Indian Muslims around the world are currently commemorating the bicentennial celebrations of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the founder of Aligarh Muslim University ranked this year as the top Indian University.
He was indeed a great visionary who believed that Muslim of India could not progress without modern education. He was a pragmatist Islamic scholar, a reformist whose main objective was to bring about the change in the psyche of Indian Muslims.
In a reaction to British rule, who had captured power from Muslim rulers, religious leaders discouraged modern education, leading to a non-progressive attitude of Muslim population at large.
Born on 17 Oct 2017, Sir Syed belonged to an aristocratic family of Delhi and was thus able to travel to England for higher studies. Upon his return from England, he embarked on a project to establish a British style modern educational institution which could offer quality education to Muslims and later established the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College in 1875.
He worked tirelessly for his educational movement till his death on 27 March 1898. However, his Mohammedan Anglo-oriental college at Aligarh continued to prosper, eventually becoming a national university in 1920.
At large, Muslims were under influence of traditional Muslim scholars who vehemently opposed the new system of education believing that the modern science and logic taught in English was at odds with the tenets of Islam.
As the Indian nation battled to seek independence, the political divide between Hindus and Muslims worsened and independence lead to a partition of the country into Muslim dominated Pakistan and Hindu dominated India. A large number of Muslims, many of them educated, from North India migrated to Pakistan for greener pastures.
The remaining Muslims in India were viewed by some with suspicion often as a Pakistani fifth column with aspersions cast on their loyalty towards India. They were thus subject to many sorts of ill-treatment and discrimination at various levels.
Coupled with the lack of opportunities was the fact that Muslim intellectuals, themselves distressed due to partition, failed to inspire Muslim masses to seek and excel in modern education.
Such a combination of factors led to bleak figures for the state of Muslims in the education sector. According to the latest census data released in 2016, 42.7 percent of Muslims are illiterate compared to 36.4 of Hindus, 32.5 for Sikhs, 28.2 for Buddhists and 25.6 for Christians.
The situation is worse when it comes to higher education. As per government statistics of 2015, Muslims comprise 14% of India’s population but account for 4.4% of students enrolled in higher education. Looking at primary education, again Muslims fair badly compared to non-Muslims.
According to a recent research paper, 63.23 % of Muslim boys drop out at the end of primary education and 78.66% at the end of secondary school. For Muslim girls, it is 59.26% at the end of primary education stage and 79.02% at the end of secondary school.
Extremely poor performance in education is also reflected in the professional sphere. Prestigious government jobs have very little representation of Muslims. Muslims had been found to be only 3% in the IAS (Indian Administrative Services), 1.8% in the IFS (Indian Foreign Services) and 4% in the IPS (Indian Police Services).
At the same time, Muslims have a very high representation in menial jobs such as rickshaw pullers, handicraft factories workers and other labouring jobs.
These figures demonstrate that the Muslims of India continue to struggle and the great vision of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan still needs to become a reality.