Sunday, December 8, 2013

What is Aligarh Movement?

Somebody asked this question at one of the Aligarh Movement fora : What is Aligarh Movement?

Yours truly has a take on it. Aligarh Movement is a revivalist movement of Islam.

There is undue emphasis on the reforming aspect of the Aligarh Movement.
It can not be denied that Aligarh Movement has an extremely reformist character but is a travesty of the truth that its reformist aspect overwhelms the revivalist aspect.

But there are many people who keep harping on the reformist angle trumping everything else. this is far from the truth. If Sir Syed said that graduates of Aligarh will have a crown of no god but God in their head then the matter was settled in his life itself - Aligarh begins at Islam and end at Islam.

But this still leaves out a nagging doubt. If Islam is the be all and end all of Aligarh Movement then what is meant by its revivalist character? There are two aspects of the answer to this query. Firstly, the negation part,  Aligarh Movement is no subterfuge of Islam. Secondly, the affirmation part, Aligarh Movement strives to bring Islam forward to face the challenge of modern times.

And that is hardly a subterfuge of Islam. This should come as a surprise to those who do see Aligarh Movement as antagonistic to a conservative Islamic movement, for example Deoband. Yours truly does not see it in that way. In spite of the fact that it is historically correct that there has been significant friction between the two in the early phase.

The two movements started in a phase when Islam and Muslims were passing through an extremely low phase. Colonialism had reached its pinnacle and colonialism was a device of the same forces that emanated from those geographical regions where crusades has arisen from. It is true that the two plagues, crusades and colonialism, were separated from each other a gap of centuries and the new and strident west had kicked out the religion of Christianity, at the effective level at least if not completely, but all this has not affected the animosity towards Islam in any significant manner. Russian, British and French control of Muslim lands was complete and overall push of these western force might not have been pro-Christian but it was decidedly against Islam.

Both Aligarh and Deoband felt the need to do some thing to address the situation. Deoband put its primary worries in the preservation of Islam. Sir Syed had welfare of Muslims at his heart. If we combine  the latter with the information that Sir Syed wanted to keep Islam at the top one come to the unmistakable conclusion that at the most fundamental level the two movements are not antagonistic at all. The worst that one can say is that the two movements are complementary to each other.

And that is a complement.

When one is knee deep in crisis then there is a possibility of miscommunication with other people working to the same ends. And that is what happened in the case of infancy of the two  movements.