South Asia: Table of Contents
Organizer and Chair: C. M. Naim, University of Chicago
Discussant: Gail Minault, University of Texas, Austin
Syed Ahmad Khan, more commonly known as Sir Syed, was born in 1817 and died in 1898. This year, the centenary of his death will be observed extensively in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Sir Syed is doubtless the most influential Muslim in the history of modern South Asia. Born in a family that had served the Mughals and the British, he received traditional education and joined the service of the East India Company as a minor judicial officer. By publishing critical editions of important historical texts and a pioneering study of the monuments of Delhi, he made his intellectual curiosity and independence of thought evident before 1857, the year of the "Mutiny," the watershed year in the history of modern South Asia. After 1857, fired with a desire to raise his compatriot Muslims from their perceived state of decline and degeneration, he busied himself with a range of activities unmatched since. He started educational and scientific societies, published magazines devoted to social and educational matters, and wrote exegeses of the Quran and the Bible and innumerable articles in his own journals and elsewhere. Equally significantly, he inspired some of the most important writers and thinkers of the time to take on the issues he had raised. The culmination of his efforts was the establishment of a college which eventually became Aligarh Muslim University, the alma mater of generations of most influential South Asian Muslims.
This panel will commemorate this seminal figure. It consists of David Lelyveld, the first American scholar to write a major book on Aligarh and the Movement identified with it, and Faisal Devji and Jamal Malik, two younger scholars who have already made some name for themselves through their thought-provoking rethinking of the projects of modernism among Muslim South Asians. The discussant, Gail Minault, is again a senior scholar whose most recent work deals with the education of Muslim womena task first undertaken by those who were inspired by Sir Syed even against his own reservations.
David Lelyveld, Cornell University
Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (181798), educator, publicist, religious thinker, and political leader, is one of the central figures of modern Indian history. His son, Justice Syed Mahmud (18501903), among the first Indians to study at Cambridge University, a British barrister and High Court Judge in India, played a major role in the formulation of "Anglo-Muhammadan Law," the synthesis of Islamic and British jurisprudence that remains influential in much of the Muslim world. The present sketch will take up particular relationships and moments of crisis as narrative points of departure in the lives of these notable figures. One such crisis came with the marriage of Syed Mahmud to a cousin who for many years was to stand as the grand matriarch of an embattled extended family. The fact that she had married Syed Mahmud instead of another cousin caused a deep fissure in the larger kinship unit, one that played itself out in the politics not only of Aligarh College but in the far off princely state of Hyderabad. Unfolding that family division may serve as an occasion to go back to Syed Ahmads own childhood and the anomaly in a patriarchal society of his upbringing in the house of his mothers father, a Kashmiri who served both the Mughals and the British.
Faisal Devji, Institute of Ismaili Studies, London
Whether or not they are accused of bad faith, those who wish to reform non-European traditions are at the very least accused of apologetics, on the assumption that their reforms are more truthfully dependent upon a European modernity. I want to inquire into this relationship between apologetics and modernity, not in order to liberate reformist projects like that of Syed Ahmad Khan from that tie, but in order to evaluate their own thinking of this dependence. Looking at the kind of argument that would claim an originary modernity for Islam, then, I want to ask what such an argument might mean both epistemologically and phenomenologically in the project of a reformer who is not otherwise known to comfort either himself or others with dubious claims on foreign properties.
Jamal Malik, University of Bonn
Embedded in mystical tradition, notably the Naqshbandiya-Mujaddidiya and Tariqa Muhammadiya as well as dedicated to the writings of Shah Wali Ullah, the great reformer from Aligarh launched his well-known Urdu-journal, Tahdhîb al-Akhlâq ("The Refinement of Morals"), reminding of Ibn Miskawaihs (d. 1030) Tahdhîb al-Akhlâq and his al-Fawz al-asghar. Indeed, Ibn Miskawaih, like Syed Ahmad Khan himself, had given prime importance to the intellect as a means for attaining morality and knowledge of the sublime. Thus, "Refinement of Morals" stood for sufic endeavor, via purgativa, moral content of prophetic tradition, and of course imitatio muhammadi. In the 1870s, this blend of pietism, mysticism, and rationalism did appeal to an articulate group having access to colonial media. The paper will discuss the genesis of The Muhammadan Social Reformer, its messages and audience and will try to link pietism, mysticism, and rationalism to particular social formations and the development towards a new canon at the heydays of colonial power.