By Shaheer H. Khan, Ph.D.
This short article is a modest attempt to pay respect of Aligarh fraternity owed to one of the greatest personalities of the 19th centenary, whose bicentenary celebration is on Tuesday, October 17th, 2017. This is not the regular founder’s day, popularly called “Sir Syed Day” but an occasion when the “Aligs” from around the world, as the alumna of the institution are called, will converge in Aligarh to pay their tribute to Sir Syed who devoted all his life to resurrect the social, economic, and educational status of the Muslims of India, making them a part of national mainstream. Sir Syed is remembered today as a visionary who took practical steps to reinvigorate his community.
With the spotlight on Sir Syed at this time, it won’t be a bad idea to look at his achievements and what became of them on the occasion of his 200th birth anniversary.
For Aligarians, wherever they may be, the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) Alumni Associations are living links with the alma mater, and of course, a reminder of their most fruitful years. These organizations are very different from the alumni associations of some other universities. The difference lies in the one word – Aligarh. Quite a cryptic statement for non-Aligarians, but one may make sense of it after reading the rest of this article.
AMU was and still is a unique experience, being not just a great seat of higher learning, but because of its residential character where one shares 5 to 10 years of one’s life with people of a similar age group. Sharing everything, living, eating and studying together, establishes bonds of a closely knit family and this is what animates the Aligarians even later in life. As they reunite, whenever possible they re-enact the fun of the bygone days of their youth and rekindle their shared hopes and ideals and the famous ‘Aligarh Spirit’.
In any case, those who graduated from AMU love the place whole heartedly. There was something magical about the place that we fell in love with at first sight and always remember it fondly after leaving campus. As alluded to above, there was a sense of shared boyhood memories amongst the students, a spirit of generosity and a genuine concern for the community’s difficulties. This special attraction keeps them glued to AMU and they did not feel like ever leaving Aligarh even after finishing their highest degree. More often than not they settle for a job at AMU instead of exploring their full potential elsewhere.
The first “old boys Association” was founded more than a hundred years ago in Aligarh itself during Sir Syed’s lifetime with his consent to serve as a catalyst for the Aligarh movement. With the passage of time, its offshoots spread far and wide not only in the subcontinent but around the globe and enjoyed the status of independent entities as Aligarh Alumni Associations. These apolitical organizations have contributed not only to their alma mater but also to the societies where they exist.
What sustains our hopes and will is a question Aligarians in alumni associations keep asking themselves, if Sir Syed were alive today what would he have expected from Aligarh Alumni? The answer could be found in his last speech “……I built this institution for you and I am sure, you will carry the light of this institution far and wide, darkness will disappear from all around. That is the time when my soul will rest in peace that is when I will feel that I have achieved what I aspired for.”
On the occasion of Sir Syed’s birth bicentennial and more than a hundred years after his death, we have to do introspection and ask ourselves; if we the products of Sir Syed’s vision have fulfilled his dream; certainly still a debatable issue.
On October 17th, 2017 (Sir Syed’s bicentenary birthday), Aligarians will converge in Aligarh to celebrate the legacy of a great man and the Aligarh movement he started which resulted in establishment of the AMU.
The number of AMU Alumni Associations has grown rapidly in the US in the last decade due to better communication tools and the role that Aligarh Mushairas have played. Mushairas, with a strong secular tradition, have been taking Urdu poetry to the masses, entertaining and educating them. Their appeal cuts across caste, communal, linguistic, and national barriers. They have contributed greatly in keeping interest in the Urdu language alive and in unifying the people through collective celebration of universal human values in today’s society threatened by the culture of intolerance. AMUAA’s annual Mushairas are well recognized and widely acclaimed as the most sophisticated and popular in North America. During these events AMUAAs have raised funds for scholarships to meritorious and needy students to enable them in achieving their educational goals. Over the years, hundreds of students have benefited from the scholarship programs of AMUAAs.
Newcomers feel very lonely when they arrive in a foreign land but when they meet fellow alums; they feel a sense of belonging. Alumni associations enhance networking opportunities. We have several alumni as far back as the 1940s and 1950s and also newer generations born and brought up on campus connected through our networks. We are striving for a better relationship between alumni and current students so we could lend our expertise in our respective fields through on-campus/online lectures and mentorships.
The story of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and his Aligarh movement which resulted in the establishment of a unique institution is a reflection of how a person of great sacrifice, integrity, thinking, and acting upon the attainment of his cherished goal could change the tide of history for the betterment of fellow citizens.
There are many universities that are capable of producing professors, doctors, engineers but without inculcating the spirit of rising to the occasion. AMU has deep rooted traditions which are part of the growth of its graduate throughout its history. Aligarians being the sons and daughters of the soil, being part and parcel of the nation, and being the successors of Sir Syed must contribute towards the uplifement of not only Muslim community but the nation at large.
Its graduates, who were once content to seek employment in India and neighboring countries, are now placed in high positions in industry and academia, not only in India but around the globe. They proudly write “Alig” with their names. It is not very uncommon to see signed boards in India reading B.A., L.L.B. or MBBS, MD Alig. On a similar note, one can find AMU Alumni Associations listed in the telephone directory of many major cities in the Western World.
AMU has so far negotiated with its past and succeeded in creating a respectable place for itself among educational institutions in India. Sir Syed’s dream stands and it is for all of us to try to make it come true, whatever it takes.
Today, AMU symbolizes the secular ideals of the Republic of India and the aspirations of more than 150 million Muslims in India. AMU, which Sir Syed planted as a sapling in British India, has now grown into a blossoming tree.
The Aligarh alumni and present students are proud inheritors of Sir Syed’s legacy of open hearted tolerance, modern enlightened thinking, a love for scholarship, peaceful coexistence and above all a rational approach to our beliefs and our problems. More than ever, it is time that the ‘Sir Syed Model’ gains wider currency in the Muslim World.
By Shaheer H. Khan, Ph.D.
Foster City, CA, USA