India has numerous tourist attractions. I visited some of them during a trip there in 2004, but one among them stood out, especially since it is not exactly a tourist magnet. Surprisingly, it was a university that captured my attention, my late father’s alma mater.
Known as Aligarh Muslim University, or AMU, it is probably the most noteworthy attraction in the city of Aligarh, besides the fort. For those not familiar with that part of India, Aligarh is a city in the state of Uttar Pradesh, and is otherwise known for its manufacturing of locks. But the university has a presence in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Middle East, as well as overseas, and the San Francisco Bay Area is no exception. I’ve found that its alumni are some of the most dedicated people anywhere to identify with their university.
The AMU Alumni Association is putting on its annual Sir Syed Day event, an event that has been on my social calendar for approximately 10 years now. With the recent addition of the Aligarh Education Endowment Fund (AEEF) fundraiser to the annual Mushaira (Urdu poetry recital), the alumni of this esteemed university both share and show their enthusiasm for the vision of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan the founder of AMU, who was born in Delhi in the early 1800s. He experienced firsthand the revolt of 1857 in India against the British and its brutal fallout. Inspired by Western scientific pursuits, he urged India’s Muslims to pursue modern scientific education and, against all odds, succeeded in founding the Mohammedan Anglo Oriental (MAO) College in 1875, which became a university in 1920.
Why is Aligarh Muslim University important today? Besides being one of India’s foremost educational institutions for Muslims (the campus is now open to all religions), the end result of Sir Syed’s vision has been an educated alumni contributing to the world of science, engineering, medicine, and the arts (among others). The global community is benefitting from AMU graduates in all fields. It was difficult to imagine that a community once imploding due to its defeat by the British could follow a reformist path and elevate itself.
This year’s event will include Urdu poetry, during which poets from India, Pakistan, and North America will share their unique skills; entertainment; food; and more.