Frank F. Islam
Washington DC Aligarh Alumni Association
On the occasion of
AMU Centennial Celebration
Thank you for that kind introduction. Thanks to Masood Farshori, Afzal Usmani, and Dr. Abdullah and the other members of the Aligarh Alumni Association of Washington, D.C. for asking me to speak at this AMU Centennial Celebration.
Greetings to all of you alumni who have joined us for this event. It is a pleasure and privilege to be with you virtually.
I will use my remarks today to recognize Aligarh Muslim University’s past and what it means for the future and to look backward so that we may understand how we should move forward. I say that because I view our convening as a chance to remember our history so that we can make new history.
I believe that is the way AMU’s founder Sir Syed would want it. In our time together, I will talk about AMU and Sir Syed’s legacy and about our legacy as AMU alumni.
I know that each of you have fond and enduring memories of AMU and many lessons that you learned inside and outside the classroom. Each of those is personal.
The lessons that I want to highlight from Sir Syed are transcendent. They are his legacy of love, learning and light.
Sir Syed’s Legacy of Love
Let me begin by discussing Syed’s legacy of love for 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. What a powerful and compelling point of view.
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 Legacy of Learning
Sir Syed felt that there were two pillars for achieving peaceful co-existence, collaboration and communal harmony. They were: education and shared educational experiences.
On the importance of education while many were advocating for and against including Muslims in the National Congress, he 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.”
At the founding of MAO College, Sir Syed expressed a strong and powerful vision for the institution. He said, “… 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 pure morality.”
That College did become a university – a great university – AMU. Today, AMU draws students from all corners of India and from many countries around the world.
More importantly, as Sir Syed predicted, tens of thousands of AMU’s graduates have delivered on Sir Syed’s promise. They have gone throughout the length and breadth of India and around the globe to improve the lot of others. Over the years, men and women from Aligarh have made contributions in all walks of life.
Sir Syed’s Legacy of 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.
As you all know, there is still much darkness in the United States, in India, and around the world. Consider: The uncivil war in the United States engaged in this year as part of the presidential election cycle. The unmet educational needs of Muslims and other minorities in India, the attacks upon Muslims over the past few years, the revocation of Article 370 and 35A of the constitution. The emergence of autocracies in countries such as Turkey, Poland and the increasing and accelerating decline of democracies and individual freedom and liberty.
The darkness is descending. It must be defeated.
Because of Sir Syed’s vision and his legacy of love, learning and light we Aligarians are compelled and have been equipped to overcome this darkness through enlightenment
The Legacy of AMU Alumni
This brings me to our legacy as AMU graduates and alumni. That legacy is enormous already and will continue to grow. Here are some of the things that AMU alumni have done.
AMU alumni contributed significantly to the freedom struggle and establishment of the Indian democracy. In this regard, Prime Minister Nehru said, “Sir Syed’s decision to concentrate on western education for Muslims was undoubtedly a right one. Without that they could not have played an effective role in building up on Indian nationalism.”
AMU alumni have been central to the development of the Indian nation. One needs only to look at the long list of alumni who have played roles from Presidents to chief ministers, from jurist to bureaucrats, from authors to journalists, from film stars to sportsmen, to understand there is hardly a facet of public life where AMU alumni have not made a contribution. Indeed, they have made substantial contributions in all walks of life in India.
AMU Alumni have also made great contributions in nations around the globe. There are currently almost 20,000 Aligarh alumni in 100 countries world-wide.
I am one of them. Each of you in this virtual audience today is one of them.
AMU alumni have accomplished much. But, given the state of the world today and the enormous additional pain and suffering being inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic, there is much more that needs to be done.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that as alumni of AMU we have been prepared to do much more.
Our paths have been different but the common and transcendent bond that unites us is a belief in and a commitment to equal justice and a shared humanity. As alumni of AMU and descendants of Sir Syed, we have been given the gift of a sensitive and sensible education.
We have been:
- Enriched – imbued with a great appreciation for the past, the present and the role that we as Muslims should play in working with those of all religious persuasions to create the future
- Enabled – equipped with the knowledge, skills and abilities required to be successful in our personal and professional lives
- Empowered – prepared to realize our full potential and to contribute to the advancement of society
Our responsibility is to return that gift by assisting others and helping find solutions to problems confronting India, the U.S., and the world today.
As I said at the outset of my comments, we are gathered here today to look backward to understand how to move forward and to remember our history so that we can make new history.
We AMU alumni and descendants of Sir Syed have the heritage and the duty to be difference makers and destroyers of darkness. That has been, is, and will be our legacy.
Let me leave you with this quote from Dr. Zakir Hussain while addressing AMU students on Feb 20, 1949 said: You must remember that the glorious heritage is yours, and it is for you to revive the past splendor of Aligarh. The inscriptions which have been carved on the walls of your stratchey Hall fade with time, but the inscriptions which Aligarh has written on the modern period of Indian history would never fade.
Thank you for letting me share my thoughts with you on this special occasion. May God bless each and every-one of you.