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16 June 2013

Aligarh Muslim University Court or A Muslim Parliament?

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By Kaleem Kawaja

There was a time prior to independence in 1947 that the Court of Aligarh Muslim University - its top governing body - comprised of the top Muslim elite in the nation. The then British-Indian government appointed select elite Muslims from across the country to the AMU Court largely as a recognition of their contribution to AMU and to the spread of education in the Muslim community. But times have changed and with changing times more and more categories of representation and number of members have been aded to this select body. Today there are nearly 200 members in the AMU Court representing more than half a dozen categories.

In earlier years the objective of the Court members was to provide direct or indirect financial support to AMU and to use their influence with the British-Indian government to get resources to AMU with a view to improving the educational status of the Muslim community. Many a nawabs and rajas and other distinguished and well educated Muslims were members of the AMU Court. But now a sizeable number of Muslim politicians, wannabe politicians, some of them even rabblerousers, and political maulanas vie and campaign every year to become members of the AMU Court.


Gone is the emphasis on noblese-oblige, creed of devotion to AMU's welfare and desire to contribute to maintaining AMU as a high quality educational institution, as the salient criteria for becoming members of this august body. Now it is the rough and tumble of political wrangling, canvassing, and influence peddling to get elected to the Court. Now whenever a Muslim in north India acquires some public recognition or makes a certain amount of money, no matter what his/her occupation, regardless of his/her contribution to AMU or level of education, they start aspiring to become a member of the AMU Court.

Recently on a visit to my hometown in U.P. a well to do Muslim businessman who has made good money in the leather trade, but whose educational qualifications are dismal, told me that he was campaigning to become a member of AMU Court. When I asked him why he wants to do that because he does not have much interest in education or AMU, he told me that now the AMU Court has become a sort of parliament of Muslims, especially north Indian Muslims. Interest in education of Muslim community or AMU is not necessarily a factor.

Indeed many political parties with hardly any interest in the educational welfare of the Muslim community (eg BJP), use their influence to place some of their Muslim members in the AMU Court. Also some other aspiring Court members are busy in rabblerousing tobecome popular in the community and use it as a path. Quite a few are movie actors and TV personalities with hardly any interest in the education of Muslims or AMU.

This is not a good trend since while many Court members are distinguished individuals who are working to improve AMU and education, many other Court members do nothing to help AMU or the education of the Muslim community in any way. They only attend the twice yearly Court meetings to further their social contacts and to feel good that they have arrived at a certain social ladder. In the bi-annual Court meetings they never say a word or make any suggestions.

It is time that the leaders of the AMU and Muslim community turn the clock back, reduce the number of Court members, make the criteria for selection stringent and objective to ensure that only distinguished and dedicated Muslims with real interest in furthering AMU and education in the Muslim community are selected to this august body.

Also the functioning of the AMU Court should be scrutinized to ensurethat it does not function as a social or political club or parliament of Muslims, but as a constructive body working hard for the educational uplift of AMU and the Muslim community at large.

[Kaleem Kawaja is a community activist based at Washington DC. He can be contacted at kaleemkawaja@gmail.com]

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