Hakim Ajmal Khan: Master of Unani and Masiha-e-Hind

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Hakim Ajmal Khan

Stereotypes are perpetuated because of the loss of public memory. For example, while Islam’s contribution to the progress of the arts and architectural science is generally recognized in the Indian subcontinent, very few acknowledge the contribution of Muslims to India’s advancement in the field of medicine and education. No wonder very few people today would recognize the name, Hakim Ajmal Khan.

Who was Hakim Ajmal Khan?

Yet just about a century ago he was considered in this country a medical magician of sorts. Hakim was not really his name, which was Muhammad Ajmal Khan, but the epithet of his profession, a doctor. He was one of the masters of Unani medicine. Not only Indians, irrespective of Hindus and Muslims, but even renowned intellectual C.F. Andrews, a close friend of Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi, and Malcolm Heily, then the chief commissioner of Delhi held Hakim Khan in the highest regards as a doctor and educationist. In the mid-1920s he visited France and England and stunned Europeans with his medical skills.

Besides being a great doctor Hakim Khan was also a great educationist. Jamia Milia Islamia is considered today as one of the premier central universities. Hakim Ajmal Khan not only founded this institution but became its first Chancellor in 1920. He remained so until his death in 1927.


Hakim Khan picked up his proficiency in medicine from a long hereditary history. He was born on 11 February 1886. In a family which had over three centuries of medical knowledge. His ancestors came to India with the founder of the Mughal empire Babur in the early 16th century. His grandfather Hakim Sharif Khan was emperor Shah Alam’s doctor. Sharif Khan had founded the Sharif Manzil. It served both as Unani medical school and a hospital. It offered the best of Unani medicinal training and education, and also treated poor patients free of cost. The spirit of philanthropy, therefore, was in his blood.

Incidentally, Hakim Ajmal Khan had become proficient in Islamic scriptures and learned the Quran by heart. He was also fluent in Arabic and Persian language. Side by side he took his medical course from the great medical scholar Hakim Abdul Jameel. The latter was associated with the renowned Siddiqui Dawakhana in Delhi. After qualifying in medical studies, in 1892, he became the chief physician to the Nawab of Rampur. Soon his fame as an Unani doctor spread far and wide, and Hakim Ajmal Khan came to be known among the common people as the Masiha-e-Hind, or the Healer of India.

Contribution of Hakim Ajmal Khan in Unani studies

Hakim Ajmal Khan took great initiatives to expand and develop the oriental system of Unani medicine. As part of this initiative, he founded three important institutions, namely the Central College in Delhi, the Hindustani Dawakhana, and the Ayurvedic and Unani Tibbia College in Delhi. Ajmal Khan’s efforts were instrumental in expanding research and practice in this particular field and it saved the Unani system of medicine from extinction in India. Hakim Ajmal Khan had a deeply scientific and open mind. He saw and understood the development of Western medicine and supported the idea of the absorption of Western concepts within the Unani system. He had to overcome the opposition of the physicians of the Lucknow school, who insisted on maintaining the ‘purity’ of the system.

Finally, Hakim Ajmal Phan was a great patriot and was elected to be the President of the Indian National Congress in 1921. His words, spoken in INC’s presidential address stand testimony to his love for the country and its people, “The spirit of non-cooperation pervades throughout the country and there is no true Indian heart even in the remotest corner of this great country which is not filled with the spirit of cheerful suffering and sacrifice to attain Swaraj and see Punjab and the Khilafat wrongs redressed.”


(Writer: Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra)