Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, KCSI (Hindi: सर सय्यद अहमद खान Urdu: سر سید احمد خان; 17 October 1817 – 27 March 1898), born Syed Ahmad Taqvi(Hindi: सय्यद अहमद तकवी Urdu: سید احمد تقوی), commonly known as Sir Syed, was an Indian Muslim philosopher and social activist of nineteenth century India.
In 1842, Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar II conferred upon Sir Syed the title of Javad-ud Daulah, conferred upon Sir Syed’s grandfather Syed Hadi by Emperor Shah Alam II around the middle of the 18th century. In addition, the Emperor added the title of Arif Jang. The conferment of these titles was symbolic of Sir Syed’s incorporation into the nobility of Delhi.
Born into Muslim nobility, Sir Syed earned a reputation as a distinguished scholar while working as a jurist for the British East India Company. During the Indian Rebellion of 1857, he remained loyal to the British and was noted for his actions in saving European lives. After the rebellion, he penned the booklet Asbab-e-Baghawat-e-Hind (The Causes of the Indian Mutiny) – a daring critique, at the time, of British policies that he blamed for causing the revolt. Believing that the future of Muslims was threatened by the rigidity of their orthodox outlook, Sir Syed began promoting Western-style scientific education by founding modern schools and journals and organising Muslim entrepreneurs. Towards this goal, Sir Syed founded theMuhammedan Anglo-Oriental College (today Aligarh Muslim University) in 1875 with the aim of promoting social and economic development of Indian Muslims.
One of the most influential Muslim politicians of his time, Sir Syed was suspicious of the Indian independence movement and called upon Muslims to loyally serve the British Raj. He denounced nationalist organisations such as the Indian National Congress, instead forming organisations to promote Muslim unity and pro-British attitudes and activities. Sir Syed promoted the adoption of Urdu as the lingua franca of all Indian Muslims, and mentored a rising generation of Muslim politicians and entrepreneurs. Prior to the Hindi–Urdu controversy, he was interested in the education of Muslims and Hindus both and this was the period in which Sir Syed visualised India as a "beautiful bride, whose one eye was Hindu and, the other, Muslim". Due to this view, he was regarded as a reformer and nationalist leader.
There was a sudden change in Sir Syed's views after the Hindi–Urdu controversy. His education and reformist policies became Muslim-specific and he fought for the status of Urdu. Maulana Hali writes, in his book, Hayat-e-Javed, "One day as Sir Syed was discussing educational affairs of Muslims with Mr. Shakespeare, the then Commissioner of Banaras, Mr. Shakespeare looked surprised and asked him, 'This is the first time when I have heard you talking specifically about Muslims. Before this you used to talk about the welfare of the common Indians.'" Sir Syed then told him, "Now I am convinced that the two communities[Muslims and Hindus] will not put their hearts in any venture together. This is nothing [it is just the beginning], in the coming times an ever increasing hatred and animosity appears on the horizon simply because of those who are regarded as educated. Those who will be around will witness it." Sir Syed is hailed as the father of the Two Nation Theory and one of the founding fathers of Pakistan, along with Allama Iqbal and Muhammad Ali Jinnah.