Heritage Times

Exploring lesser known History


Mian Muhammad Shafi: A Forgotten Hero of the Aligarh Movement

On 27th December, 1894, at the Mohammedan Educational Conference, a twenty-five year old lawyer who had returned from England. He composed and recited a eulogy of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in English. Excerpts of the eulogy are;

“The sacred Brick of this grand Hall,

The boarding house, the College Rooms,

And this great conference, each and all

Forever the national heirlooms

Priceless and Loved, Shall Waft, your name

Sir Syed through the coming days,

What our nation might befall

Immortal lo, shall be your frame

Never waning, but in numerous ways,

Be ever more, the joy of all!”

Early Life

The twenty-five-year old lawyer was Mian Muhammad Shafi, born on 10th March, 1869 in famous “Mian family” of Arain tribe at Baghbanpura near Lahore. Many of his illustrious ancestors were conferred with titles and acknowledgments from the time of the Aurangzeb up to the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in Punjab. He started education from a vernacular middle school only to later study at Lahore University. In August, 1889, Shafi was sent to England to study law. He secured an admission at the honorable Society of the Middle temple. His cousin Mian Shah Din was already studying there from the last two years. In 1890, he was elected as the President of Anjuman-i- Islamia, London. In the same year, he also competed for a scholarship in international and Constitutional Law and Constitutional History at the prestigious Middle Temple.

When Sir Syed Ahmad Khan first spoke on the political future and strategy of Muslims in India

In England, he actively participated at every forum which addressed the welfare of the Indian students. Such as Indian section of the Royal Society of Arts, National Indian Association, and the society of encouragement and protection of Indian Arts. He also held the membership of Paddington Parliament, an esteemed political society that constituted Members of Parliament, Barristers, Solicitors, and Merchants. In 1892, he left England and started his legal career at Hoshiarpur. Though he was enrolled at both Allahabad and Lahore High Courts.

Engagement with Aligarh Movement from the time of Sir Syed up to the approval of University Bill in 1920 during his tenure as education member of the Viceroy Executive council

The participation of the Mian Muhammad Shafi in Aligarh movement can be traced from the time of the formation of Anglo-Muhammadan Defence Association of Upper India in 1892. He represented Punjab province as a member of the association along with Syed Mahmood and Theodore Beck (the then Principal of Aligarh College) as the joint secretaries. After his return from England in 1892, he participated in all annual meetings of All India Muhammadan Educational Conference. Several times, he presided over the female education and other sections of the conference. In 1898, the same year when Sir Syed Ahmed Khan departed from this world, he took up a bigger responsibility of Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College. This was the appointment of Mian Muhammad Shafi as a trustee of Aligarh College. At that time, the College had certainly established its reputation as one of the best residential institutions in India. 

Challenges After Sir Syed’s Demise

In the following years, he was engaged in political and legal career along with an active participation in Aligarh movement. After the death of Sir Syed the regulatory body of the College got afflicted with factional politics. This was due to a rift between Aftab Ahmad Khan and Ali brothers. Mian Muhammad Shafi distanced himself from these controversies. By 1910, the efforts for the University campaign were revived. All India Muslim University association was formed under the leadership of His Highness, Agha Khan and Nawab Viqarul-Mulk. Its purpose was to centralize the efforts required for the elevation of the College to University in 1910.

Mian Muhammad Shafi was elected as the Vice-president of All India Muslim University Association, and Honorary general secretary of the Punjab Province. For the next two years, Mian Muhammad Shafi certainly put all his efforts for the cause and raised a fund of more three hundred thousand Rupees for the upliftment of the College to University. He himself donated five thousand Rupees in 1912 for the mission.

The speech by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan at the inauguration of Muhammadan Anglo Oriental College (AMU) on 8 January, 1877

Diplomatic Initiatives and Conference Engagements

In May 1911, a delegation went to meet Sir Harcourt Butler, the then education member of Viceroy’s Executive Council to discuss and finalize the draft of the University constitution. Mian Muhammad Shafi was also one of the three representatives for the negotiations with the education members. On September 25, 1911, Mian Muhammad Shafi also represented as a spokesperson for carrying negotiations between the government and University Promoters Association. On 9th August, 1912, Butler gave an official answer from the authorities at London regarding the rejection of the University Bill.  In the background of factional politics, Justice Shah Din, a cousin of Mian Muhammad Shafi presided over the Agra session of Muhammadan Educational Conference of 1913. This was the second occasion, the Muhammadan education conference was presided by Justice Shah Din.

The first time, he presided ninth session of All India Muhammadan educational conference in 1894 during the lifetime of Sir Syed. Lady Shafi and Lady Shah Din represented Punjab in the opening ceremony of the girl’s section of the new building by Begum of Bhopal in 1915 at MAO College. Mian Muhammad Shafi presided over the 30th session of Mohammadan Educational Conference, held at Aligarh, December 27-29, 1916. On this occasion, Mian Muhammad Shafi played an important role in bringing both factions on the table to accept the University approval on the terms and conditions of government. He sensed the risk of losing the University funds and demand of the University seemed to be jeopardized. The delegation of the University committee met Sir Nair, the successor of Butler as an education member in August, 1917.

Triumph of Aligarh University’s All-India Status

The demand of the University committee was again rejected on the grounds of old boy’s association representation in the University court and control of trustees. Sir Sankaran Nair resigned from the seat of education member in June 1919. This changed the direction of Aligarh University movement in the coming year. Imperial government as a successor of Sir Nair selected Mian Muhammad Shafi. He had a long association with the educational movement in India. He took charge of the office at Shimla on 28th July, 1919. Sir Butler now the Lieutenant Governor of the United Province favoured the reframing of the University constitution as a provincial University. Sir Mian Muhammad Shafi as an education member disagreed with Sir Butler’s suggestion. As an old associate of Syed Ahmad Khan, he was firm believer of All India status of Aligarh University.

On March 20, 1920, Mian Muhammad Shafi met a delegation of Muslim University committee as an education member. Muslim University bill was submitted to him. As an education member, Sir Muhammad Shafi introduced the bill on 9th September, 1920, to the Viceroy Executive Council and got it approved. Sir Mian Muhammad Shafi’s efforts certainly fulfilled the dreams of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. All those members who were struggling for the cause from 1898. On 1st December, 1920, the Muslim University Act was passed. Mr. Mohammad Ali Khan, Raja Saheb of Mahmudabad was appointed as the first vice-chancellor of the University.

When Asking Donations for Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) were seditious

Educational services and contributions as education member

The British Government rewarded Mian Muhammad Shafi with C.I.E in 1916  and also conferred Knighthood on him in 1925. During his tenure as an education member of the Viceroy Executive Council, the Decca, Nagpur, Rangoon, Lucknow, Aligarh and Delhi Universities were established. The bill of Aligarh Muslim University lingering in backwaters for more than a decade was finalized by his efforts. Government also sanctioned the reforms for Allahabad and Madras Universities in his tenure.

For his remarkable efforts, the Aligarh Muslim University conferred a D.Lit. (Honoris Causa) on 28th December, 1922 on the eve of its first Convocation. Delhi University conferred him with Doctor of Law and Viceroy gave him honorary nomination as Pro-Chancellor of the University in the same year. He was also responsible for Indianization of the education department. The number Indian officers rose from twenty-nine to one hundred twenty during his tenure. The man took a farewell banquet from the Viceroy Executive Council on 24th September, 1925. He died in Lahore on 7th January, 1932. 

(Author is a medico, who teaches anatomy as profession and writes about history, culture and food as passion)

Share this Post on :