The Aligarh Speech of Shaykh al-Hind Maulana Mahmud Hasan

This is an excerpt from the historic speech given by the Shaykh al-Hind Maulana Mahmud Hasan at Aligarh on the 29th of October, 1920. Born in 1851, he was the first student of the then newly-established Darul Uloom Deoband. Later, he would join the school as an instructor, emerging over time as its most influential teacher, mentoring an entire generation of formidable scholars. Towards the end of his life, he would plunge himself into national politics, in particular on the demand for restoring the Ottoman Caliphate. A movement to do so was waged in the name of the Khilafat Movement in India, engineered and energised in no small part by the Shaykh al-Hind’s famous fatwa on non-co-operation with the British colonizers. At Aligarh, on the occasion of the foundation of Jamia Millia Islamia, the Shaykh delivered the presidential address. The following excerpts, taken from the Shaykhs’ speech, touch upon the themes of a free and pure education, the effects of colonial education, and the way forward to mend the gap between the two camps, of the modernizers (Aligarh) and the traditionalists (Deoband).

Translated from the Urdu by Saad Razi Shaikh

I’m present here, at your invitation, in this old age, in this infirmity and weakness (as you all can well see), for I’m hopeful that I can retrieve here a lost belonging of mine. There are many people whose faces shine with the light of prayers and the remembrance of Allah, yet when they are asked that they, for the love of Allah, rise and save this ummah from the traps of the disbelievers, fear descends upon their hearts, not of Allah but of a few ignoble characters, their war, and their instruments of violence. They, of all people, should know that if there is anything that must be feared it is the wrath of Allah Most High, for its retribution is severe. [They should know] that the possessions of the world are but ephemeral, and that they are nothing when compared to the mercies and kindnesses of Allah Most High.

O youth of this country! When I saw that those sympathetic to my pain (which is chipping away at my bones) are less in the madrasahs and khanqahs and more in the schools and colleges, then I, along with a few sincere friends, decided to make our way to Aligarh. In this way, we bridged the gap between the two historical institutions of India: Deoband and Aligarh.

It isn’t improbable that more than a few of our well-intentioned elders would object to my trip here and feel that I’m deviating from the path of the elders of our tradition. But the people of discernment know that for the few steps I’ve taken here, Aligarh has taken far more steps towards me.

Those of you who have researched well and are well-informed know that at no point did the predecessors of our tradition pass a ruling against the learning of foreign languages or acquiring the knowledge and arts of other people. That being said, they certainly said that the last stage of acquiring British education, which has often been observed, is that the people get meshed in the shape and mould of Christianity, or that they commit insolence in the manner of atheists and make fun of religion and the people of religion, or they begin devotion of the government. When compared to getting an education like this, it is better for a Muslim to stay uneducated.

Now you must decide, in all fairness, was this the prevention of the education or the prevention of its harmful effects? Is it not the same thing that Mr. Gandhi explains these days in this manner:

“The education of these colleges is like good quality milk, clean and clear, to which just a small pint of poison has been added.”

We’re grateful to Allah, who has blessed this community with the youth who can discern that which is beneficial, and harmful to them, and who, using a furnace, can separate the poison from the milk. Today, we have gathered here to establish that very furnace. You must have understood by now that that furnace is the “Muslim National University” (Jamia Millia Islamia).

The virtues of having a pure education need not be presented to my community, for the times themselves have shown that it is through education alone that the seeds of great thinking, foresight, and wisdom come to fruition. It is in their light that a man is able to walk the path of success.

It is necessary that education be in the hands of the Muslims, and it must be free from the influence of adversaries. Are we, by way of beliefs and thought, by way of character and deeds, manners and habits, free of the influence of our adversaries?

The way forward for our community isn’t that our colleges should continue to produce slaves in great numbers; rather, our colleges should be exemplars of the great madrasahs of Baghdad and Cordoba, the ones which made Europe their disciple; even before we could make them our guides. You must have heard that when the foundations of the Madrasah Islamiyyah in Baghdad were laid by the Islamic government, the scholars of the city gathered and mourned the death of knowledge (‘ilm), regretting that from now onwards, knowledge will be acquired to curry favours with the Sultan. Do you then expect a successful community (qawm) to emerge from the colleges which are run and supported largely by a non-Islamic government?

Without a doubt, in the places of learning where Muslims acquire a high quality of education in the modern subjects, if students are unaware of the foundations and branches of their religion, if they forget their religious consciousness and the Islamic obligations, if they have scant regard for their nation and co-religionists, then it should be known that such places of learning are a means to weaken the power of the Muslims. Consequently, it has been announced that such independent colleges must be opened which are completely free of government support and influence and whose entire system of governance must be in accordance with the Islamic disposition and religious consciousness.


November 29, 2021
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