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The north Indian city of Aligarh, site of Aligarh Muslim University, has played a leading role in the political life and intellectual history of South Asian Muslims since the middle of the nineteenth century. The importance of Aligarh arose initially under the leadership of Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817–1898). Through a series of organizations and institutions, the "Aligarh movement" (the social, cultural, and political movement founded by Sayyid Ahmad Khan) sought to prepare Muslims for changes in technology, social life, and politics associated with British rule, the rise of nationalism, and the conditions of modernity. In 1865, Aligarh became the headquarters of the Aligarh Scientific Society, and, in 1875, the Mahomedan Anglo-Oriental College, the forerunner of the university established there in 1920. Aligarh was the first headquarters of the Muslim League, a party established in 1906 to secure recognition of Muslims as a separate political community within India, a concept that ultimately led in 1947 to the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan as a separate nation-state for South Asian Muslims. After partition, the Aligarh Muslim University remained one of a small group of national universities in India.

In its early years, the Aligarh College attracted patronage and recruited students from Muslim communities throughout India, both Sunni and Shi˓a, as well as significant numbers of Hindus. Aside from some short-lived efforts to include Arabic studies and Urdu as a language of instruction, the college followed the standard British imperial curriculum. Official British patronage became more significant after 1887, when Sayyid Ahmad Khan called for Muslim opposition to the newly founded Indian National Congress. In the twentieth century, Aligarh became an arena for opposing political tendencies among Muslims, including supporters of Indian nationalism and international socialism, as well as of Muslim separatism. Aligarh graduates achieved prominence as writers, jurists, and political leaders. At the same time, Aligarh was the target of much opposition, particularly for its association with social reform and religious modernism. In 1906 the Aligarh Zenana Madrasa provided separate education for girls, and became the Aligarh Women's College in 1925.

When Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan died in 1898, his successors initiated a campaign to establish an autonomous, all-India educational system for Muslims under the auspices of an affiliating university. The university established in 1920, however, was confined to Aligarh and remained under British control. In response, Mohandas K. Gandhi and two Aligarh graduates, the brothers Shaukat ˓Ali and Muhammad ˓Ali, led a noncooperation campaign that established an alternative nationalist institution, the Jami˓a Milli˓a Islamiya, outside the campus gates and subsequently relocated to Delhi. In the final years before independence and partition, Aligarh students toured India on behalf of the Pakistan cause, though others devoted themselves to the ideal of a united and secular India.

Zakir Hussain, the first postindependence vice chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University, and later president of India, succeeded in preserving the university's Muslim identity as a way of preparing Muslims for full participation in national life. A center for Urdu writers and historians of Mughal India, many of them Marxists, the university has so far been able to fend off efforts to undermine its role as an national center for Indian Muslims.

See alsoAhmad Khan, (Sir) Sayyid ; Education ; Modernism ; Pakistan, Islamic Republic of ; South Asia, Islam in ; Urdu Language, Literature, and Poetry .


Graff, Violette. "Aligarh's Long Quest for 'Minority' Status: AMU (Amendment) Act. 1981." Economic and Political Weekly 25, no. 32 (1980): 1771–1781.

Hasan, Mushirul. "Nationalist and Separatist Trends in Aligarh, 1915–47." The Indian Economic and Social History Review 22, no. 1 (1985): 1–34.

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

David Lelyveld