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The Birth of Jamia: From the Ashes of Aligarh, in Aligarh

A look into Jamia Millia Islamia’s past is certain to culminate in the city of Aligarh where it was born in the same red colonial buildings of Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental (MAO) College which is today called the Aligarh Muslim University. It is learned that the MAO College was established in 1875 by Islamic reformer Sir Syed Ahmad Khan to foster education for Muslims with competence in English and western sciences.

Although Sir Syed’s Aligarh had been able to develop a community of vitality and progressiveness enriched Muslim youth, which was then referred to as ‘Aligarh Biradari’ but also ensured that his students portray complete loyalty to English rule as he didn’t want any form of government resistance to his Aligarh movement. However, after he died in 1898, throughout the first two decades of the 20th century, several voices from MAO College were heard which opposed the government whenever they believed it was violating the rights of the Muslims anywhere across the globe.

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan.
Credits: Wikimedia Commons.

The climax of these agitations was the Aligarh associates’ led ‘Khilafat Movement’ which was started in 1919 to restore the Ottoman Khalifa. Moreover, in early 1920 it allied with the Indian National Congress promising participation in Mahatma Gandhi led Non-Cooperation Movement against the British, thus promising to fight for the cause for Indian independence along with that of the Khilafat.

The English were furious at the developments from their once loyal college. As an act to calm the situation, on 14th September 1920, they bestowed the status of university on the college thus; making it Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), however, the ‘rebel’ camp of Aligarh, as they were perceived, wasn’t ready to give in.

Siddons’ Union Club where Gandhi his historic address on 12th October 1920.
Credits: Facebook.

On 12th October, the next month, Gandhi visited newly formed AMU to address students in the university’s Siddons’ Union Club in which he asked them, “How can you remain even for an hour, in an institution in which you’re obliged to put up the Union Jack and profess your loyalty to a governor or other high-ranking officials when in fact you’re not loyal?” Although the majority of students were unaffected, Gandhi’s visit indeed moved the minority group who by then had fully devoted themselves to the dual cause of religion and nationalism, the group who in the future would be referred to as the Jamia Biradari, separate from the rest of the Aligarh Biradari.

AMU’s Old Boys’ Lodge.
Credits: Facebook.

The next day after Gandhi’s momentous visit, on 13th October, Mohammad Ali of the rebel camp appeared with moist eyes to bid farewell to his beloved alma mater from where he knew he would be out soon, described the humiliating eviction from Aligarh to be similar to ‘Adam’s exit from paradise’. His despondency moved several in the audience most of whom met for another meeting in the university’s Union Hall on the 16th.

A congregate prayer at Jamia.
Credits: Jamia’s Premchand Archives and Literary Centre.

However, the university authority looking closely at the unrest since Gandhi’s visit sent letters to parents of those whom they considered ‘rebels’ to take them back, the Aligarh Institute Gazette of 20th October even published a father’s warning letter to his son in which he asked him to stay away from the Gandhian call. As a result, on 23rd October, rebel leader Mohammad Ali, issued 29th October as a deadline, when according to his plan, either the authorities would end the English influence, or else would start a new institution that very day. He even assembled the students in the mosque and asked them not to obey their parents, but to follow Allah, committing to an Independent National University. 23-years old Zakir Husain who had a major role in this mission in future, met senior Muslim leaders in Delhi to offer their services for their project.

Make-shift camps at Krishna Ashram, Aligarh.
Credits: Jamia’s Premchand Archives and Literary Centre.

On 27th October, 124 trustees of Aligarh met to put an end to the campus unrest. Despite Gandhi’s and other Congress leader’s numerous advices, they achingly approved not to relinquish the government grants and Non-Cooperation and Khilafat adherently lost. Thus, with no chance left, on 29th October as per ultimatum, the National Muslim University, Jamia Millia Islamia, the first of its type came into being in university’s Old Boys’ Lodge.

The next day, on 30th October, Mohammad Ali was charged for breaking open some of the locked rooms of the pakka barracks of the Old Boys’ Lodge. Although some tried to defy the charges, senior members advised restraint and thus, they decided to vacate.

Muhammad Ali.
Credits: Wikimedia Commons.

The next day, was Friday, 31st October, soon after the Fajr or morning prayers, a boy held a green flag reciting the Kalima-I Tayabba, the profession or affirmation of the faith, while a small, bedraggled procession led by Hakim Ajmal Khan, Ali Brothers and Hasrat Mohani, marched out of the MAO College for the last time, holding their heads high to the makeshift homes in nearby Krishna Ashram, which belonged to Kishori Lal. From here, began the long-struggling journey of the institution which was called Jamia Millia Islamia, established over the pillars of ideals and dreams.

Aashish Kochhar is a student pursuing History Hons. from Jamia Millia Islamia.

Edited by: Varda Ahmad

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.

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Written by Aashish Kochhar

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