Jamia Milia Islamia: Its History And Current Trends – Analysis


By R.Upadhyay

The unceremonious removal of Prof. P.K.Basu, a guest professor in the faculty of Centre for Management studies in last September by Jamia Milia Islamia (JMI), Delhi has once again brought this central university into a controversy. The question arises- whether this centrally funded institution is meant to spread secular education or for keeping the movement for Islamic revivalism alive?

Prof. Basu with proven credentials and experience of teaching in many Western universities had been teaching in Jamia Milia for ten years without any remuneration. While delivering a lecture to MBA students he had reportedly remarked that “Jamia is a third class minority institution, with incapable professors and stupid pupils”. Pointing a girl student wearing a ‘burqa’ he had allegedly said, “all these students are dumb heads”. He was accused by the authorities as an RSS agent for his remarks. As per media report the media- coordinator of the university had said, “In pursuance of its policy of zero tolerance against sectarian and communal elements of all hues, Jamia Milia Islamia is proceeding to prosecute Prof Basu, for libel and to terminate all future association with him”.


The university authorities might have a point against Professor Basu. Prof. Basu for all his credentials was unwise and indiscreet in making such remarks. but the statement of the coordinator of “zero tolerance for communal elements” raises the fundamental question whether the Jamia Milia deserved to be given a minority status and funded from tax payers’ funds. In my view the Jamia Milia is another extension counter of the Deoband movement.

Firoz Bakht Ahmad in Indian Express while opposing the demand for the minority status of the university maintained, “There is a potential threat of the historic Jamia falling into the clutches of fundamentalists. Merit will take a back seat as well”. Similarly late Arjun Singh, the former HRD Minister in Union Cabinet who was known for his pro-Muslim politics in a letter to the Prime Minister had expressed concern that “the prestigious institution might fall into the hands of fundamentalists”.

Historical Bsckground:

To understand the background of JMI it may be desirable to have a brief look on the Muslim unrest in India in the closing year (1919) of the First World War when the institution of Caliphate, the centre of world Islamic power was crumbling due to Mustafa Kemal Pasha led agitation against the Sultan of Turkey, the Caliph of Islam. The Islamist theologians were suspicous of this agitation as it had the support of the then colonial power- the British.

Similarly, a section of the western educated but radical Islamic Muslim intelligentsia led by Mohammad Ali Jauhar (1878-1931) who were associated with pro-British Aligarh Movement were also upset with the role of the British power against the Caliph. Thus we see the entry of Mohammad Ali Jauhar- the founder of the JMI.

Mohammad Ali Jauhar is a descendent of the Rohilla Pakhtun from Afghanistan settled in Rampur in present Uttar Pradesh. He had his education in Darul Uloom Deoband, MAO College Aligarh and Lincoln College, Oxford University. On his return from Oxford in 1898, he served in Rampur and Baroda States and also worked hard to expand pro-British Mohammedan Anglo Oriental College (MAO) Aligarh. He had also attended the founding meeting of All India Muslim League in Dhaka in 1906 and served as its president in 1918.

While the Deobandis formed an association of Ulema namely Jamiat Ulema -e- Hind with a view to fight against the colonial power and were preparing for the Khilafat Movement against the British with the support of the Indian National Congress, Mohammad Ali represented a Muslim delegation to England in 1919 to convince the British Government for exerting influence over the Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal to withdraw the agitation. But he was disillusioned when the British rejected the proposal of the delegation.

In a meeting of the trustees of MAO College held on October 28, 1920 Mohammad Ali pleaded for lifting the ban on participation of the students in Khilafat and Non-Cooperation Movements launched by the Congress. This was however rejected by the majority votes. He said, “he had come to teach true religion and did not care to observe academic or other principles and asked them (students) to give up everything for Islam”. He formed a break away group of the trustees of the College that attracted the attention of the Deobandhis.

The growing influence of the pro- British Aligarh movement on Indian Muslims which gave birth to a political party namely All India Muslim League that had the support of powerful pro-British Muslim land lords and Nawabs with overwhelming control over the Muslim masses was a great challenge for the Deobandis. Therefore, they welcomed the break away group of the MAO college led by Mohammad Ali in anti-colonial movement.

Both the groups jointly evolved a strategy for uprooting or at least mitigating the influence of Aligarh Movement on Indian Muslims by establishing a separate academic institution for Muslim students with the dual objectives to challenge the anti-Caliphate Christian world and also to impart modern education to them through the Urdu medium. It was practically a combination of the Islamist politics of Deoband and the politically anti-British section of radically Islamic western educated Muslim intelligentsia.

A foundation committee comprising of Mohammad Ali and a few others from MAO College and five anti-British prominent Islamist theologians namely Abdul Bari, Mufti Kifayatullah, Maulana Sulaiman Nadwi, Shabbir Ahmad Usmani, and Maulana Sanaullah founded a separate academic institution for Muslims named as “Nationalist Muslim School” (Islamic Contestations by Barbara D. Metcalf, Oxford, 2004, Page 143) on Friday, 29 October in 1920 at Aligarh. This was re-named as Jamia Milia Islamia in 1926. A prominent Deobandi Ulama, Maulana Mehmud Hasan, who was arrested in 1916 for his conspiracy against the British in a popularly known Silk Conspiracy Case, laid the foundation stone of the new Muslim institution after his release from jail in Malta.

Hussain Ahmad Madni another member of foundation committee who was a trusted disciple of Maulana Mehmud Hasan a detainee of Malta jail, became the principal of Darul Uloom Deoband and remained on this post from 1926 to 1957.

While Hakim Ajmal Khan was appointed as its Chancellor, Mohammad Ali Jauhar became its first Vice-Chancellor. The Indian National Congress which has been desperately trying to bring the Muslims under its banner welcomed the anti-British Muslim leaders and extended its support to them under an agreement – “a bargain – the Congress would espouse the Khilafat cause and Muslims would participate in anti-colonial movement and perhaps give-up cow-killing”. The INC also supported the establishment of a separate Nationalist Muslim School parallel to the MAO College which was granted the status of a central university in 1920 with a new name Aligarh Muslim University.

Support to the Congress’ Non-Cooperation Movement by the joint Muslim groups was only a tactical alliance against the British due to its anti-Caliph role. Their strategy was to combine the Non-Cooperation Movement with Khilafat Movement and to fight against the British politically with an objective to save the institution of Caliphate. The Muslims and the Hindus gravitated together under the then charismatic leader Mahatma Gandhi and launched a mass movement against the British.

Even though, the Nationalist Muslim School had in-built Islamic character, the Congress supported it to get the support of Muslims in freedom movement under a tactical alliance. Title of a book – “Partners in Freedom-Jamia Milia Islamia” authored by Mashirul Hasan and published by Niyogi Books Delhi, 2006 also suggests that this institution was not an integral part of the freedom movement but was a partner with a bargain quoted above.

Mohammad Ali Jauhar a co-founder of JMI is often projected as a nationalist Muslim but had it been so he could have joined the INC much earlier and not supported the formation of Muslim League. He along with many Deobandis showed their true colours after the failure of Khilafat movement and suspension of civil disobedience in 1922 by Gandhi owing to the violent Chauri Chaura incident. After the abolition of Caliphate in 1924 they not only became indifferent towards the Congress but the unity between the Hindus and Muslims seen during Khilafat Movement also disappeared.

Mohammad Ali was so much disgusted that he became a critic of Gandhi and went to the extent of using abusive language against him when he said, “Even the most degraded Mohammedan was better than Mahatma Gandhi” (Wikipedia). He even opposed the Nehru Report’s rejection of separate electorates for Muslims and supported the fourteen- point charter of demands of Mohammad Ali Jinnah. This was perhaps the reason that Mohammad Ali is celebrated as a hero by the Muslims of Pakistan who claim that his support to Jinnah also inspired Pakistan Movement even though he died about a decade before this movement.

Dr. Zakir Hussain (1897-1969), another prominent Muslim Indian also had his ancestral roots to Rohilla Pashtun of Afghanistan. He was also from among the small group of teachers of pro-British MAO College Aligarh who were behind the foundation of Nationalist Muslim School. Subsequently, he went to Germany to pursue his PhD in Economics from Berlin University and returned to India in 1925 to serve this Islamic institution when it was in a crisis after the failure of Khilafat Movement.

In 1926, the Nationalist Muslim University was shifted from Aligarh to Delhi with a new name – Jamia (University) Milia (National) Islamia (Islamic). “Jamia is an Arabic term which is used to denote an ideal, a bond or an institution which unites individual or groups. Latter, it was used in the technical meaning of university seemingly to have been in movement of some intellectual leaders or reformers” (Islamic Encyclopedia). The new name was practically an ideological bond to unite the Muslims for a greater cause.

Dr. Zakir Hussain became its Vice-Chancellor in 1926-27 and continued on this post till 1948. In August 1937 while addressing a gathering of Hamdard-i-Jamia he said, “The biggest objective of Jamia Milia is to prepare a roadmap for the future lives of Indian Muslims with the religion of Islam at its core ……” (Partners in Freedom-Jamia Milia Islamia by Mashirul Hasan, Page 92, Niyogi Books Delhi, 2006). If the objective of this university is rooted to the core of a religion, can it not be called a movement for Islamic revivalism? From the very beginning its first Vice-Chancellor Mohammad Ali stressed the teaching of Islamic history and Quran and ensured that the teaching day began with a full hour devoted to the rapid exegesis of the Quran based on the preaching of prominent Deobandi Ulema. It was registered under Society Registration Act in 1939 as a traditional religious institution and recognized as deemed university in late sixties and finally granted the status of a central university in 1988.

Though the Congress leaders with a view to woo the Muslims during freedom movement took the foundation of an anti-British Muslim academic institution as a movement to amalgamate the traditional and modern system of education to promote secular and pluralistic values to bring unity and communal harmony between the Hindus and the Muslims, the Jamia managers never compromised to dilute its fundamentalist character which is rooted to both Deoband and Aligarh the two parallel movements for Islamic revivalism. They could neither counter the upsurge of Pakistan Movement nor made any serious attempts to effectively rebut the criticism of the Muslim League that “Jamia was anti-Islamic and a factory for the mass Hinduisation of Muslims”. Since the foundational history of Jamia Milia is rooted to the joint venture of Deobandi theologians and a section of those Muslim leaders believing in radical Islam, it was never allowed to flourish in the secular and democratic environment of the country.

The journey of the JMI from a small Islamic institution in pre-Independence India to a central university has never been on the path of secular democracy. Rabindranath Tagore might have called it as “one of the most progressive educational institutions of India” but Jawahar Lal Nehru had written in 1952: “The Jamia does not fit in our normal rules and regulations for schools and colleges, universities and the like. I suppose that is why it is little difficult to help it” (Partners in Freedom- Jamia Milia Islamia by Mushirul Hasan and Rakhshanda Jalil, Niyogi Books, Delhi 2006).

Prisoner of the Past?

It looks that, even after over six decades of India’s independence communalism has played a central role in some of the organisations. Since the JMI played the same politics as Aligarh had played during pre-partition Pakistan Movement people of the country we have no reason to disbelieve that both the universities are the strategic partners in keeping the movement of Islamic revivalism alive in India.

Syed Abid Hussain, former Vice Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia quite honestly wrote in his – ”The Destiny of Indian Muslims’ as far back as in 1965: “There has been a re-emergence of Muslim communalism”. “This is, as a matter of fact the same movement of religious communalism which had started shortly before 1947, had temporarily subsided after partition and is now coming to the surface again. It is sponsored by a small section of religious leaders but is becoming fairly popular among the middle class and to some extent among students” His observation has obviously emanated from his experience in Jamia Milia Islamia.

1. Islamic Contestations by Barbara D. Metcalf, Oxford, 2004
2. Partners in Freedom- Jamia Milia Islamia by Mushirul Hasan and Rakhshanda Jalil, Niyogi Books, Delhi 2006.
3. GRANTA – Issue 112 (Pakistan)
4. Last week issues of October 1920 national dailies namely The Statesman and The Leader. 5. Islamic Encyclopedia 6. Wikipedia and other materials from inter-net


SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

2 thoughts on “Jamia Milia Islamia: Its History And Current Trends – Analysis

  • January 2, 2012 at 2:13 am

    This review is full of crap. Jamia Millia has modern curriculum and in no way an institution dedicated to religious education of Muslims. The reviewer has mixed up the religious zeal of Khilafat movement in early 20th. century to the modern era. Neither Aligarh nor Jamia inculcate any religious fervor.
    The reviewer’s remark on Prof. Basu
    reflect his prejudice. I have never
    come across a professor who will denigrate his students and fellow faculty members in such crude terms.
    His dismissal was certainly warranted.

  • September 27, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    A fully biased article. The author’s accusation against the Jamia Millia Islamia of indulging Communal forces is totally nonsense. He also justified the Mr. Basu’s untoward act of hurting religious sentiment.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *