Former Jamia VC Prof. Mushirul Hasan Speaks on the Idea of Jamia Millia Islamia

The Department of History and Culture, Jamia Millia Islamia organized a lecture by its former Vice-Chancellor and eminent historian, Prof. Mushirul Hasan on “Partners in Freedom: The Story of Jamia Millia Islamia” on Tuesday, 26th August, 2014 at the Department’s Seminar Room. The lecture was based on a book that he co-authored with Rakhshanda Jalil in 2006. The lecture dwelt on the past history, present situation and future prospects of the university. (Link to Audio)

Hasan said that every institution has some ideas which it strives to sustain and carry on. Be it Oxford or Cambridge in England, or Aligarh Muslim University or Darul Darul Uloom Deoband in India, all of them have some ideas which even after hundreds and thousands of years they are wedded to. All of them promote and pursue those ideas. Jamia Millia Islamia was also founded on certain ideas which were quintessentially nationalistic, he said.

He said that Jamia was founded in those days of the Non-Cooperation movement when ideas of composite nationalism, plural nationhood, secular nationalism or Indian nationalism were very strong. Elaborating it further he said that all these words and expressions more or less communicated at least one single idea which is that the composite nationalism or Indian nationalism in the those days in the 1920s and 1930s represented the aspirations of large sections of the Indian community.

The nationalism that Gandhi nurtured or Tagore sustained through his creative writings or Jawaharlal Nehru sustained through his ideas in his books as also in his politics or Subhash Chandra Bose pursued in his politics, was inclusive nationalism which underlines the principles of the anti-colonialism and the founders of Jamia were wedded to that idea of nationalism.

He said that the founders of Jamia were simultaneously engaged in the freedom movement and in shaping up of Jamia with the same nationalist spirit to serve the cause of the nation. They therefore brought with them a very strong kind of anti-colonial and anti-British ideology. And there were different ways of legitimizing anti-colonialism because they needed some justification for that. One great source of legitimacy was composite nationalism.

The renowned historian said that the national movement of India was led with the spirit of India as a nation which stood for pluralism and Jamia, said he, is notable for its commitment to pluralism. What is more important is that the idea was put in practice at Jamia.

But I have no hesitation to say that “the idea of pluralism”, said Mushirul Hasan, “is under attack by the new government which is now in power” and he suggested that we as Indians, and not just as Hindus and Muslims, must defend it because “the attack on pluralism is an attack on the very idea of India which rests on co-existence, plurality and tolerance, religious and otherwise.” It does not rest on breaking up the idea into Hindu idea or Muslim idea or breaking up into Medieval India or ancient India. The idea is about “preserving the continuity of an Indian culture and civilization that Iqbal as a poet also spoke about.”

The former VC of Jamia regretted that earlier people of Jamia used to take part in many movements and demonstrations which is not happening now at that level.

He also said that it is unfortunate that Jamia has neglected Hakim Ajmal Khan and Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari who were its real founders. Ansari raised money for Jamia and Hakim Ajmal Khan provided nobility and support.

The Padmashree award-winner author said that we need to “discover our own identity”. We must ask ourselves who we are. Detailing it further he said that that identity is not just religious, although that is very important. “Our identity is multiple”, he said. As a doctor does not prescribe a medicine on the basis of a patient’s religion, our elders promoted the same spirit of multiple identities. This is what was taught by people associated with Jamia. And this is what was taught by people like Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, Nizamuddin Aulia and the great genius like Kabir. This is the tradition of Jamia which its founders carried forward by its leaders like Zakir Hussain, Mohammad Mujib and Anwar Jamal Kidwai. If you see Gandhi and Nehru’s views about Jamia, you will find that they promoted and highlighted this idea of Jamia which earned it huge name and fame.

He termed Jamia as a laboratory and experiment of great ideas which got it “international reputation” and added that the role and character of institutions keep on changing and people change themselves accordingly. But whatever changes may come on its way, its basic ideas will stay. He said this is not the story only of Jamia but there are many such institutions which were founded on a similar line of thought. He said that one of the prominent figures to promote Jamia was Gandhi but unfortunately no one remembers Gandhi now.

On the question of Jamia’s nomenclature and if it had any negative impact, Hasan said that there was a time when it was thought to change its name and on some occasions the institution was called “National Muslim University”, however, it was Gandhi who stood by the nomenclature of the university as Jamia Millia Islamia.

Prof. Rizwan Qaiser, Head of the Department of History, who chaired the lecture, narrated an incident when Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari, one of the founders of Jamia, was so disheartened by financial difficulties that he expressed his desire to give it up and concentrate only on the national movement. When Jamnalal Bajaj learnt it, he told Ansari that while he served Jamia, he was actually serving the cause of the nation. And therefore he must not give up shaping Jamia.

Jamia has nurtured the image of an elite institution, which has been more accessible to people, said Prof. Qaiser. He stressed the need to look backward for the future. The more you look back the more you will get inspiration and pride to move ahead in future and not just get stuck in history. He also raised the issue of stopping the annual Talimi Mela of Jamia which, according to Prof. Qaiser, was a huge affair.


Listen to Prof. Mushirul Hasan’s lecture here:

(Note: Due to technical difficulties, audio for the first 10-minutes of the lecture is missing.)

Prof. Mushirul Hasan (left), former vice-chancellor of JMI, speaking at the Department of History; Aug. 26, 2014 (Photo: Manzar Imam)
Prof. Mushirul Hasan (left), former vice-chancellor of JMI, speaking at the Department of History; Aug. 26, 2014 (Photo: Manzar Imam)

About Manzar Imam

Manzar Imam (class of 2014) is a staff writer for Jamia Journal, and an M.Phil student in the MMAJ Academy of International Studies. He can be reached via email at: manzarkhalil [at]

Check Also

JMI VC Assures of Opening Distance Learning Centres in Seemanchal

19 March; Sehratola (Purnea), Bihar: During a seminar on educational backwardness of Seemanchal, Prof. Talat ...

Leave a Reply