Editor’s note: Saturday, November 2, 2019, marks the 142nd birth anniversary of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III, the 48th Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims. We present to our readers this article to illustrate the Imam’s effort that led to the founding of the Muslim University of Aligarh, from which the sovereign nation of Pakistan was born.
His Highness the Aga Khan and Aligarh University
“As a mendicant, I am now going out to beg from house to house and from street to street for the children of Indian Muslims” – His Highness the Aga Khan
In December 1910, the session of the All India Muslim Educational Conference at Nagpur gave the signal for a concrete, nation-wide effort to raise the necessary funds for the projected University. A Central Foundation Committee with Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III as Chairman and Maulana Shaukat Ali (1873-1938) as his secretary was formed at Aligarh on January 10, 1911. The committee included many other high profile representatives from the Muslim community. The Aga Khan accompanied by Maulana Shaukat Ali toured throughout the country to raise funds, visiting Calcutta, Allahabad, Lucknow, Cawnpore, Lahore, Bombay and other places.
“As a mendicant”, the Aga Khan announced, “I am now going out to beg from house to house and from street to street for the children of Indian Muslims.”
It was a triumphal tour. Wherever he went, people unharnessed the horses of his carriage and pulled it themselves for miles.
The response to the touching appeal of the Aga Khan was spontaneous. On his arrival at Lahore, the daily Peace of Punjab editorially commented and called upon the Muslims “to wake up, as the greatest personality and benefactor of Islam was in their city.”
The paper recalled a remark of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan prophesying the rise of a hand from the unseen world to accomplish his mission. “That personality” the paper added, “was of the Aga Khan III.”
“The farsighted among the Muslims of India desire a University, where the standard of learning should be the highest and where with the scientific training, there shall be that moral education, that indirect but constant reminder of the eternal difference between right and wrong, which is the soul of education….I earnestly beg of you that the cause of such a University should not be forgotten in the shouts of the market place that daily rise amongst us.” – His Highness the Aga Khan
The significant aspect of the Imam’s fund collection drive was not the enthusiastic welcome accorded to him, but the house to house collection drive.
Qayyum A. Malick wrote in Prince Aga Khan (Karachi, 1954, p. 64) that once while on his way to Bombay to collect funds for the university, the Aga Khan stopped his car at the office of a person who was known to be his bitterest critic.
The man stood up astonished and bewildered and asked, “Whom do you want Sir?”
“I have come for your contribution to the Muslim university fund,” replied the Aga Khan.
The man drew up a cheque for Rs. 5000.
Then the Aga Khan took off his hat and said:
“Now as a beggar, I beg from you something for the children of Islam. Put something in the bowl of this mendicant.”
The man wrote another cheque for Rs. 15000, and with moist eyes said:
“Your Highness, now it is my turn to beg. I beg of you in the name of the most merciful God to forgive me for anything that I may have said against you. I never knew you were so great.”
The Aga Khan said:
“Don’t worry! It is my nature to forgive and forget in the cause of Islam and the Muslims.”
The drive received further great fillip from the announcement of a big donation by Her Highness Nawab Sultan Jahan Begum of Bhopal. The Aga Khan was so moved by her munificence that in thanking her, he spoke the following words:
“Dil’e banda ra zinda kardi, dil’e Islam ra zinda kardi, dil’e qaum ra zinda kardi, Khuda’i ta’ala ba tufail’e Rasul ajarash be dahadmeans.”
“You put life in the heart of this servant; you put life in the heart of Islam; you put life in the heart of the nation. May God reward you for the sake of the Prophet!”
In sum, the Imam collected 26 million rupees by July, 1912 in the drive and his personal contribution amounted to 1,00,000 rupees.
On October 20, 1920, the Aligarh University was granted its official Charter. In spite of several obstacles, the Aga Khan continued his ceaseless efforts for the Muslim University, and further announced his annual grant of Rs. 10,000 for Aligarh University, which was subsequently raised. Various Ismaili individuals also made their generous contributions to Aligarh University. For instance, Mr. Kassim Ali Jairajbhoy gave Rs. 1,25,000 to found chairs of Philosophy and Science in the Aligarh in memory of his father.
“The Movement of establishing a Muslim University,” wrote Mumtaz Moin in his The Aligarh Movement (Karachi, 1976, p. 184), “is an important chapter of our history. Initiated by Waqar al-Mulk it soon became a live issue under the patronage of the Aga Khan.”
Islamuddin wrote in Aga Khan III (Islamabad, 1978, p. 27), “it would not be an exaggeration to say that without Aga Khan, there would have been no Aligarh University, and without Aligarh, Pakistan would have been a near impossibility.”
The Aga Khan himself wrote in his Memoirs (London, 1954, p. 36) :
“We may claim with pride that Aligarh was the product of our own efforts and of no outside benevolence and surely it may also be claimed that the independent sovereign nation of Pakistan was born in the Muslim University of Aligarh.”
Date posted: October 30, 2019.
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