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Tall Leaders of Independence

Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed

By Syed Ahmed Khan . Edited and translated by Mushirul Hasan and Nishat Zaidi
Primus Books, New Delhi, 2011, pp.252, Rs. 950.00

By Mushirul Hasan
Manohar Books,New Delhi, 2010 (Revised Edition), pp.339, Rs. 850.00


The books under review deal with the lives of two Muslims who played a crucial role in formulating and sustaining an Indian Muslim discourse in the nineteenth and twentieth century. The second book is a revised and enlarged edition of Mushirul Hasan's 1987 biography. The first book is also by Hasan who, along with Nishat Zaidi, has translated and edited Syed Ahmed Khan's travelogue to London into English for the first time providing a primary account of Khan's 'voyage to modernism'. While both Khan and Ansari had a deep interest in the welfare of their co-religionists, their methods and attitudes to improve their situations were vastly different. Also vastly different were their attitudes to the colonial government. Khan, with his consistent concern about Muslims lagging behind Hindus, emphasized educational reforms within the community so that they could catch up and take their rightful share in government employment and public life. While he was critical of some of their actions, he was largely loyal to the British. It should be added that the notions of political nationalism that emerged with the founding of the Congress were as yet marginal concerns in Khan's lifetime. The culmination of his life's work was the establishment of the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College in 1878 which later became the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). Ansari's flowering as a politician and public activist, on the other hand, coincided with the spirited conjunction of the pan-Islamic movement and the rising nationalistic fervour spearheaded by the Indian National Congress and the emergence of Mahatma Gandhi as the centre of a clearly defined discourse of composite political nationalism. Ansari was to play a major role in the nationalist politics of the Congress in his later years and tirelessly struggled to bring about a Hindu-Muslim entente throughout his life. Ansari was also closely associated with the early years of Jamia Milia Islamia, an institute of higher education founded in 1920 as an antithesis to the socio-political ethos represented by AMU. In terms of legacies, while Khan's multiple and pioneering contributions in terms of Muslim educational awakening casts a towering shadow on the subsequent Muslim politics of the subcontinent, Ansari's vision of a composite nationalism inspired a generation of nationalist Muslim leaders and bore fruit in the eventual idea of the India that emerged scarred from the wounds of Partition. Syed Ahmed Khan (1817-1898) was born in Delhi and worked as a jurist for the East India ...

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