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Aligarh Movement and Muslim

Nationalism 1
Aligarh Movement and Muslim Nationalism

Role of Aligarh Movement in building Muslim Nationalism

Sarmad Lashari

SZABIST, Karachi.
Aligarh Movement and Muslim
Nationalism 2

This research paper is an analytical view of the Aligarh Movement, the new idea that changed

the paradigms of Muslim politics in the sub-continent. It is also interesting to see the double

dealing of our scholars, at one point they resisted to merge with the Indian ethos, principles and

culture which was their local identity and on the other hand, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan wanted to

restore trust and confidence with British Government. He tried to implement the British style of

living, adopting and accepting their culture as Aligarh Movement‟s motto.

This paper will uncover how the Aligarh movement helped to construct the favorable atmosphere

for independence and how the original culture and way of living of Muslims was manipulated by

enlightenment and progression towards the British education system.

Aligarh Movement and Muslim
Nationalism 3
Role of Aligarh Movement in building Muslim Nationalism

The Aligarh Movement was an attempt to rectify the political system of Muslims by enhancing

the British education and political field. This change in nature was obtained successfully under

the dynamic leadership of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan.

According to Ashok Mehta “No only the Muslims were economically crushed,

educationally and socially also their position was deliberately depressed by the government. In

1870, the Mohammedan pleaders presented two memorials to the high court pointing out that

while closed holidays allowed to Christians were sixty two and to Hindus fifty two, only eleven

were granted to Mohammedans. This shows the injustice to Muslims and they were also hated by

the international world, the British government blamed the Muslims for waging the War of


Aligarh Movement resulted in Muslim nationalism in the country and brought social and

political awareness amongst Muslim youth. This movement proved to be the torch bearer of the

Two-Nation theory and ultimately lead to the creation of Pakistan.

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Nationalism 4
KK Aziz, a historian in his “The making of Pakistan” pays tribute to the Great Leader Sir Syed

Ahmed Khan in the following words “Syed‟s services to his community may be summarized in

the following phrases: Preached and practiced loyalty to the British rule. From his speeches,

writings and letters it is not difficult to read his mind. First, the only way nipping off the stigma

of Muslim instigation of the mutiny was to make friends with the British and thus to make them

disabuse the idea that Muslims were their traditional enemies. He was sagacious enough to

realize that British control would not cease in any foreseeable future. It was ordinary common

sense to be on good terms with the rulers”.

Aligarh movement was the direct corollary of the catastrophe of the 1857 War of Independence,

in which the Muslims failed to dislodge the British from the Sub-Continent. Consequently, the

British rulers turned against the Muslims and they victimized them in political, economic, social

and educational fields.

Factors which lead to the Aligarh Movement were:

1. Educational backwardness of the Muslims

2. Need for better social status

3. Need for friendly relations with the British Government

4. Economic distress of the Muslim community

The most severe was the economic distress. According to W.W. Hunter “ All sorts of

employment, big and small were being gradually snatched away from the Mohammedans and

bestowed on men of other races, particularly the Hindus”.

A survey conducted in 1871 showed that out of a total 2171 persons employed in the

Bengal government, only 92 were Muslims with 711 Hindus and 1338 Europeans”.
Aligarh Movement and Muslim
Nationalism 5
After the War of Independence, the British had become suspicious of the role of the

Muslim community. Sir Syed wanted to restore the prestige of the Muslims in their eyes.

The Aligarh Movement began with the publication of Sir Syed‟s pamphlet “Essay on the causes

of the Indian Revolt” in 1858. In this pamphlet, he attributed the mutiny to the British ignorance

of the Indian mind. Later on, he wrote „The loyal Mohammedans of India‟ in which he defended

the Muslims against the British charge of loyalty.

Dr. Ishtiaq Qureshi writes “From 1858 up to about 1870 nearly all British politicians, authors

and administrators unresistingly blamed the Muslims for the mutiny, but in the 1870‟s a change

in British opinion was visible.”

Muslim nationalism emerged and the two nation theory came into records. Sir Syed used the

word „Nation” for the Sub continent. Here exists a conflict, He saw a problem of Muslims living

in India and believed that Muslims had their distinct culture and a separate country shall be

labeled on the basis of religion. At the same time, He preached the people to get English

education and accept foreign dominancy. Muslims were going on a lower level of slavery

because of this. Muslims were resistant at that time and today, same is the case. Hardliner

Muslims are still struggling against the policies of the west. According to V.A. Smith “Sir Syed

was not concerned with material things only. His movement was inspired by one of general

reforms. It was inspired by the thought that Muslims of India were separate people and Nation

who must not be absorbed with Hinduism”

The effects of the Aligarh movement can be summarized as under:

1. Removal of mistrust between the Muslims and the British.

2. Education of the Muslim community.

3. Economic Prosperity of the Muslims.

Aligarh Movement and Muslim
Nationalism 6
4. Promotion of Urdu language

5. Evolution of Muslim Leadership

6. Respectable Social Status of the Muslims

Sir Syed was a great educationist; educational institutions established under the influence

of Aligarh Movement educated the Muslim community. MAO College Aligarh alone produced

thousands of graduates who formed the vanguard of Muslim renaissance.

According to Chaudhry Rehmat Ali “The monumental work of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan

was the founding of MAO College at Aligarh in 1877. He wanted to build a University which

was later fulfilled in 1920. The College was more than an educational institution. It was a symbol

of broad movement affecting every phase of Muslim life- religious, economic, social and

literary. To carry the message of Muslim reformation, Sir Syed organized the Muslim

educational Conference which used to hold public meetings in various parts of the country

advocating the need of education in the country for Muslims. The greatest service these meetings

did was to arouse a spirit of action and self help within the Muslims of the Sub Continent”.

In the views of V.A Smith “In 1920, the MAO College became the Aligarh Muslim

University. It both enabled the talented young Muslims to compete on terms with the Hindus for

government service and in a public life and gave him a dynamic which his community seemed to

have lost”

The Aligarh Movement not only inculcated the spirit of nationalism in the Muslims but

also educated them and brought prosperity and progress in their ranks. Knowledge of English

language and modern science enabled the Muslims to get important government jobs. Thus with

the passage of time the number of Muslim government servant grew at an amazing rate and thus

employment and influence brought economic prosperity to the Muslim community.

Aligarh Movement and Muslim
Nationalism 7
Consequently they were able to participate in the political and social movements with greater


Also, the Aligarh movement did a great service to Muslims in preserving their cultural

values which included the Urdu language. The Hindi-Urdu controversy had convinced Sir Syed

that the Hindus were not sincere towards the Muslims. He issued a magazine entitled „Tehzib ul

ikhlaq‟ in Urdu language in order to promote Urdu. Eminent Urdu writers like Syed Ahmed,

Shibli Nomani, Mohsin Ul Mulk, Maulana Hali and Maulana Muhammad Hussain Azad

contributed a number of articles for this magazine. These articles were written in simple

language which resulted in Urdu language being promoted immensely.

The movement not only educated the Muslims but also groomed their political leadership

skills. After the death of Sir Syed in 1898, his colleagues led the Muslim Nation successfully.

These leaders matched the wits and skills of their adversaries effectively and defended the

political and social rights of Muslims. After getting educated and becoming prosperous

economically, Muslims also acquired a respectable social status and position in the Hindu

dominated society. Muslims succeeded in occupying high governmental posts and started

wielding power.

The negative side of the Aligarh movement is that it separated the Muslims from the co-

existence with the Hindus in the Sub Continent. If both the communities were together today, we

would have been a super power in the world with greater economic power and cultural values of

both the communities intact separately.

The British system has many drawbacks. We have lost our originality and authenticity in

every field be it education, health or culture. We are still the ideological slaves of the British

Empire. If the Muslims had refused the Aligarh Movement, who knows that we might have been
Aligarh Movement and Muslim
Nationalism 8
the next Korea or China. Even today their exists a resistance of the so called enlightenment and

progress. We made our masters happy by making our neighbors angry.

Aligarh Movement and Muslim
Nationalism 9

Ikram Rabbani, Introduction to Pakistan Studies, Caravan Book House, Lahore (2005)

AhsanUllah Saqib, Pakistan Affairs, Dogar Publishers, Lahore (2002- 2003)

K.K. Aziz, the Making of Pakistan.

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Nationalism 10
Author Note

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Nationalism 11
Aligarh Movement and Muslim
Nationalism 12
Table 1

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Nationalism 13
Figure Captions

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