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Sir Syed and Pandit Malaviya Embraced, Celebrated Richness of Religious Diversity: Frank Islam

Dr Frank Islam speaking at Sir Syed Day event at Aligarh Muslim University in Aligarh on October 17, 2019.

While there was not a religious bond between Pandit Malaviya and Sir Syed there was undoubtedly a spiritual one. In fact, it might be said they were soul mates who shared a spiritual common ground— said Dr Frank Islam while a speech on Sir Syed Day at Aligarh Muslim University

Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, October 18— Renowned Indian-American entrepreneur and philanthropist and celebrated alumnus of Aligarh Muslim University Dr Frank Islam, in his Sir Syed Day speech in Aligarh on Thursday, highlighted the common thinking of the founder of AMU Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and founder of Banaras Hindu University Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya regarding religious diversity and composite culture in India.

“Sir Syed’s deeds and words are relevant at all times. They take on new meaning and significance to guide us in this divisive day and age and these trying, troubling and turbulent times for India and the world,” said Frank Islam.

“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 collegial and compassionate 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, Sir Syed 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.

Frank Islam then said that Sir Syed (1817-1898) was not alone to have this thought, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya (1861-1946), who established Banaras Hindu University decades after Aligarh Muslim University was founded, also had similar thought.

“I must note that Sir Syed was not alone in this ecumenical perspective and his vision for communal peace in India’s pluralistic society.  Pandit Malaviya, founder of Banaras Hindu University instructed us, “India is not a country of the Hindus only. It is a country of the Muslims, the Christians, and the Parsees too.  The country can gain strength and develop itself only when the people of India live in mutual good will and harmony.”

They believed religion is about caring fellow humans.

“Both Sir Syed and Pandit Malaviya found common ground and mission to embrace and celebrate the richness of religious diversity. As you know diversity makes us stronger. Diversity is vital to a healthy democracy. Diversity brings us together. And, together, we can help shape a better and stronger India,” said Frank Islam.

“While there was not a religious bond between Pandit Malaviya and Sir Syed there was undoubtedly a spiritual one. In fact, it might be said they were soul mates who shared a spiritual common ground. Considering that we are living in a divisive and self-centered time and are facing the challenging and difficult time around the globe on religious nationalism, they would counsel coming together to work things out through education and communication rather than conflict. Their advice and vision would provide the basis for bringing us together to foster unity across cultures, community, and religion in order to find a shared sense of humanity. We can do this not by looking to heavens and to the gods whom we worship but by looking at the earth and the people and the family that we are,” he added.

Dr Frank also talked about Sir Syed’s vision about education, AMU and how rich Hindus of the time also helped establish AMU.

Sir Syed felt that there were two pillars for achieving peaceful co-existence, collaboration and communal harmony. They are:  education and shared educational experiences,” said Frank.

“On the importance of education while many were advocating for and against including Muslims in the National Congress, Sir Syed 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 this point, I must stress that Sir Syed’s vision was embraced by others.  Indeed, in its early years many wealthy Hindus were major benefactors of MAO College.  That was a great investment for them because of what AMU has become,” Dr Frank said.

He called upon the students to implement Sir Syed’s vision of peaceful co-existence and collaboration.

“The stage is being set in India to work toward Sir Syed’s vision of peaceful co-existence and collaboration. All of us have a special opportunity and obligation to play a role in bringing about that change. It is up to us as mere mortals to pursue them. Let me leave you with this quote from Sir Syed which I think is most appropriate for today: “All human beings are our brothers and sisters. Working for their welfare is obligatory for Muslims.” It is obligatory that we remember and build on Sir Syed’s legacy of love, learning and light. All of us need to sustain and carry on his vision.”