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Muslim institutions of higher education: A growth story

Abdul Rashid Agwan

Abdul Rashid Agwan


With the declaration of Aligarh Muslim University as the 4th best universities of India by the India Today-Nielsen Survey 2015, the Muslim institutions of higher education in the country are about to touch the acme of their long drawn struggle of almost two hundred years in serving the community and the nation through modern education. Exultant on the AMU’s achievement, its vice chancellor Lt. Gen. Zameer-Uddin Shah has vowed that the AMU will further go up in excellence and become the best one among all Indian universities by 2017.

Mujtaba Farooq, Vice President, AIMMM in last session "Presentation of Lifetime Achievement Awards" at the Golden Jubilee Conference of All India Muslim Majlis-E Mushawarat on 31 August, 2015 at India Islamic Cultural Centre, Lodhi Road, New Delhi.(Photo Facebook)

Mujtaba Farooq, Vice President, AIMMM in last session “Presentation of Lifetime Achievement Awards” at the Golden Jubilee Conference of All India Muslim Majlis-E Mushawarat on 31 August, 2015 at India Islamic Cultural Centre, Lodhi Road, New Delhi.(Photo Facebook)


In fact, other renowned Muslim institutions such as Jamia Millia Islamia and Hamdard University are also not far behind on the list of excellence ladder and could be seen over the years among top 100 excellent institutions of the country. The mentioned survey has put Jamia Millia Islamia on the 7th slot and other institution of Muslim background, Osmania University, even better, on the 6th. In the list of Ranking Web of Universities covering 1622 universities and eminent colleges of India, Osmania University, the AMU, Jamia Millia and Jamia Hamdard are respectively slotted at 31st, 33rd, 42nd, and 77th positions. The India Today-Nielsen Survey 2015 results show that Jamia Millia was just one step behind the AMU among the top 5 universities of north India while remaining on 5th position after Delhi University, Banaras Hindu University, Jawaharlal Nehru University as the top three. According to Times Higher Education Asia Ranking 2014, AMU ranked 3rd among Universities in India. Jamia Millia’s media education center, MCRC, has been deemed best one in the country in its genre for last several years and its half dozen departments range among top 10 colleges of the country. The AMU’s law department has been marked as the 6th best in the country. However, all these are not easy achievements for the community as could be seen from the brief review of the journey which began long back.

Perhaps, the oldest extant Muslim institution in the country remains to be the Anglo-Arabic School founded in 1696 by Ghazi-ud-Din Khan Feroze Jung I, a general of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. It was originally termed as Madrasa Ghaziuddin Khan. East India Company gave it the status of Anglo Arabic College in 1828 with an expressed intention (sic) “to uplift uneducated and half-barbarous people of India.” Presently, it exists as two separate institutions; as Zakir Husain Delhi College since 1975, affiliated to Delhi University and as the government-aided Anglo Arabic Senior Secondary School.

The first seeds of modern education or rather western education were sown in the Indian subcontinent with the establishment of an Arabic institution called as Madrasah-i-Aliah or Calcutta Madrasah by the East India Company in 1780. Warren Hastings, the first Governor-General of Bengal, justified his decision while saying that it was done “at the request of several Mahomedans of distinction.” The need for that arose for running courts in the territory of the British rule, which necessitated carrying on the prevalent law codified in Urdu-Persian language for some more time, before the local judicial system could be changed according to the law of the new masters. The Company started classes in the madrasa in Urdu, Persian, English and law for the natives. The said institution did not garner any immediate support from the antagonized Muslim community of Bengal in the wake of anti-Muslim policies of the colonial rulers after the 1757 Plassey war and it consequently passed through a chequered history. However, over the years it became the Mohammaden College of Calcutta in 1848 and finally Aliah University in 2008.

Two decades after the first attempt, the British rulers made another effort to engage Muslims in their pattern of education by taking over the Imambada Madrasa at Hooghly, already running under the endowment made by Haji Mahommed Mohsin in 1806. By 1836, it was providing education in Arabic, Persian and English. In this institution, a medical class was established in 1827 wherein anatomy by English authors was taught in Arabic till 1835. It was the first batch in allopathic medicine in the Indian subcontinent. In due process, the Imambada Madrasa became the first law college of the land and its name was changed to Hooghly Mohsin College in 1937. It is still extant and providing yeoman service under the control of West Bengal government.

In 1882, Hakim Abdul Majeed established the Madrasa Tibbia in Delhi, which progressed in due course and elevated as Tibbia College in 1926 with its foundation stone laid by the then Viceroy of India, Lord Hardinge. When India got freedom, a large number of refugees from Pakistan settled in Karol Bagh area, mostly around the college. They took possession of the college building during a riotous situation in September 1947 and its furniture was used or disposed of by them, its property was ransacked and its boarding house was occupied by the settlers. The family of Hakim Ajmal Khan, the founder of the college and one of the major financers of the freedom struggle and the fifth Muslim president of the Congress, became highly disgusted on being helpless and left for Pakistan within three months of the devastation. After its long spell as a Unani college of Delhi University since 1973, the institution has been accorded the status of deemed university as The Ayurvedic and Unani Tibbia College in 2008.

Four decades later than the establishment of the Calcutta-based Mohammaden College, a similar college got established with the British support and through diehard efforts of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan at Aligarh in 1885, named Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College, which was elevated as Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in 1920, which is now poised to became the best university of the country.

A group of nationalists under the leadership of Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar, not satisfied with the pro-colonial policies of the newly formed AMU, ventured to establish an institution named Jamia Millia Islamia the same year at Aligarh itself, which was later on shifted to Delhi and achieved the status of deemed university in 1962 and finally turned into a central university in 1988 and now has become the 7th best university in India.

Before these two universities of north India could take shape, Osmania University was established in the south around the same period by Nawab Yawar Jung in 1918 in Hyderabad. It is the first Indian university to have Urdu as a medium of instruction. In 2012, the university was placed sixth among the Nation’s Premier Universities in Humanities, Sciences and Commerce stream, which secured the ‘University with Potential for Excellence’ status. The India Today-Nielsen Survey considers Osmania University as the best among top 5 state universities of the country and 6thbest among all. One of its excellent colleges, Osmania Medical College, was taken over by the state government in 1952 and it was attached later on with NTR University of Health Sciences in 1986. It began its journey as Nizam’s Medical School in 1846 and European medicine was taught there in Urdu for almost a century. It is the oldest medical school in India and perhaps in Asia. It was only in 1948 that the medium of instruction and examination for the MBBS course of the college was changed from Urdu to English.

After these noteworthy efforts during the British period, a long phase of freedom struggle and post-partition hangover gripped the community and not much could be done for a long time towards establishing new institutions of higher learning on its part. However, in the post-independence era, People’s Medical College, Hyderabad, was founded in 1954 by Dr. Syed Nizamuddin Ahmed who was its first principal and the founder. Soon, it was also taken over by the state government, as its predecessor Osmania Medical College, and its name was changed to Gandhi Medical College. Noorul Islam University was founded in 1989 by Dr A.P. Majeed Khan at Kanyakumari but it also turned into a state owned university afterwards.

Almost seven decades later than the above-mentioned three universities of the second decade of the previous century, Jamia Hamdard, New Delhi, was given the status of a deemed university in 1989. It started its journey as a research and education center in Unani medicines in 1964 and its visionary founder Hakim Abdul Hameed started procuring land for the institution in Tughlaqabad area of Delhi, as back as in 1953. His educational dream took shape with the establishment of Hamdard Tibbi College and Indian Institute of Islamic Studies in 1963, which provided base for founding the first medical university of the Muslim community more than two and half decades back.

Last fifteen years have seen a spurt of universities established in both the government and private sectors, primarily for the benefit of the community. They include Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad (1998), Integral University, Lucknow (2004), Mohammad Ali Jauhar University, Rampur (2006), Maulana Mazharul Haque Arabic and Persian University, Patna (which was established in 1998 but became functional only in 2008), BSA Abdur Rahman University, Chennai (2008), University of Science and Technology, Ri-Bhoi, Meghalaya (2008), Aliah University, Kolkata (2008), The Ayurvedic and Unani Tibbia College (2008), Khwaja Gharib Nawaj Arabic Urdu Persian University, Lucknow (2009), Al-Falah University, Faridabad, Haryana (2014) and Maulana Azad University, Jodhpur (2014).

There are other state-managed universities or deemed universities having Muslim name in their nomenclature but they are general universities having nothing special for the community such as Barkatullah University, Bhopal; Hidaytullah University, Raipur; Abdulkalam Institute of Technological Sciences, District Khammam, Andhra Pradesh; Maulana Azad National Institute of Technology, Bhopal; and Fatima University, Kazipeth, Telangana. Azim Premji University, Bangalore, was founded in 2010 by the top Muslim billionaire of the country in his name, but for common students.

There are also some state-run universities in the country which have a large number of Muslim students therein by virtue of their location such as Kashmir University, Srinagar; Islamic University of Science and Technology, Pulwama, J&K; Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University, Rajouri, J&K and Calicut University, Kozhikode, Kerala.

It should be noted that due to obvious reasons, the British rulers first began to mold Muslim elites of the time to their way of administration, rather than the elites of other sections and for this purpose they took initiatives of modern/western education in the subcontinent as back as in 1780. It was four years later that the Asiatick Society was formed in 1784 and the first Sanskrit College was established by the British administration at Banaras a decade later, in 1791, which was later on merged in the Sampurnanand Sanskrit University, Banaras. Thus, Muslims were supposed to take a lead in the new education of the time but they staunchly resisted it due to their aversion towards the British rule and the Hindu elite had gradually shown increasing interest in learning the masters’ ways. This retained Muslims behind their counterparts by almost one hundred years and their switch over to modern education remained very slow and problematic.

Although the Hindoo College (later on Presidency College), Calcutta, founded in 1817, remains the first private initiative in the country towards providing higher education, but in the independent India Al-Ameen Medical College is the first private college established in 1984, after a long drawn legal battle up to the apex court for privatization of education. Its legal victory brought an educational revolution in the country and paved the way for a spurt of private institutions of higher learning thereafter. Muslims took advantage of the liberalization of education along with other sections and established several professional colleges, particularly in the south. It seems that in the post-Sachar positive environment both the leaders of the community and the respective governments have taken keen interest in the promotion of higher education among Muslims through a chain of universities in different parts of the country as could be marked from the fact that eight universities, primarily for the community, were opened from 2008 to 2014.

While taking an overview of the growth story of Muslim institutions of higher learning, it may be recalled here that the recent years have not only seen an ascending trend of Muslim institutions in the rat race of quality and excellence among Indian universities but also a spurt of new universities and professional colleges serving educational needs of the community in various parts of the country. The formation of National Commission for Minorities Educational Institutions in 2005 gave a valuable opportunity for Muslim education, as institutions established under the community initiative could ensure 50% reservation of minority students in them.

A number of surveys over the years have been illustrating an upward movement of some Muslim institutions of higher learning such as the AMU, Jamia Millia Islamia and Hamdard University. All these are ‘A’ Grade universities, as marked by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC). Their different faculties and departments have also been rated high from time to time as centers of excellence, as the recent survey of Outlook Weekly has done. After two hundred years and more, Muslims in the country have endorsed the worth of modern education for development and progress and are trying to excel the same. Perhaps, the community could have done better in terms of higher education if many of its past initiatives had not got distracted due to their takeover by the government. But, it is also a fact that the promising script of this growth story would not have been possible without public resources made available to the existing institutions.

Now, the policymakers and educationists have three specific goals to take into consideration. Firstly, they should sustain the vertical and horizontal growth of Muslim institutions. Secondly, they should accept Muslims’ first claim to get benefitted from them as valuable assets of the community for helping it advance in a highly competitive world. For this purpose, the AMU, Osmania University, Aliah University, The Ayurvedic and Tibbia College and other minority institutions, historically founded by the participation of the community, should be given minority status so that their 50% beneficiaries could be ensured from the concerning communities, including Muslims. Lastly, public support should be ensured and eased out for the establishment of new institutions under community initiative. Pursuing these goals may perhaps change the dismal scene of Muslims’ attainment of higher education from 3% graduation enrollment rate for several decades to some better one.

[Writer is social activist, analyst and author of many books including the recent one, “Islam in 21st Century: The Dynamics of Change and Future-making”.]

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