How Judge Syed Mahmood, known for his dissent under the British Raj, shaped an interfaith debate

National integration through tolerance is an ideal for all of us; it was a reality with Syed Mahmood.

His personality and the depth of his thoughts transcended the realm of materialistic living and found solace in mysticism. His knowledge of Arabic and Persian helped him develop a deep understanding of Sufism while his command of the Sanskrit language made him an avid reader of the Ramayana and attracted him to the philosophy of Vedanta.

Mahmood accumulated heterogeneous experiences through his cross-cultural exposure – with his education beginning in a maktab and culminating in Cambridge via Queens College in the city of temples, pundits and ghats, Banaras.

As mentioned in Chapter 1, Mahmood moved to Benares in 1868, where he was admitted to Queens’ College, which was widely regarded at the time as a seminary for English language and literature. There Mahmood enjoyed the tutelage of the distinguished Anglo-Sanskrit scholar and poet, Ralph T Griffith – the famous translator of the Ramayana in English and author of the book of poems titled sanskrit idylls.

Queens’ College was envisioned as an alchemy of Banaras Sanskrit College and English Seminary. He adhered to a unique integrated model of education that conscientiously assimilated the knowledge of East and West. Coincidentally, his educational philosophy and ideals mirrored those of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and are said to have largely shaped Syed Mahmood’s understanding of educational philosophy and pedagogy.

Additionally, being the son of a social reformer, author, and civil servant added to his understanding of religion and cultures. His closest known friends were AM Bose (whom Mahmood affectionately called “my tutor” when he was at Cambridge), Satish Chandra Banerji, Tej Bahadur Sapru and George EA Ross. Satish Chandra Banerji, in one of his articles in Hindustan Review, wrote that Mahmood was a true liberal and a friend of progress; he visualized a perfect communion between Hindus and Muslims and wanted them to join hands as a single parent.

Interestingly, according to Lt. Col. GFI Graham, the dinner held in honor of Mahmood’s return from London as a barrister was the first NWP dinner at which Muslims, Hindus and English gentlemen sat whole.

On the aforementioned occasion, Mahmood delivered a short speech embodying the composite culture and unity of India in promoting unity among the compatriots. He said:

Having differences in religion does not eliminate all influence from the issues on which Muslims and Hindus work together. Those who know me well also know that my training and upbringing took place in such a way and in such an atmosphere that I value national unity (hum watani) and its enthusiasm and ideas above all other ideas of ‘humanity. Differences of religion are not something by which the brotherly relationship engendered by national unity is suppressed…

Mahmood’s decision to appoint Theodore Beck as the first Principal and then Honorary Treasurer of MAO College was rooted in his belief in merit in relation to religion or region. In addition, in the project for the establishment of MAO College presented to the fund committee on February 10, 1873, he recommended that Sanskrit be taught as an optional language4. The project provided for the following:

The curriculum at the lower department of the College will consist of the following subjects.
Two of the following languages:

• Arabic (language and literature)
• English (language and literature)
• Sanskrit (language and literature)
• Latin (language and literature)
• Greek (language and literature)

Similarly, the college’s higher department curriculum included a compulsory subject on ancient Indian languages, available in the following combinations:

1. Sanskrit with Zend, Persian and Philology
2. Sanskrit with Prakriti and Pali and philology5

The other combinations available were:
1. Arabic with Hebrew and Syriac and comparative philology of the Semitic language.
2. English with Anglo-Saxon and comparative philology of the stock of Teutonic languages.
3. Greek and Latin with philology.

He spearheaded the policy of non-interference in the religious beliefs and practices of non-Muslim students and strove to ensure harmonious co-existence in the residential life of the college. As evidenced by the MAO College curriculum he prepared, he developed a secular and modern curriculum for MAO College with a balance between religious and scientific education. The scheme expressly stated: “Of course, every student will have every right to study the theology of his particular religion.”

In another instance, when Principal Theodore Beck removed the Sanskrit teacher from service and discontinued Sanskrit instruction, Mahmood had him reinstated.

A multilingual himself, he had no bias for or against English. Indeed, it attaches equal importance to teaching in Oriental languages ​​and translates interlingual texts for a good dissemination of knowledge. In a lecture in Allahabad, Mahmood urged his audience to undertake research on ancient Indian languages, to trace the contribution of Muslims to the development of these languages ​​and to determine their mastery of these languages.

Mahmood dressed every diversity in his strong sense of honor which was rooted in the moral and civilizational philosophy of Bharat. These moorings prompted him to write a book on the impact of Hindu culture on Muslims in India, which he was unfortunately unable to complete as time stood still for him at a relatively early age.

The motivation to undertake such work arose from his desire to dispel the misunderstanding that Muslims do not care enough about the scriptures and texts of Hindu religion and culture. Even today, efforts to highlight the writings of such works by Muslims are not commensurate with the importance of the need to accentuate these works.

Freedom of religion and equality of beliefs were an article of faith for Mahmood. In his Reviews of Kolkata article “British Rule in India: Do it Origin to Conquest, and Its Maintenance to Physical Force” (1879) – intended for an audience of British civil servants and widely circulated among the upper echelons in Britain – he proved eloquent to of the Raj to tell him sincerely to adhere to the values ​​of tolerance, humanity and mutual respect as the foundation of the governance of their stable regime in India. Illustrating the reign of Aurangzeb, whose blind disregard for these values ​​was the cause of the downfall of Mughal rule, Mahmood wrote:

Aurangzeb’s reign, with all its martial glory and mighty administration, with all its conquests and physical strength, succumbed to the law of nature, succumbed to the ardent and originally defensive opposition of the pious Brahman, to the curses of the devout suffering, to the united strength of exasperated millions. He died while still at the head of a great campaign: the most glorious and the least glorious of the Mohammedan rulers of India, the degrader of his ancestral heritage, the degrader of race and religion. He lies beneath the dust of those same plains that had seen his greatest martial achievements and felt his greatest strength.

In Mahmood’s view, Aurangzeb was a bad politician – his political savvy relied for his success on martial discipline and physical strength. He did not appreciate the potential of “friendly modes” and the “power of moral causes” that his ancestors, especially Akbar, relied on in administration. He wrote:

What made Akbar’s reign so illustrious and prosperous…whose armies were far inferior to what he (Aurangzeb) mustered

The power of moral causes he entirely ignored; the feelings of his subjects whom he did not consult. He learned the noble lesson but too late it is,

“- more human, more celestial; first
Winning words to conquer willing hearts
And let persuasion do the work of fear.

Mahmood criticizes Aurangzeb for disregarding the advice of Maharaja Jaswant Singh of Jodhpur against his oppressive policy, advice which Mahmood considers “unequaled in its originality of wisdom, earnestness of solicitude, beauty of taste, and above all, its solidity. politics “. Relevant excerpts from Maharaja’s letter to Aurangzeb have been reproduced by Mahmood in his article. The Maharaja wrote:

During Your Majesty’s reign many have been alienated from the empire and further loss must ensue, since devastation and plunder reign unrestrained… How to preserve the dignity of a ruler who employs his power to extract heavy tolls from a lamentably reduced people? At this time, it is said, from east to west, that the Emperor of Hindustan, jealous of the poor Hindu devotee, will demand a tribute from the Brahmans, et cetera; that regardless of the honor of his Timurian descent, he deign to exercise his strength against the harmless religious recluse.

… If your majesty places any faith in these books by distinction called divine, you can learn there that god is the god of all mankind, not just Muslims. The pagan and the Muslim stand before him… In your mosques, it is in his name that the call to prayer is launched. In the house of idols, where the bells ring, it is still he who is the object of adoration. To vilify the religious customs of other men is to nullify the will of the Almighty. When we deface a painting, we necessarily incur the resentment of the painter.

Mahmood also referred to the distinction drawn by the Maharaja in the state of affairs during the reigns of Aurangzeb’s predecessors. He read:

Your royal ancestor, Mr. Jalaludin Akbar, ruled the affairs of the empire with dignity and security for fifty-two years, keeping every tribe and class in peace and prosperity; whether they were followers of Jesus, or of Moses, or of Muhammad; were they brahmins, were they (atheists); or equally enjoyed his countenance and his favors, so that his subjects distinguished him by the title of “Protector of the human race”.

Jahangir also extended for a period of twenty-two years the shadow of his protection over the heads of his people; success by constant fidelity to his allies, and vigorous efforts in affairs of state.

Nor did the illustrious Shah Jahan, by a propitious reign of thirty-two years, acquire immortal fame, the just reward of clemency and justice.

With Mahmood’s virulent denunciation of Aurangzeb’s intolerance, it is not surprising that he instead admired the enlightened philosophy of Dara Shikoh – the eldest Mughal prince assassinated by Aurangzeb in a battle for the throne – widely considered the founder of the academic movement of interfaith understanding. in India.

Excerpted with permission from Syed Mahmood: Dissenting Judge of Colonial India, Mohammad Nasir and Samreen Ahmed, Bloomsbury.

About Walter Bartholomew

Check Also

Is there anything more British than “The Queue”?

In his essay on the English people, George Orwell remarked that any foreign observer would …