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Ahmad Khan, Sayyid

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The Islamic World: Past and Present What is This? Accessible coverage of Islam from the seventh century to the twenty-first century

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    Ahmad Khan, Sayyid

    1817 – 1898 Indian

    writer and

    political activist

    An Indian Islamic writer and reformer, Sayyid Ahmad Khan, defied tradition through his efforts to modernize the interpretation of Islam in British colonial India in the mid-1800s. Ahmad Khan spent his entire professional career in the judicial service of the colonial regime and as a loyal supporter of the government.

    After the mutiny of the Bengal army in 1857 , when Indian troops rebelled against their British officers, Ahmad Khan wrote several articles defending the loyalty of Muslim troops. He felt the British had unfairly blamed Muslims for inciting the uprising. He later used this argument to gain British support for Muslim rights in the Indian political system. His efforts also fostered respect and improved understanding between Muslims and Christians.

    A visit to London in 1869 convinced Ahmad Khan that Muslim students in India, who traditionally attended orthodox religious schools, could benefit from the modern scientific studies he had observed in Britain. Using Cambridge and Oxford universities as models, he founded the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh, a city in northern India, in 1875 . Though the college accepted Hindu students, it was primarily a Muslim institution with a bold new purpose: to provide the best elements of modern European education within a distinctly Islamic context. The college, which was renamed Aligarh Muslim University in 1920 , graduated many students who became prominent figures in Indian public life in the early twentieth century.

    Ahmad Khan also worked, through the All-India Mohammedan Educational Conference, to promote Muslim nationalism in India. He published two books on religious subjects, Mahomedan Commentary on the Holy Bible (in 1862 ) and A Series of Essays on the Life of Mohammad (in 1870 ). He advocated religious moderation and rational social reforms in Muslim culture—ideas that aroused controversy among conservative thinkers but are now considered a foundation for the modern interpretation of Islam. In 1881 Ahmad Khan received a knighthood from the British government. See also Colonialism; Education; India.

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