Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and his Pluralistic Vision.


Byline: Amjad Abbas Khan

Among the galaxy of great men produced by subcontinent in the 19thcentury, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was one of the most outstanding. His greatness is to be judged by his impression made on the society and the transitional effect on thoughts of Muslims of India. In the history of Muslim Nationalism in British sub-continent, Sir Syed stands out most prominent as a philosopher, reformer, thinker and a dynamic force promoting modern scientific education, tolerance, progressiveness and consciousness. His ideas and practices proved to be a whirling point in restructuring the destiny of the entire India especially the Muslim community. He was a torch bearer of uplift of his community. For his cherished goal of ameliorating the Muslims, he adopted a policy of reconciliation. The most critical and contemporarily pertinent contribution of Sir Syed was to work out understanding between Islam and the Western Science.

He also took up the task of bringing together the intellectualism of the West and the traditionalism of the East. His policy of reconciliation ultimately resulted in bridging the mistrust and bringing harmony among old and new and east and west. Literary works produced by Sir Syed are the core examples of his efforts of reconciliation among various communities. Sir Syed's vision and policy of pluralism helped the antagonisticMuslims and Britishers to improve mutual relations. He was a rationalist,moralist and above all a humanist.Hismovement paved the way for modernism, innovation and a large-hearted tolerance. However, owing to his policy of interfaith harmony he was labeled as Kafir or an Agent of the British but he never gave up his policy of reconciliation which brought positive and constructive results for interfaith harmony in the Sub-continent. He was a bridge builder not only between the rulers and the ruled but also among the various communities.

His approach of pluralism is quite relevant in today's Pakistan. This paper will explore pivotal role of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan for the reconciliation and tolerance and its significance to our present society; hostile behaviors are needed to be replaced with positive energies towards knowledge and tolerance.


Sir Syed Ahmad Khanwas a multi-faceted scholar, intellectual, educationist political activist, journalist, theologian, social reformer and the chief organizer of the modernist Islamic movement of 19thcentury in India. His various efforts in different fields for furthering the cause of Muslims established his position as the foremost voice of the oppressed Muslims of the time. In hisdesiretobridge the gulf betweenMuslims and Christians, SirSyedtooktheunprecedentedstepofwritinga commentary on the Bible stressing those areas of commonground accepted both by Christians and Muslims. In doing so, Sir Syed conceded far more than what he thought hecouldgain fromtheoppositeparty. Asaresult,hisBiblecommentarywa so pposedby the Muslims vehemently.

In the years 1857 and 1858, which have rolled over us, the affairs of India fell into such a condition of disorder and confusion, that every idle rumour was eagerly accepted, groundless aspersions were taken for granted, and false and distorted view of passing events found a ground a read for their reception in the minds of men. It was a consequence of the state of things that people who talked or wrote about the mutiny or rebellion gave currency to various statements discreditable and injurious to Mahomedans as a class, which were wholly destitute of truth. Sir Syed was a leader of enlightenment and progress. He wasan important spice man of progressive humanity, a man with high spirits and moral courage, continued to do what he believed was right; to improve the conditions of Indian Muslims.

He visualized the future and suggested to the Muslims that the community had no choice but to make a lot of adjustments. In the long run, his farsightedness proved true and Muslims succeeded to materialize their goals.

Strategy adopted by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan

First, he strived to reconcile the Muslims to the British rule. He was convinced that the Muslims had no choice but to cooperate with the British if they did not wish to be left out in the government services and professions. The lives and properties of the Muslims were safe under the British and no restrictions were placed on their religious freedom. Jihad was incumbent on the Muslims only if they were denied peace and could not practice their religion without of the fear of persecution. Since none of these conditions prevailed in India, he argued, it was obligatory for the Muslims to be loyal to the British rulers.1 Indeed, with the ultimate reprisals that followed, there was no other way to recover except by cooperating with the British. Secondly, Syed Ahmad Khan wanted the Muslim community to get the western education. The Hindus had already taken advantage of the new system of education. The Muslims must not lag behind.

The connection between education and government was too obvious for him to ignore.2In emphasizing the need for western education, however, Sir Syed Khan was by no means suggesting that the Muslims should ignore their traditional areas of interest. He wanted them to acquire western education in addition to traditional education. Finally, Syed Ahmad Khan wanted the Muslims to realize that they had their own special interests, which must be secured and promoted through their own efforts and their own channels. He refused to accept the Congress had therefore the right to speak on their behalf too.

Ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity

Once he was the supporter of Hindu-Muslim unity later he became the pioneer of interfaith dialogue in the sub-continent. He was not against the local comminutes; even he was believer, supporter and ambassador of unity among leading communities of India. His conception of Islamic tradition as inherently multi-cultured and multi-national meant that his perspective on the reform of Muslims societies had both national international dimensions.While addressing a meeting he stated that "we (Hindus and Muslims) eat the same crop, drink water from the same rivers and breathe the same air. As a matter of fact Hindus and Muslims are the two eyes of the beautiful bride that is Hindustan. Weakness of any one of them will spoil the beauty of the bride (dulhan)".3 Syed was aware that the prerequisite of pluralistic and progressive society are unity, brotherhood and cooperation amongst segments of the society.

And to materialize and implement that philosophy he "kept the doors of the college open to all. When he breathed his last in 1898 there were 285 Muslims and 64 Hindu students in the college. There were seven Hindu teachers on the staff. Arrangements for teaching Sanskrit were made effectively by him. He gave every year a gold medal from his own pocket to a Hindu student of the college who passed B. A. in the...

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