Amir-e-Karwaa(n) : Sir Saiyad Ahmad, Khan Bahadur

Sir Saiyad Ahmad, Khan Bahadur, L.L.D, K.C.S.I.

Born : 17th October 1817 Delhi

Died : 27th March 1898, Aligarh

Father’s Name: Saiyad Muhammad Muttaqi,

Mother’s Name : Azizun Nisa Begum

Wife’s Name : Parsa Begum(Mubarak) Married : 1836

Son/Daughter: Saiyad Hamid, Saiyad Mahmud and Amina.

Biography: Hayat-e-Javed (By Maulana Altaf Husain Hali)

“ Hai Dileri daste-arbab-e-siyaasat ka Aasa`

“The real greatness of the man (Sir Saiyad) consists in the fact that he was the first Indian Muslim who felt the need of a fresh orientation of Islam and worked for it’’ (Sir Allama Iqbal)

Sir Saiyad was a prophet of education “. (Mahatma Gandhi)

“Sir Saiyad was an ardent reformer and he wanted to reconcile modern scientific thought with religion by rationalistic interpretations and not by attacking basic belief. He was anxious to push new education. He was in no way communally separatist. Repeatedly he emphasized that religious differences should have no political and national significance”.

( Jawaharlal Nehru, Founder Prime Minister of India)

“Sir Saiyad’s vision and his laborious efforts to meet the demands of challenging times are highly commendable. The dark post 1857 era was indeed hopeless and only men like Raja Mohan Roy and Sir Saiyad could penetrate through its thick veil to visualize the Nation’s destinies. They rightly believed that the past had its merits and its legacies were valuable but it was the future that a society was called upon to cope with. I offer my homage to Sir Saiyad for his vision and courage that withstood all obstructions both from the friends and the foes” (Mr. Inder Kumar Gujral, Former Prime Minister of India).

An Architect of Modern India

History of social and educational reforms in Indian sub-continent can not be completed without Sir Saiyad Ahmad Khan. He is one of the great thinker, philosopher and revolutionaries who had dedicated his complete life for his nation and especially for his community. Nineteenth century was a hard time for the nation of India and especially for Muslims in the aftermath of 1857 revolt against British colonialism. Sir Saiyad tried and motivated Indian Muslim. In the history of India’s transition from medievalism to modernism, Sir Saiyad stand out prominently as a dynamic force pitted against conservatism, superstitions, inertia and ignorance. He contributed many of the essential elements to the development of modern India and paved the growth of a healthy scientific attitude of mind which is sine qua non for advancement, both material and intellectual.

Sir Saiyad said : After the Revolt of 1857, I was grieved neither on account of the plunder of my house nor on account of the loss of property that I had suffered. What saddened my heart was the misery and destruction of people. When Mr. Shakespeare offered to me the Taluqa of Jehanabad, which originally belonged to a distinguished Saiyad family, and yielded an annual rental of more than a lac rupees, as a reward of my services, my heart was deeply hurt. I said to myself, how can I accept this jagir and become the Taluqdar while all the people are in distress. I refused to accept it.

Sir Saiyad was born on 17th October 1817 in Delhi in a respectable family of Saiyad Mohammad Muttaqi & Azizun Nisa Begum . Sir Saiyad and Maulana Qasim Nanotwi (Founder of Darul-Uloom, Deoband) studied together under the able guidance of Maulana Mamlook Ali in Delhi. Sir Saiyad studied mathematics, Geology and Medicine from his uncle, Saiyad Zainul Abedin. He also studied Arabic literature, Tafseer-e-Quran, Hadith, and Fiqah from Maulana Makhsusullah (s/o Maulana Shah Rafiuddin Dahlwi ), Maulana Nawazish Ali and Maulana Faizul Hasan Saharanpuri.

In 1836 Sir Saiyad got married to Parsa Begum (Mubarak) and had two sons, Hamid (born in 1849) and Mahmood (born in 1850) and a daughter Amina. His elder brother Saiyad Muhammad started a weekly newspaper in 1837 and out of love of his younger brother Saiyad Ahmad (also known as Saiyad in his youth), named the newspaper Saiyadul-Akhbar . After Saiyad Muhammad’s death in 1845, Sir Saiyad Ahmad started managing Saiyadul-Akhbar.

Sir Saiyad was a great champion of Hindu-Muslim Unity. Addressing a big gathering at Gurudaspur on Jan. 27, 1884 He said: “ Hindus and Muslims ! Do you belong to a country other than India ? Don’t you live on this soil and are you not buried under it or cremated on its Ghats ? If you live and die on this land, then bear in mind, that Hindus and Muslims is but a religious word; all the Hindus, Muslims and Christians who live in this country are one nation.”

Father of Aligarh movement

This most respected and important educational centre for Indian Muslims was initially founded as Mohammedan Anglo Oriental College (MAOC) at Aligarh in 1875 by Sir Saiyad Ahmed Khan and subsequently raised to the status of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in 1920. Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), known more as a movement than an academic institution is one of the most important chapters of Indian history as far as the sociology of Hindu-Muslim relation is concerned. Sir Saiyad said: “This is the first time in the history of Mohammedans of India, that a college owes it nor to the charity or love of learning of an individual, nor to the spending patronage of a monarch, but to the combined wishes and the united efforts of a whole community. It has its own origin in course which the history of this county has never witnessed before. It is based on principles of toleration and progress such as find no parallel in the annals of the east.” Sir Saiyad’ famous speech which he made while foundation of MAO College was laid down by Lord Lytton on 18th January, 1877 is the soul of Aligarh Movement. Sir Saiyad said: “from the seed which we sow today, there may spring up a mighty tree, whose branches, like those of the banyan of the soil, shall in their turn strike firm roots into the earth, and themselves send forth new and vigorous saplings”.

It’s a common misconception that Sir Saiyad and Aligarh Movement is anti-oriental studies (Islamic and Eastern studies) and MAO College was started in a reactionary movement to counter the religious school, Darul-Uloom Deoband, started by Maulana Qasim Nanotvi (another student of Sir Saiyad’s teacher Maulana Mamlook Ali Nanotvi). In fact Sir Saiyad had a broader vision and had put forward the need of the hour to get equipped with the modern education to improve the social and economical conditions of Muslims of India. He never discouraged or denied the importance of religious and oriental studies. By his individual means and with the help of Muslim Educational Conference, he always tried to modernize the Madarasas, update their syllabus as per the need of the hour. He wrote a lot about these things in Tahzeebul-akhlaq. Sir Saiyad’s educational vision has two strong points;

  1. Adoption of Modern education 2. Moral Education

From the beginning, Madarsatul-Uloom, later MAO College was equipped with the above philosophy. Tarbiyat of the students living in Hostels were part of the duties of Principal and Manager of Hostels. For Islamic and moral education, Sir Saiyad created a position of Nazim-e-Diniyaat for MAO College who was responsible for Islamic and moral education of the students. Dars-e-Quran was part of curriculum of the college and every morning before the start of the class, Allama Shibli Nomani used to give Dars-e-Quran for about half hour from 1887 to 1895 and later on the responsibility was handed over to Maulana Abdullah Ansari, the founder Nazim-e-Diniyaat.

Sir Saiyad breathed his last on Sunday, 27th March 1898. The funeral took place on Monday, 28th March 1898. The Janazah prayers were offered in the cricket field lead by the founder Nazim-e-Diniyaat, Maulana Abdullah Ansari (son in law of Maulana Qasim Nanotwi and grandson of Sir Saiyad’s teacher Maulana Mamlook Ali). The burial took place in College Jama Masjid.

“After Sir Saiyad’s death, it was not only by words but also by actions that the people proved their love and respect for his high ideals. Almost at once, some people began to press for the foundation of Muslim University. The movement spread all over India and abroad and people started raising money for Sir Saiyad’s finest memorial.. Even in England students raised money for the Muslim University. People were surprised to see the interest of Englishmen and their efforts to collect money to fulfill the dream of Sir Saiyad to make MAO College as Muslim University.

There is an old saying that a good friend is like a leafy tree. For when a tree is in full bloom one has the pleasure of its shade and the enjoyment of its fruits, and when it withers, its wood is put to many uses. Sir Saiyad was such a friend to the Muslims. When he was alive, he laboured for them with his body, his words, his pen and his money. When he died he left the memory of his love and work imprinted on their hearts so that they might come together and build on the foundations he has laid. (Maulana Altaf Hussain Haali- writer of Sir Saiyad’s biography, HAYAAT-E-JAVED)

Life Chronology of Sir Saiyad Ahmad Khan

  • 1817 Birth at Delhi, October 17.
  • 1828 Death of Khawaja Fariduddin, maternal grandfather.
  • 1836 Married to Parsa Begum(Mubarak)
  • 1837 Sayyid-ul-Akhbar started by Sayyid Muhammad Khan.
  • 1838 Death of his father, Sayyid Muhammad Muttaqi.
  • 1839 Appointed Naib Munshi at Agra.
  • 1841 Appointed Munsif at Mainpuri, December 24.
  • 1842 Transferred from Mainpuri to Fatehpur Sikri, January 10.
  • 1842 Received the title of Jawad-ud-Daula Arif Jung from the Mughal court.
  • 1842 Completed Jila-ul-Qulub bi Zikr il Mahbub.
  • 1844 Completed Tuhfa-i-Hasan and Tashil fi jar-i-Saqil.
  • 1845 Death of Sayyid Muhammad Khan, his brother.
  • 1847 First edition of Asar-us-Sanadid appeared.
  • 1849 Completed Kalamat-ul-Haqq.
  • 1850 Completed Risala Sunnat dar radi bid'at.
  • 1852 Completed Namiqa dar bayan masala tasawwur-i-Shaikh and Silsilat ul-Mulk.
  • 1854 Second edition of Asar-us-Sanadid.
  • 1855 Appointed permanent Sadr Amin at Bijnor, January 13.
  • 1855 Edited A'in-i-Akbari.
  • 1857 Revolt breaks out, May 10.
  • 1857 Death of his mother at Meerut.
  • 1858 Appointed Sadr us Sadur, Moradabad.
  • 1858 Published Tarikh Sarkashi-i-Zilla Bijnor.
  • 1859 Nominated member of special commission for hearing appeals about confiscated property.
  • 1859 Published Causes of the Indian Revolt.
  • 1859 Established a Madrasa at Moradabad.
  • 1860 Published Loyal Muhammadans of India.
  • 1860 Famine in N.W. Frontier Provinces and relief work by Sayyid Ahmad Khan.
  • 1861 French translation of Asar-us-Sanadid by Garcin de Tassy.
  • 1861 Death of his wife.
  • 1862 Transferred to Ghazipur, May 12.
  • 1862 Edited Tarikh-i-Feroz Shahi.
  • 1863 Published a pamphlet on education.
  • 1864 Laid the foundation of a Madrasa at Ghazipur but with some time Transferred to Aligarh.
  • 1864 Elected Honorary Member of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain, July 4.
  • 1865 Sends a memorandum to the Government about the intention of the Scientific Society to publish books on agriculture, December 30.
  • 1866 Aligarh Institute Gazette started.
  • 1867 Sends a memorandum to the Viceroy for establishment of a vernacular university, August 1.
  • 1867 Transferred to Benares, August 15.
  • 1867 Started homeopathic dispensary and hospital at Benares, September 25.
  • 1869 Leaves Benares for England, April 1.
  • 1869 Receives the insignia of C.S.I, August 6.
  • 1870 Left London for India, September 4.
  • 1870 Reached Bombay, October 2.
  • 1870 Tahzib-ul-Akhlaq started, December 24.
  • 1870 Established the Committee for the Better Diffusion and Advancement of Learning among Muslims of India, December 26 .
  • 1873 Scheme for establishing a college presented.
  • 1875 Inauguration of the college, May 24.
  • 1875 Regular teaching starts at M.A.O. College, June 1.
  • 1876 Retired from service.
  • 1876 Starts writing commentary on the Quran.
  • 1877 Lord Lytton's visit to Aligarh, January 8 .
  • 1878 Nominated member of the Viceroy's Legislative Council.
  • 1882 Appears before the Education Commission.
  • 1883 Founded Muhammadan Civil Service Fund Association.
  • 1883 Established Muhammadan Association, Aligarh.
  • 1886 Established Muhammadan Educational Conference.
  • 1887 Nominated member of the Civil Service Commission by Lord Dufferin.
  • 1888 Established Patriotic Association at Aligarh. 1888 Received K.C.S.I.
  • 1889 Received the degree of LL.D. honoris causa from Edinburgh. Circulates the Trustee Bill.
  • 1898 Death at Aligarh, March 27

Institutions named after Sir Saiyad Ahmad Khan:

  • Sir Saiyad College Taliparamba, Kannur, Kerala, India

  • Sir Saiyad University of Engineering and Technology, Karachi Pakistan

  • Sir Saiyad College of Medical Sciences for Girls, Karachi Pakistan

(Affiliated to SSUET, Karachi Pakistan)

  • Sir Syed Ahmad Khan Foundation, Pune, Maharashtra (INDIA)


The Mall Rawalpindi Cantt, Pakistan

  • Sir Saiyad College, Muzaffarabad, Kashmir (Azad Kashmir/ POK)
  • Sir Saiyad Girls College, Bahraich (UP) India
  • Sir Saiyad College Of Commerce Muzaffarabad, Kashmir (Azad Kashmir/ POK)
  • Sir Saiyad Institute Of Technology Islamabad, Pakistan
  • Sir Saiyad College of Education Kotli, Pakistan
  • Sir Saiyad Govt. Girls College, Karachi, Pakistan
  • Sir Saiyad Science College For Boys Tipu Road Rawalpindi, Pakistan
  • Sir Saiyad Science College For Girls Tipu Road Rawalpindi, Pakistan
  • Sir Saiyad College of Education Mardan, Pakistan (Affiliated to Peshawar University)
  • Sir Saiyad College of Education Kohat, Pakistan (Affiliated to Peshawar University)
  • Sir Saiyad Girls Degree College Haripur, Pakistan (Affiliated to Peshawar University)

Compiled by:

Afzal Usmani