Revolt 1857, blew so tight that it shattered everything; yes even Sir Syed! The sudden wave of revolt in 1857 stimulated the terror of British in the society as they destroyed houses, properties, and even the lives of people including Sir Syed and his relatives. In these harsh times, Sir Syed stated that he was not grieved that his property or house was plundered or he was threatened to death but what saddened him was the misery and destruction of the society: his people.

This was the moment that created intense unease for Sir Syed but he stood like a pillar for his people and worked tirelessly day and night, ignoring all the obstructions and overcoming from conspiracies of his friends, family, and enemies. Sir Syed was popularly known as the “man who knew tomorrow” by many people. After proving himself multiple times, people started believing him. Having exposure to both traditional as well as modern education, he was considered the link between the Oriental and western worlds. He always considered modern education and literacy as a powerful weapon or an antidote to the entire dilemma and thus ended up writing and publishing few books, magazines, journals, etc. against Britishers fearlessly.

It was the true nationalism and patriotic sense in the heart and mind of Sir Syed that in 1859, he bravely published Asbab-e-Baghawat-e-Hind, exposing aggressive and ridiculous policies of British East India company and causes of the revolt of 1857, even after much more many life-threatening warnings from Britishers. Being from an educated background, he knew the importance of education and began promoting western-style scientific education by establishing modern schools, journals, etc. In 1847 he wrote, "Monuments of the Great" emphasizing antiquities of Delhi and also his interest in religion made him write a book on the Life of Prophet Muhammad(Sal-am) as well as created a modern transformation of the holy Quran in several volumes to make people understand that religion and modern scientific education and Islamic believes can go hand in hand. In the year 1859, he established Gulshan School at Moradabad, followed by Victoria school at Ghazipur. He travelled to many places, delivered many speeches provoking people and the government, from time to time about the most underestimated topics regarding educational changes and reforms, upliftment of Muslims, women's education, etc. Moreover, he was the first person who published archeological work and studied in an Indian Language which was earlier available only in western languages, also responsible for collecting sculptures, artifacts of many Hindu deities, etc because of this contribution to Indian education, he became the honorary member of Royal Asiatic Society.

The next big step after Asbab-e-Baghawat-e-Hind, was the foundation of Scientific Society, earlier known as Translation Society in 1864, Ghazipur with the motive to translate western science, art, literature, and other educational text into native languages for maximum reach. This society is comprised of both Hindus and Muslims cooperating equally for its development. In 1866, Sir Syed wrote, "The Aligarh Institute Gazette", followed by " Tehzib-ul-Akhlaq" which opened people's minds and helped them to realize the importance of modern education.

All of these steps were not sufficient to feed his reformative hunger. He made a firm decision to establish an institution just like those impressive European institutions like Oxford and Cambridge Universities, in Aligarh, on his visits to England in 1869. He strived hard to fulfill his desire to enlighten his nation and ultimately after the continuous hustle of a few years, his hard work paid off in the form of MAO college in Aligarh (1875) which in return filled the gap between tradition and modernity.

This move is popularly known as the Aligarh movement which highlighted the patter of tiny feet of our first Muslim University in South Asia and marked a major contribution to modernity.

Sir Syed was equally sympathetic towards women and kept women’s education and rights in mind. He was such a brave voice that tried to goad about women's education in the 19th century when the status of women was at its worst. It was a male-dominant society and not even men were ready to accept modern education. His views differed significantly from other Muslims on the topics of divorce, domestic violence, and fought for women’s rights. He contributed greatly to the passing of ‘The Civil Rights Act of 1866’ which provides empowerment to women. He respected women and emphasized their education from the starting due to the fact that he learned Quran from a female in his early life.

Those infinite struggles and hardships of Sir Syed and his contribution to modern education cannot be described in words. Mahatma Gandhi too praised him by saying “ Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was the profit of education in India”. It will not be wrong if I say that he introduced education and spread awareness amongst people so much so that it even stands in the mind of people today.

Yes indeed, this journey of mindset changing was not easy. It was full of struggles, disappointment, controversies, ignorance. It even led him to jail and was proved guilty in people's eyes due to some conspirators who were eagerly waiting for his downfall, but his dreams kept him moving. One of his golden sayings is:

“Call me by whatever names you like. I won't ask you for my salvation. But please take pity on your children. Do something for them, lest you should have to repent."

His desire to achieve his goal was above every negative vibe. He never abandoned hope and finally became successful in bringing everyone to his side. Slowly and gradually people started believing him and his ideology and started supporting him.

“ One man in the right will finally get to be a majority”

Sir Syed was a strong, tender, vigorous, visionary reformer who meticulously and selflessly not only heave his nation out from foreign torture but also acted as a torchbearer who enlightened our paths from traditional to modern education. He hailed from a wealthy family that was in close relation to the Mughal court. He could enjoy a comfortable and luxurious life from an early age but instead, he chose to serve his nation no matter what it cost him. This challenging task of changing that old traditional, stubborn societal mindset of people to the establishment and success of MAO college, made people question his sanity, but he never resigned himself. He was a man of words who never changed his opinions and principles and kept intact to his roots. He believed that “If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary”. Thus he took every risk, every chance, and never settled for less. He never differentiated between Hindus and Muslims instead he symbolized them as two eyes of a beautiful bride(Hindustan). He never believed in fate, for him every person create his own destiny by their hard work and dedication. He used to say:

"Khudi ko kar buland itna ki har Taqdeer se pehle,
khuda banday se pooche bata teri raza kya hai"

He devoted his entire life to our welfare, fighting, hustling for us, and finally left us all on 27th March 1898, turning his vision into reality. His efforts in the form of AMU are now shining bright in the world. He was the eye of the nation: “Just like eyes, he gave us the vision of modern education to see the world more clearly and also was the Eye that cried in the pain of its other body parts!” He organized the Mohammedan Educational Conference which even after his death kept explaining to people the importance of modern education. Many trust and organizations contributed to the making of institutions in Tamil Nadu, Ambur, Bengal, etc. taking inspiration from MAO and Sir Syed. He indeed is not with us today but his principles, discipline, contribution, words, messages, and works will always keep on reminding us of his great deeds and sacrifices.

“Tumhe kehta hai murda kon, tum zindo mei zinda ho

Tumhari khoobiyan zinda , tumhari nekiyan baaqi”

He will keep inspiring young hearts to never give up on their dreams, however difficult they seem, however, struggles and opposition one faces. He is still alive in us, in every Alig, in every room, every wall, every brick, and every student of our AMU.

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