Northern California Celebrates Sir Syed Day
By Ras Hafiz Siddiqui

Glimpses of the Annual Sir Syed Day program organized by the Aligarh Muslim University Alumni Association of Northern California at the ICC Auditorium on October 30, 2010

The Aligarh Muslim University Alumni Association of Northern California held its annual Sir Syed Day program at the ICC auditorium on Saturday, October 30, 2010 with a packed hall once again. This year the inclusion of the Aligarh Education Endowment Fund (AEEF) fundraiser slightly changed the format of the evening, but the standard speeches, a banquet dinner in the Mughlai tradition and the mandatory International Mushaira kept things both interesting and entertaining.

The event started off with a fine dinner catered by Chandni Restaurant and the socializing that accompanies this segment in the South-Asian tradition, especially with both Eid and Diwali fast approaching. Alumni of AMU and their many friends took the opportunity to catch up with what is happening in their lives and to pay their respects to the founder of this unique center of learning, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan.

The formal program started off with an invocation by Suhail Farrukh. Emcee for the evening Afzal Usmani bid everyone welcome and thanked all the dignitaries present. He gave a short description of the Aligarh Tehreek and elaborated on the work that the AMU Alumni Association has been doing. He also expressed his appreciation for the assistance provided by community members present in keeping the Aligarh tradition alive.

Dr. Talat Hasan next described the work that the Aligarh Education Endowment Fund (AEEF) has been involved with. She said that it was important for the whole community to get behind the endowment. “As Aligarh Alumni, many of us have made their mark on our community. Most of us have been involved in doing community service,” she said. She also highlighted five focus areas of the AEEF which included scholarships for the disadvantaged, supporting young women, and coaching for candidates who want to appear in competitive exams. She said that the AEEF hoped to do much more with our support.

A short video called “Mahaaz” was also presented which showed students at an Aligarh Students/Alumni- sponsored school learning to become productive members of society following which Dr. Hasan herself conducted the fundraiser. Mr. Umar Farooq, President of the AEEF, also came on stage to lend his support and especially thanked Drs. Kamil and Talat Hasan and Dr. Shaheer Khan for their efforts in helping the AEEF.

AMUAA President Nihal Khan next presented his welcome speech. He thanked all the people present, especially the sponsors of this program including Drs. Kamil and Talat Hasan, Dr. and Mrs. Ashraf Habibullah (CSI), Mr. and Mrs. Syed Sarwat (Chandni), Dr. and Mrs. Abdul Qayum, Mr. and Mrs. Jamal Qureishi (JQ), Mr. Abdul Majid Siddiqui (Realty), Drs. Waheed and Munazza Qureshi, Mr. and Mrs. Nayeem and Fauzia Qureshi (Amana) and Mr. and Mrs. Shabbir Siddiqui. He also called for supporting the AEEF cause.

Afzal Usmani next introduced Michael Wolfe and invited him to deliver his keynote speech. Mr. Wolfe is the President of the Board at Unity Productions Foundation (UPF), a unique communication effort, which has stayed at the forefront of promoting Islam and highlighting the Muslim experience in America and beyond. Film projects from UPF include “Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet”. Michael thanked the AMUAA for their invitation and to say a few words about education. “I thought over the fundamental ideals and the goals of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan,” he said. He added that he found a great deal of similarity between those ideals and goals and the work that his own organization UPF is doing, to bring East and West, Muslims and others into a productive dialogue. “We believe that education is the surest road to peace,” he said. Our goal is to establish peace through the media,” he added. He also said that the work that the UPF has been doing is to help some misinformed people in the western world see beyond the stereotypes that they may have become accustomed to. Mr. Wolfe talked about building bridges and sharing ideas, to fill the gap that the mainstream media in this country has not been able to fill.

Mr. Wolfe also talked of Sir Syed’s work. “This seems to me as a man who never stopped in his attempts to educate,” he said. He added that his organization attempts this work through making balanced movies backed by factual research and gave examples of the films that UPF has made. “The primary focus is to erase ignorance,” he said. “If you think that education is expensive, just try ignorance,” he added. We have to fight against the notion that nothing can be done. In conclusion he said, “ Aligarh Muslim University and the philosophy of Sir Syed are a continuing inspiration for my work and I hope that it will be in your work as well. Thank you very much.” (On a side note this scribe later suggested to Mr. Wolfe that he look into the possibility of making a film on Sir Syed Ahmad Khan).

The first segment ended with the traditional singing of the Aligarh University Tarana (Anthem) written by Asrarul Haq Majaz Lucknavi. Once again this was an effort in which the AMU Alumni present indulged in enthusiastically.

The second segment of the Sir Syed Day program is the International Mushaira during which Urdu language poets from different regions and countries present their work.

This year was no exception as poets from California, New York, India and Pakistan graced this occasion with some really fine poetry that any Urdu-Hindi language speaker could appreciate (one has to understand the nuances of the language to get the real joy out of it).

The Mushaira was very ably conducted by poet Raees Ansari from India . The first person to present was local poet Vasmi Abidi who highlighted the boom and bust of Silicon Valley in his verses. “Laakhon thay Dot Com Be Naam Ho Gaye” and a short work on religious harmony in sleep “Mein Na Hindu Na Musalman Mujhe Soonay Do”. Next, local poetess Mahnaz Naqvi arrived in a joyous and spiritual mood since she was going to perform the Hajj. “Mujhe Madina Bula Raha Hai” and “Meray Aaqa;” both moved us into the essence of South-Asian Islamic culture.

California poet Saiyed Irfan Ahmad spoke of worries stories “Gardishe-e-Zamana” his heart “Ajab Hadsa Hai Dil” and on his admiration for Sir Syed and his fight against ignorance.

Next from India, poet Asar Bahraichi talked about finding admirers in enemies “Dushmanon Mein Hi Meray Chahney Waaley Niklay” and memories of eras in Tarannum (lyricism), “Yaad Hum Ko Kiya Zamanay Nay, Jab Zamanay Ko Hum Bhula Bethay.” But poetic comedy broke that tempo as Khali Irfan from New York spoke about provincial births, distant wives, mixed marriages and types of looting; “Kisi Nay Mulk, Kisi Nay Mushaira Loota.”

Poetess Naseem Nikhat from India next presented her work on darkened evenings and the sources of light, of beautiful people, home and the journey of life: “Tum Bahot Acchay Ho Dunya Khoobsoorat Hai to Kya, Laut Kar Wahin Jaana Hai Ghar Kaisa Bhi Ho”.

Raees Ansari spoke of no compromises against tyrants, about medals of honor going to people who never fought a war. Verses about seeing one’s home burning: “Jab Se Ghar Dekhain Hain Jaltay Huway, Roshni Mujh Ko Chiraghon Ki Buri Lagti Hai”. One can find great depth and political wisdom in Ansari Sahib’s work. For example “Zulm Sehna Bhi Zalim Ki Tarafdari Hai” can explain a great deal.

Tariq Sabzwari from Pakistan delivered some of the best tarannum presentation of the evening. His poetry is thought worthy and his voice beautifully suited for its delivery. He spoke of remains, the wind, small flames and burning tenements. His “Rehnay Dey” and “Dil Yeh Kaghaz Ka Jal Jaye Ga” were very well received.

The last slot for a round of poetry is reserved for the senior poet amongst the group present. This time the honor went to India’s Nida Fazli who took everyone through Urdu’s history from the 13th and 14th Century’s Nizamuddin Auliya, Hazrat Ameer Khusrow all the way to today. Fazli Sahib touched on living overseas and longing for home, remembering the divine, how the work of the King of Urdu poetry Mirza Ghalib is treated in schools today to his description of ghazal as a culture in itself and how it traveled from the deserts of Arabia, through Persia and found its place in South Asia.

But love was not ignored. “Mohabbat Koi Aur Karta Hai Aur Sher Shayir Kehta Hai”.

Nida Fazli then journeyed into the world of the family and about the gift of daughters,

The relationship between father and son was also superbly described resulting in many teary eyed people in the audience. He spoke about hearing of his father’s death in Karachi and not being able to go to Pakistan. Can hearts be partitioned too? “Tumhari Qabar Par Mein Fateha Parhney Nahi Aaya” left many in the audience including this scribe speechless. And that ended the first round of the Mushaira (this scribe could not stay for the second).

To conclude, Sir Syed Day has become a permanent part of our local annual cultural calendar for a good reason. Not only does it give AMU Alumni who number about 200 here a chance to get together but it also provides an opportunity for the wider community to learn about the contributions of an educator whose life work needs to be closely studied. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and Aligarh Muslim University in India are more important today than we realize.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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