Nation celebrated 151st birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on October 2. Jamia Millia Islamia is celebrating its 100th Foundation Day today on October 29. Young journalist and Jamia alumnus Afroz Alam Sahil has penned a book ‘Jamia aur Gandhi’ highlighting some little-known aspects of the strong connection between the two.
New Delhi, October 29— In November 1920, Mahatma Gandhi attended a meeting with founders of then one-month-old Jamia Millia Islamia in Aligarh and suggested that along with Muslim students, there should be arrangement at the campus for Hindu students also to get religious education. His proposal was whole-heartedly welcomed and implemented at Jamia and it has since been in practice, says Afroz Alam Sahil, author of ‘Jamia aur Gandhi’, in the book.
At the undergraduate level today, Jamia Millia offers three religion papers – Islamic Studies, Hindu Religion & Culture and Indian Religion & Culture. Though its marks are not added to final marksheet, it is mandatory for every undergraduate to choose either of the three and clear its exam also. This practice finds its roots in Gandhi’s suggestion.
“Gandhi was again in Aligarh on 22-23 November 1920. He had gone there to attend a meeting of the Khilafat Committee. His purpose was indeed to know about the situation of Jamia and to attend a meeting of its Foundation Committee. That meeting was being presided over by Hakim Ajmal Khan. In that meeting, Gandhiji suggested that along with religious education of Muslims, there should be arrangement for religious education of Hindu students also. Mahatma Gandhi said that Jamia should arrange a room and time for religious education of Hindu students. If Hindu students want to get religious education, they should arrange for teacher, otherwise when number of students grows, then the university can also make arrangement for this. It is noteworthy that the arrangement has continued to be in practice at Jamia till date,” writes Afroz Sahil on page 45 of the book.
Renowned RTI activist and journalist Afroz Sahil further notes in his book that Hakim Ajmal Khan’s response to Gandhi’s proposal was two-steps forward.
“Whereas it is necessary for Hindu students to learn about Islamic issues, Muslim students also won’t remain unaware about important Hindu customs, culture and civilization. The foundation of united Indian nationalism depends on this understanding and thinking,” Sahil quotes Hakim Ajmal Khan as saying in the meeting.
Talking to Inclusive India, Afroz Sahil, who did graduation in Mass Media from Jamia Millia and also masters in Mass Communication from its prestigious Mass Communication and Research Centre (MCRC), says: “Following Gandhi’s suggestion, two courses were designed – Islamic Studies and Hindu Religion and Culture. When it was said that other religions should also be taught here, then Indian Religion and Culture was added to the syllabus. A student who gest admission in graduation course, he has to select either of the three papers (besides his elective subjects of graduation). Though its marks are not added to final marksheet of graduation, it is mandatory for student to study either of the three and pass exam in it.”
Afroz Sahil further says that “perhaps this was the reason that not only Hindu students were in good number at Jamia, there were many Hindu teachers also, mostly professors, who had joined Jamia after leaving their job at government colleges.”
Afroz Sahil highlights another interesting aspect about the religion papers. He says that irrespective of their faiths, students are free to choose any of the religion papers, and many Muslim students study Hindu religion and many Hindu students study Islamic studies.
“Irrespective of his/her faith, a student can select any of the three religion papers. There were many Muslim students in my batch who chose Indian Religion & Culture saying they already know about Islam. There are also many Muslim students who select Hindu Religion and Culture and many Hindu students go for Islamic Studies,” says Sahil who is also editor of news portal Beyondheadlines.in.
Commenting on this, Sahil says: “This is the only purpose of Jamia since beginning that diversity in culture is maintained here. In all meetings of Jamia foundation, leaders talked about Hindu-Muslim unity. Whenever Gandhi visited Jamia, he talked to students on unity as students from different religions were studying there. Gandhi also thought that students and teachers from across faiths should come here.”
“At the same time, however, Gandhi also wanted that Jamia should maintain its Muslim identity also. Once some suggested that the word ‘Islamia’ should be removed from Jamia’s name so that funds could be easily collected but Gandhi opposed this suggestion,” says Sahil.
Jamia Millia was founded on October 29, 1920 in Aligarh during the Khilafat Movement (1919–24). It was run in rented accommodation till 1925 in Aligarh before being shifted to Karol Bagh area in Delhi. It was moved from Karol Bagh to the present location Okhla in 1938.
Currently, Jamia has over 21,000 students enrolled in 270 courses offered at 43 departments and 27 academic centres.
Afroz Alam Sahil’s ‘Gandhi and Jamia’ is a well-research book for which he went through archives of Gandhi’s works including the epic 97 volumes of Collected Works of Gandhi and old newspapers.
He says: “For my book, I went through different academic and archival materials. I went through all 97 volumes (each volume consists of 2000-3000 pages) comprising collected works of Gandhi. I also read old copies of Gandhi’s paper ‘Young India’. Besides, I read archives of ‘Times of India’ issues at Teen Murti Bhawan. I also went through ‘Comrade’ and ‘Hamdard’. I also read old copies of ‘Madina’- a paper published from Bijnor in Uttar Pradesh.”