2017 is the 200th
anniversary of the birth of one of the great founding fathers of Pakistan, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan.
Mahmood Masood began the evening by telling us where he himself fitted into the family of his great-great-grandfather, Sir Syed. He outlined the major contributions that Sir Syed made to Pakistan, and also traced Sir Syed’s influence on his son, Justice Syed Mahmood, who was the first Muslim High Court Judge under the British Raj, and his grandson, Sir Syed Ross Masood, who was also a great educationalist and became a distinguished Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University.
Professor Malik then traced Sir Syed’s pioneering, profoundly influential ideas and reviewed his outstanding achievements.
Sir Syed was born into the nobility of Delhi and educated within the Mughal court, but went on to serve the East India Company and become a lawyer and judge. He developed an admiration for Western-style education and, despite being a devout Muslim, began to recognize the disadvantages that traditional dogma and religious orthodoxy were imposing on the Muslims of India. He argued instead that the Qur’an rested on an appreciation of reason and natural law, making scientific inquiry important to being a good Muslim. So firmly held were his views that he remained undaunted when his ideas were severely rejected by Muslim clergy, and he intensified his work, founding successful modern schools and universities, most famously at Aligarh.
Not only was he thus the founder of what we would now term Islamic Modernism, but Sir Syed also emerged as a protagonist of Urdu as the symbol of Muslim heritage and the natural language of the Muslim community. Thus he is often described as the progenitor of the ‘two-nation’ theory – the ideological foundation of what became the Pakistan Movement which was to have such a strong influence on the Quaid.
Professor Iftikhar Malik, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, teaches International History at Bath Spa University. He was the Quaid-i-Azam Fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford, for five years and has been a visiting faculty member at universities in Barcelona, Berkeley, New York, Brussels, Koblenz, Athens and Helsinki. His chief areas of research are Asian intellectual history and politics with special reference to Modern South and South-west Asia, the British Empire, Muslim communities in the West, and the US/Western-Muslim world relationship. He is author of a great many books and scholarly papers, and has given lectures and presented papers at academic institutions throughout Europe. His most recent book Muslims and Western Europe in the Modern Era: Contemporary Debates in Historical Perspective, will be published in London by Bloomsbury in 2018.
Syed Mahmood Masood, was born soon after partition in Karachi, and from an early age experienced at first hand ‘the inescapable appreciation of the wide spread reverence that Pakistani’s of all backgrounds held for his great-great- grandfather’. He is a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and practised in Pakistan, followed by a career change in his late twenties which subsequently afforded him and his family the privilege of living in nine different countries and twelve cities over a thirty four year period. He has recently retired and lives in London.