Fading Facts: Sir Mian Muhammad Shafi Contributions towards the Aligarh Movement

Text by Rehan Asad| A review for the educational services of Sir Mian Mohammad Shafi, a shared piece of the 20th century South Asian Colonial History

On 27 December 1894, at the Mohammedan educational conference, a twenty-five lawyer who returned recently from England wrote and recited eulogy for the Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in English. Few lines of the poem are presented here.

The sacred Brick of this grand Hall,
The boarding house, the College Rooms,
And this great conference, each and all
Forever the national heirlooms
Priceless and Loved, Shall Waft, your name
Sir Syed through the coming days,
What our nation might befall
Immortal lo, shall be your frame
Never waning, but in numerous ways,
Be ever more, the joy of all!

Sir Mian Muhammad Shafi, born on 10 March 1869 and passed away on 07th January 1932. The portrait is taken from the family collection by courtesy of Mian Hassan Farrukh who also runs a webpage http://mianfamily.tripod.com/ collecting a valuable history and background of Mian Family, Baghbanpura, Lahore.

Introduction to Mian Muhammad Shafi

The twenty-five-year young lawyer cited above was born on 10 March 1869 in historic “Mian family” of Arain tribe at Baghbanpura near Lahore. Many of his illustrious ancestors were conferred with titles and acknowledgments from the time of the Aurangzeb up to the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in Punjab. Started his education from the vernacular middle school, he completed his education at Lahore University. On August 1889 AD, Shafi was sent to England to pursue studies at Bar. Fortunate enough to secure the admission at the honorable society of the Middle temple where his cousin Mian Shah Din was already studying for the Bar from last two years. In 1890 AD, elected as president of Anjuman-I- Islamia, London and in the same year, he competes for a scholarship in international and constitutional law and constitutional history at prestigious Middle Temple. At England, he actively participated at every forum that addressed the welfare of Indian students such as Indian section of the Royal Society of Arts, National Indian Association, and the society of encouragement and protection of Indian Arts. He holds the membership of Paddington parliament, an esteemed political society that constituted Member of Parliament, Barristers, Solicitors, and merchants. In 1892, he left England and started his legal career at Hoshiarpur although enrolled himself at both Allahabad and Lahore high courts.

Engagement with Aligarh Movement from the time of Sir Syed up to the approval of University Bill in 1920 during his tenure as the educational member of Viceroy Executive council

The participation of the Mian Muhammad Shafi in Aligarh movement traced from the time of the formation Anglo-Muhammadan Defence Association of Upper India in 1892. He represented Punjab province as a member of the association with Mr. Syed Mahmood and Mr. Theodore Beck (the then Principal of Aligarh College) as the joint secretaries. After his return from England in 1892, he participated in all annual meetings of All India Muhammadan Educational Conference. Several times, he presided female education and other sections of the conference. In the year 1898, the same year when the Great leader, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan departed from this world, he took a bigger responsibility of Mohammadan Anglo-Oriental College. This was the appointment of Mian Muhammad Shafi as the as the trustee of Aligarh College. By the time of the sad demise of the great leader, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the College has marked as one of the best residential institutions in India. In the coming years, he was engaged in his political and legal career along with active participation in Aligarh movement. The coming years was the tough time for the Aligarh College as its regulatory body got afflicted with factional politics due to the rift between Aftab Ahmad Khan and Ali brothers? During these years, Mian Muhammad Shafi distanced himself from controversies. By 1910, the efforts for the University campaign were revived. All India Muslim University association was formed under the leadership of His Highness, the Agha Khan and Nawab Viqarul-Mulk to centralize the efforts required for the elevation of the College to University in 1910. Mian Muhammad Shafi was elected as vice-president of All India Muslim University Association, and Honorary general secretary of the Punjab Province. For the next two years, Mian Muhammad Shafi put all his efforts for the cause and raised a fund of more three hundred thousand Rupees for the upliftment of the College to University. He himself donated five thousand Rupees in 1912 for the noble mission. In May 1911, a delegation went to meet Sir Harcourt Butler, the then education member of Viceroy executive council for discussing and finalizing the draft of University constitution. Mian Muhammad Shafi was one of the three representatives responsible for the negotiations with education members on the behalf of delegation. On September 25, 1911, Mian Muhammad Shafi represented as a spokesperson for carrying negotiations between the government and University promoters association. On 9 August 1912, Butler gave an official answer from the authorities at London regarding the rejection of University Bill.  In the background of factional politics, Justice Shah Din, the cousin of Mian Muhammad Shafi presided Agra session of Muhammadan educational conference of 1913. This was the second occasion, the Muhammadan education conference was presided by Justice Shah Din. The first time, he presided ninth session of All India Muhammadan educational conference in 1894 during the lifetime of Great Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. Lady Shafi and Lady Shah Din represented Punjab on the opening ceremony of the girl’s section new building by Begum of Bhopal in 1915 at MAO College. Mian Muhammad Shafi presided the thirtieth session of Mohammadan educational conference, held at Aligarh, December 27-29, 1916. On this occasion, Mian Muhammad Shafi played an important role in bringing both factions on the table to accept the University approval on the terms and conditions of government. He sensed the risk of losing University funds and demand of the University seems to be jeopardized. The delegation of University committee meets Sir Nair, the successor of Butler as an education member in August 1917. The demand of the University committee was again rejected on the grounds of old boy’s association representation in the University court and control of trustees. The resignation of Sir Sankaran Nair from the seat of education member in June 1919 changed the direction of Aligarh University movement in the coming year. Imperial government as a successor of Sir Nair selected Mian Muhammad Shafi, a man with the long association with educational movement in India. He took the charge of the office at Shimla on 28 July 1919. Sir Butler now the lieutenant governor of United Province favored for reframing University constitution as a provincial University. Sir Mian Muhammad Shafi as an education member disagreed with Sir Butler suggestion of its provincial status. As an old associate of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, he was the firm believer of All India status of Aligarh University. On March 20, 1920, Mian Muhammad Shafi met the delegation of Muslim University committee as an education member. Muslim University bill was submitted to him. As an education member, Sir Muhammad Shafi introduced the bill on 9 September 1920 to Viceroy Executive council and got it approved. Sir Mian Muhammad Shafi efforts fulfilled the dreams of Late Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and all those members who were struggling for the cause from 1898. On 1 December 1920, the  Muslim University act was passed and Mr. Mohammad Ali Khan, Raja Saheb of Mahmudabad was appointed as the first vice-chancellor of the University.

Aligarh Movement Leaders at Vice Regal Lodge Shimla to demand the establishment of Aligarh Muslim University, 1911 AD. Standing on number thirteen from left to right in the portrait. The picture retrieved from http://aligarhmovement.com/Aligarh_Movement

Who could have imagined that one of the spokespersons from the delegate that went to meet the education member, Sir Butler in 1911 would himself passed and approved the University bill after nine years as the education member of Viceroy executive council?

Educational services and contributions as education member  

The British Government rewarded Mian Muhammad Shafi with C.I.E in 1916  and was Knighted in 1925. During his tenure as the education member of Viceroy Executive Council, the Decca, Nagpur, Rangoon, Lucknow, Aligarh and Delhi Universities were established. The bill of Aligarh Muslim University that was lingered in backwater from last one decade was finalized by his efforts. Government sanctioned the reforms for Allahabad and Madras Universities in his tenure. For his remarkable efforts, the Aligarh Muslim University conferred a D.Lit. (Honoris Causa) on 28 December 1922 on the eve of its first convocation. Delhi University conferred him Doctor of Law and Viceroy gave him the honorary nomination as Pro-Chancellor of the University in the same year. He was also responsible for Indianization of education department. From the time of his joining the office in 1919,  the number Indian officers twenty-nine and that rose to one hundred twenty during his tenure.The man took a farewell banquet from Viceroy executive council on 24 September 1925 and passed away in Lahore on 07 January 1932. An old associate of Sir Syed and member of its first syndicate, the Aligarh movement was always his priority even after reaching the zenith of his career as Vice-President of Viceroy executive council in November 1922. Why Aligarh forgot a man whose soul and the body was embedded in the noble mission for more than forty years. From the time Sir Syed up to difficult days of factional politics, he never turned away his services from Aligarh. As an acknowledgment, the Aligarh University remembered members of the first syndicate by naming departments, hostels, and Halls after their name. Unfortunately, there is not a single building in University named after a man whose efforts led to the creation of the University in 1920 after a struggle of twenty-two years. His larger contributions in the creation of my alma mater were lost somewhere in research articles and journals. The write-up is with an intent to pay the tribute to one of the core members of its first syndicate whose name is difficult to trace outside the sphere of academic articles.


  1. Eminent Muslamans, Madras, GA, Natesan & Co., 1922, 1st ed.  
  2. In Memorium: Mian Sir Muhammad Shafi (1932). The Islamic Review, XX(2-3), 41-46.
  3. Lelyveld, D. (1975). Three Aligarh Students: Aftab Ahmad Khan, Ziauddin Ahmad, and Muhammad Ali. Modern Asian Studies9(2), 227-240.
  4. Reddy, S. (Ed.). (2013). Mapping the Nation: An Anthology of Indian Poetry in English, 1870–1920. Anthem Press.
  5. Mehra, P. (1985). A dictionary of modern Indian history, 1707-1947. Oxford University Press.
  6. Minault, G., & Lelyveld, D. (1974). The campaign for a Muslim University, 1898–1920. Modern Asian Studies8(2), 145-189.
  7. Rizvi, S. A. A. (1993). Mian Muhammad Shafi: An Analytical Study of his Activities and Achievements (1869-1932). South Asian Studies10(1), 87.
  8. http://aligarhmovement.com/events/Aligarh_Movement
  9. http://mianfamily.tripod.com/

Remnants of a Separation: A History of The Partition Through Material Memory by Aanchal Malhotra

Readers’ review by Rehan Asad| An unique approach to revisit the most important context of 20th century South Asian History, Indian partition

Introduction and background

The book titled “Remnants of a Separation” authored by Aanchal Malhotra and published by Harper Collins was released on 15/August/2017 at the completion of seventy years of Indian partition (Batwara). In last seventy years, the numerous books have been published on the event that created more than fourteen million homeless population and estimated death of approximately two million human souls. As born in Western Uttar Pradesh, I was brought up listening stories of partition from grandparents. The region was the part of United Provinces of Oudh and Agra in Colonial India that has the considerable support of league among the Muslims agrarian landowners. Some members of the Grandparents extended families had chosen the strange land on the other side of Radcliffe line. It was the illusion of chosen land created by the Jinnah among the elites landlords of United Province & Oudh that compelled them to leave their homelands. I had an opportunity during childhood days to interact with relatives from Karachi visiting their ancestor’s homeland far off in Uttarpradesh. During the Senior Secondary days in 1997, I had come across with my first non-fiction read up on partition “Freedom at Mid Night by Lary Collins & Dominique Lapierre (1975)” almost twenty years from now. Almost at same time, I was blessed to read the great Kushwant Singh masterpiece, “Train to Pakistan“, a fiction centered around the syncretic love story of Punjab in the backdrop of communal violence. From then onward, I tried to explore the context of partition by reading manuscripts and research articles as an inquisitive reader to explore it. As the topic filled with multiple historical reviews, & viewpoints, it seems to be contextual for third generation Indian and Pakistanis like me. During last month I got an opportunity to read the “Remnants of a separation: A history of the partition through material memory,” a book released on the eve of seventy years of Indian partition.

Reflections on the “Remnants of a separation”

The idea behind the book was commenced with the effort of a young researcher of Fine Arts who had chosen the stories moving around the artifacts and materials related to the context of Indian partition as the dissertation of her MFA (Masters in fine arts) programme at Concordia University, Montreal, Canada. The author reflected in the introductory section, the significance of material memory crept in 2013 when the photojournalist and columnist Mayank Austen Soofi widely popular as Delhi Walla was exploring Vij Bhawan for his column. It was the gaz (feet) and ghara (metallic vessel), a pre-partitioned legacy of the Vij (Authors maternal grandparents) that appeared as prime stimuli of the research idea. The creativity lies in the author’s sense of integrating valuable artifacts (storehouse of the memories) carried by the immigrants on both sides of the Radcliffe lines during partition. The qualitative research is a standardized model for exploring anthropological and ethnographic context. Oral history collected by conducting in-depth interviews and artifacts used in congruence are tools of the qualitative research that has been used in this project. The titles of all nineteen chapter are connecting the link to memories and each of the chapters is meticulously selected case reflecting unique ethnic and social context about the event of the partition. Ingenuity lies in the exploration of beautiful memories by connecting with the tactile stimuli of materials and belongings of the past. Most of these memories were buried in the deep subconscious of these individuals behind the denial of the traumatic events that happened seventy years before. Other than citing standard references, and archives on Indian partition, the author embed herself as an explorative researcher to perceive the emotional context extracted from each interview. It gave us the deeper understanding of the geographical origins especially for the group of the population who left their native land under arduous circumstances. Each context presented in the book as chapters moved around the artifacts, heirlooms, objects as the connection with memories also provide the readers a broader historical context of the particular region/culture about the partition. I tried to reflect on some of those backgrounds that I perceived from my prerequisite understanding of Partition.

The rich narratives of Vij, Malhotra’s, and Bhag gave readers an understanding of shifting the level of acceptance especially in context with Punjabi immigrants within the layered social dynamics of 1950s Delhi. All three of them belonged to Author’s family but, as an explorative researcher when she interviewed them, a unique cultural context was extracted from their past. The Vij represented a thrifty urban Punjabis from Lahore who has been established themselves as the successful entrepreneurs from centuries. It was the bloody event of “Batwara” that cut the roots of this prosperous community from the native land. The ancestors of Bahris hails from the small historic town, Qadirabad located two hundred fourteen kilometers North-West of Lahore. They represented a middle-class zamindar section of the Punjabis who undertook modern education as the tool of better survival in changing colonial India. After leaving Malakwal, the nineteen years Balraj Bahri journey on the bumpy roads from the Kingsway camp up to the successful Bahri Sons booksellers is the reflection of hard work, and rectitude. Now the Bhag Malhotra who hails from the North-West Province, a land of tribal Pashtuns. Her reflection draws a vivid picture of the life of Punjabi Zamindars in Khyber Pakhtunwala. A beautiful haveli with separate apartments for the members of extended family. The separation in the quarters and living area for females. In those days, Purdah was not confined to any particular religion. It was a tradition practiced among the high socioeconomic class of rural North Indian society. The pearls of Azra Haq represent the class of bureaucratic white-collar pre-partitioned Punjabi Muslims that unfortunately lost the ground in the chosen land of Jinnah. The “Bagh” of Hansla represented the old culture where the daughters received homemade apparel from his mother. This sacred piece of cloth passed from generation to generation carrying clemence and efforts of ancestors interwoven with memories of each generation making it a priceless treasure. Mian Faiz Rabbani represented a sample of the agrarian tribe which formed the core of Muslim league & Unionist in Punjab Province. Finishing with Shams Manzil of Mian Faiz intermingled with memories of a stone plaque, the book moved to next unique context from Punjab. It’s a story of the family belonging to Ahlul Bait (the house of Prophet) from the small town Samana in the princely state of Patiala. The sanctity of the place was due to the direct descendants of the Prophet (Peace be Upon him), Sayyad Mashaad Ali buried here long before the advent of Ghurids & Mamluks in India. Nazeer Adhami from Hardoi, (Lucknow), Oudh and his memories of Aligarh Muslim Universities gave the readers an insight on elite Muslim Zamindars of United Provinces and their participation towards the league. Parting from the memories of Nazeer from Aligarh Muslim Universty, it moved to beautiful narrations of Nizamuddin Khan, a member of a working-class Muslim family of pre-partitioned Delhi. How beautiful his descriptions of syncretic Delhi before the partition? His reflective accounts of Gandhi Ji, Nehru & Jinnah was built over the years from his father side talks who was working at Viceroy house in Lutyens Delhi. Even circumstances forced them but, somehow managed to return to the land where their ancestors were buried. Now, one of the most interesting chapters for me came up during the read up. Here I was going to read the narratives coming directly from the tongue of an Emeritus Professor of art & culture history from the University of Sussex on his legacy, partition, and reaction of his family. Transcribed and written contextually, the chapter of Partha Mitter unfolded his more than one and half century old legacy represented as a sample of elite Bengali families that was the core of India first sociocultural and intellectual movement. In other terms what is defined in textbooks as a Bengal renaissance? From the great Tipen Mitter up to Partha Mitter, the family has produced legends who perceived the winds and tides of Colonial India. The legendary journalist, Maya Mirchandi Grandmother Savitri represented a context from the ancient land from where lies the roots of the historical names “Hind” and “Indus”. The family described an educated upper-middle-class Sindhis who lost their homeland due to the voluntary exodus of Urdu speaking community from United Provinces of Agra & Oudh, Bihar, Hyderabad ( Deccan), Rajasthan & Gujrat. The Dadi Leela version of three mothers, biological mother, linguistic mother and motherland (place of birth) articulate the significance of native language and birthplace in an individual life even in unfavorable circumstances. It’s an irony that even after seven decades of partition, the Urdu speaking community that immigrated with the dream of chosen land is still struggling to be absorbed in the Sindhi population & culture on the other side. Interestingly the subgroups within this broader linguistic identity titled as Muhajir (Oriental word for refugee) were identified with the places of their origin like Delhi Wale, Hyderabadi, Bihari, Lucknow wale and further smaller units of their native lands in United Provinces.

An outstanding distinctive research that explores the feelings, materials, context, and sociocultural background of the immigrants. The author’s inclusion of the verbatim transcription of the native’s words of Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, and English extracted during interviews gave an additional uniqueness and sense of originality to the context. It’s interesting to find the shared Hindustani words like Taka, Anna, Lambardar, Khas Dan, Sarota, Deghcyian, and Hammam Dasta were commonly used in Punjab, United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, and Sindh provinces of Colonial India. I had heard these words in common usage of my grandparents and parents, but in today changing trends it seems to be archival. The presentation of the native words in their original accent, e.g., Jullundar instead of Jalandhar, Kalai (Qalai), Kabar (Qabar) as common in Punjabi accent is the reflection of applying core values of qualitative research.  An Englishman, John Gregor Taylor chanting Hindi songs and missing the odor of Geeli Mitti of India, a Punjabi Arain articulating his context by an example “the demise of the sapling once uprooted from its soil” reminds me the three mothers of Leela Dadi from Mirchandani accounts. When humanity was tarnished by the savagery, you will find Hansla Chaudhry grandfather receiving the offer of Luyten Delhi mansion from his Muslim friend. Prof. Mitter father risked his own life for saving Muslims around his home at Bhowanipur, Calcutta. A Praman Matro (Identity Proof) of Sunil Kumar connecting the family with bygone days memories. There is much more to talk about but, word count binds my review. The research of the Aanchal Malhotra is an effort in a direction to touch core human values of such an important context of modern Indian history by erasing all the bias of region, religion, and culture. This unique account is an excellent add-on to the social and ethnic context of Indian partition. It will also serve as a resource for future academic researchers.