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AMU becoming Leader of Muslim Education once again

Sunday January 15, 2012 09:16:40 PM, Kaleem Kawaja

In the modern history of the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent after the end of the six hundred year long Muslim ruling era in 1857, their emancipation by acquiring modern education starting in late 1800s represents a very courageous turning point. The widespread British suppression and degrading of Muslims of all classes following the failure of the 1857 revolution was savage and impacted all classes of Muslims.


However in the late 1800s a few Muslim leaders across the country embarked on a path to emancipate the Muslim community through modern education by building modern Muslim educational institutions. Two of them who succeeded and whose institutions have continued to flourish for over a hundred years now are Sir Syed Ahmad Khan of Aligarh and Badruddin Tyebjee of Bombay.

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan built the Mohammadon Anglo Oriental School and College in Aligarh in 1874, where he introduced curriculum from the prominent universities of Britain and employed British teachers. Also in 1874 Badruddin Tyabjee built the Anjuman Islam school and college in Bombay.


Today over a hundred years later the initiative in Aligarh has blossomed into the large and renowned Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). The other initiative in Bombay has blossomed into the Anjuman Islam Colleges and schools numbering about 80. In the pre-1947 era both institutions prospered with encouragement from the then British-Indian government. The Anjuman Islam colleges/schools were not built as a residential and unitary institutions, but AMU was built as one.

While Anjuman emphasized education of Muslims but not the handling of their social-political issues, AMU did both with a view to create the future Muslim leadership. As the Pakistan movement heated up in north India in the 1930s, willingly or unwillingly the political future of the Muslims of India became a major feature of AMU. After 1947 while Anjuman Islam, not having been sucked into the vortex of the Pakistan movement did not suffer significant political recriminations in Hindu majority India, AMU suffered grievous discrimination for about a quarter century. Thus in post-independence India AMU became much more than a Muslim university; it became a symbol of the middleclass Muslims and a beacon of hope for the emancipation of the community.

Gradually over the years as the political parties and forces have realized the importance of Muslims as an integral part of India and AMU too has shed its excluvist tendencies, AMU is again being looked upon by successive governments and parties in power as one of the major avenues through whom the Muslim community should be approached.

In the last several decades the educational backwardness of Indian Muslims and its contribution to the overall socioeconomic backwardness of the community has become an open gnawing wound. The 2007 Justice Sachar Committee report on this subject has put the government's responsibility to bring educational empowerment of the Muslim community on the front burner. Not only Congress party, even the BJP simply can not ignore this need. It is this realization that led the government to plan the building of several higher educational colleges for Muslims in various Muslim concentration districts in the country that could grow in due course of time into Muslim universities, as recommended by the Sachar Committee.

However, the government faced a major problem that the Indian constitution prohibits building such facilities for only one religious community and the sizeable anti-Muslim forces are in no mood to let that happen. That is when they thought of expanding an existing Muslim university by building its remote centers across the country. They had only two universities to chose from; AMU and Jamia Milia Islamia. AMU is far more well established with a well established system of instruction, curriculum, research, academic management, residential facilities for students, large colleges of Medicine, Engineering, Law, Business Management, Science etc. Also in comparison, AMU is a century old internationally known Muslim university. Thus AMU became the government's choice.

With the planned establishment of five AMU centers of higher education in places far away from Aligarh, three of which are well underway in Murshidabad (West Bengal), Mallapuram (Kerala), Kishanganj (Bihar), AMU is being transformed from being a single university for Muslims into a university system for Indian Muslims. While AMU does not have a reservation for Muslim students it does have a reservation for "internal students". That means preferential admission of AMU's own students to its professional and higher science colleges. Since the dominant culture and ethos of AMU is Muslim-centric most students at higher secondary level where students are relatively young tend to be Muslims. So that makes the internal student reservation an indirect reservation for Muslims.

This system of "internal students quota" has been upheld by the Courts as being legal, as under Article 30 of the Indian Constitution minorities are allowed to set up their own systems of management. Also this is not a reservation for Muslims as anyone is allowed to become an internal student at AMU. By virtue of being centers of AMU, the internal student reservation system can be extended to its remote centers without infringing any laws of the nation. Thus the government can fund the establishment of the AMU remote centers. It should be noted that to- date none of the anti-Muslim parties and groups including BJP have raised any voice of protest against the establishment of remote AMU Centers funded by the government.

The plan calls for the five AMU Centers to grow under the administration at AMU, Aligarh, transferring academic management know how, management of teaching and student bodies, curriculum etc from AMU to its remote centers. The expectation is that in due course of time the remote centers will become their own Muslim universities. Since all AMU remote centers are being built in heavy Muslim concentration districts it is natural that it will spread higher education in the educationally backward Muslim community. That will bring empowerment and socioeconomic growth to the backward Muslim community in due course of time.

It should be noted that the first Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) was built in Kharagpur, West Bengal in 1954. Thereafter utlizing IIT Kharagpur's system of academic administration, curriculum, bodies of teachers and students etc more autonomous IITs were built in Bombay, Madras, Kanpur, Delhi and later in Roorkee and Gauhati. From one IIT it became an IIT system. Today all these IITs have developed their own culture and system and the coordination among them is happening very successfully. The plan for the AMU system and its centers expects to emulate the successful IIT model.

Just as in the pre-1947 era AMU was a leader of higher education for Muslims in the Indian subcontinent and Muslims came from all over the country to study there, today AMU is again becoming the leader, leading the resurgence of higher education in the backward Muslim community all over the country, from West Bengal to Kerala. In the process AMU is also on the path to lead the socioeconomic emancipation of the depressed Muslim community on an all-India basis.

Most Indian Muslims and alumnus of AMU have welcomed this government initiative. But a few in the AMU community are apprehensive that the expansion of AMU from one university in Aligarh to the AMU system spread over the entire country may cause the dilution of the privileges they enjoy at Aligarh. Their anxieties are imaginary and a generic reaction to change per se. But change is the law of nature and after 130 years AMU too can not remain static. More than anything AMU must respond to the challenge that the extraordinary educational backwardness of the Indian Muslim community represents, and must lead the path forward to the uplift of the entire Indian Muslim community. The expansion of AMU also represents the fulfilment of the vision of AMU's founders who saw AMU's future not just as one college but as a catalyst for the establishment of clones of AMU in Muslim communities throughout the country that will emancipate the entire community.


The writer is a community activist. He can be reached on:




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