Tag Archives: Sir Syed Ahmed Khan

Qutb and Mehrauli: The Past and Present of an Iconic Site

Minnesota, USA / NEW DELHI :

In Delhi’s Qutb Complex, Catherine B. Asher goes beyond Mehrauli and Delhi to look at the afterlife of the iconic tower that is the Qutb Minar.

Qutb Minar. Credit: lensnmatter/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Qutb Minar. Credit: lensnmatter/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Mehrauli is truly a magical place. The average visitor skims but the surface, marvelling at the towering Qutb Minar and taking a cursory stroll through the other buildings that lie within the popular UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Qutb complex. Those who go beyond, into the neighbouring village, may visit the shrine of the Sufi saint Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, or a restaurant. There is now, of course, a smaller group of more adventurous explorers who are discovering the treasures of Mehrauli – particularly in the village and the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, mainly through the medium of increasingly popular ‘heritage walks’.

But though one may visit these monuments and learn the stories that lie in this locality’s long and eventful history, there are many layers that lie awaiting a more rigorous and meaningful analysis. A scholarly study by a leading art historian is, therefore, a very valuable addition to what is admittedly the rather sparse literature on the subject.

Catherine B. Asher Delhi’s Qutb Complex: the Minaret, Mosque and Mehrauli Marg Publications, 2017
Catherine B. Asher
Delhi’s Qutb Complex: the Minaret, Mosque and Mehrauli
Marg Publications, 2017

Catherine B. Asher’s Delhi’s Qutb Complex: The Minar, Mosque and Mehrauli starts by setting the monuments of the Qutb Complex within the physical space and history of Mehrauli, and in the context of its many historic structures. Construction on the oldest congregational mosque of Delhi and its attached monumental tower began in the late 12th century, and was commissioned by a newly-arrived political power, the Turks – under Muizzuddin Muhammad bin Sam, also known as Muhammad Ghori – as part of a capital complex that comprised fortifications, palaces and water works. Many structures had of course already been standing there, the legacy of the earlier regimes – those of the Chauhan and Tomar rulers.

Some of these relics of the earlier period were appropriated and modified, such as the city wall. Others were cleared away and their materials reused. Notable here are a number of temples, destroyed during the conquest, whose stones were used to build the congregational mosque. Asher relies on recent research to analyse the complex nature of this appropriation and reuse, and its cultural ramifications. The systematic way in which the various elements were placed in the newly constructed mosque suggests that they were not treated as random spolia. For instance, the largest and most elaborately carved pillars were used in the western arcade, the part of the mosque closest to Mecca, and therefore the direction in which the congregation faced.

While the tower, the mosque, royal tombs and some waterworks were commissioned by the rulers, significant construction in Mehrauli in that period is attributable to the many other inhabitants of the capital city. Important remnants include mosques, tombs and shrines of Sufi saints, which added a layer of Islamic sacred spaces, in addition to the pre-existing Yogmaya Temple, an ancient site dedicated to a revered goddess, and the 11th century Dadabari Jain temple.

Over the succeeding centuries, as the centre of power shifted and the capital moved to newer sites in Delhi, the character of Mehrauli shifted in favour of its spiritual significance, as the site of important shrines. The book describes many of the religious structures – dargahs, tombs, mosques, temples, a church and a Buddhist centre, that have been constructed here right up to modern times. It also details the many secular structures that were built as Mehrauli became a popular resort for those fleeing the crowded conditions of urban life in the capital city. These structures included mansions, gardens, the 19th-century palace of the last two Mughal emperors, and British ornamental ‘follies’. The overwhelming impression is one of the continuing importance of the site. This importance was reinforced through longstanding traditions, not only of religious observances such as the Urs of the Sufi saint, but of festivals like the Phool Walon ki Sair. The latter was instituted by the later Mughals in the early 19th century, and involved veneration of both the dargah of Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki and the Yogmaya Temple.

Catherine B. Asher. Credit: University of Minnesota website
Catherine B. Asher. Credit: University of Minnesota website

Asher has gone beyond Mehrauli and Delhi to look at the afterlife of the iconic tower that is the Qutb Minar. She shows us how strong its impact was on later structures, which mimicked its form in miniature, either as freestanding towers or engaged columns. Examples of such appropriation range from structures as far flung as the Qutbuddin Mubarak Khalji’s mosque in Daultabad, to several in Delhi itself, for instance the 16th century mosque in Lodi Garden.

And yet the meaning of the original tower and its attached mosque is not uncontested. There have been suggestions, expressed first by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, that the Qutb Minar was built by the Chauhans. While this is an opinion that is not generally espoused, at least by an educated readership, more common is the interpretation of both mosque and tower primarily as signifying the triumphalism of Islam. This is done on the one hand through an emphasis on the temple destruction associated with the site. On the other, it is fostered by the ASI signage and publications calling the mosque Quwwat al-Islam, literally, ‘strength of Islam’. This name, in fact, was not used for the mosque before the 19th century.

Asher questions many of these popular ideas, which often have their roots in colonial scholarship. She follows recent scholars such as Finbarr Flood, whom she refers to several times, in asking for a more nuanced reading of the site and what it signified in the past. Yet she does not break free of some of the more well-entrenched notions. Dichotomous ‘Islamic’ and ‘Indic’ traditions are treated as a given, without going into details of the motifs that are seen on the early Sultanate architecture to analyse their roots. The problem of the discipline of history becomes very apparent in such cases. A scholar of ‘Islamic’ art and architecture is trained to see the Qutub complex as Islamic architecture. The author, while she makes detailed comment on the calligraphy that adorned the early Sultanate structures, has no comment on the use of motifs like the lotus and the kalash, Indian motifs which also feature in the surface decoration. These motifs, in fact, persisted as an integral part of the ornamentation of mosques and tombs in Mehrauli and elsewhere, through the centuries, till the end of the Mughals.

Moreover, while it is important to study the architectural creations of the Ghurids in Afghanistan, as Asher has done, to understand their buildings in Delhi, it may not be enough to trace the roots of Ghurid architecture in Afghanistan merely to the previous ‘Islamic’ dynasty – the Ghaznavids. There were examples of pre-Ghaznavi art and architecture that abounded in the landscape – notably the great Gandhara tradition. It is time that its significance for later developments is also studied.

On the whole, however, the book is a valuable resource and informative read on a very important archaeological site. The inclusion of a large number of contemporary photographs and also archival images, match the scholarship, and live up to the standards set by the Marg series of scholarly volumes.

Swapna Liddle wrote her PhD thesis on the cultural and intellectual history of 19th-century Delhi. She is the author of Delhi: 14 Historic Walks and Chandni Chowk: The Mughal City of Old Delhi.

source: http://www.thewire.in / The Wire / Home> Books / by Swapna Liddle / November 30th, 2017

Mughals were leaders of first independence war, says NALSAR University of Law V-C



Lucknow :

These are times of aggressive nationalism we are living in, said vice chancellor of NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad, Faizan Mustafa, where we have started to consider Mughals not part of the country. Mustafa speaking at the grand 200th bicentenary birth anniversary celebrations of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in Lucknow on Tuesday went ahead to say that Mughals were in fact leaders of the first war of independence of 1857 and were considered so by the likes of Tipu Sultan, Tatya Tope and others.

“Mughals were an integral part of India who could not be fragmented from its soul and now we are here in these times of aggressive nationalism where we are having doubts about them. And this nationalism has not only made us target the Mughals, but also recently there were similar talks about Rabindranath Tagore,” said Mustafa who was the guest of honour at the Sir Syed Day organised by Aligarh Muslim University’s (AMU) Old Boys’ Association. Filmmaker Muzaffar Ali was the chief guest on the day, both of whom being former pupils of the university, recounted their time spent at AMU.

Mustafa also cleared that now when criticising the government is equated to being seditious, it was in 1860 after a fatwa (decree) from clerics at Deoband against the British that the law of sedition as a charge was enacted. Mustafa also exhorted his fellow Aligs (as past pupils of AMU are popularly known) that the dream of Sir Syed has not yet been realised with Muslims lagging in both modern education and securing government jobs.

In his brief speech, Mustafa also touched upon the controversy around AMU’s minority status and said, “People say that the minority status was for the college and with AMU a university, it does not stand now. I researched for this when I had to submit in Allahabad high court as AMU’s stand on the case and I found that when Sir Syed laid the foundation of the madrasa it was the university he had in mind and when he gave his first speech in 1877 when the school was raised to the college level, in front of Lord Lytton he said that one day the college would be a university.

Mustafa also said that blaming Sir Syed for the two nation theory was not just wrong but also absurd. “In several of his recorded speeches, he has identified and defined both Hindus and Muslims as not separate identities but one qaum (community) and one nation. Mustafa considered an authority on law also said that reforms in Muslim personal laws were needed and could only be possible through the ideas of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan.

ON the day, the AMU Old Boys’ Association and its members that had gathered in the city from different parts of the state passed the resolution to raise demand of Bharat Ratna for Sir Syed and to generate funds for a Sir Syed House in Lucknow to carry on his Aligarh movement of education.

source: http://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com / The Times of India / News> City News> Lucknow News / by Yusra Hussain / TNN / October 18th, 2017

Paying tribute to a legend




As we celebrate the 200th birth anniversary of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, it’s a good time to remember his contributions to society as a social reformer, educationist, and philosopher

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was born into a noble Syed family in Delhi, which was then the capital of the Mughal empire. His family was well connected and both his maternal and paternal side of the family had connections with the Mughal court. Sir Syed was raised by his mother, Azis-un-Nisa, with a disciplined upbringing. His mother laid  strong emphasis on modern education. He was well versed with Persian, Arabic and Urdu and his education consisted of orthodox religious subjects as well as modern subjects like mathematics and astronomy.

Sir Syed was also well-known for his physical strength. He enjoyed swimming and archery and was particularly good at both. He was born at a time when there were a lot of rebellious Governors and religious insurrections aided and led by the East India Company. Together, these factors were diminishing the power of the Mughal empire. He saw this as an opportunity and used his education prowess to stand up and make an impact in such dire circumstances.

Social reform: Sir Syed is referred by many as the “man who knew tomorrow”. He played a very influential role in bridging the gap between the Oriental and the Western world. He knew what changes were required in the society in order to move forward and keep up with the rest of the world. He dedicated his life to strike a balance between tradition and modernity and strived for traditional Oriental and Western scholarship.

Emphasis on English: Sir Syed encouraged the society to keep up with the rest of the world by stressing on the importance of English language. Many of his contemporaries were against his ideology and felt that this was a disservice to their own culture. However, Sir Syed saw the importance of English as a step through which the society could make major advancements.

At that time, most knowledge about modern arts and sciences were available only in English. Previously, Muslim scholars had adopted the use of Persian and Greek language to study science and art. Sir Syed argued that people shouldn’t disregard a whole treasure of knowledge in English just because English was the language adopted by the Westerners. He rightly believed that there is a lot of benefit that can be gained from learning the language. His advocacy of English didn’t mean he wanted to move people away from the Arabic language.

Sir Syed was, in fact, a strong supporter of Arab culture and Arabic language. He stressed on the importance of another language, English, because of the plethora of knowledge bases it opens up.

Sir Syed was also very practical with his school of thought. After the revolt in 1857, he saw how the British empire was taking shape and that English education style was taking charge. He realised that learning English was absolutely necessary in order to keep up in those days and that was a school of thought that was very different than other scholars of his era. This was one of Sir Syed’s biggest social policies.

Modern, pragmatic views: Another important factor that differentiates Sir Syed’s social policy is that he always stood by his principles and defended what he thought was right. He did not succumb to pressure from the people around him. His advocacy of English was, of course, one example of that. Sir Syed also proposed a modern take on Islamic education, which included present-day science. This was not the norm at that time. He also had forward-looking views on women and their rights. He was a strong voice, defending women’s rights and recognised their potential to contribute to the society, which again never used to be the case. Sir Syed was termed as a “collective individual” by French sociologist  Pierre Bourdieu. He successfully managed to take up roles of a free-thinker, an administrator, reformer, educationalist, religious scholar and a devout family man.

Educational reform:  As mentioned earlier, Sir Syed was a major proponent of Western style education and gaining a modern outlook of the world. He believed that this was the fundamental driving force the Muslim community needed in order to match the rest of the world. He displayed his devotion to education by founding various educational institutions in India and also contributing to the community by writing his own journal and writings on different topics.

Dedication to scholarly work: Sir Syed was himself one of the most respected scholars of his time. Despite heavily being involved in the political scene and being an active social reformist, Sir Syed always found time for his academic pursuits. His topics of interest included history, politics, archaeology, journalism, literature, religion and science. Sir Syed felt like the future of Muslims would be in jeopardy if they continue to avoid modern science and technology. That is why he published many writings that promoted a liberal, rational and pragmatic train of thought. Most Muslim scholars disagreed with his views on issues such as jihad, polygamy and animal slaughtering but Sir Syed stood his ground and stuck by his belief. He started facing increasing pressure from orthodox Muslims about his views and, hence, he eventually stopped discussing religious subjects and instead focused on improving the education system.

Sir Syed was then posted in Aligarh in 1864 and that is where he founded the first scientific association in India called the Scientific Society of Aligarh. Sir Syed gathered Muslim scholars from different parts of the country and modeled it after the Royal Asiatic Society. The society held several conferences and even collected and spent money for different educational causes. The purpose of this society was to translate Western works into Indian languages so that Indian scholars can learn from the Western world. Sir Syed was appointed as the fellow of Calcutta University in 1876 and fellow of Allahabad University by the Viceroy in 1887.

Bridging education and politics: Sir Syed was the leader of the Aligarh movement. He founded the Mohammadan Anglo Oriential College in 1875 and this came to be known as the Aligarh movement. This move marked the birth of the first Muslim university in South Asia and drove modern Muslim education to make a large political impact on Indian Muslims in all parts of India. Sir Syed modeled this college after Oxford and Cambridge after he took a trip to England. He wanted to build a college that aligned with the British education system without compromising on any Islamic values. This movement encouraged poets and writers to switch from a romantic style of prose and poetry to a more cultural and political mindset which influenced the common life of Indian Muslims. Aligarh Muslim University is a creation of this movement.

In 1878, Sir Syed was nominated to the Viceroy’s Legislative Council. He later asked the education commission to establish more colleges and schools across the country. He also organised the All India Mohammadan Educational Conference in Aligarh where he encouraged people to give more importance to modern education and Muslim unity. Sir Syed’s valiant efforts never went unnoticed.

(This is the first article in a two-part series on Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. The second part will appear in these columns on Tuesday, October 17. The writer is a well-known linguist, author and columnist)

source: http://www.dailypioneer.com / The Pioneer / Home> Columnists> OpEd / by M J Warsi / Monday – October 16th, 2017

Aligarh Muslim University: a great seat of learning


Sir Syed Ahmad Khan dedicated his life for the Hindu-Muslim unity in the country and worked all his life for the educational upliftment of the community and for the strengthening of a pluralistic society of a modern India. He stressed on making education a medium to transform people into good human beings.

The Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) represents the secular Ganga-Jamuna culture and the AMU community is committed to preserve this identity of this great seat of learning. Sir Syed avoided too much emphasis on religious subjects in his writings, focusing instead on promoting modern education.

As we know, the AMU is an academic institution of international importance offering more than 300 courses in both traditional and modern branches of education. Academic excellence and cultural ethos of AMU needs to be projected and propagated worldwide more effectively in a positive way. In the fast changing technological world, the role of media has become very important in disseminating the information to have a maximum reach.The supreme interest of Sir Syed’s life was education in its widest sense. He wanted to create a scientific temperament among the Muslims and to make the modern knowledge of science available to them. He championed the cause of modern education at a time when all the Indians in general and Indian Muslims in particular considered it a sin to get modern education and that too through English language. He began establishing schools, at Muradabad in 1858 and Ghazipur in 1863.

A more ambitious undertaking was the foundation of the Scientific Society, which published translations of many educational texts and issued a bilingual journal in Urdu and English. It was for the use of all citizens; they were jointly operated by the Hindus and Muslims. In the late 1860s, there occurred some developments that were challenges to his activities.

In 1867, he was transferred to Varanasi, a city on the Ganga with great religious significance for Hindus. At about the same time, a movement started in the city to replace Urdu, the language spoken by the Muslims, with Hindi. This movement and the attempts to substitute Hindi for Urdu publications of the Scientific Society convinced Syed that he should do something.

Thus during a visit to England (1869-70), he prepared plans for a great educational institution — a “Muslim Cambridge.” On his return, he set up a committee for the purpose and also started an influential journal, Tahzib al-Akhlaq (Social Reform), for the uplift and reforms of the Muslims. A Muslim school was established at Aligarh in May 1875, and after his retirement in 1876, Sir Syed dedicated himself to make it a college.

To carry the legacy of the great reformer, the AMU has got a dynamic and intellectual person as vice chancellor in the form of Prof Tariq Mansoor, who had been associated with the university for more than three decades. Mansoor has been the principal of the J N Medical College since 2013. He had been the secretary of the University Games Committee for about seven years.

Besides being the president of the Association of Surgeons, he has been a member of the Medical Council of India (MCI) since 2015 and that of the AMU Executive Council for 12 years. Mansoor is a recipient of the senior surgical award from the Association of Surgeons of India. He is also given credit for the overall development of Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College. He served as an advisor in the Union Public Service Commission and as an assessor for the MCI.

Mansoor, in his vision, posted on the University’s website clearly stated that he will implement “Sir Syed’s vision of imparting modern education and will be focusing on “preparing students to qualify in competitive exams for central services, armed forces, IITs, IIMs and leading industries. We will also aim to produce top professionals in medicine, engineering, law, management, sciences and humanities”.

Appeal to alumniIt is unique and very positive to have a team of highly intellectual and academicians of repute to run the University. It is important for the progress of an academic institution that it should run by the academicians of high repute.

In an open letter to the AMU alumni who are holding important positions in different organisations worldwide, the vice chancellor has made an appeal to them to contribute both academically and financially.

To me, this is a very good move and initiative that will certainly help the students in getting employment in national and international market. Alumni support will also help in developing the infrastructural facilities of high standard as we have seen the contribution by Frank Islam, an AMU alumnus based in the US.The way newly appointed vice chancellor has taken the initiatives so far clearly shows his vision and plan for the betterment of the university. However, it would be more interesting to see his efforts in days to come. His biggest challenge would be maintaining the law and order situation in the campus. His long association with AMU would certainly be helpful in understanding the dynamics of the campus and in maintaining the law and order situation.

However, I would suggest that the VC should have an IPS officer on deputation basis as proctor of the University with power to handle the law and order situation independently. Another issue he may face would be regionalism and groupism in the campus but I am happy to mention that he already stated clearly in his vision that he will eliminate factionalism and groupism from the campus. It is high time for the AMU community to support the vice chancellor in making the University as one of the best in the country.

(The writer, a linguist, teaches at Washington University in St Louis, USA)

source: http://www.deccanherald.com / Deccan Herald / Home> Panorama / by M.J. Warsi / July 03rd, 2017

The generous Sultan


A GEOGRAPHICAL LANDMARK - A part of Delhi ridge along which Buddha Jayanti Park has come up | / Photo Credit: HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES
A GEOGRAPHICAL LANDMARK – A part of Delhi ridge along which Buddha Jayanti Park has come up | / Photo Credit: HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES

The news of a maulvi living in an alcove of the Ridge area makes one reflect on the legacy of Feroz Shah Tughlaq who respected men of divinity

Police accosting a maulvi in a forest bordering the Bodyguard Lines of the President’s Estate recently should cause little wonder. Ghazi Norool Hassan, say reports, was found living in an alcove of the Ridge area along with his son, claiming to be the caretaker of a mazar. This shrine is supposed to be very old and in keeping with the legacy of the reign of Feroz Shah Tughlaq. A large part of Delhi was forest area in the 14th Century and this helped the Emperor to indulge in his favourite past-time of hunting. Right from Mehrauli to North Delhi there is evidence of the Sultan’s hunting lodges where he sometimes rested at night too.

While in North Delhi he built an observatory, besides a hunting lodge, a Pir of his time also set up abode in the area and, after drawing a lot of devotees, disappeared one fine day, leaving his admirers shocked. The place has come to be known as Pir Ghaib. On the Ridge near Karol Bagh is the ruined gate of Bhuli Bhatiyari-ka-Mahal. Though Sir Syed Ahmad Khan thought it was a distortion of the name of a nobleman, Bhu Ali Bhatti, there are not many takers for this assertion.

If oral history is to be believed, Bhuli Bhatiyari was the comely daughter of a dhaba owner (Bhaitiyara) with whom the Sultan fell in love while passing that way. There is incidentally a Bhuri Bhatiyari-ki-Masjid (dedicated to a fair innkeeper) opposite the Khooni Darwaza. Another story says Feroz Shah actually fell in love with a gypsy girl for whom he built a palace as she had stolen his heart after offering him a drink of water on a hot summer day while the Sultan was out hunting.

Historian Ishwari Prasad says that Feroz Shah was a pious man, despite being an orthodox Sunni who ill-treated the Shias and non-Muslims. But at the same time he was generous and not fond of shedding blood, like his cousin and mentor Mohammed Bin Tughlaq, whom he had succeeded. Feroz was a great devotee of dervishes, many of whom flourished in his empire. One of them probably was the Pir Sahib of the place where the maulvi was found living secretly for 40 years. The forest area of which the shrine is a part, had many other dargahs which were demolished when New Delhi was built. Raisina Hill was also covered with a forest where wolves, leopards and hyenas were found. So a Forest Ranger’s bungalow was set up there. In later times, this bungalow became part of the Sacred Heart Cathedral and now after renovation, is known as Maria Bhawan.

Some old mosques still exist in nearby areas which may be dating back to Tughlaq times, for that matter the place where now stands Gurdwara Rakabganj was also a jungle once in which during Aurangzeb’s time lived a contractor, Lakhi Singh of the Mughal court. When Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded on the orders of Aurangzeb, there was a violent storm, taking advantage of which Lakhi Singh and his eight sons (who had come on horses and bullocks) took the body away, while the Guru’s head was taken away by a man named Jatha. Lakhi Singh drove all the way from Chandni Chowk to the forest where he lived and putting the body in his house set it on fire to avoid suspicion. Later Gurdwara Rakabganj came up there.

But to come back to Feroz Shah, the number of mosques and dargahs that were set up in his reign rivalled the inns, gardens and hospitals. He is said to have laid 1,200 gardens around Delhi and nearby areas in each of which a Sufi found refuge. The Sultan lived up to the age of 90, the longest living ruler of Delhi after Aurangzeb. He was so generous at heart that even while laying siege to a city he would often turn back on hearing the cries of women in distress and suffering from the pangs of hunger, along with their children. Even while on shikar, Feroz Shah would pay obeisance to saints who had set up abode in his empire. Many of them were helped by him to set up khankahs or hospices, and when they died the Sultan was always ready to build a mazar for them.

Once while visiting a dervish he was puzzled on seeing a goat and a tendua (panther) lying in the courtyard of the jungle abode. Seeing his amazement at the sight the dervish told him that in the royal darbar this may not be possible but in his khankah the goat and the panther could lie side by side, forgetting their enmity. When the British built what is now President’s Estate, they reclaimed a lot of forest land in which wild animals roamed. But still a lot of the area acquired by Lutyens and Baker was left as forest land. The mazar of which Noorol Hassan claims to be caretaker is only one among many hidden away from the public eye. Don’t be surprised if in course of time the mazar becomes a regular shrine with an annual Urs. But for this the history of the mazar and of the saint buried there would first have to be determined. Until then Ghazi Noorol Hassan can continue to be caretaker of the legacy bequeathed to him by Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed. The late President himself preferred to be buried outside the New Delhi Jama Masjid, opposite Parliament House, where once the heart-broken poet Hasrat Mohani of “Chupke, chupke aansoon bahana” fame had made his bachelor’s quarters.

source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> Society> History & Culture / December 25th, 2016