Pakistan Affairs Notes

Shah Wali Ullah

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan

Shah Wali Ullah

Early Biographic Details:
  • Shah Wali Ullah was born on 21 February 1703 during the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir. His real name was Qutub-ud-Din, but he later became known as Shah Wali Ullah because of his piety. His father was Shah Abdul Rahim, who founded the Madrassa Rahimiya in Delhi. When his father died in 1718, Shah Wali Ullah began teaching at the Madrassa.
  • In 1724, Shah Wali Ullah went to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj and to further his studies. He studied under the famous Sheikh Abu Tahir bin Ibrahim, before returning to Delhi in 1732.


  • During his time in Saudi Arabia, Shah Wali Ullah thought deeply about the problems faced by Muslims in the Mughal Empire. The Empire was in decline and Muslims were disunited and vulnerable to attacks on their religion. Shah Wali Ullah realized that reform could not come from the weak leadership in Delhi and that it had to come from within the Muslim community itself.
  • He believed that many of the problems of the Muslims resulted from their incomplete knowledge of the Quran and about Islam in general – and that what was needed was for Quranic teachings to become more accessible to the people.
  • A major problem for the Muslim community was the way that it was divided into sectarian groups, such as Sunnis and Shias. Shah Wali Ullah wanted them to concentrate on the fundamental principles of Islam and put aside their differences, believing that this would create a more united community.
  • It was essential to follow the moral and spiritual principles of Islam in order to create a good society. Un-Islamic principles were not acceptable in any area of society, whether politics, economics or just the day-to-day lives of the individual Muslims.


  • Shah Wali Ullah worked hard to ensure that he was a role model for other Muslims. His deep understanding of the Quran, Hadith, Fiqah, and Tasawuf made him a highly knowledgeable scholar at an early age.
  • Since he believed that an emphasis on Quranic teachings was vital to Muslims, he translated the Quran into Persian. Few Muslims spoke Arabic and so the Quran had not been widely studied previously. Now it could be understood by a larger number of Muslims. The ulema criticized Shah Wali Ullah, but his work proved very popular. Later his two sons, Shah Abdul Qader and Shah Rafi, translated the Quran into Urdu, which meant that many more people could study it.
  • In addition to translating the Quran,  Shah Wali Ullah wrote fifty-one books. He wrote in both Persian and Arabic. Amongst the most famous were Hujjatullah-ul-Baligha and Izalat-Akhfa. He also wrote an account of the first four caliphs of Islam in a way that was acceptable to both Shias and Sunnis. He hoped that this would help to heal the division between them.
  • His writings brought him great fame and prestige and enabled him to have an influence in other areas too. For example, in economics, he emphasized the need for social justice and for peasants and craftsmen to be truly valued for their contribution to the economy.
  • One of Shah Wali Ullah’s most important contributions to the Muslim community was his organization of opposition to the Marathas, who were threatening to over-run the Mughal Empire from the south. He realized that the Muslims had to unite to deal with this threat, and that of the Sikhs who were attacking in the north. Shah Wali Ullah wrote to all the Muslim nobles calling on them to join together to save the Mughal Empire. It was partly his influence that helped to persuade Ahmed Shah Abdali of Persia to intervene. He joined forces with local Muslim leaders and defeated the Marathas at the Battle of Panipat in 1761. However, despite encouragement from Shah Wali Ullah, the Muslim leaders did not unite to take advantage of the defeat of the Marathas. Perhaps if they had done so, the Muslims would not have soon found themselves under non-Muslim rule.



Shah Wali Ullah’s contribution towards Islamic revival was extremely important for a number of reasons:

  • He was one of the first Muslim thinkers to state that the decline of the Mughal Empire and the vulnerable position of the Muslims was due to a neglect of the principles of Islam. He believed that if the decline in the position of the Muslims was to be stopped, there had to be spiritual and moral regeneration.
  • He showed how this regeneration might take place. The Madrassa Rahimiya continued to play a vital role in teaching Islamic principles and researching Islamic thought.
  • His writing in Persian made Islamic teaching available to large numbers of Muslims who had not been able to understand Arabic. He believed that Muslims could only prosper if they followed proper Islamic customs and did not indulge in social evils. Shah Wali Ullah provided the inspiration for all Muslims to lead a pure life, based on a belief that anti-social attitudes incurred the displeasure of God.
  • He also showed that a Muslim revival could only take place if there was an acceptance that the sectarian division was to stop. Muslims had to concentrate more on the basic principles of Islam, and not allow the differences between them to lead to conflict. He tried to build bridges between the different Muslim sects and to unite the community. He tried to do this organizing opposition to the Marathas and uniting Muslims by emphasizing the importance of Jihad against a common enemy.
  • He trained his sons to continue his work and had such a huge following that his work remained famous for many generations. Like all great reformers, Shah Wali Ullah’s influence continued long after his death. Not only did his writings survive and translated into many languages, but the Madrassa Rahimiya continued to flourish. Many future Islamic leaders were inspired by him to fight for the good of the Muslim community.

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan


Early Biographical Details:

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was born in 1817 in Delhi. He came from a wealthy family, which was well known and respected in the area. Great care was taken by Sir Syed’s father to ensure that he received a high-quality education.

By the age of 18, he was skilled in Arabic, Persian, Mathematics, and Medicine. He had also been introduced to some of India’s most able writers and had developed a love for literature.

In 1838, Sir Syed’s father died and he was forced to seek employment. He quickly rose from a lowly position in the legal system to become a judge in Delhi in 1846. That year he wrote his well-known book on archaeology called Athar-al-Sanadeed. When the War of Independence broke out in 1857, Sir Syed was working as chief judge in Bijnaur and is said to have saved the lives of many women and children during the fighting. In return for his loyalty, the British offered him an estate with a large income, but he refused the offer.

His belief that armed uprising against the British was pointless made him unpopular with some Muslims, but it did not stop him working towards reconciliation between the British and the Muslim community after the war. He was appointed Chief Justice in Muradabad and later was transferred ot Ghazipore. In 1864, he was transferred to Aligarh where he played an important part in establishing a new college. In 1876, he retired from his work in the law to concentrate on running the college and to devote himself to improving the position of Muslims in the sub-continent through education. Aligarh became the centre of a ‘Muslim renaissance’. He died on 27 March 1898, having served his fellow Muslims in a way, which few had rivaled.



Sir Syed was extremely unhappy about the position of the Muslims in the subcontinent. Since the days of the Mughal empire their social and economic status had declined sharply. The role of Muslims in the War of Independence had led to a further decline in their fortunes as the British took measures to ensure that their control would not be subject to further challenge.

Sir Syed felt that the poor status of the Muslims was due to the way they were treated as second-class citizens by the British and the Hindus, but that they also had to take some of the responsibility themselves. Many Muslims considered the British to be little more than invaders in India and wanted nothing to do with them. Sir Syed believed that the Muslim community had to accept that the British was rulers who intended to stay for many years. The Muslim position could only be improved if they adopted a more positive approach to the British. They needed to accept more British ideas and to take advantage of British education. If they did not, then the Hindus would continue to prosper because of their more cooperative approach.

Sir Syed wanted to see the Muslims united and prospering. He also wanted to see an improvement in their economic, social, political, and religious fortunes. He made this ambition his life’s work and, because so much of his effort revolved around a ‘Muslim renaissance’ taking place in Aligarh, he is said to have founded ‘The Aligarh Movement’.

The central aims of the Aligarh Movement were to:

  • Improve relations between the British and Muslim communities by removing British doubts about Muslim loyalty and Muslim doubts about British intentions.
  • Improve the social and economic position of Muslims by encouraging them to receive Western education and take up posts in the civil service and army.
  • Increase the political awareness of the Muslim community in order to make them aware of the threat to their position from the Hindus policy of co-operation with the British.



1- Improving Relations between the British and Muslim Communities:

Sir Syed believed that the position of the Muslims in the subcontinent could only be improved if relations with the British were improved and Muslims gained higher-quality education. There were two major obstacles to good relations.

a) The British had put the entire responsibility for the War of Independence in 1857 on the Muslims. As a result, they carried out policies of repression against the Muslims after 1857. The Hindus and other religious groups were considered to be loyal and prepared to assist in governing India, but the Muslims were seen as rebellious and unhelpful. Even as early as 1843, the British Governor-General had stated:

“I cannot close my eyes to the belief that the Muslim race is fundamentally hostile to us. Our true policy is to reconcile the Hindus”.

 Sir Syed wanted to ensure that this false view was corrected.

b) There was a deep-seated resentment of the British among many in the Muslim community. This was sometimes based on the fact that the British were seen as ‘foreign invaders’ and sometimes because they were thought to be trying to replace Islam with Christianity. Other Muslims rejected all Western ideas because they were often not in line with Islamic beliefs. Sir Syed wanted to ensure that the benefits and advantages of British rule, in particular in the areas of science and technology were embraced by the Muslim community to improve the lives of the masses.

Convincing the British:

In 1860, Sir Syed wrote ‘The Loyal Mohammadens of India’. In this work, he defended the Muslims from the British accusation that they were disloyal. He gave a detailed account of the loyal service which Muslims had given and named various Muslims who had shown particular loyalty to the British. At the same time, he called on the British to end their hostility towards the Muslim community.

In order to convince the British that they were wrong to put the full blame for the events of 1857 on the Muslims, Sir Syed wrote a pamphlet called ‘Essay on the Causes of the Indian Revolt’. In his writing, he pointed out the main reasons for the uprising were:

1- The lack of representation for Indians in the government of the country.

2- The forcible conversion of Muslims to Christianity.

3- The poor management of the Indian army.

He also listed many other measures taken by the British which created dissatisfaction and led to resentment among the Muslim community.

This pamphlet was circulated free amongst the British officials in India and was also sent to Members of Parliament in England.

Even members of the Royal family received copies. Some British officials were angered by what Sir Syed wrote as he seemed to be blaming them for the uprising. Others read what he wrote with sympathy and accepted that there was truth in his words. Sir Syed also tried to clear up a misunderstanding amongst the British who resented being called ‘Nadarath’ by the Muslims. The British thought that this was an insult, but Sir Syed pointed out that the word came from ‘Nasir’, an Arabic word meaning helper. So the term was a reflection of the positive image Muslims had of the British, not an insult.

Convincing the Muslims:

Sir Syed was aware that the British knew very little about Islam. Indeed, on a visit to England, he was so offended by an English book on the life of the Prophet (P.B.U.H) that he immediately wrote his own work correcting the many errors.

It was also true, however, that the Muslims in India knew very little about Christianity. He tried to overcome this by writing ‘Tabyin-ul-Kalam’, in which he pointed out the similarities between Islam and Christianity. Due to a lack of resources, the work was not finished, but it showed Sir Syed’s commitment to improving relations.

Another example of this was the British Indian Association which Sir Syed established to try to increase cooperation between the two peoples.

Many Muslims, however, were very suspicious of any British influence, because they believed it corrupted Islamic learning. Sir Syed realized that he needed to increase awareness of the benefits of western technological advances. He did not accept the arguments of British Christian missionaries that the technological advances that had been made in Europe were a result of the teachings of Christianity. He believed that they had to do with greater political development and a higher standard of education, particularly in science. He, therefore, laid great emphasis on the need to bring about improved education for Muslims.

2- Encouraging the growth of Western Education:

After 1857, the Muslim community was subject to discrimination at the hands of the British, whilst other groups were supported. The Hindus, for example, had decided that they should work with the British. This helped the British to see them as a counter to the supposedly ‘disloyal Muslims’. So Hindus were keen to learn the English language and to acquire a British education in the subcontinent. This helped them to gain employment and to make progress in society. By 1871, there were 711 Hindus in government employment compared with only 92 Muslims.

The ‘Hindu Movement’ gained strength as more and more Hindus received education in the new schools, colleges and universities which were springing up. This increased confidence among Hindus also led to them viewing Muslims with an increasing lack of respect.

Sir Syed took steps to change Muslim attitudes to receiving British education. In this, he came into conflict with the ulema. They believed that acceptance of Western scientific and technological ideas might undermine Islamic beliefs. Sir Syed believed that the Holy Quran emphasized the need to study and that understanding of modern scientific beliefs actually helped reveal the full majesty of God.

  • To gain support for his views, Sir Syed set up an Urdu journal called ‘Tahdhib-ul-Akhlaq’. This journal contained articles from influential Muslims who agreed with Sir Syed that there was a need for a new approach to education. Although some ulema attacked the journal, it played a major part in bringing about an intellectual revolution amongst Muslim thinkers.
  • In 1863, Sir Syed founded the Scientific Society at Ghazipore. Its main purpose was to make scientific writings available to a wider market by translating them from English, Persian, or Arabic into Urdu. When he was transferred to Aligarh in 1864, he continued his work and in 1866 began issuing a journal called the ‘Aligarh Institue Gazette’.
  • He had already shown his commitment to expanding educational opportunities when, in 1859, he opened a school in Muradabad. In 1864, he opened another school in Ghazipore.
  • In 1869, Sir Syed traveled to England to study the university system there. He dreamed of setting up a university for Muslims in the subcontinent. He was very impressed by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and hoped to set up an educational institution based on their model. However, on returning home, he found that his plans were often met with suspicion. He could not start with a university right away. So instead he decided to begin with a school.
  • A committee was set up, which toured the country raising funds for a new Muslim school. On 24 May 1875, the Mohammaden Anglo-Oriental School was set up in Aligarh on the pattern of the English public school system. Sir Syed worked hard to have the school upgraded to a college. In 1876, he retired from his employment and devoted himself full-time to the school. In 1877, the school was raised to college level, but as part of the University of Calcutta. The British would not allow it to be affiliated with a Muslim university outside British territory so, for the moment it could not become the Muslim University that Sir Syed wanted.
  • The college offered both Western and Indian education, though Islamic education was also provided. It became much more than an educational institution. In the days before the Muslim League, it became a symbol of Muslim unity. Many of the future leaders of Pakistan, such as Liaquat Ali Khan and Ayub Khan, were educated there and some historians have commented that the college was the institution, which contributed more than any other to the formation of Pakistan.
  • In 1920, some years after the death of Sir Syed, the college became the University of Aligarh.
  • However, Sir Syed’s work in education did not end with the formation of the college. He wanted to publicize the new educational methods being used at Aligarh. So in 1886, he set up the Mohammaden Educational Conference. Its aim was to raise educational standards among Muslims. It held meetings at a number of cities across the subcontinent and sub-committees were formed in many places. The Conference attracted famous orators and writers and also played a major role in establishing a political platform for Muslims, in the days before the formation of the Muslim League.

3- Increasing Political Awareness:

Sir Syed was determined to improve the status of the Muslim community. By writing his ‘Essay on the Causes of the Indian Revolt’ and ‘Loyal Mohammadens of India’, he had shown a desire to re-establish good relationships with the British, as he hoped this would lead to greater opportunities Muslims. This earned him a reputation of being too moderate and too British. But, in fact, Sir Syed realized that the British were too powerful to overthrow and that the Muslims would gain more by cooperating with them.

He also believed that Muslims should have good relations with Hindus, as they had a common long-term aim – to restore the authority of local people in their own country. In a speech to the Indian Association he said:

“We Hindus and Muslims live together on the same soil under the same government. Our interests and problems are common and, therefore I consider the two factions as one nation”.

However, Sir Syed soon realized that Hindus were not keen on working with Muslims and this led him to the conclusion that the two groups could not work together. In time, he came to believe that Hindus and Muslims were different enough to be considered as two separate groups within the subcontinent.

Indian National Congress:

In 1885, the Indian National Congress was formed. The British saw this body as a means by which they could hear the views of the educated elite in Indian society. The Congress said that it would represent the views of all the communities within India, regardless of their religion. However, it soon became apparent that the Congress was a Hindu dominated body which was working to establish Hindu supremacy over the Muslims.

Political Representation:

A good example of this was the call by Congress for the introduction of a democratic system of political representation similar to that practiced in Britain. This sounded fair, but since there were four times as many Hindus as Muslims, they would win every election. Democracy would leave the Muslims with no representation at all. Sir Syed spoke out angrily against any such plans saying:

“I am convinced that the introduction of the principle of an election… would be attended with evils of greater significance. The larger community would totally override the interests of the smaller community”.

Competitive Examinations:

Congress also suggested that appointments in the government service should be by competitive examination. Since Muslims were not receiving education of a standard similar to that received by Hindus, this would greatly disadvantage them. Sir Syed commented that only when equal educational opportunities were provided could such an idea work.


  • A further cause of concern to Sir Syed was the ‘Hindi-Urdu Controversy’. In 1867, the Hindus demanded that Hindi should be made the next official language in place of Urdu (which had become the official language in 1825). It was not until after his death that Hindi became the second language, but the Hindu opposition to Urdu was another factor guiding Sir Syed towards his ‘Two-Nation Theory’.
  • Urdu had a special place in the hearts of the Muslim community with many of its finest writings in that language. Sir Syed was bitterly opposed to this attack on Urdu and particularly shocked to find that the Hindu members of his Scientific Society wanted the society’s journal to published in Hindi.

Sir Syed’s belief that Congress was working in the interests of Hindus, and in a way, which was harmful to the Muslim community, led him to refuse to attend its meetings. Instead, he organized an alternative body called the ‘United Patriotic Alliance’. In 1893, this became the ‘Mohammaden Defence Alliance’. By this time, the rivalry between the Hindu and Muslim communities was increasing and there were several examples of Hindus showing disrespect for the Muslim religion. In Bombay, some Hindu extremists began playing loud music outside mosques.

It seemed that in some areas, it was becoming increasingly difficult for Muslims and Hindus to live in peaceful co-existence.



Sir Syed Ahmed Khan played a vital role in improving the status of the Muslim community in the subcontinent.

  • He worked tirelessly to restore relationships with the British, particularly after the War of Independence, when many British were of the opinion that the Muslims were disloyal and untrustworthy. His writings, his tireless work, and the example he set was to convince the British to see the Muslims in a new light.
  • Sir Syed played a major part in bringing about a Muslim revival, largely through the work of the Aligarh Movement. Muslims came to value education as a means of self-improvement and of obtaining better employment. From this came a greater feeling of self-worth.
  • Linked to the Muslim revival was greater political awareness. As Hindus sought to take advantage of the poor relations between the Muslims and the British, Sir Syed emphasized the threat to Muslims and developed his ‘Two-Nation Theory’. Once Muslims came to accept the wisdom of this theory, it was only a small step to call for partition. For this reason, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan can rightly be called ‘The Father of the Pakistan Movement’.




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