I discussed the Islamic reforms of Syed Ahmad Khan in my 2003 book Onward Muslim Soldiers. His life, as this retrospective shows, illustrates why there are so few Islamic reformers, and the enormous difficulties they face. “How the clergy wanted Sir Syed beheaded,” by Arif Mohammed Khan in the Times of India, October 19 (thanks to Mohan):
Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was the first Muslim voice of reform in India. He emerged on the scene at a time when Indian Muslim society was sunk in obscurantism and inertia and showed no desire to struggle out of its medieval grooves. The unwholesome influence of clergy had made them view modern education as incompatible with and hostile to religion.
The abortive uprising of 1857 and the cleric call to jihad made Muslims target of British wrath and reprisals. Sir Syed as a judicial officer served the government during the crisis but the aftermath of disturbances deeply impacted him.
He wrote: “I reflected about the decadence of the Muslim community, and came to the conclusion that modern education alone is the remedy of the ills they are suffering from. I decided on a strategy to disabuse their minds of strong communal belief that the study of European literature and science is anti-religion and promotes disbelief.”
The objectives of Sir Syed, born in early 19th century (October 17, 1817), were educational and social reforms; he had no desire to dabble in religion. But all his initiatives were opposed in the name of religion.
Describing his dilemma, Sir Syed said: “We were keen to avoid any discussion of religion, but the problem is that our behaviours, social practices and religious beliefs are so mixed up that no discussion of social reform is possible without provoking a religious controversy.” Frustrated with the clergy, he added, “When urged to give up something harmful, they say it has religious merit and when asked to do something positive they assert it is prohibited by religion. So we have no options but discuss the religious context to push our agenda forward.” […]
The intensity of opposition can be understood from the comments of Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi in his book “Islamiat aur Maghribiat ki Kashmakash” written more than 60 years after Sir Syed’s death. Maulana says: “ËœThe education mission of Sir Syed and his advocacy of Western civilization became correlatives and caused apprehensions and doubts in the minds of people. A wave of opposition took hold of the religious circles and his movement met with a simultaneous call for its boycott.”
First Sir Syed was targeted when he shared food with the British and defended his action in a signed article. The opposition became fierce during his stay in London. Sir Syed responded through a memorandum saying: “The terrifying call of Kanpur, the lyrical satire of Lucknow, the idle tattle of Agra and Allahabad, the fatwas of Rampur and Bareilly and the snide remarks of holy men of Delhi grieve me not. My heart is overflowing with the idea of welfare of my people and there is no room in it for any anger or rancor.”
Conscious of cleric hostility Sir Syed offered not to have any role in matters of religious instruction in the college and invited leading clerics to prepare the syllabus. Maulana Qasim Nanotvi and Maulana Yaqoob of Deoband shot down the proposal saying they cannot associate with an institution which will have Shia students on the campus.
Maulana Hali in his biography of Sir Syed says that 60 maulvis and alims had signed fatwas accusing Sir Syed of disbelief and apostasy. There was total consensus among the Indian clerics, only divine approval was missing. Maulvi Ali Bakhsh did the needful and travelled to Mecca and Medina on the pretext of pilgrimage and secured a fatwa calling for beheading of Sir Syed if he repented not and persisted with his plan to establish the college.…