Tehreek-e-Jamia Millia Islamia Centenary 1920-2020 harks back to a glorious chapter in the Indian History. Two powerful Anti-Colonial Movements, the Khilafat Movement and the Nationalist Movement, both under the stewardship of Mahatma Gandhi, converged to create the Tehreek-e-Jamia.
Stemminng from the Non-Cooperation Movement, the Jamia Movement is a shining symbol of the Composite Indian Culture. Jamia stands apart as the greatest nationalist institution. In 1920, all trends gravitated together towards Mahatma Gandhi, who proved to be the Catalyst for several novel initiatives, including the Jamia Movement.
Breaking away from the tradition of Aligarh Muslim University, Jamia Millia Islamia brought in the nationalist strain. Jamia Millia Islamia aimed at shaping boys and girls to be the citizens of a Vibrant, Modern, Secular and Free India.
Mahatma Gandhi launched the Non-Cooperation Movement in August, 1920. He gave a call, asking all Indians to boycott the then British educational institutions. It was against this backdrop that Nationalist Muslims decided to set up Jamia Millia Islamia.
This was also an initiative of Gandhiji to implement his pet project of Basic Education, or Nayee Taleem. It aims at the total development of body, mind and spirit, based on the four Basic Principles:
– Learning in mother-tongue, along with handicraft work;
– Work should be linked with most useful vocational needs of the locality;
– Learning should be linked with vocational work; and
– Work should be socially useful and productive, needed for living.
Besides, Jamia also followed Gandhiji’s Constructive Programme for self-reliance. It took to Charkha (Spinning Wheel) and Takli (Hand-Spindle), as favoured vocations.
It was feared that Jamia was too much of an idealistic venture, which was bound to fade away, sooner than later. But similar predictions were also made when India attained Independence, which proved to be so wide off the mark. Jamia, like India, managed to debunk all the prophets of doom, to emerge as a leading light in the field of education.
Founded under the inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi, by Hakim Ajmal Khan, Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari, Maulana Mehmud Hasan Deobandi, Abid Hussain and Dr Zakir Hussain, the Jamia Movement is essentially in consonance with the Composite Indian Culture.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad played a notable role, both in the Foundation Committee of Jamia Millia Islamia set up in October, 1920, as also in shifting it to New Delhi.
Jamia Millia Islamia set out with a radical curriculum that encouraged study of Islamic History and the Quran, alongside the study of Nationalism and Modern Syllabus. The Admission Policy welcomed boys and girls in equal measure. It is a novel experiment from Nursery to Post-Graduation and Research, with girls breaking into the male-bastions. It is a Minority Educational Institution, but with its doors open to students belonging to all religions.
Mahatma Gandhi resisted attempts to drop Islamia from the name, in order to attract donations for its sustenance. If Islamia is dropped, then he would have nothing to do with the institution, Gandhiji made it known.
Gandhiji saw no contradiction in Deeni Taleem and propagation of tolerance. In a letter to Jamia in 1930, Gandhiji said, “Islam enjoins upon us Tolerance towards others religions. It doesn’t say that other religions are false. He alone, who does good to others, is a true man. This is the principle of Quran, as also the teaching of other religions. The students of the Jamia, I hope, will spread the message of unity and freedom throughout the country.”
Gandhiji once remarked, “When I come to the Jamia, I feel I have come home.”
Charting A New Course
Moving away from the Muslim Anglo-Oriental (MAO) College in Aligarh, the Jamia Movement charted an independent course.
Dr Rakshanda Jalil, renowned Urdu Literary Historian, Critic and Translator, had for long served with distinction as Director of Media and Culture in Jamia Millia Islamia.
In the book she edited, The Idea of A University: Jamia Millia Islamia, Dr Rakshanda Jalil writes, “The lamp of Nai Taleem burnt brightly here and teachers like Dr Zakir Hussain, Abid Hussain, Mohammed Mujeeb and others worked tirelessly to usher in a new system of imparting education. Education, Ilm, and Faith, Deen, had been the twin engines that had propelled Jamia in the early days. Its founders wanted to colour Faith with the many-splendoured hues of Education, and vice-versa. But to achieve this, they insisted on meeting a basic condition — to view faith not in a narrow, bigoted sense but help create an ambience that would be conducive for comprehending real belief in its truest, widest, highest sense.”
Nightingale of India Sarojini Naidu said of the founders of Jamia Millia Islamia that they “built up the Jamia Millia stone by stone and sacrifice by sacrifice.”
At the Silver-Jubilee of Jamia Millia Islamia on November 17, 1946, the political divide in the country was visible on the dias. On the one side were Mohammed Ali Jinnah, his wife and Liaquat Ali. On the other side, were Jamia Vice-Chancellor or Shaikh-ul-Jamia Dr Zakir Husain, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Asaf Ali and C Rajagolapachari.
After the Indian Independence, Jamia continued to grow as an academia with a difference and great distinction.
Many foreign dignitaries made it a point to visit Jamia Millia Islamia, during their visits to New Delhi. Among those who visited Jamia include the then President of erstwhile Yugoslavia Marshal Tito (1954), Afghanistan King Zahir Shah (1955), Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Faisal (1956), Iran King Shah Reza Pehlavi (1956) and Hyderabad Prince Mukarram Jah (1960).
In 1939, Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi (1872-1944), a theologian and freedom-fighter, came to stay in Jamia on the invitation of Dr Zakir Husain. He started a school of Islamic Studies in Jamia, called Baitul Hikmal, propagating the ideology of Shah Waliullah.
Dr Zakir Hussain had stated, “The Movement of Jamia Millia Islamia is a struggle for education and cultural renaissance. It will prepare a blueprint for Indian Muslims, which may focus on Islam but simultaneously evolve a national culture for common Indian. It will lay the foundation of the thinking that true religious education will promote patriotism and national integration among Indian Muslims, who will be proud to take part in the future progress of India, which will play its part in the comity of nations for peace and development. The objective of establishment of Jamia Millia Islamia will be to lay down the common curriculum for Indian Muslims taking into account the future challenges and will prepare the children to be masters of future.” Clearly, Jamia passed this test with distinction.
Gandhiji Committed to Jamia
In the early stages, when faced with a financial crisis, Mahatma Gandhi remarked,
“The Jamia has to run. If you are worried about its finances, I will go about with a begging bowl.” Such was Gandhiji’s commitment to Jamia Millia Islamia.
As Jamia was a Congress-backed institution, the British Raj dissuaded many willing benefactors from contributing to its development. During those difficult days, it was Hakim Ajmal Khan who met most of Jamia expenses from his own pocket. Dr Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari and Abdul Majeed Khwaja toured India and abroad, explaining the importance of Jamia and collecting funds for this noble enterprise. Their collective intervention did avert a collapse that was otherwise almost certain.
Mahatma Gandhi and Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore were both instrumental in shaping Jamia Millia Islamia. Rabindranath Tagore called Jamia “one of the most progressive educational institutions of India.”
Mahatma Gandhi wanted Allama Iqbal to lead Jamia Millia Islamia. But Iqbal apparently could not accept the offer made through Gandhiji. On November 22, 1920, Hakim Ajmal Khan was elected the first Chancellor of Jamia and Mohamed Ali Jauhar became the first Vice-Chancellor.
Maulana Mehmud Hasan Deobandi, the Islamic Theologian and Freedom-Fighter, laid the foundation-stone for Jamia in Aligarh on Friday, October 29, 1920. From Aligarh, Jamia moved to Karol Bagh in Delhi in 1925. On March 1, 1935, foundation-stone was laid for a building in the permanent premises in Okhla in South Delhi. From 1936, several Departments were shifted to the permanent headquarters at Jamia Nagar.
The UGC granted the Deemed University Status in 1962. The then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi turned Jamia Millia Islamia into a Central University under an Act of Parliament on December 26, 1988.
In 1925, after long deliberation, a group of three friends studying in Germany — Dr Zakir Husain, Dr Abid Husain and Dr Mohammad Mujeeb — decided to serve Jamia.
Dr Zakir Husain, who had earned his doctorate in Economics from University of Berlin in Germany, was a charismatic leader. Dr Abid Husain had his PhD in Education. Mohammad Mujeeb, an Oxford scholar in History and a student of printing in Germany, was a passionate and committed reformist.
Early in February 1926, the three friends left Germany for Jamia. In Jamia, Dr Zakir Husain, was offered a salary of Rs 100. His two other friends with European qualifications were offered Rs 300, each.
Realising that such payments were beyond Jamia’s limited resources, Abid Husain and Mohammad Mujeeb voluntarily reduced their salaries to Rs 100, each. Moved by the commitment of his friends, Dr Zakir Husain also reduced his own salary to Rs 80.
One of the first steps they took was the introduction of the hugely popular evening classes for Adult Education. This movement was later to become, in October 1938, an institution called Idara-e-Taleem-o-Taraqqi. It became so popular that separate rooms had to be built to accommodate the students.
A Leading Light
After Abdul Majeed Khwaja, Dr Zakir Hussain became Vice-Chancellor in 1926 and continued in the post till 1948. He served Jamia Millia Islamia with great distinction, becoming its leading light.
First, Dr Zakir Hussain was picked as the Vice-President of India in 1962 by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, to succeed the easily greatest and most illustrious Philosopher-Statesman of our times, Dr S Radhakrishnan, following his election as President of India.
In 1963, Vice-President Dr Zakir Hussain was made the Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia.
Later, Indira Gandhi elevated him as the first Muslim Head of State, by electing Dr Zakir Hussain as the President of India in 1967.
Until his demise in 1969, Dr Zakir Hussain has been continuously serving Jamia. Befittingly, Mazaar of Dr Zakir Hussain is located within the campus of Jamia Millia Islamia.
Venkat Parsa is a senior journalist and writer based in New Delhi.
Views expressed are personal