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30 June 2013

AMU is again leading the educational development of Muslims throughout India

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A tribute on the occasion of the Federation of Aligarh Alumni Association's XII Annual Convention in Houston, USA (June 28-30)

By Kaleem Kawaja

The XII Annual Convention of the Federation of Aligarh Alumni Associations (FAAA) in USA is being held at the Crowne Plaza - Houston River Oaks hotel in Houston, on June 28-30, 2013. The convention seeks to bring together a diverse cross-section of Aligarh Muslim University Alumni, various alumni associations and well-wishers of AMU to discuss issues related to educational, literary and social needs of the Indian Muslim and AMU community.

The theme of the 2013 convention is "New Generation Alumni & Aligarh Movement" and will be addressed by eminent personalities. Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Zameer Uddin Shah (Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University) will be the Chief Guest and Hon. P. Harish, Consul General of India (Houston) will be the Guest of Honor on this occasion.

On this occasion it is pertinent to reminisce AMU’s growth over more than a century from the small Mohammadan Anglo Oriental School to one of India’s premier universities. The modern history of the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent after the end of the 600-year-long Muslim ruling era in 1857, and their emancipation by acquiring modern education starting in late 19th Century represents a very courageous turning point for the Indian nation.

The widespread British suppression and degrading of Muslims of all classes following the failure of the 1857 revolution was savage and impacted all classes of Muslims. However, in the late 19th Century a few Muslim leaders across the country embarked on a path to emancipate the Muslim community through modern education by building modern Muslim educational institutions. One of them who succeeded brilliantly is Sir Syed Ahmad Khan of Aligarh Muslim University.

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan built the Mohammadan Anglo Oriental School and College in Aligarh in 1874, where he introduced curriculum from the prominent universities of Britain like Oxford and Cambridge and employed British teachers to teach at the school. Today over a hundred years later the initiative in Aligarh has blossomed into the large and internationally renowned Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).

After 1947 AMU suffered grievous discrimination for about a quarter century. Thus in post-independence India AMU became much more than a Muslim university; it became a symbol of the middleclass Muslims and a beacon of hope for the emancipation of the community.

Gradually over the years as the political parties and forces have realized the importance of Muslims as an integral part of India, AMU is again being looked upon by successive governments and parties in power as one of the major avenues through whom the Muslim community should be approached.

In the last several decades the educational backwardness of Indian Muslims and its contribution to the overall socioeconomic backwardness of the community has become an open gnawing wound. The 2007 Justice Sachar Committee report on this subject has put the government's responsibility to bring educational empowerment of the Muslim community on the front burner. It is this realization that led the government to plan the building of several higher educational colleges for Muslims in various Muslim concentration districts in the country that could grow in due course of time into Muslim universities, as recommended by the Sachar Committee.

However, the government faced a major problem that the Indian constitution prohibits building such facilities for only one religious community. That is when they thought of expanding an existing Muslim university by building its remote centers across the country. They had only two universities to choose from; AMU and Jamia Milia Islamia. AMU being far more well established with a well established system of instruction, curriculum, research, academic management, residential facilities for students, large colleges of Medicine, Engineering, Law, Business Management, Science etc. became the natural choice.

With the planned establishment of five AMU centers of higher education in places far away from Aligarh, two of which are now operating in Murshidabad (West Bengal) and Mallapuram (Kerala), and the third Center is in development in Kishanganj (Bihar), AMU is being transformed from being a single university for Muslims into a university system for Indian Muslims.

While AMU does not have a reservation for Muslim students it does have a reservation for "internal students". That means preferential admission of AMU's own students to its professional and higher science colleges. Since the dominant culture and ethos of AMU is Muslim-centric most students at higher secondary level where students are relatively young tend to be Muslims. That makes the internal student reservation an indirect reservation for Muslims.

This system of "internal student’s quota" has been upheld by the Courts as being legal, as under Article 30 of the Indian Constitution minorities are allowed to set up their own systems of management. Also this is not a reservation for Muslims as anyone is allowed to become an internal student at AMU. By virtue of being centers of AMU, the internal student reservation system can be easily extended to its remote Centers without infringing any laws of the nation. Thus the government is able to directly fund the establishment of the AMU remote centers.

The plan includes for the five AMU Centers to grow under the administration at AMU, Aligarh, transferring academic management knowhow, management of teaching and student bodies, curriculum etc from AMU to its remote centers. The plan at this time is to make the remote AMU centers soon become their own Muslim universities with assistance from the Government’s Minorities Ministry. Since all AMU remote centers are being built in heavy Muslim concentration districts it is natural that it will spread higher education in the educationally backward Muslim community. That will bring empowerment and socio-economic growth to the backward Muslim community all over the country in due course of time.

Just as in the pre-1947 era AMU was a leader of higher education for Muslims in the Indian subcontinent and Muslims came from all over the country to study there, today AMU is again becoming the leader, leading the resurgence of higher education in the backward Muslim community all over the country, from West Bengal to Kerala. In the process AMU is also on the path to lead the socio-economic emancipation of the depressed Muslim community on an all-India basis.

Indian Muslims and alumnus of AMU have enthusiastically welcomed this initiative. More than anything AMU is responding to the challenge that the extraordinary educational backwardness of the Indian Muslim community represents, and is leading the path forward to the uplift of the entire Indian Muslim community.

The expansion of the AMU umbrella over the entire country also represents the fulfillment of the vision of the century old Aligarh Movement and of the founders of AMU who saw AMU's future not just as one college but as a catalyst for the establishment of clones of AMU in Muslim communities throughout the country that will emancipate the entire community. Just as the AMU anthem says, “The cloud that emanates from AMU; that cloud will shower its blessings over the entire community”.

[Kaleem Kawaja, a community activist based at Washington D.C., can be reached on kaleemkawaja@gmail.com]

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