How does the minority character give AMU its unique identity?

O, farzandane Aligarh (sons and daughters of AMU, Hindus and Muslims and of other religious denominations), spread across the world, Aligarh to American cities, Delhi to Dubai, Saudi to Sasaram, Banaras to Britain, wake up!  Join hands and convince Prime Minister Modi and his government not to rub salt to the wounds of the community

The issue of Aligarh Muslim University’s minority character is currently being spiritedly fought in the Supreme Court. I am not a legal expert. I as an alumnus and beneficiary of the founder Sir Syed’s act of benevolence dread at the thought of dark clouds looming over the horizon. I have no personal axe to grind or ambitions to grab a post at AMU. None of my three daughters are showing any interest to go and get educated at AMU. Unfortunately, none from my family or extended family could study at AMU since my father withdrew me from AMU in the mid-1980s. I had not fulfilled his wish and he didn’t want me to stay back there. That is another story. My wish to see AMU retaining its minority character is shared by crores of people of all faiths, especially its alumni, across the world.

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Last night I could not sleep as events of the past and possible misadventures in the future kept haunting me. I jogged memory and have come out with some of those inner thoughts which I share with the world. I have neither enough political nor material wealth to marshal while the battle to retain AMU’s unique character is being fought in India’s highest court. I am an ordinary Indian.

The only medium that I have to communicate are some words. Whatever worth they may be. I beg your attention.

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The goal of this government to snatch AMU’s minority character has been clear ever since it withdrew the affidavit the UPA government had filed supporting the AMU stand.

The minority character was always under threat but I think the decision to give 50% reservation to Muslims in PG medical course by a former VC was wrong. Didn’t they anticipate that it could be challenged? A non-Muslim student challenged this decision in Allahabad High Court which quashed the minority character itself. It was almost smooth sailing as long as the 50% seats in admission for all internal students were applied. Internal meant all those who take admission in AMU are students of AMU at the entry level like 11th class. Since both Hindus and Muslims were and are beneficiaries, and more Hindus in professional courses benefited and continue to benefit as Muslim students couldn’t compete with others at the open entrance tests, few challenged it.

A significant clause in the AMU Minority Act (1981) is 5 (2) (c). It sums up to a great extent the original purpose of MAO College which metamorphosed into AMU in 1920. The Act says: “To promote specially the educationally and cultural advancement of Muslims of India.” By inserting the words “Muslims of India”, AMU expanded its scope, leaving no doubt about its minority character.

Those who are opposing its minority character will be well advised to read AMU’s history, its spectacular journey. Its first graduate was Ishwari Prasad. Non-Muslims have always been among its teaching and non-teaching staff. The Aligarians have played a stellar role in making India great, both in pre and post-partition period. Yes, there was a group at AMU which supported Muslim League’s demand for partition. That group had got swayed by the communal politics of the 1940s. That group is long gone and, post-partition, with the able and efficient, compassionate stewardship of VCs like Dr Zakir Hussain, AMU bounced back from the trauma of partition. Maulana Azad, who was once humiliated by a section of students, swallowed the insult and, with Jawaharlal Nehru’s support, did his best to bring AMU back on the tracks. Dr Zakir Hussain saved AMU as he was an alumnus and loved the Madre Darsgah (mother institution). There is a fascinating anecdote from Zakir Sahab’s days as AMU VC. This anecdote has also been cited by historian Rajmohan Gandhi in his seminal work Understanding The Muslim Mind.

Once a delegation of AMU students went to meet Zakir Sahab with a demand. The student leader who was doing most of the talking wore a sherwani with its upper buttons open. Zakir Sahab replied to the boy’s grievances even as he affectionately closed the sherwani buttons of the agitated student leader. AMU carries such fascinating nuggets in its womb.

It has never discriminated against students on the basis of their religion. Today, non-Muslims outnumber Muslims in the professional courses as the admissions are done through open tests. One can fill a whole book citing comments from AMU’s non-Muslim products praising the communal harmony at the campus.  Hindu and Muslim students share the space, at dining halls, residential hostels, libraries, sporting arenas, debating clubs, riding club, gymnasiums and swimming pools. They celebrate Eid and Diwali together. There maybe be a few abrasions, but that is bound to happen at India ‘s first residential university with around 30,000 students on its rolls.

Now if the Supreme Court strikes down the minority tag, AMU will have to follow general admission policy. SCs, STs, OBCs, EWS will get their quota. It will be swamped with elements that will change its unique identity. The purpose with which Sir Syed founded MAO College will die 100 years after the College became AMU.

God, don’t bring this day to see at least as long as you keep me alive.

I have seen some glimpses of AMU’s glorious days, its fine and famed tehzeeb and adaab. How can I forget my first day when a baira (waiter) had politely sent me back to my room to change into pants and shirt or put on a sherwani as I had landed at the dining hall in pajama kurta without sherwani–I didn’t have it as I was newly arrived and, like anyone else, got one in a few months–for breakfast at Allama Iqbal Hall?

Did I mention Iqbal? Oh, that great poet-philosopher was a genuine lover of AMU, and ardent admirer of Sir Syed. He even wrote beautiful poems-one for Sir Syed, another for Talba-e-Aligarh Ke Naam. When Sir Syed’s grandson Sir Ross Masood, MAO College and Cambridge-educated, a legal luminary of his time who was colleague of Dr Rajendra Prasad at an Orissa College where they taught before Masood became educational director of Nizam of Hyderabad, became AMU VC in the 1930s, he invited Iqbal for multiple lectures.

Masood and Iqbal were great friends. When Iqbal fell ill in Lahore, Masood, by then education minister of Nawab of Bhopal, invited Iqbal to stay with him. Iqbal, accompanied by his son Javed Iqbal (oh Urdu connoisseurs of the world, do you remember the famous poem, Javed Ke Naam? We are talking about the same Javed who later became Justice Javed Iqbal) spent a few months in Bhopal with Masood and his wife.

Iqbal paid Masood back that debt as he gifted the Persian poem he had penned for his own tombstone to Masood’s wife to be inscribed at Masood’s tomb. In his condolence letter, Iqbal told Masood’s wife, popular as lady Masood, that he had written the couplets for himself. But Masood who was younger to Iqbal died before Iqbal. Iqbal gave those couplets as an eternal testimony to his friendship with Masood who had played in the lap of Sir Syed.

That couplet is still there on Masood’s tombstone as Masood, the real inheritor of Sir Syed’s legacy, sleeps peacefully beside his father Syed Mahmud, Cambridge-educated and first Indian Justice of the Allahabad High Court, and grandfather the renaissance man of Indian Muslims in modern times Sir Syed at a corner of the courtyard of AMU’s Jama Masjid.

All this will be allowed to be silently and systematically dumped in the dustbin of history if AMU loses what it calls a  hard-earned minority tag. ‘The crucial clause that AMU will “promote specially the  educational  and cultural advancement of Muslims of India” will lose its meaning  and relevance if it loses its minority character.

Tragically, 20 crores of Indian Muslims are so helpless, powerless politically and intellectually that they cannot  convince this government that retaining AMU as a unique institution will be retaining a good feature of India. The government is adamant on bringing it on par with other universities, denuding AMU of its unique character and ethos.

Now AMU alone cannot win this battle. It has put its might behind the efforts to save AMU from becoming an ordinary University from a “unique” institution. It has paraded best of the legal minds to argue its case before the 7-judge bench of the Supreme Court currently hearing the case.

In conclusion, it is AMU’s Alumni community more than AMU which can save the university.

O, farzandane Aligarh (sons and daughters of AMU, Hindus and Muslims and of other religious denominations), spread across the world, Aligarh to American cities, Delhi to Dubai, Saudi to Sasaram, Banaras to Britain, wake up!  Join hands and convince Prime Minister Modi and his government not to rub salt to the wounds of the community. Tell the government to put back the affidavit it withdrew from the Supreme Court that the UPA government had submitted. The government should tell the Supreme Court that it wants AMU to retain its minority tag.

In his address to AMU community on AMU’s centenary celebration, PM Modi had called AMU “mini-India.” Let this mini-India blossom and the PM should walk the talk. There are hundreds of universities across our beloved India. One university with a special statutory mandate to promote “educational and cultural advancement of Muslims of India” will not take away anything from our collective march ahead.

I remember, Modi once said, he wants to see Muslim children with Quran in one hand and computer in another. May I mention here that AMU’s founder Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (1817–1898) had once said that he wanted the products of his institution to carry science in one hand, philosophy in another and the Taj or crown of kalima on their head.

If AMU is allowed to retain its unique character, it will continue to play its positive role in making India a vishvaguru. And the revered judges currently hearing the case of AMU’s minority character will consider the arguments being submitted before them. They will consider the historical background, the reason for founding AMU and understand the reason why it deserves to retain its minority character. The honourable judges will do justice and let posterity remember them with kindness.

Mohammed Wajihuddin is a senior journalist associated with the Times of India, Mumbai.  This is his blog.

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