Concourse: 08/17/17


Thursday, August 17, 2017

National Seminar on “Sir Syed and Colonial Modernity: Issues and Debates” on 25-26 October 2017, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh.

On the Occasion of Sir Syed Bicentenary Celebrations 2016-17, the Department of English and the Sir Syed Academy at Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, are jointly organizing a two-day national seminar titled “Sir Syed and Colonial Modernity: Issues and Debates” on 25-26 October 2017.

Keynote: S. Irfan Habib (Historian of science and the former Abul Kalam Azad Chair at the National University for Educational Planning and Administration, New Delhi).


Sir Syed and Colonial Modernity: Issues and Debates

It is, rather, the symptom of a crisis-and, to be precise, of a crisis of representation-within the experience of Indian nationhood itself: the (nationalist) claim for the existence of a singular Indian nation (state) seeks to place "the Muslims" in the place of the national minority. The principle of division, in other words, is contained within the discourse of the nation itself; it accompanies the very "first" enunciation, as it were, of "the people-as-one"; and repetition of the unity-in-diversity formula serves precisely to confirm its existence. The "minor" term within the national faces the burden of representation in a way radically different from the manner in which it falls upon the "major."

Aamir R. Mufti, “Secularism and Minority: Elements of a Critique,” Social Text 14, 4 ( 1995): pp. 75–96.

Modernity is a modular phenomenon which refuses to escape anybody. As Partha Chatterjee perceptively reminds us, we are all moderns, although the ways in which we cope with modernity may and must vary. Muslims have long concerned themselves with the idea of modernity and its place in Islamic thought. India presents a fertile ground for research into one of the earliest and most influential strands of Muslim modernism in the form of the Aligarh Movement founded by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-1898). The nerve-centre of this Movement or tahrik was the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College set up in 1877, which became Aligarh Muslim University in 1920—the most influential modern Muslim educational institution of South Asia. Scholarship on Sir Syed and the Aligarh Movement often describes them as reformer and reform movement, respectively. The reform aimed at was both religious and social, although both remained largely unaccomplished. The sine qua non of the movement was thus the promotion of English education and of refinement of manners and character-building among the Muslim gentry so that they could qualify for employment within the colonial bureaucracy, thereby keeping in check the perceived Muslim political and economic decline.

While Sir Syed and his movement have already been the subject of study by historians and other scholars, a critical engagement with the categories of modernity and reform undergirding Sir Syed’s work and his movement is still overdue. Taking the terms of modernity and reform seriously, this seminar seeks to shed critical light on the morphology—the nature, contours, character, etc.—of the reform movement pioneered by Sir Syed as he confronted and negotiated colonial modernity in nineteenth century India. How do we read Sir Syed and his reform movement in the context of nineteenth century colonial India? How did Sir Syed view tradition and modernity vis-à-vis Islam? What did his religious and social reformation of Islam entail? And how far have they been successful? Why did Sir Syed view reform along the binary of modern western education vs traditional Islamic education? What accounts for Sir Syed’s fascination for English education and his belief in the rational, liberal promise of Enlightenment? What are the Muslim responses and reactions to the Aligarh Movement? How do debates over Muslim education in colonial India help us put Sir Syed and his movement in perspective? The seminar aims to examine these and similar questions.

The seminar is mainly interested in exploring the following themes and motifs with a view to engaging with them from an interdisciplinary vantage point that allows for a divergence of perspectives and a multiplicity of readings:
  • Conceptualizations: Islam and modernity; Islamic and Western notions of tradition and modernity; tradition and change; beyond the binary of tradition/modernity; Is modernity necessarily European? 
  • Negotiating modernity: responses to colonialism and modernity in nineteenth century India—anxieties, apprehensions, attractions, ambivalences, mimicries, etc. 
  • Sir Syed and Muslim responses to modernity in India—colonial and postcolonial; comparative perspectives from North India and South India. 
  • Modernity and reform: Sir Syed’s religious and social reform; placing Sir Syed on the larger map of religious and social reform in colonial India. 
  • The role of print and journalism in Sir Syed’s reform movement: Tahzibul Akhlaq; essays, speeches, letters, etc. 
  • Sir Syed and the development of modern Urdu literature. 
  • The Aligarh Movement—life and afterlife. 
  • “Elitism” of the Aligarh Movement; Subaltern critiques of Sir Syed and his Movement. 
  • Ta’lim and tarbiyat: Sir Syed and modern education; the standing of English in Sir Syed’s model of education; literature and moral instruction; the role of English in “secular” education. 
  • Sir Syed and his use of English; Sir Syed and his English translators. 
  • Science, technology, and rational forms of knowledge as means to modernity and progress; tension between modernization on one hand and Islamization on the other; debates over Muslim education in colonial India. 
  • Sir Syed and Victorian morals: discipline, decorum, order, gentlemanliness, refinement of manners, etc.; education and bringing up. 
  • A Muslim college on the model of Oxbridge: curriculum, pedagogy, training and mentorship, soft skills development, etc. 
  • Sir Syed and the British Empire: “Loyal Muhammadans” of India? 
  • Sir Syed and minority discourse in the Indian subcontinent. 
  • Sir Syed and women’s empowerment—historical reconstructions. 
  • (New) historicist readings of Sir Syed’s writings: reading Sir Syed against the specificity of his time and locale. 
  • Contemporary critiques of Sir Syed on tradition, reform, and modernity; the continued salience of the Aligarh Movement as a reference point for Islam’s modernity. 
  • Sir Syed between “pre-readings” and “re-readings”: the critical labour of reading Sir Syed for our times. 

Scholars and researchers are invited to send a short abstract of their proposed contribution (300 words for a 20-minute paper), explaining the content and intended structure of the paper, and including a short bio.
Abstracts should be submitted by 7 September 2017 by email to; 
All proposals will be blind-reviewed. The list of selected papers will be available by 15 September 2017
Each final paper should not exceed 20 minutes. Since selected papers will be published in the form of the Seminar proceedings, all participants will be asked to submit a final draft of their papers by 15 October 2017. 


Dates of the Seminar: 25-26 October 2017

Submission of abstracts: 7 September 2017

Notification to selected participants: 15 September 2017

Submission of full papers: 15 October 2017



Professor Seemin Hasan (Chairperson, Department of English, AMU, Aligarh)

Professor Tariq Ahmed (Director, Sir Syed Academy, AMU, Aligarh)

Coordinator: Dr. Muneer Aram Kuzhiyan (Assistant Professor, Department of English, AMU, Aligarh)

Convenor: Dr. Syed Hussain Haider (Assistant Director, Sir Syed Academy, AMU, Aligarh)

All questions about the seminar may be directed to Dr. Muneer A.K. at

Contact Info: 
Dr Muneer A.K.
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Faculty of Arts
Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh
Contact Email: