Prof Faizan Mustafa, Vice Chancellor of NALSAR Law University, while delivering Sir Syed Memorial Lecture organised by AMUOBA Delhi in the national capital on October 22, spoke at length on the vision of Sir Syed, his thought on nationalism, multiculturalism, communalism, pluralism, tolerance, triple talaq, rationale and modern thinking of Islam, Hindu-Muslim unity and blasphemy.

Prof Mustafa also shed light on the issue of minority character of AMU, the legal battle, administrative model of AMU and some of the fatwas issued against Sir Syed, including that from Madinah. Quoting McDonald at the very outset, the learned speaker said the quote would tell us whether we have succeeded or we have failed Sir Syed’s mission.

McDonald said, “It is not too much to hope that this college will grow into the Mohammedan university of the future. And this place will become Cordova of the East and that in these clusters Mohammedan genius will discover and under the protection of the British crown work out that social, religious and political regeneration of which neither Mecca (Makkah) nor Istanbul afford a precedent.” The learned speaker remarked: “I believe McDonald was too optimistic about us; we have probably failed in living up to his expectations.”

Prof Mustafa also presented Sir Syed’s views on the problems we are facing today. While agreeing to Justice Iqbal Ansari, he said there are similarities between post-1857 and today, we have issues of reforms of Muslim personal laws, Uniform Civil Code and all the time we have to respond to allegations against Sir Syed and AMU as the originator of Hindu-Muslims divide and consequential partition of the country. “At times Muslims foolishly react to blasphemy. What is happening in Bangladesh is shameful and should be condemned in strongest possible words. We need to learn from Sir Syed how he used to react to blasphemy,” he said.

While comparing Sir Syed’s ideology with modern day theory of multiculturalism, he said, “Multiculturalism speaks of equality of cultures and argues that in liberal democracy all cultural communities must be entitled to the equal status in the public domain. Multiculturalism with its distinctive conception of democracy and citizenship has emerged only in the recent past. This is a new subject. Perhaps the most distinguishing mark of these recent enunciations is that they question even the very idea of universal citizenship and speak instead of differentiated citizenship with group differentiated rights.” 

He added, “The view that people must be incorporated not merely as a citizen but also as a member of distinct cultural and religious communities. Possessing multiple identities and affiliations has challenged the most cherished norms of liberal democracy. It has at the same time provided a framework within which special rights of the minorities may be elaborated and debated. Collectively these multiculturalist scholars have outlined a new vision of democracy, one in which cultural community identities are not only treasured but also sought to be fully protected. As I have studied and taught in Aligarh, I am surprised that Sir Syed’s ideology had striking similarities with modern day theory of multiculturalism, which means rejection of melting pot and acceptance of salad bowl theory where integration rather than assimilation is the preferred choice.”

“When Sir Syed is talking of Qaum and communities, he is basically talking of rights of cultural communities. Even in federalism we have dual citizenship that is of the provinces as well as of the country. I am a citizen of India and simultaneously I am a member of a cultural community called Muslims. And there is no contradiction between the two. Several nations do permit having a nationality of other countries,” he said.

He pointed out, “Article 29 of our Constitution follows this principle because it is giving right to distinct cultural communities to preserve and conserve their distinctive language, script and culture. And to preserve this culture state institutions are not enough. In a state institution you cannot promote any particular culture. Therefore you need specialised institutions, minority institutions where whichever minority has established it, its culture is to be promoted and believe me there are more than hundred minority institutions of Hindus in this country.” 

On tolerance, Prof Mustafa said, “One may have loyalty to the government or may not but all of us have an allegiance and loyalty to our Constitution. The cultural communities will have to live in a harmony and peaceful co-existence with each other and their concerns under our Constitution are to be fully taken care of. No one culture can dominate other cultures. We have not even applied our criminal law on Nagaland because their own cultural adjudication system is good enough for them. We need to go beyond this domination of any particular culture.”

“No community can dictate terms to any other cultural community. In fact, we need to go beyond tolerating cultural communities. In India tolerance is the buzz word. Multiculturalism says tolerance is not good, tolerance is a negative concept. The cultural communities instead of tolerance must accept each other the way they are, he added. 

Mr Ajay Choudhary, senior IPS officer and alumnus of AMU, said, “If we want to understand our country and the contemporary world, I can see only three faces and they are Mahatma Gandhi, Dr Ambedkar and Sir Syed. If the coming generation can understand these personalities, they can build a beautiful India because our generation has failed to make the kind of India we were talking about when we were in AMU. It is our responsibility to help AMU so that it can be ranked among top 10 universities of the world.”

Justice Iqbal Ansari, former Chief Justice of Patna High Court, said, “After 1857 Mutiny which was called the first war of Independence there was a period of decline for Muslims and I feel that the situation is same today for Muslims. We have to find an answer to what we should do from here onwards as an intellectual or as a common man to serve the purpose of Aligarh movement.”

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