Ahmad Khan, (Sir) Sayyid (1817–1898)

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AHMAD KHAN, (SIR) SAYYID (1817–1898)

Sayyid Ahmad Khan was an educational and political leader of Muslims who were living under British rule in India. He developed concepts of religious modernism and community identity that mark the transition from Mogul India to the rise of representative government and the quest for self-determination. Born and educated in Delhi in the surviving remnant of the Mogul regime, Sayyid Ahmad embarked on a career in the British subordinate judicial service, the lower-level law courts where Indian judges presided and cases were conducted in Indian languages, and was posted in a series of north Indian towns and cities. During these years he published historical and religious texts and was one of the pioneers of the printing of Urdu prose. He remained loyal to the British during the 1857 revolt, and worked to reconcile Indian, Muslim, and British institutions and ideologies. In 1864, he founded the Scientific Society in Ghazipur (shifted the following year to Aligarh), which was devoted to translating practical and scientific works into Urdu. In 1869, he traveled to England to write a defense of the life of the Prophet and to examine British educational institutions. While in England, he conceived the idea of founding a residential college primarily for Muslims and devoted the rest of his life to the cause of the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College, Aligarh, which was founded in 1875. During this period, he became a prolific writer on religious, social, and political issues. In 1887, he announced his opposition to the Indian National Congress on the grounds that representative government was not in the best interests of Muslims. Knighted by the British in 1888, he left a legacy of political separatism that future generations transformed into a movement for the creation of Pakistan as a separate state for South Asian Muslims.

See alsoAligarh ; Education ; Liberalism, Islamic ; Modernism ; Modern Thought ; Pakistan, Islamic Republic of ; South Asia, Islam in ; Urdu Language, Literature, and Poetry .


Lelyveld, David. Aligarh's First Generation: Muslim Solidarity in British India. 2d ed. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Troll, Christian W. Sayyid Ahmad Khan: A Reinterpretation ofMuslim Theology. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1978.

David Lelyveld