Syed: the Birth of a NationOn October 16, 1863, Syed Ahmad Khan addressed notable Muslims of Calcutta in Persian language. There he described his concept of nation. "Love exists at countless levels," he explained:
- Firstly, there is love for the whole creation, so that one feels pain even if a leaf or a stone is hurt in the universe. This highest degree of love is a gift of God and cannot be acquired on demand.
- Secondly, there is love for all living things.
- Thirdly, there is love for the entire humanity.
- Fourthly, there is love for one's own nation.
In that same Calcutta Address, Syed also pointed out that the enemy of Islam was not Christianity but modern philosophy, and therefore we needed to consolidate our efforts on that front. It may be noted that he expressed this view only four years after the publication of Darwin's book, and long before Nietzsche even appeared on the scene.
For expressing these views, he was declared kafir by the conservatives, who left no stone unturned in opposing the college which he wanted to found at Aligarh for introducing quality education in the country. Returning hatred with love, Syed stayed out of the curriculum-design committee and invited Maulana Qasim Nanotvi, his foremost opponent and the founder of the Deoband seminary, to be part of it instead. Maulana took offence because Shia scholars would also be there although designing a separate syllabus for Shia students. Not bothering to reply himself, Maulana asked his deputy to write back that Syed should feel ashamed for suggesting that the Maulana or his representatives should sit in a room with Shias!
Conservative scholars were not the only enemies of Syed (and Islam). The British recognized him as the most potent threat for the Empire, at least in the long-term. On the pretext of writing sympathetic studies, Western scholars began to present him as a Westernized Muslim. The same line was towed by Indian National Congress, who was upset because Syed's concept of a nation based on love for all creation was opposed to the Western model of territorial identity which Congress tried to introduce in India twenty-two year after Syed's Calcutta Address.
Beyond his lifetime, Syed's most ardent defenders have been Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar and Iqbal. "It may be pointed out here that Syed Ahmad Khan, Syed Jamal-ud-Din Afghani and hundreds of the latter’s disciples in Muslim countries were not Westernised Muslims," Iqbal wrote in an open letter to Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1935. "It is only the superficial observer of the modern world of Islam who thinks that the present crisis in the world of Islam is wholly due to the working of alien forces."
In the light of these views expressed by Iqbal, let's look into our conscience and see if we all have not been superficial observers?