Scholars of Islam: Syed Ahmad Khan

Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-1898) – a prominent religious figure and reformer of the times of British Raj, who made a great contribution to the idea of a Muslim state, which was realized during the creation of Pakistan, and to the renewal of the Muslim education system.

Syed Ahmad Khan was born and raised in the Mughal Empire, in its capital Delhi. When he was 40 years old, the Mughal Empire fell after the Sepoy Mutiny and was annexed to British Raj. The life and views of Syed Ahmad Khan were largely determined by these circumstances, namely the Islamic worldview of the Mughal Empire and the secular social life brought to the country by the British. Syed Ahmad Khan advocated reforms of Islam in the spirit of new, modern rationalism, similar to the ideas of the Mu’tazillites. His main social ideas were the “theory of two nations” and the development of the education system in the synthesis of Muslim and secular sciences.

Syed Ahmad Khan was born into a wealthy family. Since childhood, he has been passionate about education and training. He was a ‘lover of studying’. Syed received an education that was classical for the son of a noble Mughal family. At first it was home education, studying the Quran under the guidance of a female instructor (a rather bold and progressive step on the part of his parents). Then he entered a school in Delhi, organized by the British for Muslim children. There he primarily studied the Quran and Sunnah, Fiqh and Arabic, in addition to this, the curriculum included Urdu, mathematics, astronomy, swimming and wrestling. After graduating from school, Syed Ahmad Khan continued to attend all kinds of scientific seminars and conferences to make his education more profound.

When he was 21 years old, his father died and Syed, having lost his source of income, was forced to join the British East India Company. There he worked for almost 40 years until his retirement. Working in the company, Syed Ahmad Khan did not abandon his scientific and writing activities, he studied the problems of Muslims in South Asia. Syed Ahmad Khan noted with sadness the fall of Muslim influence in India and saw the solution to the problem in the spread of education, moreover, modern education, including all kinds of scientific disciplines besides Muslim sciences. Only a well-rounded Muslim could, in his opinion, lead and attract others to Islam. Syed Ahmad Khan founded schools with the teaching of modern subjects. His particular pride was the founding of a college in the city of Aligarh, to which he devoted all the remaining years of his life, in which he taught and disseminated his ideas of the social structure of India, and which in 1920, after his death, received the status of a university.

The main contribution to the social development of India was his “theory of two nations”, according to which Muslims and Hindus cannot develop harmoniously within one state, since their differences in culture, customs, habits and life are so great that they are “two different nations ”, the harmonious coexistence of which is possible only within the framework of two separate states. This theory differed from the views of the supporters of a single state, who believed that the Muslims of the North should not be deprived of the opportunity to freely expand their influence in the South and that within the framework of the two states the possibilities of Islam would be reduced. But the point of view of Syed Ahmad Khan won out half a century after his death.

For the contribution that Syed Ahmad Khan made to the renewal of Muslim self-consciousness, many rank him among the Mujaddids of the past 14th century AH (renovators of the faith, who, according to the Prophet, should appear once every hundred years).