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What is the road ahead for the AMU?

By Arfa Khanum Sherwani
May 17, 2011 15:12 IST
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Before it plans to show light to others, Aligarh Muslim University has to put its own house in order and be what it always was -- a centre of excellence where tradition and modernity do not collide but complement each other, says old student Arfa Khanum Sherwani.

After a fortnight of uncertainty, apprehensions and forced tranquil, Aligarh Muslim University has been finally reopened a couple of days ago. This was the third sine-die in four years tenure of current Vice-Chancellor Professor P K Abdul Azis leaving a big question mark on his ability to run an academic institution of national importance.

The closure was declared at a time when all of 28,000 university students were appearing for their final exams; a lot of them in the final year of their courses, almost putting their careers in a great jeopardy. Now that they can heave a sigh of relief, expecting the campus returns to normalcy soon, will it also be 'business as usual' for everyone?

Perhaps no.

The incongruities among almost all the sections at the premises -- student leaders, teachers, university administration -- has created a certain level of discomfort and mistrust for each other. 

But even in these depressing times, obscurity becomes the signpost of luminosity -- a chance to reflect on the reasons rotting the university for over a decade now.

Central to the anxiety is not just the sporadic incidents of violence but the closure actually is opening up a Pandora's Box, taking out crucial reasons for putting a dent to the image of a university of such global repute.

Today the most discussed topic on the campus would probably be its 'contested' minority status which was granted through AMU Amendment Act, 1981, lent AMU its status as a minority institution, but later quashed by Allahabad high court in 2005 prohibiting it to reserve 50 percent seats for Muslim students in professional courses. Since then, the matter is now pending before the Supreme Court.

Every living and breathing creature here feels extremely protective of it and believes that AMU is AMU because of its status. The strongest and most used argument is that AMU without being a minority institution, and without giving Muslim students that extra consideration, will loose its 'Muslim' character and hence the entire purpose of its establishment gets defeated.

But those who feel so defensive about it and do not want to let go off their 'thing' away from them, should understand that we wouldn't be finding it worthwhile to debate AMU, merely because of its 'status' but because it has throughout been a centre of excellence. Do they even think what they are doing to 'something' so dear to them?   

How many Aligs are mulling over the causes of the depredation of most of its world renowned faculties like law, history, geography, English  and worry about an almost non-appearance of legendaries like historian Irfan Habib, V S Rekhi of the law department and Farhatullah Khan from English? The problem somehow indicates towards the overall murky picture of socio-economic-educational status of the Muslim community as a whole pertinently illustrated by Sachar Committee.

Moreover from1980s to now the number of central universities bumping threefold and a growing private university market with better infrastructure and placement promises is exhausting the already small talent pool of Muslim teachers and students.   

While in pre-independent India, this residential academic institution was considered an educational paradise for Muslims elites of the country who came to university along with their servants and horses. With the changing times, the university could not keep up with its promise of providing first class education and is sadly falling short of becoming the first choice of the best brains of the country.

Turning the pages of history, the establishment of Darul Uloom, Deoband in 1866 and a Muslim University in Aligarh in 1875 almost coincide not just in terms of the time period but also the ideologies they reflected. While Deoband aimed to produce 'Maulvis', AMU replicated a complete British model of education making it an insignia of modernism so much so that it attracted fatwas from Deoband against its founder and social reformer Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. 

But now looking at the feeble state of the theology department of AMU, one can very well make out where it figures in the priorities of the university. In today's testing times when Indian Muslims are caught in the dilemma between its hardliners and moderates, AMU, having the most renowned Islamic scholars with their expertise of the religion based on not just blind faith but academic reasoning and rationale and most importantly with the required mandate it has, it could have done what it has always been doing -- provide guidance to the community in the better interest of the nation.

But now it seems once the very symbol of modernism has taken a reverse gear into waning. Even through a first glance at the university campus it is evident that more than academic and intellectual determination, the students are seen asserting their religious identity.

Though to an extent, AMU can be seen pulling alongside modern technology like turning the campus into a wi-fi zone, a 24/7 CCTV camera surveillance and a very good online habitation; but why still most of the debates on these social networking sites somehow reflect regressive thoughts full of utopian ideas ?

Although the strong global wave of modernity is certainly pushing AMU to open up and embrace the changes; a section of the university enthusiastically roping in for it too, but the majority is holding on to regression in the name of traditions. In this post-globalised world, how does it then plan to be compatible to modern times and attract the Indian global citizens?

The very decision of the university of opening new centres in Mallapuram and Murshidabad which is whole-heartedly supported by Congress party, considering it a torch bearer for the Muslim education in India, makes AMU all the more conscientious to be a model worth emulating by rest of Muslim populace of the country.       

Now before it plans to show light to others, it has to put its own house in order and be what it always was -- a centre of excellence where tradition and modernity do not collide but complement each other. 

Today, this can probably be the only Fatiha (homage) to Hazrat Sir Syed!

Arfa Khanum Sherwani is a television journalist and vice-president of AMU Old Boys' Association, Delhi.

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