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Abdul Majeed Khwaja: 2nd Jamia VC and Last Link to Golden Chain of 'Elders of Jamia'

If anyone wishes to look at Jamia’s change and continuity, s/he is bound to look at Khwaja Sahab

Thursday October 29, 2020 12:03 PM, Manzar Imam, ummid.com

Abdul Majeed Khwaja

[Founders of Jamia hoarding by AAJMI (A. M. Khwaja first from left) - Photo by Manzar Imam]

As Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) completes 100 years of its life today, one person that the Jamia fraternity cannot ever thank enough for his devotion, dedication and sacrifices that ran through the longest duration is Abdul Majeed Khwaja.

Khwaja Sahab, as Abdul Majeed Khwaja was affectionately known as, served - first as Vice Chancellor and then as Chancellor of the Jamia Millia Islamia for the longest duration in its span of hundred years. Jamia’s history will remain incomplete without his mention.

Abdul Majeed Khwaja is also probably the first and the last strong link connecting the whole post-Independence Jamia story to its past. Therefore, if anyone wishes to look at Jamia’s change and continuity, s/he is bound to look at Khwaja Sahab.

Abdul Majeed Khwaja was born at Aligarh in 1885. His father Khwaja Muhammad Yusuf had closely worked with Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the founder of Muhammad Anglo Oriental (MAO) College which later became Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). He was educated at MAO College, Aligarh after which he went to Cambridge and was called to the Bar. At Cambridge his contemporaries included Jawaharlal Nehru, Saifuddin Kitchlew, Syed Mahmud and T. A. K. Sherwani, all of whom joined India’s freedom movement.

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Khwaja Sahab was a committed Congressman who had joined the party in 1915 and, despite ups and downs, remained with it till his last breath. He also remained associated with Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind almost from the beginning and was in the Khilafat delegation that went to England. He was Junior Law Professor at MAO College, had served as its Trustee and was also Secretary of the MAO Old Boys’ Association.

Like Dr Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari’s residence in Delhi, Khwaja Sahab's house in Aligarh served as a meeting place and ‘political guest house’. Therefore, dignitaries like Mahatma Gandhi, Shaikhul Hind Maulana Mahmud Hasan and others who went to Aligarh with regard to the foundation of Jamia, stayed at his residence.

Khwaja Sahab was a distinguished lawyer, was quite famous in Patna High Court. But, in response to the call for non-cooperation which included boycotting the British Government supported education, he gave up his legal practice, and got himself involved in the formation and building of Jamia.

Being a native of Aligarh, his role was all-encompassing in the establishment and nurturing of Jamia. He was active both in social and political work and served as Chairman of Aligarh Municipal Board. In connection with the Non-Cooperation Movement, he was arrested when he served as Vice Chancellor of Jamia during Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar’s increasing involvement in political activities and suffered imprisonment.

Khwaja Sahab also lent support to the Muslim League for a long time. However, when in 1940, the League announced for a separate Muslim state, he along with most nationalist Muslims strongly opposed it and, supported all the Muslim parties which then opposed the League. He was also a member of the Muslim Nationalist Party founded by Dr Ansari, favoured joint Electorates and was a great advocate of Hindu-Muslim unity. He also wrote a book, “Communalism in India: its Origins and Growth”.

Jamia Millia Night View

[A night view of JMI campus (Photo: Manzar Imam)]

When students, teachers, workers, volunteers and other members associated with Jamia were shown the exit door at Aligarh, it was his house and his connection and influence that came to their rescue. However, things did not go well for long and finally it was decided to shift Jamia to Delhi. There were many factors for it. Highlighting some of these problems Mohammad Talib writes:

“The scheme of Jamia Islamia, propounded by Nawab Viqarul Mulk, Honorary Secretary of the M.A.O. College, at Aligarh was concretised in terms of place, physical location, mode of teacher-taught relations and organizational principles. But the practical outcome eluded the original idea.”

Events associated with World War I, dismemberment of the Turkish Empire coupled with problems in India including in Aligarh were all affecting things which were making the functioning of Jamia difficult. Khwaja Sahab’s role in shifting Jamia from Aligarh to Delhi is one of his most memorable contributions.

Abdul Majeed Khwaja, along with Hakim Ajmal Khan and Dr Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari shifted Jamia to Karol Bagh, Delhi. Most founding members were alive then, hence Jamia had their support. Gandhi ji had boosted their morale saying:

“The Jamia has to run. If you are worried about its finances, I will go about with a begging bowl”.

However, following the demise of Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar, Hakim Ajmal Khan and Dr Ansari, situations changed and it was Khwaja Sahab then who stood his ground and did everything possible to not let the institution die. He toured India and abroad, explained the importance of Jamia, collected funds in those hard times for its survival. His efforts were fruitful.

Jamia Cultural Diversity

[A student ties rakhi to a security guard at JMI, others await their turn. (Photo: Manzar Imam)]

Despite myriad problems, many of the leaders did not see what Khwaja Sahab, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and few others had to. Those were the conditions that were either created or surfaced with the country’s partition in 1947. But even “during those dark days, they continued their pursuit of re-building and setting things in order”, looked for passages and, saw light at the end of the tunnel. “Survival of Jamia was one such outlet,” writes Ghulam Haider.

Following Hakim Ajmal Khan, Mohammad Ali Jauhar and Dr Mukhtar Ansari’s great bonding, the next trio of Dr Zakir Husain, Dr Abid Husain and Dr Muhammad Mujeeb, an Oxford scholar in history, and all three having studied in Germany with Dr Zakir Husain having a doctorate in Economics and Dr Abid Husain, having Ph.D. in Education, had been now working with Jamia, voluntarily reducing their salaries.

The riots that followed the partition had greatly affected Jamia, with Maktaba Jamia alone losing books worth seven lakhs in arson. However, the campus was intact. Soon after the Independence, Jamia rose to great prominence, thanks to the leadership of Khwaja Sahab and commitment of the Germany-educated group of the three friends. Many international figures then visited JMI which included Marshal Tito (1954), King Zahir Shah (1955), Prince Faisal of Saudi Arabia, Reza Shah Pehlavi of Iran (1956) and Prince Mukarram Jah (1960). These high profile visits made Jamia the centre of attraction.

Srinivasa Ramanujan Block

[Srinivasa Ramanujan Block, JMI. (Photo: Manzar Imam)]

Still, a recognition in terms of its acceptance as a university came late. But Khwaja Sahab, being a great lawyer himself, had set things right. The University Grants Commission declared Jamia a ‘deemed to be University’ in 1962 and by a Special Act of the Indian Parliament it was made a Central University in December 1988.

Despite being born in an affluent family, Khwaja Sahab left all the luxuries of life, devoted to many nationalist causes, favored growth of small scale and cottage industry for “national prosperity”, introduced many skills and crafts in Jamia as a tool for economic empowerment and self-independence of its students.

A stylish and handsome looking man, a living example of principled life and selflessness which he adopted for Jamia’s sake can hardly be found. He lived in a small room in Delhi’s Hanuman Lane which “had no luxury item or furniture other than a charpoy.”

From both the conception and establishment of Jamia, he was always there as an integral part of all the important movements, never oblivious of his responsibilities. Having served Jamia at different capacities from Principal to Vice Chancellor, to its Chancellor for the longest period from 1936 to 1962, Abdul Majeed Khwaja passed away on 2 December, 1962.

Be it Hakim Ajmal Khan, Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar, Dr Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad or Khwaja Abdul Majeed, one common thread binding all the founding members of Jamia is their search and relentless advocacy for Hindu-Muslim unity, and the quest to practice and uphold the ideas of cultural diversity, plural and composite nationalism that India needs not only to protect but also to project and promote.

On its turning a hundred-year-old institution with many rich national and international legacies, we extend our profound gratitude and obeisance to the memory of Abdul Majeed Khwaja, the distinguished educationist, freedom fighter, lawyer, politician, author, founder and original architect of Jamia Millia Islamia.

[Sources: Celebrating India : Reflections on Eminent Indian Muslims 1857-2007, Meher Fatima Hussain (2009, Manak Publications, New Delhi), Mohammad Ali Jauhar, authored and published by Dr Hamida Riaz (1988, Nagpur), Nuqoosh-e-Jamia (Jamia ki Kahani Jamia Walon ki Zabani or the Story of Jamia from Jamiites) by Ghulam Haider (2012, Maktaba Jamia Limited in collaboration with NCPUL, New Delhi), Mohammad Talib, “Jamia Millia Islamia: Career of Azad Talim”, in Mushirul Hasan edited Knowledge, Power & Politics: Educational Institutions in India (1998, Roli Books, Delhi), www.jmi.ac.in. Manzar Imam is a Ph.D. Candidate at Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia. He can be reached at manzarkhalil@gmail.com. The above article is part of ummid.com special series titled 'Founders of Jamia Millia Islamia'. Read the 1st article here. To read the 2nd article of the series click here. To read the 3rd article of the series, click here. And to read the 4th article of the series, click here.]

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