Frank F. Islam
Washington DC Aligarh Alumni Association
Messages for the Messengers from Sir Syed
Thank you for that kind introduction. I am deeply grateful of your warm welcome. It is truly a pleasure and honor to be here with my fellow AMU alums at this Sir Syed day dinner.
Thanks to Razi and Dr. Abdullah and the AMU alumni association of Washington DC for inviting me to speak tonight. I must state that although I have been asked to be a formal messenger on Sir Syed for the evening – in truth, we are all messengers for him. We are messengers in the way in which we conduct ourselves every day in accord with his vision, values and messages.
I want to also thank Vice-Chancellor Tariq Mansoor for joining us this evening. During his tenure, Vice-Chancellor Mansoor has made a great institution even greater. I have gotten to collaborate with him on several projects at AMU over the past several years and I can tell you from personal experience that he is a special person. He is an unparalleled and unmatched leader and a guiding star. I look forward to working with him on many projects in the future and I would encourage all those of you in the audience to do so as well. Let us give him a big round of applause.
As some of you know, last month my wife Debbie and I were over in Aligarh to dedicate the Frank and Debbie Islam Auditorium in the Department of Mass Communications and the Entrepreneurship Center in the Management Complex named after us as well.
I will start, by focusing on the messages on Love, Learning and Light that Sir Syed has sent to us – his messengers so that we can follow, build upon and amplify them.
Sir Syed’s Messages on Love
Sir Syed’s message on Love was a straightforward and simple one. It was to love all mankind.
Sir Syed had a vision not only of peaceful co-existence in a pluralistic society but moreover of collaboration and communal harmony in that society.
Why did Sir Syed have such vision and foresight? It was partly attributable to the way he saw the world and its inhabitants. He explained his perspective himself.
In a famous speech, he said, “I regard both Hindus and Muslims as my two eyes.” Later, he went even further to say, “Would that I had only one eye.” He used that phrase to indicate that even though he was a devout Muslim, he loved both Hindus and Muslims equally.
Sir Syed’s advice provides the basis for bringing us together to foster unity across cultures, community, and religion in order to find a shared sense of humanity. We can do this not by looking to heavens and to the gods whom we worship but by looking at the earth and the people and the family we are.
Sir Syed’s Messages on Learning
Sir Syed felt that there were two pillars for achieving peaceful co-existence, and communal harmony. They are: education and shared educational experiences. Those were his messages on Learning.
On the importance of education while many were advocating for and against including Muslims in the National Congress, Sir Syed declared “I do not agree with those who think that discussion about political matters will help in our national progress. I regard education alone as the means of national progress.”
Sir Syed put his words into action by founding Mahommedan Anglo-Oriental College (MAO) which became Aligarh Muslim University. While it was focused on advancing the educational interests and competencies of Muslims, Sir Syed ensured that from its establishment the College was not the province of any religion.
During the College’s infancy, Sir Syed emphasized that, and I quote him: “Yes, the main purpose of this college is to impart modern education to Muslims who are suffering because of a lack of it but this institution is for all, Hindus and Muslims alike. Both of them need education.”
Sir Syed established AMU to provide its graduates with what I call a “purpose-driven education.” At the founding of Aligarh, Sir Syed said,
“…. that this College may expand into a University, whose sons and daughters shall go forth throughout the length and breadth of the land to preach the gospel of free inquiry, of large-hearted toleration, and of pure morality.”
As Sir Syed predicted, tens of thousands of AMU’s graduates have delivered on his promise. They have gone throughout the length and breadth of India and around the globe to improve the lot of others. There are currently over 20,000 Aligarh alums in more than 100 countries around the world. We are among them.
Sir Syed’s Messages on Light
AMU graduates have done much but our journey as messengers to deliver on Sir Syed’s vision is not over. I have talked about Sir Syed’s messages of love and learning. Now in the final part of my remarks, let me turn my attention to his messages on Light.
Near the end of his life, Sir Syed who had lost his eyesight said:
I lost my eyesight but not my vision. My vision never dimmed,
and my determination never failed. I built this institution for you and
I am sure, you will carry the light of this institution far and wide,
darkness will disappear from around the world.
There is still darkness in the world and in India. That is why we Aligarians must continue to carry the light of this institution and renew and redouble our efforts to intensify that light.
Much has been accomplished in India:
- India is the largest democracy in the world
- Although there has been some faltering lately, India remain the world’s fastest growing major economy
- India is emerging as a regional and global power
Still much needs to be done. This is especially true for Muslims and minorities and females.
Given the current recent events such as the shutdown of Kashmir and the emerging religious nationalism in India, there is also an absolute need for promoting unity – for an emphasis on creating one India – a highly diverse country bound together by its democratic roots and a commitment to equity and equality and inclusive economic mobility for all.
There are many colleges, teachers and students at AMU working actively to address all of these needs. They are investing in programs that cut across and eliminate racial, religious, and socio-economic divides. They are creating the future messengers for Sir Syed’s messages. They need our help.
In closing, let me say the bonds that bind us together is that we are Aligarians. We Aligarians are descendants of Sir Syed. We are part of Sir Syed’s family not to remember his birth but to remember what he gave birth to. As such, we have the history, heritage, and duty to be difference makers and destroyers of the darkness.
Let me leave you with this quote from Sir Syed which I think is most appropriate for today,
“All human beings are our brothers and sisters. Working for their welfare is obligatory for Muslims.” It is obligatory that we remember and build on Sir Syed’s messages of love, learning and light.
Thank you for letting me share my thoughts with you on this special day and all that you have done and will do as AMU messengers and to creating AMU’s future messengers.
I look forward to being a partner in that endeavor. Let us continue to carry the torch handed to us by Sir Syed as we work together to ensure his cause will endure and his messages shall never die.
God bless you all