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Jamia isn’t anti-national, Gandhi wanted to help raise funds with a ‘begging bowl’

Jamia Millia Islamia was not and is not a religious seminary. It was founded to inculcate Indian nationalism among Muslim youth.

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Jamia Millia Islamia has been in the news during the past few weeks because of the participation of its students in the anti-CAA agitation and the alleged excesses committed by the Delhi police against them. The prevailing perception in some quarters that the anti-CAA protests at Jamia were a part of a nefarious “Islamic” conspiracy undertaken at a predominantly Muslim institution to create mayhem in the country is the result of total ignorance of the history of Jamia and its ideological moorings.

Some of this ignorance is based on the misunderstanding that Jamia was founded primarily to impart religious education and that the secular curriculum is a mere add-on or façade to hide its true character. Nothing can be farther from the truth.

Jamia was founded not to impart Islamic education but modern education to Muslim youth while at the same time inculcating a sense of Indian nationalism within them. This is a very important distinction. Jamia was not and is not a religious seminary like Deoband, although the latter also has a hoary nationalist past and leading luminaries of the seminary have participated in the freedom movement and opposed the partition of the country.

Also read: Have lost one eye, not resolve: Jamia student who won best paper after police lathi-charge

Jamia and its objective

In terms of its basic educational purpose, Jamia is like the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and was its offshoot. However, the ideological foundations and the political trajectories of the two institutions in the pre-independence period were polar opposites of each other. AMU was the brainchild of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan whose primary goal was to prepare young Muslims from Ashraf families through the medium of modern education to improve their status in British-ruled India. Jamia, on the other hand, was founded by a group of nationalist teachers, alumni, and students who quit AMU in response to Mahatma Gandhi’s call to boycott all educational institutions supported or run by the colonial regime. They were especially protesting against AMU’s decision to bar students and teachers from participating in the Non-Cooperation and Khilafat movements.

Prominent members of the movement to set up a nationalist, Muslim counterpart to British-supported AMU were Maulana Mahmud Hasan, Maulana Muhammad Ali, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Dr. Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari, and Abdul Majid Khwaja, several of whom were leading lights of the Congress. In the words of poet-activist Sarojini Naidu, they “built up the Jamia Millia stone by stone and sacrifice by sacrifice”. Rabindranath Tagore called it “one of the most progressive educational institutions of India”. The second wave of Muslim scholars, including Zakir Hussein, who later became President of India, who were studying abroad gave up the idea of lucrative careers and decided to join the Jamia faculty. Zakir Hussein accepted a monthly salary of one hundred rupees, which he voluntarily reduced to eighty rupees when Jamia was faced with a financial crunch in 1925. It is reported that when Jamia faced severe financial problems, Mahatma Gandhi boosted the morale of its founders by declaring, “Jamia has to run. If you are worried about its finances, I will go about with a begging bowl”.

Also read: Jamia saga — ABP has 5 videos, Times Now has 8 while Zee News has shocking headline

An institution for ‘co-existence’

Jamia moved from Aligarh to Delhi in 1925 first to Karol Bagh and then in 1936 to its present location in Okhla, then a sleepy village on the outskirts of Delhi. From its very inception, Jamia has stood for the co-existence of Islamic values with secular nationalism. Its founders believed that it was possible to be a patriot while being a good Muslim. To them, Islam and Indian nationalism were two sides of the same coin and one was incomplete without the other. One of its founders Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani, who later became the head of the Deoband Seminary, wrote a book titled ‘Composite Nationalism’ advocating this thesis. The combination of two words “millia” (meaning “national”) and “Islamia” (meaning Islamic) demonstrates the fusion of secular nationalism and Muslim identity, both essential components of Jamia’s ideology.

The raison d’etre of Jamia was to build an educational institution and simultaneously provide a public space where Muslims could proudly be both Indian and Muslim, thus defying the British policy of dividing Indians by religious affiliation. It distinguished itself from AMU on two counts. One, it refused to take any financial help from the government as long as the British ruled India. Two, Jamia rejected Jinnah’s pernicious two-nation theory that gained a great deal of support at AMU in the 1940s. Even at the time of partition when communal killings were taking place around the city, the Jamia campus continued to be a haven of peace refusing to be engulfed by the madness surrounding it. Its students and teachers worked with Muslims who had been displaced by the riots and taken refuge at Humayun’s Tomb and Purana Qila. At the same time, the Jamia campus gave shelter to Hindu and Sikh refugees uprooted from their homes in what had become Pakistan.

One should view the Jamia student’s opposition to, and protest against, CAA/NRC in the context of the institution’s ideological underpinnings into which they have been socialized. Whether rightly or wrongly, many students of Jamia, both Muslim and Hindu, saw the CAA as derogating from the idea of composite nationalism which has formed the bedrock of Jamia’s existence. It is important to understand that their opposition to CAA is not based either on Islamic revivalism or on any political ideology threatening the unity of the nation but exactly the reverse.

The author is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University. Views are personal.

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  1. YES, and
    Pakistan isn’t “the epicenter of terrorism” , (post-partition) Gandhi went onto fast unto death (against Indian Govt) to give Pakistan its share of revenue .

    Come on, For how long will you intellectuals keep justifying by resting your case on Gandhiji’s shoulders??? Don’t protect Jamia because Gandhiji or falana-dikhana asked so and so…. Present a case in Jamia’s defense for its own sake.

  2. The trend of anti-national activities and slogans at Jamia Milia univ. and outside has further degraded image of Muslims in the heart of others. The outfits have taken full advantage to mislead the students & provoke them, with their interest. It is not anti-CAA alone rather power show irrespective of damage to India. The political parties exploited the situation for their own gain. It is shame on all those who in the name of protest damaged country and downgraded their image, with blots on their face. Rethink what are you doing in the name of protest is Right ???

  3. How much are you being paid for whitewashing Jamia?

    What does it mean when they raised anti-hindu slogans and sign at protest

    Has they gain sense of indian nationalism since establishment?

    What nonsense The Print is trying convey?

  4. Another fabricated narrative. The anti-national dacoit congress its allies leaders and fake dynast family members are expert in fabricating narratives and misleading masses. Jamia was and is a centre for anti-national, anti-Hindu activities, where terrorists, separatists underworlds mafias and muslims are maintained at the cost of majority Hindus, taxpayers. Contribution of mullas in India’s tax coffers is nil. They are just parasites enjoying life on freebies offered by the anti-national anti-Hindu political parties. Everything was going systematically since the inception, but after NaMo taking over the rein, these rogues and the institution got badly exposed. All such centres of anti-national activities must be closed permanently, why waste taxpayers money on the terrorists?

  5. I am all for protest as part of freedom.

    Before we go further I want to understand the slogans raised and written at Jamia.

    La illah illah- explain to general public how this is communal. You are asking everyone to submit allah.

    Khilafat- explain to general public how the intent of this slogan is to impose Islam caliphate in secular India.

    Once this is sorted out we can carry on with rest of the discourse.

  6. The Print वाले कंहा पुराने दिनो मे खोये रहे है । ऊन दिनो टुकड़े टुकड़े कर देगे कहने वाले नही होते थे ,आज की तरह हरामखोर उन दिनो नही थे, रही गांधी की बात तो उसको अभी जहां है उसे वही रहने दो ।बहुत हो गया गांधी वाद ।आज के समय मे उसका कोई मूल्य नही है, सिवाय कुछ तथा कथित नेतावो के बयान के ।

  7. Anti-Hindu and anti-India slogans were raised at Jamia during the anti-CAA protests. Media tries to whitewash all this, but the people of India have seen it all. Hindus can’t trust Muslims anymore.

  8. A very important factor which is making it almost impossible for Hindu-Muslim unity to become an accomplished fact is that the Muslim cannot confine their patriotism to any one country. I had frankly asked the Muslims whether in the event of any Mohammedan power invading India, would they [Muslims] stand side by side with their Hindu neighbours to defend their common land or join the invaders. I was not satisfied with the reply I have obtained from them… Even such a man as Mr. Mohammed Ali has declared that under no circumstances is it permissible for any Mohammedan, whatever be his country, to stand against any Mohammedan…… Tagore

  9. For Muslims living in non-Muslim countries, their allegiance to their religion comes first, country comes much later.

  10. Any discussion on the recent developments at the Jamia Milia university is incomplete without a reference to the incidents of arson, bus burning and other happenings indulged in by some persons at the beginning of the protest, even if it is assumed that it was undertaken by hooligans having no connection with the university.

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