Welcome Guest! You are here: Home » Life & Style

Dr Zakir Hussain: Early Builder of Jamia Millia Islamia

The first Muslim President of India, Dr Zakir Husain, throughout his life ‘remained committed to values of secularism

Sunday October 31, 2021 10:31 AM, Manzar Imam, ummid.com

Dr Zakir Husain

New Delhi: At times it is convenient to write but equally difficult to have understood the subject. Bharat Ratna Dr Zakir Husain’s persona, to me, is like one such riddle. Having read a number of books and articles on Dr Zakir Husain in Urdu, the language that I fairly understand and converse in, I am still struggling with the dilemma whether or not I have understood him. This ambivalence forces me to read more. But then question arises, how much more and for how long. This confession is despite the fact that Dr Zakir Husain’s life is as transparent as glass. He lived among friends, worked with colleagues, taught students and believed in team work. Oxymoronically, however, what remains enigmatic and probably yet-to-be-discovered is how much more could have sprouted from his multi-layered personality.

He was needed everywhere and, anywhere that he went, he left deep impressions and there remained more than he could do, but then, he was needed somewhere else. I wonder if there was any field in which he did not leave his mark and enrich it with his intellect and out-of-the-box thinking and efficient work. To put it simply, Dr Zakir Husain was an institution. Yet he built many institutions. From Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) to Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), the Parliament and the Governorship of Bihar to the Vice-President of India and then to the Head of the State as its President, his presence and the aura of his personality were felt and their weight can still be felt. But since this paper is being dedicated to his contribution to Jamia Millia Islamia on the occasion of its turning 101, its primary focus is Dr Zakir Husain an architect and builder of the century-old institution.

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

The question still arises, was he or was he not the founder of Jamia Millia Islamia and the answer again would be a vague ‘Yes’ or an unconvincing ‘No’ and, there are reasons for saying so. Explaining the two positions would require going into the details of history of the need for the institution and the circumstances in which it was established. So, I would take the safer side of just one explanation - that is the division of persons associated with the movement of Jamia as elders, life members and committed workers, in which Dr Zakir Husain’s role as a life member and builder of Jamia is undisputable, a place he shares with his colleagues Prof Mohammad Mujeeb and Dr Syed Abid Husain. There are many things that the trio shares, being contemporary and starting their service of Jamia together, are certainly the two.


"Early Life"

Zakir Husain was born on 8 February, 1897 in Hyderabad Deccan where his father Fida Husain had settled leaving his ancestral place Qaimganj in Farrukhabad, Uttar Pradesh. In Hyderabad, his father began publishing service by setting up a press and starting a magazine “Aaina-e-Deccan”. This earned him a good fortune from which he also built a beautiful house there. However, he felt ill and returned to his native place Qaimganj where he passed away in 1907.

Zakir Husain Library

[Dr Zakir Hussain Library at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. (Photo: Manzar Imam)]

In Hyderabad, little Zakir received primary education at home. After the family’s return to Qaimganj, he was admitted to Islamia High School, Etawah in fifth standard where he studied from 1907 to 1913. His teacher Syed Altaf Husain and the school’s manager Maulvi Bashiruddin had a lasting impression on him besides his mother Naznin Begum who took great care of her children and ensured that they all received good education. When she had cancer, she sent her children away without disclosing to them her illness so that their study could not get affected. She died in 1911 while the children were away. Whenever Zakir Husain remembered his mother, he would get emotional.


The other person who left deep impressions on Zakir Husain is a Sufi, Hasan Shah. This showed his inclination to Sufism. After matriculation, Zakir Husain took admission in Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental (MAO) College, Aligarh to study science so that he could become a doctor. However, due to failing heath, he gave up the idea of becoming a doctor and, instead, took admission in B.A. in 1916 which he passed with distinction in 1918. While a student at MAO College he married Shah Jahan Begum.

During college days, Zakir Husain’s writings earned him a reputation and he also became famous for his oratory and was elected vice president of the Student Union. He took admission in M.A. economics along with LL.B. In the final year of M.A. he was appointed assistant lecturer. It was the time when opinions of Muslim leaders were divided about the posturing of MAO College when discussions began about getting it status of a university.

"Muslim Renaissance"

According to Ziaul Hasan Farooqui, Zakir Husain agreed with Sir Syed Ahmad Khan whose objective was ‘Muslim renaissance’. Although he agreed with Sir Syed’s action and intention, he did not agree with his ideas and wanted ‘a university under Muslims’ control which could help achieve nationalist objectives.’ This was the primary differing point on which Jamia Millia Islamia’s foundation was laid. There were reasons for Muslims who believed in such an institution which would be free from the (British) government control and influence. There Zakir Husain’s role as a student-activist is impressive.

As a young student of MAO, Zakir Husain’s determination to boycott the British-supported education, his stand for an independent educational institution and the bold steps he took to leave his alma mater and advocate for a separate institution are of historic importance. In that context, Zakir Husain is among the youngest founders of Jamia Millia Islamia sharing the movement’s initial days with great freedom fighters and nationalist stalwarts like Shaikhul Hind Maulana Mahmud Hasan, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar, Dr Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Abdul Majeed Khwaja. All these leaders were nationally recongnised and had spent good part of their lives fighting and aspiring for independence.

Zakir Husain then was in his early 20s having probably the least political exposure. But what makes him stand out as a unique leader is his futuristic goal to work with patience and complete dedication to acquire the best available education and then work to nurture Jamia from a tender sapling to making it an institution that was the envy of thousands of seekers of knowledge which today stands as the one of the most prestigious and leading universities of India in the 21st century, continuously security top rank.

Also Read | Hakim Ajmal Khan: Founder and First Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia

Having seen the foundation of Jamia Millia Islamia, Zakir Husain left for Germany where he stayed from 1922 to 1926 and completed his Doctorate in Economics. In the meantime, Jamia was shifted from Aligarh to Karol Bagh in Delhi. Those were difficult times and the Khilafat Committee which bore the cost of Jamia was disbanded with the dissolution of Khilafat in the Ottoman Turkey. Many then suggested that Jamia must be closed. Zakir Husain was informed about the decision responding to which he along with two of his friends requested not to shut Jamia till their return from Europe. On their return, they dedicated themselves to the service of Jamia. This was the kind of re-birth of Jamia with a new vigour and youthful spirit of work whereby Zakir Husain not only built Jamia but also ensured that it stood literally brick by brick from the womb of a nationalist movement to an institution of nation reckoning about which Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) had said it is “one of the most progressive educational institutions in India.”


Dr Zakir Husain, along with Professor Mohammad Mujeeb and Dr Syed Abid Husain and a host of other committed teachers and passionate lovers of Jamia, worked day in, day out not just to sustain it as an institution but also to turn it into a viable and envious institution committed to nation building. In doing so, he, consciously, stayed away from active politics so that Jamia could succeed in producing well-qualified, trained youth required for the nation.

Jamia, having moved from Aligarh to Delhi and having lost financial support of the Khilafat Committee, suffered great crisis. In the meantime, Hakim Ajmal Khan passed away in December 1927. This was a big blow as, despite illness, Hakim Sahab was able to assist Jamia. It was then that all members of Jamia cut down their salaries. Not only the teachers, even the student reduced their scholarships and started doing part-time work to support and continue their studies.

When most elders had decided to close Jamia, a group of committed workers of Jamia wrote a letter to its highest decision-making body emphasizing that they do not want to close it at any cost. As a result, on 25 July 1928, the entire responsibility was handed over to the workers of Jamia because of whose effort Anjuman-e-Milli came into existence. All its members decided not to take more than 150 rupees monthly as salary for at least 20 years. Dr Zakir Husain was among those who had signed the agreement. Termed as Life Members, the initial number of these members was 11 which, by 1957, became 26. Each member contributed immensely to the building of Jamia. Dr Zakir Husain was among one of the prominent members who did everything that one could imagine from teaching and even cleaning to the highest job as Chancellor and Vice Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia.

Also Read | Dr Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari: A Committed Nationalist, Founder and 2nd Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia

Despite leaving MAO, Dr Husain never forgot his alma mater and took up its Vice-Chancellorship at a critical juncture when he was highly needed there. It was a hard time for Aligarh. There was no one in the entire country besides Dr Zakir Husain who could protect this academic, historical and cultural institution, writes Rasheed Ahmad Siddiqui.

It was then in November 1948 that he became Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). Although a lot has been written about him, much seems to be left. No work can be considered comprehensive. It is because of the multi-faced personality of Dr Zakir Husain that most writers and biographers fail to fully capture him.

According to one of his biographers, Dr Zakir Husain worked for 22 years in Jamia with people of different mental disposition in a way that he shared their good and bad moments. Ghulam Haider writes that among the many personality traits of Dr Zakir Husain was that ‘despite his strong temperament he would give chance to everyone to fully explain his position and produce evidences strongly.’ It was another matter though that anyone would hardly reject his point. Such ‘overwhelming’ used to be his persona. But he would respect the youth and children.

The first Muslim President of India, Dr Zakir Husain, throughout his life ‘remained committed to values of secularism, and removal of economic disparity, communalism and regionalism.’ As JMI, having secured its place among the topmost universities in India, turns 101, with the country, ironically, deeply mired in religious hatred, social conflict and political corruption, we pay glowing tributes to the proud son of India and one of the early builders of Jamia who passed away in Office of President on 3 May, 1969. The ideals and values that Dr Zakir Husain practiced and lived still have the power to guide us, as his friend and colleague Rasheed Ahmad Siddiqui writes, “Values do not die. Their bearer, with death, makes them eternal.”

(Sources used in preparation of this article: Memaaran-e-Jamia, Dr. Zafar Ahmad Nizami (2011, Maktaba Jamia Limited in collaboration with NCPUL, New Delhi), Hamare Zakir Sahab, Rasheed Ahmad Siddiqui, (1986, 2nd edition, Maktaba Jamia Limited, New Delhi), Nuqoosh-e-Jamia (Jamia ki Kahani Jamia Walon ki Zabani), Ghulam Haider (2012, Maktaba Jamia Limited in collaboration with NCPUL, New Delhi), Celebrating India : Reflections on Eminent Indian Muslims 1857-2007, Meher Fatima Hussain (2009, Manak Publications, New Delhi), Dr. Zakir Husain (Seerat wa Shakhsiat), Abdul Lateef Azmi (2011, Maktaba Jamia Limited in collaboration with NCPUL, New Delhi)

[Manzar Imam is a Ph.D. Research Scholar at MMAJ Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia. He can be reached at manzarimam@rediffmail.com.]


For all the latest News, Opinions and Views, download ummid.com App.

Select Language To Read in Urdu, Hindi, Marathi or Arabic.

Google News

Share this page

 Post Comments
Note: By posting your comments here you agree to the terms and conditions of www.ummid.com