AMU Alumni Holds Sir Syed Day & AEEF Benefit Dinner
By Ras Hafiz Siddiqui

The Aligarh Muslim University Alumni Association of Northern California (AMUAA-CA) held its combined annual Sir Syed Day Banquet and Aligarh Education Endowment Fund (AEEF) fundraiser at the India Community Center in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Milpitas on Friday September 27, 2013 to the delight of many local and regional residents. This event is held by the association every year to honor Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the founder of the Mohammaden Anglo Oriental (MAO) College in Aligarh which later became Aligarh Muslim University, one of the foremost and finest Muslim places of learning.

This year the program was held on a Friday night which one thought was going to cause low attendance, but either it was the work of the organizers or the lineup of poets, a pleasant surprise awaited us as the program was sold out and some people had to be turned away at the door. Starting from the fine Mughlai cuisine courtesy of Chandni Restaurant, the educational segment, and finally the closing Urdu Mushaira, this was one event which certainly deserved its large attendance.

After dinner, the formalities began with a Qur’anic recitation by Dr Yaminali Javid. One of the leading lights of the local AMUAA, Dr Shaheer Khan welcomed everyone and also took the opportunity to recognize the sponsors of the program Drs Kamil and Talat Hasan, Dr and Mrs Ashraf Habibullah (CSI Inc.), Mr and Mrs Syed Sarwat (Chandni), Mr and Mrs Jamal Qureishi (JQ American) and Mr Abdul Majid Siddiqi (Realty Executives Real Estate). Also thanked was the ICC for providing the event venue, and last but not least Dr Shaheer thanked everyone in attendance without whom the evening would not have been a success.

Shaheer next followed with a more detailed description of the work which the Aligarh Education Endowment Fund (www.aeef.us) has been doing and plans to continue through the generosity of donations. In his slide presentation Shaheer informed the audience about direct scholarships for disadvantaged yet talented students across India, help provided to some of them for entrance exams, sponsorships for 50 students each at Aligarh Modern School and Hamara School, mentorship programs, support for a vocational training center in Aligarh and a direct scholarship for B. Tech. students of Mechanical Engineering at AMU.

Shaheer Khan also invited everyone to visit the schools and projects that the AEEF supports in India and as someone who had done just that (visited the schools) Afzal Usmani was invited on stage to share his observations. The emotional involvement of the audience increased after a brief video presentation of some of the work towards education going on in India. This combined effort culminated into a fundraiser for the AEEF and the keynote address of Dr Abidullah Ghazi.

Abidullah Al-Ansari Ghazi is a well-known educator and scholar. He brings a very impressive set of credentials to any gathering he speaks at or attends. A graduate of Aligarh Muslim University with an MA in political science (1959) he obtained a PhD in Comparative Religions from Harvard University in 1975 and during his long years of distinguished service he has taught at several universities and colleges in the US and at the King Abdul Aziz University in Saudi Arabia. With an intense focus on education Dr Ghazi has assisted many institutions in the development of their Islamic and South-Asian Studies programs. Along with his wife Dr Tasneema Ghazi, he currently leads the IQRA International Educational Foundation (www.iqrafoundation.com), a multifaceted Islamic education project which anyone can access online.

During his keynote speech delivered in Saqueel Urdu, Dr Ghazi expressed his great pleasure on attending this gathering for the fourth time (people usually don’t invite you after the 1st time, he joked, especially with the constraints that they continually remind you of!). He said that our problems are basically the same worldwide because we belong to the same-one human race. He added that the Holy Qur’an addresses all of humanity and that Allah (SWT) is the creator of everything that exists and our beloved Prophet (PBUH) brought a merciful message for all of mankind. He said that the importance of education is possibly the one thing that we can find very little disagreement on, but then why do some of the largest Muslim countries in the world compete for the highest rates of illiteracy?

He went into the details of some educationist movements in India even before Sir Syed and how regardless of religious background they foresaw the rise of the British and the fall of the Mughal empire long before 1857, and hoped that Western education (even a quarter of it) could be adopted by people in India immediately. He said that within Muslims Sir Syed’s movement was the first which insisted on applying Western scientific education. He added that the first message that Allah (SWT) sends in the Qur’an is IQRA (Read/Recite) so how can we ignore education and why don’t we (Muslims) not live up to this well-established standard? In the history of South Asia why did our (Muslim) rulers spend so much time and energy on building monuments for the departed instead of institutions of learning? He also elaborated on work going on in the present, and some initiated by IQRA to create a more educated future. In conclusion, he strongly praised the work of Sir Syed for keeping the flame of knowledge lit within a storm of opposition so that AMU and its graduates continue to shine and thrive worldwide today. He also stressed that pluralistic societies have been most successful (in spite of post 9/11 difficulties) and that the language of love is present within people irrespective of their faith.

The closing formalities in this segment included plaques presented to Nihal and Shahla Khan for their many years of contribution to the AMUAA and the Aligarh spirit. On stage for this presentation were Drs Hasan Kamil and Talat Hasan, Dr Ghazi and Shaheer Khan. And since no Sir Syed Day is complete without the singing of the Tarana-e-Aligarh by its alumni, the tradition continued here again this time with a great deal of enthusiasm.

The International Mushaira (poetry recital) segment is always a big attraction for regional Urdu language connoisseurs and they were certainly not disappointed this year by the lineup of poets. Led by Mushaira Sadr Gulzar Delhvi (India), Rais Ansari (India), Tariq Subzwari (Pakistan), Popular Meeruthi (India), keynote speaker Abidullah Ghazi (Chicago) plus Tashi Zaheer and Ahmar Shehwaar (both from San Francisco Bay Area), the poets thrilled the audience.

Under the Nizamat of Rais Ansari the Mushaira featured the pensive and political poetry of Ahmar Shehwaar and Tashie Zaheer (Donon Bahot Kuch Keh Gaye), the deeply reflective thoughts of Ansari Sahib himself and the fine Tarannum of Tariq Subzwari. But all seriousness was soon set aside by Popular Meeruthi (Syed Aijazuddin Shah) who had everyone laughing with his wit which was surprisingly not challenged this time by members in the audience. Abidullah Ghazi Sahib next brought everyone back to the real world with his poetic wisdom.

Last but not least, the living legend of Delhi and Urdu Shairi senior poet Anand Mohan Zutshi popularly known as Gulzar Delhvi took command of the stage. For a person in his eighties or nineties (a fact difficult to verify) Gulzar Sahib Mashallah has a tremendous amount of energy. His description of the politicization of the Urdu language and his thoughts against attempts to divide a Tehzeeb were all very well received. But one could not overlook his verses on other topics here either, including romance. Any poet claims to be a lover and a dreamer and Gulzar Sahib certainly is both, plus a habitual optimist on top of that!

It was a pleasure to attend Sir Syed Day and AEEF Fundraiser here in the San Francisco Bay Area once again. It was also good to find the Sir Syed Day Aligarh Magazine 2013 (jointly published by AMUAA-CA and AMUAA-NJ & PA) in which we came to know that famous writer Bapsi Sidhwa now residing in Houston, TX will be honored with the Sir Syed Day Lifetime Achievement Award for the year 2013 by AMUAA-NJ&PA later this month. Congratulations to Bapsi for receiving this honor. And to close here, every time one attends this annual AMU Alumni gathering in cities across the globe, the question does come to mind as to where our community would be today had not Sir Syed Ahmad Khan had the vision to found this unique educational institution?

(This article is dedicated to the memory of Abdul Latif Bijnori)

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