Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI), the prestigious Central University that we see in India today, was founded on 29 October 1920 at Aligarh with the spirit of nationalism. It was also founded on the lines of a New Education Policy (NEP) under the broader objective of Azad Talim or independent education aimed at achieving certain clearly stated goals, one of which was to prepare the new generation for a future India that would be free from the shackles of British colonialism and its influence and, shape its destiny by its own hands.
It is this ‘quest for self-directed education’ that makes Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) different from Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and other educational institutions. The builders and founders of Jamia were freedom fighters and visionaries who had witnessed nationalist uprisings. Shaikhul Hind Maulana Mahmud Hasan is one of them.
Be it any institution or movement, some persons play instrumental role. Jamia’s distinction lies in being a load-stone both as a movement and, later, as an institution. There is a history to it. In his book Nuqoosh-e-Jamia, Ghulam Haider has divided the important figures associated with JMI in its early days in three categories:
(a) Buzurgan-e-Jamia or Elders of Jamia, (b) Hayati Arakin or Life Members, and (c) Karkunan-e-Jamia or the committed Workers/Volunteers of Jamia.
Shaikhul Hind Maulana Mahmud Hasan figures among the highly respected elders of Jamia.
A teacher par excellence and a great theologian Shaikhul Hind Maulana Maulana Mahmud Hasan (1851-1920) occupies a unique position among the founders of Jamia Millia Islamia. He was a great freedom fighter whose movement, called The Silk Letter Movement or ‘Tahreek-e-Reshmi Rumal’, if succeeded, could have got India independence much before it got it in 1947. However, its disclosure led to his arrest in Makkah and imprisonment in Malta from 1917 to 1920.
Maulana Mahmud Hasan holds the rare distinction of being one of those first few lucky students who had joined Darul Uloom Deoband, the historic seminary set up in 1867 by Maulana Muhammad Qasim Nanautwi (1832-1880) and others.
Among other objectives, Darul Uloom was also established against the backdrop of struggle for freedom from the oppressive British rule. Mentioning about the historic contribution of Shaikhul Hind in the country’s freedom struggle Syed Ubaidur Rahman writes:
“At the end of 19th century and early 20th century, the foundation of India’s freedom struggle was laid by him and his distinguished students.”
The 1920’s is an important decade in the pre-Independence Indian history. From Mahatma Gandhi’s call for non-cooperation to Khilafat agitation, to the foundation of Jamia Millia Islamia, each is an epoch-making event and, the impressions of Maulana Mahmud Hasan can be seen and felt all over. It was due to his nationalist endeavours that he was conferred the title of “Shaikhul Hind”, meaning Leader of India, by the Khilafat leaders notably by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (1888-1958).
Mahmud Hasan was born in 1851 at Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh. He studied in the first batch of students that attended Darul Uloom Deoband. After graduating from Darul Uloom in 1874, he served as its teacher, then as principal and Shaikhul Hadith for three decades. His father Maulana Zulfiqar Ali was a reputed scholar of Arabic and one of the members of the Advisory Council of Darul Uloom. Not only this, “Maulana Zulfiqar Ali Deobandi” was among those, write Mohammad Shakaib Qasmi and Mohammad Naushad Qasmi, who “participated in the foundation of Darul Uloom.”
The story of establishment of Jamia Millia Islamia is long whose details are skipped here. In short, following few meetings between some prominent Muslims, Friday, October 29 was declared the day for Jamia’s inauguration and Maulana Mahmud Hasan was asked to come to Aligarh and chair the meeting. He did come. However, due to failing health as a result of unbearable and indescribable mental, physical and psychological torture during his three-year-long imprisonment he, leaned against the wall with the support of a pillow and, could not actively participate in its proceedings. His address, read out by one of his prominent disciples Allama Shabbir Ahmad Usmani, announced:
“The foundation of an independent university which has nothing to do with government [read British] subsidy and interference and whose organization is based on Islamic principles and national aspirations.”
According to Nayab Hasan, the speech at Aligarh at the foundation of Jamia Millia Islamia is among the top two best historical and revolutionary speeches of Shaikhul Hind. For Hasan, as for many others, the whole life of Shaikhul Hind revolved around two central points: to prevent and control the crises that gripped Muslims across the world and to seek a way out for them from the depressing defeat and decline. Therefore, he formed “Thamratut Tarbiyat”, “Jam’iatul Ansar” and "Nazaratul Ma’arif Al-Qur’ania” to train Deoband graduates and, stepped up his anti-colonialist campaign.
Having shifted its base from Aligarh to Delhi’s Karol Bagh in July, 1925, Jamia faced many upheavals including especially a grim financial crisis because the spark of the Non-Cooperation Movement had extinguished and financial assistance by the Khilafat Committee had dried up and it was even being considered to close Jamia. In Mushirul Hasan edited Knowledge, Power & Politics: Educational Institutions in India (Delhi, Roli Books, 1998), Mohammad Talib notes it while quoting from another source that:
"In its infancy, Jamia’s definite resources were its ‘unlimited dreams, fervent determination and enthusiastic nationalism."
It was in those days that some committed members and students made the greatest sacrifices to keep Jamia alive. Their sacrifices have earned huge dividends as JMI at its centenary sits atop the Central University rankings in the country.
What remains true for Jamia till today is the nationalist spirit that was the message and guiding principle of Maulana Mahmud Hasan who, just a month later, following the foundation of Jamia, passed away on 30th November, 1920 in Delhi. How deeply his absence was felt can be understood by these anguished words of Hakim Ajmal Khan, who in his speech as the first Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia at its first annual convocation thus stated:
“We are among those unfortunate people whose every moment of joy comes along with some or the other grief. How desperately our eyes in this gathering are searching for Shaikhul Hind but failing to find him.”
Although a lot remains to be achieved, the model of education and the spirit that Shaikhul Hind provided for Jamia, and the sacrifices he made for the nation are enough to guide and inspire generations to uphold Indian nationalism and serve the higher moral and humanitarian objectives. At the centenary year of Jamia Millia Islamia we take pride in and pray to Almighty to shower His blessings on this great son of India!
[Sources: Jamia Millia Islamia Tahreek, Tareekh, Riwayat, Vol. 1, (29 October, 2003, 1st edition, Zakir Husain Institute of Islamic Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia), compiled by Shamim Hanafi, Shahabuddin Ansari and Shamsul Haq Usmani, Nuqoosh-e-Jamia (Jamia ki Kahani Jamia Walon ki Zabani i.e. the Story of Jamia from Jamiites) by Ghulam Haider (2012, Maktaba Jamia Limited in collaboration with National Council for Promotion of Urdu Langue, New Delhi), Aks-o-Naqsh by Nayab Hasan (2017, Markazi Publications, New Delhi).
*Manzar Imam, is a Ph.D. scholar at the MMAJ Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia