Sir Syed Day 2011 in Northern California
By Ras H. Siddiqui
The Aligarh Muslim University Alumni Association (AMUAA) of Northern California held its annual Sir Syed Day International Mushaira combined with a fundraiser for its Aligarh Education Endowment Fund (AEEF) at the India Community Center in Milpitas, California on Saturday, October 15 th.
With over 300 people in attendance the evening turned out to be a gala affair during which old traditions met modern times not unlike the vision that Sir Syed Ahmad Khan had when he founded the Mohammedan Anglo Oriental (MAO) College in Aligarh, India in 1875. That institution later became the Aligarh Muslim University in 1920, one of the premiere places of learning for Indian/South-Asian Muslims till today.
Sir Syed was born on October 17 th and this year worldwide celebrations were held for his 194 th birthday.
The event in Milpitas began with a Qur’anic recitation by Hafiz Humayun Suhail. Emcee Afzal Usmani next welcomed the audience and was joined by AMUAA Northern California President Ms. Amtul Suhail in updating everyone on the fundraising aspect of the evening and in presenting a short introduction of the AEEF.
Ms. Suhail said that the efforts of her organization would be in vain if not for the cooperation and presence of everyone present. She added that this year would be different since the projection of the message of Sir Syed and his vision to educate needed to be carried forward. Usmani added details about the ongoing projects of the AEEF, including scholarships, supporting students at feeder institutions, Aligarh Model School and Hamara School, supporting vocational training for women, a mentorship program for youngsters and support coaching for competitive exams to enter premier institutions of higher learning in India. He added that these projects cost around $68,000 per year and that the fundraising goal that evening was $50,000. That said, the fundraising got underway as examples of successful students aided by the AEEF were given and slides were shared on Mr. Usmani’s visit to India where he met young beneficiaries of this effort. “We need your support,” Usmani added.
Before thanking all the sponsors, Amtul Suhail in her Presidential address said that Aligarh is not just an educational institution but it is also a movement started by Sir Syed. She added that a hundred years from now we will not matter but what will remain important is that we made this world a better place because we invested in the future of a child today. The sponsors, too numerous to mention here, were named and thanked individually as the keynote address was next.
The keynote speech on the topic of “The State of Education for Muslims in the United States” was delivered by Dr. Farid Senzai. Senzai is also Assistant Professor of Political Science at Santa Clara University and a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. He has also co-authored a book titled ‘Educating the Muslims of America’. He said that he would try to give us a glimpse of the current situation of education for the community, the majority of whom came here as immigrants. He added that for these immigrants, the primary effort was to build mosques and once that was achieved, Sunday schools attached to these mosques appeared. Full-time K to 12 Islamic schools have been started. He added that Muslims do emphasize education and remain amongst some of the most educated communities in America.
The topic at hand for this keynote speech was just too wide for the 15 to 20 minutes allocated because Dr. Senzai tried to go into many different aspects of the current situation of education and the community, the vast majority of which sends its children to public or no-Muslim run private schools. He said that the aftermath of 9/11 has seen a resistance towards building Islamic institutions in this country mainly due to a certain few trying to gain political mileage from this for their short-term political benefit. Senzai gave the example of the building of a Kahlil Gibran International Academy in New York, a clearly secular effort and its trials and tribulations possibly because the Arabic language was taught there. He added that only about 40,000 students currently go to regular Islamic schools in America. Dr. Senzai ended his speech praising the efforts of Sir Syed and his vision that led to AMU and the institution that it is today.
No Aligarh program is complete before the singing of the Tarana-e-Aligarh or Aligarh anthem by its alumni, and this year was no exception as the first segment of the program came to a close for a brief interval to set the stage for the International Mushaira to begin.
AMU Alumni worldwide annually host Sir Syed Day and always try to include an Urdu poetry segment or Mushaira in their program where poets of the language from different parts of the world (hence the term international) are invited to share their craft. Urdu or Khariboli-Hindustani of old has had a long tradition of rich poetry, some would say due to its inclusion of Persian and some Arabic within its fold. A camp language that became a bridge of sorts between the Middle East and India, spoken Urdu is very close to Hindi. Together the two languages have the fourth largest number of speakers in the world (after speakers of Mandarin Chinese, English and Spanish). It is a language that later became part of imperial courts where poets, both sycophants and rebels read their works. The symbolism used in their poetry became a permanent part of the art form and is today an essential element of the verses read in Mushairas.
This year once again the lineup of poets did not disappoint the audience here in Milpitas. Presided over by Dr. Abdul Qayyum and conducted by Saleem Kausar, the poets (in order of appearance and home base) were Ahmar Shehwaar (Bay Area), Tashie Zaheer (Bay Area), Irfan Murtaza (Los Angeles), Nausha Asrar (Houston), Khushbir Singh Shaad (India), Farhat Ehsas (India) and then Saleem Kausar (Pakistan) himself.
Ahmar Shehwar read his work on sad cities and the self and Tashie Zaheer followed with sellers, bazaars and a searching for home. Irfan Murtaza took this same theme to the next level as upon request he revived the immigrant dilemma, the baggage of memories and longing for home with “Puranay Ghar Ka Mausam” and not to forget the game of snakes and ladders. Nausa Asrar tried to add some cheer to the recital but then he too fell back on a philosophical note in beautiful tarannum (songlike fashion) on trembling lips and the stories that they tell. Khushbir Singh Shaad raised issues of both happiness and sadness of silkworms and old photo albums and the close relationship between blood and heart. Farhat Ehsas read his verses on a water-dipped moon and sitting scared at home alone plus much more on the immigrant dilemma. And last but not least Saleem Kauser presented his verses on travel in search of light, loyalty of friends and the selling of one’s dignity and the thoughts of others amongst other topics. A second much shorter round of poetry also followed.
Congratulations are in order to the AMU Alumni Association of Northern California for holding another fine Sir Syed Day event and for keeping this tradition alive. The poetic focus this year turned out to be on the lives of those that left their homes for a better life in the West but still retain a strong nostalgic attachment to their roots. In the Urdu verses of Farhat Ehsas “Pardes mein har shaqks ko saya nahin milta, Har shaqks ki hijrat ko Madinah nahin milta” (Not everyone finds shade far away from home, not everyone finds shelter like the Prophet once found in Medina). Sir Syed through his stress on education helped many South-Asian Muslims (especially) to get to reach and settle in the West. But as Dr. Farid Senzai spoke earlier, they have to make the best of it themselves.