Talking of the right ethos…

Author-academic Shafey Kidwai.

Author-academic Shafey Kidwai.  

BOOKMARK Well known academic and prolific author Shafey Kidwai reveals the lesser known facets of Sir Sayyed Ahmed Khan.

W hat do you call a silent purveyor of a rare art; a man who seeks to correct wrong perception about faith without ever being accused of orthodoxy. Or a man who has got some half a dozen books under his belt yet retains the modesty of a beginner? Doing a difficult balancing act is the soft spoken academic Shafey Kidwai, better known in media circles for his deft mentorship of young journalists. But almost imperceptibly, the self-effacing man, a regular on the literary circuit in Delhi and beyond, has opened a window to the cultural renaissance of Aligarh Muslim University.

Of course, quietly he has sought to present a different version of the term ‘jehad', that much misunderstood term for the so-called Islamic terror.

Kidwai has managed all this through his new book, “Cementing Ethics with Modernism”, which is an appraisal of the writings of Sir Sayyed Ahmed Khan. Brought out by Gyan Publishing House, the book presents some hitherto lesser known facets of the personality of the founder of AMU. “Sir Sayyed worked assiduously for cultivation of modern approach to deal with the ever changing times. People give him a lot of credit for founding AMU, but he deserves credit for giving a cultural uplift to the community. Through the Scientific Society which was formed in 1864, he got translated important works of arts and sciences. He was the original when it came to forging bond with modern Urdu.”

Kidwai teaches in a university not exactly renowned for appreciation of dissent. Understandably, he takes recourse to the founder for solace. “There are some misconceptions about Sir Sayyed. He cared for Muslim cultural ethos. Once a man approached him to complain that he was being prevented by his British boss from offering namaz. He advised him to quit. His Aligarh Institute Gazette was twice warned by the government of the time for publishing not-so-laudatory pieces about the government. This when out of the 500 copies of the journal, some 350 were bought by the government! It was soon after that we had the Gagging the Press Act.”

Symbolic hero worship

Kidwai feels there is too much of symbolic hero worship when it comes to Sir Sayyed in the country but little done at the ground level to bring about the socio-cultural renaissance he talked about. “Sir Sayyed always said that modern does not mean a god-less society. A modern society is a rational, spiritual society.”

That is a rare combination to arrive at. Almost as rare as Kidwai's scholarship. After all, through the book he manages to prove that Sir Sayyed had his own take on Jehad. “Muslims are enjoined by the Quran to obey the ruler irrespective of his religious faith,” Sir Sayyed felt.

All that is in the book. But, incidentally, in these times of the Internet, who reads books? “Reading habits have declined. In fact it is difficult to read books now. However, it is personal passion that drives me on.” Way to go.


There is little done at the ground level to bring about the socio-cultural renaissance Sir Sayyed had talked about.

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