Sunday, January 18, 2015

Saiyid Hamid's death is huge blow to Indian Muslims

"But for the media, people like me do not represent Muslims because we are too progressive; we don't have beards nor do we wear the peculiar white caps. The Muslim stereotypes do not fit us. If a Muslim demonstrates backwardness it is news; if he exhibits progressiveness, it is not news." These words written by the late Rafiq Zakaria comes to mind in the wake of the passing away of Saiyid Hamid, former vice-chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and retired IAS officer. Except few cursory comments and platitudinous condolence messages, the national media seems to have largely ignored his death.

Born in 1920, Saiyid Hamid completed BA and then MA in English followed by another MA in Persian at the Aligarh Muslim University. He got selected to the United Provinces provincial civil services and worked in the districts of Uttar Pradesh and in 1949 graduated to the IAS. After being in service for more than 30 years, he then became the vice-chancellor of AMU. This was the start of his second innings and his stint at Aligarh turned out to be full of challenges. After leaving his mark as an able administrator, Saiyid Hamid plunged into ameliorating the educational backwardness of Muslims. He focused on increasing the number of Muslims in civil services and worked tirelessly towards it. With the passage of time, the tumultuous Aligarh days were behind him, and he emerged as a towering personality and a kind of father figure for Muslim social activists.

He kept away from politics but continued to be at the forefront of Muslim issues till his last days. His moderate approach, high integrity and clear thinking added to his forceful personality which was embellished by his love for literature. His association with Jamia Hamdard as the vice chancellor brought immense laurels and respect, but it was the establishment of the Hamdard Study Circle that earned him the gratitude of the community. The study circle conducted coaching classes for Muslim students aspiring to get into the civil services. (It seems this was a passion that Saiyid Hamid had for long. Here is a piece by senior IAS officer Naved Masood that throws more light on his personality.) 

In 2010, Shah Faesal topped the UPSC exams and brought into limelight the works of Saiyid Hamid and Hamdard Study Circle, where he received coaching. The fact that Shah Faesal was from Kashmir made the achievement more noteworthy. Saiyid Hamid told twocircles.net: "We are also proud of the fact that this has happened in respect of a candidate from Jammu and Kashmir where condition has not been favourable for serious study and yet the young man has proved that despite of all difficulties in the way one can be successful and eminently successful." It was perhaps such work at the ground level that gave immense satisfaction to Saiyid Hamid.

Another project close to his heart was the magazine 'Nation and the World' which unfortunately did not do well. There would hardly be a major Muslim educationist or activist who must have not benefited from his advice and guidance. His stature was such that he was beyond seeking any publicity or laurels for himself. He was a man of principle who never shied from putting across his views even at the risk of going against popular notions.

At the height of the Babri Masjid episode, Saiyid Hamid sought to engage the community to discuss the statement of L K Advani. In August 1990, Advani had said that if Muslims agreed to a respectful removal of the mosque to a site close by, Hindus may be persuaded to withdraw their claim to other disputed places of worship. He got support from Badruddin Tyabji and Col Bashir Hussain Zaidi but to their "disappointment and surprise" their stance did not get much support. He wrote: "It seems that on all religio-political issues it is extremism along that gets credibility. Moderation and even exploratory attempts at mediation are spurned. No one can afford to essay a rapprochement, not even a leader of of Mr Advani's stature, for fear of losing ground with his followers.The folly of this writer's response to an offer that never was has been doubly established."     

The driving force behind this endeavour was the belief that Hindu-Muslim relationships would stand transformed and would give breathing space for "social and educational reconstruction". But such thorny issues were always beyond the honest approach of people like Saiyid Hamid. Yet it was an earnest desire to work towards the larger good of the community that lay at his heart.

At 94 years of age, Saiyid Hamid lived an extraordinary life. He saw the British rule, witnessed the Partition, immersed himself in the difficult task of Muslim empowerment and as Afzal Usmani writes managed to build a "sound academic record at a moment in India's history when Muslims were afflicted with uncertainty." His work will be remembered by generations to come.