Biography of Dr Zakir Hussain: The Great Educationist



Biography of Dr Zakir Hussain: The Great Educationist


Dr. Zakir Hussain is a true representative of India's composite culture. A great humanist he served the national interests and secularism in the capacity of an educationist.

Development of Thought:

Among the Muslim leaders of the early twentieth century Zakir Hussain was among those nationalists who could see the reality without any personal interest and ambition. His contribution to the development of modern Indian thought through his educational and social philosophy is invaluable.

Dr. Zakir Hussain was a great educationist. At the early stages of his career he realized that national renaissance could not come through the narrow gates of politics but through reformative education.

In order to evolve a new educational approach he established the Jamia Millia during 1920-21 in the face of strong opposition from influential Muslims controlling Aligarh which was traditionally a centre of Muslim separatism. A secular minded nationalist, he served the secular ideals and national interest in the capacity of an educationist.

Essentially a humanist with a broad vision he did not let either his nationalism or his Islamic approach fall into narrow grooves but made it a happy meeting ground of the East and the West, the modern and the traditional, the Muslim and non-Muslim.


A great educationist of the century, Dr. Zakir Hussain rightly recognized that national renaissance could not come merely through the gates of politics but through reformative education. His entire life was spent in service to the cause of education and the values of secularism.

Among the modern Indian thinkers, and more particularly among the nationalist Muslim leaders, the name of Dr. Zakir Hussain is remembered with great respect.

A true representative of India's culture, Zakir Hussain was a symbol of perfection, a rare combination of wisdom, knowledge, practicability and refinement of personality. Such men are rarely born as Dr. Zakir Hussain.

Born in a cultured family, Dr. Zakir Hussain by nature was simple and deeply religious. His family descended from a clan of the proud and chivalrous Afridi Pathans who had settled at Qaimgunj, a small town in Uttar Pradesh.

His grandfather moved to Aurangabad, Deccan, where Zakir Hussian was born in 1897. He was only eight years old when his father, Faida Hussain, a practicing lawyer, died in 1905 at Hyderabad. His mother then decided to return to their ancestral home in Uttar Pradesh.

Zakir first joined the Islamia High School at Etawah. He took interest in the cause of the Muslims who were involved in the Tripoli War and collected money for them.

At this school he was greatly influenced by the religious life of his Headmaster, Syed Altaf Hussain, and by Sufi Hasan Shah, a Muslim ascetic.

In 1913, Zakir joined the Mohammedan Anglo-oriental College at Aligarh where he was an active student and was Vice-President of the Students' Union. He passed his B.A. with Honors in 1918 and joined M.A. and Law classes, but due to political upheaval in the country in 1919, could not continue his studies.

Gandhi visited M.A.O. College in 1920. His Non-cooperation movement had its impact on the college too. A section of students at Aligarh, under Zakir Hussian's leadership, decided to boycott the M.A.O. College, as the institution refused to give up the grant from the government, and started a National College of their own at Aligarh.

Copies of the resolution adopted by the students' meeting were sent to Gandhi and other Muslim leaders such as Dr. Ansari and Ajmal Khan.

This national school, known as the Jamia Millia, and inaugurated at the mosque of Aligarh College by a Muslim divine on Oct. 29, 1920 had Hakim Ajmal Khan as its first Chancellor and Maulana Mohammed Ali, as its first Vice Chancellor. The aim was development of harmonious nationhood without losing Islamic identity.

The Jamia was financed initially by the Khilafat committee and in the years to follow it became the centre of Zakir Russian's activities and services to the nation.

For two years Zakir Hussian taught in the Jamia Millia. He left for Germany in 1922 to pursue higher studies. He secured a Ph.D. in economics after three years stay at Berlin University. During his absence the Jamia Millia reached a verge of closure due to financial difficulties in 1924.

On March 17, 1925 the institution was shifted from Aligarh to Delhi. The news upset Zakir Hussain. But the timely help of Ajmal Khan and assurances of help by Gandhiji saved the situation. Zakir Hussain returned to India early in 1926 and was made Vice Chancellor of Jamia at the age of 29.

During the 22 years of his Vice- Chancellorship the Jamia was built into a distinguished centre of learning. Zakir Hussain was so much given to the work of his institution that the two became identical and inseparable. The story of Jamia is, in fact, the story of Zakir Hussain.

To make up the financial difficulties in the running of the Jamia, Zakir Hussain's determination and example made other lecturers and students live a life of austerity and dedication, and work on much reduced salaries.

After consulting his colleagues and the Foundation Committee, he formed the Anjuman- e-Talime Milli (National Education Society) to take over the Jamia to be run by its teachers. Dr. Ansari became its President, Dr. Zakir Hussain its Secretary and Seth Jamnalal Bajaj the Treasurer.

Its objective was to spread education amongst the masses, the Muslims in particular. It was not to ask for any help from the government until the country attained independence.

He also helped in starting another institution called Hamdard-e-Jamia. He felt so much enamoured with the mission of the teachers and educationists that he did not like any diversion from the pursuit of education.

Dr. Zakir Hussain was a great educationist of this century. At the early stages of his career he realized that national renaissance could not come through the narrow gates of politics but through reformative education. That is why he carefully kept himself away from active politics and instead devoted himself to the field of education.

Addressing students and teachers at Kashi Vidyapati on August 14, 1935 Zakir Sahib said, "National education should preserve the national heritage. Education is to society what memory is to the individual. It relates to the past and to the present.

Even as human life becomes useless once memory is lost, so is the national life endangered if the past is forgotten. If India wishes to retain its identity in the community of nations and to contribute its own distinctive qualities to the rest of mankind.

It is surely its duty to keep those qualities alive and so manage its education that the legacies of its past are transmitted to future generations." This statement clearly reflects his educational philosophy which he tried to put into practice at Jamia Millia Islamia.

According to Dr. Zakir Hussain education should be the basic instrument of national purpose. He found the system of English education soulless and unsuitable to the needs of the country.

That is why at Jamia Millia Zakir Sahib introduced" work centered education instead of book centered education. Jamia was a cold experiment in which education was geared to the social and economic need of the Indian people it was also a vital part of the national movement.

Zakir Hussatn rose to national eminence as an educationist during 1937, through the report he prepared on Basic Education. Gandhiji often expressed his disapproval of the type of education given to the young children in India. In 1937 Congress won elections in many provinces and thus interim governments were formed.

Gandhiji felt that a national policy of education must be evolved to suit the needs of the Indian people. Thus on his initiative the all India national educational conference was held at Wardha in October 1937. Zakir Hussain was one of the invitees.

Gandhiji proposal of new education based on some useful craft met with approval as well as criticism. Zakir Hussain supported the proposal. At the end of the conference a resolution was passed favoring work centered education.

The Education Conference appointed a Committee on October 23, with Dr. Zakir Hussian as the Chairman to formulate a scheme of basic education on the lines drawn by the Conference. The report of the Zakir Hussain Committee was published on December 2, 1937.

There was much controversy, not on the merit of the scheme but on political considerations. The Committee produced its report in record time and spent less than four hundred rupees for the work.

The main features of the scheme were embodied in the following resolutions: That in the opinion of this Conference free and compulsory education be provided for seven years on a nationwide scale.

That the medium of instruction to be the mother tongue and that the conference endorses the proposal made by Mahatma Gandhi that the process of education throughout this period should centre around some form of manned and productive work, and that all-the other abilities to be developed or training to be given should, as far as possible, be integrally related to the central handicraft chosen with due regard to the environment of the child.

The basic principle of the Wardha scheme of Education was underlined by Zakir Hussain's report.

Dr. Zakir Hussain's association with the Jamia and Gandhi's Wardha Scheme established his reputation. He was appointed to many educational commissions and organizations, as the University Education Commission, University Grants Commission, the UNESCO, and the World University Service and delivered addresses at the convocations of many universities in India and abroad. He made

a classical remark on the Indian political condition when he said at Kashi Vidyapati convocation: "I wish that there was more education in our politics and less politics in our education."

On the occasion of the Silver Jubilee celebration of the Jamia Millia on November 17, 1946 he observed: 'The Jamia should be a model of Islamic life. If ever a non-Muslim wished to know Islam correctly, he should be able to acquire that knowledge from Jamia'.

Through his writings and speeches Zakir Sahib explained his educational philosophy. It is not possible to make detailed reference to two collections of his educational addresses and his book "Educational Reconstruction in India" due to limitations of space. However, it may be pointed out what he meant by an educated man.

For him an educated man must have a positive attitude towards the gods of culture, towards ultimate objective values. Besides this, an educated man trust has broad vision, open mindedness, an urge towards moral growth and flexibility in adjusting with man and environment.

With these objectives in his mind Zakir Hussain tried to work out a scheme of education of Jamia Millia. He always felt sorry that the scheme of basic education was never understood in its correct perspective nor was there any attempt to implement it in proper form.

Zakir Hussain stressed that education must be socially oriented and in the direction of meeting the social needs. Education fails in its purpose if it produces socially indifferent and ineffective people. A good education is enrichment of life for individual human beings and contributes to the development of their spiritual potentialities. The aim of higher education is the development of the minds.

"Summing up Zakir Hussian's achievements as an educationist. K.C. Saiydain wrote "The Jamia was one of the first to try the project method, to develop a community approach in living and learning, to encourage self- government amongst students and train them for responsible citizenship, to arouse interest in art which did not find a place in the ordinary schools, and above all, to inculcate in the student and the teacher a spirit of idealism and social and national service.

The students learnt to realise that education could have objectives other than securing government jobs after taking a certificate or degree".

For twenty-two years Zakir Hussain did everything possible as the Vice-Chancellor of Jamia to implement his ideas in actual practice. Besides this, as member and chairman of various national and international committees Zakir Sahib made valuable contribution to the development of right educational thinking and policies.

Zakir Hussian was deeply rooted in Islamic culture and wanted to promote that culture through the institutions under his control. But he made it clear that there was nothing communal in the approach.

He said, "Undoubtedly, our school will be an Islamic school conducted on Islamic principles, but it would be /perversion of these principles to make them centers of communal feeling and sectional selfishness.

They will not be blind to the truth that as Muslims we are enjoined to love humanity, to eradicate every type of slavery from the world, to establish an economic order in which the barriers between the rich and the poor will not prevent the majority of the people from even living as human beings."

Zakir Hussain was a secular minded nationalist. Although his field of work was mainly education yet he tried to serve the secular ideals and national interest in the capacity of an educationist. In 1948 Maulana Abul Kalam Azad requested Zakir Hussain to accept the Vice Chancellorship of Aligarh Muslim University.

Aligarh had been traditionally a centre of Muslim separatism. As Vice Chancellor Zakir Hussain brought Aligarh into the national mainstream and thus served the cause of the entire Indian nation. Besides this, he fulfilled his old ambition to see Aligarh serving the cause of nationalism.

He was essentially a humanist with a broad vision and therefore he did not let either his nationalism or his Islamic approach fall into narrow grooves but set them in the context where the East and the West, the ancient and the modern, the Muslims and non-Muslims, could find a happy meeting place".

In 1952, he was sworn in as a member of the Rajya Sabha. From 1957 to 1962 he served as Governor of Bihar and from 1962 to 1967 he had the honor to guide the sessions of the Rajya Sabha as Vice-President of India.

Dr. Radhakrishnan as President and Dr. Zakir Hussain as Vice-President formed a good team of a philosopher and an educationist, guiding the destinies of the country.

In 1967 Zakir Hussain was requested to contest the election of President of India. There was some controversy in the opposition circles. Jaya Prakash Narayan, when he came to know about the controversy, remarked, "I cannot imagine how any one in this can prefer any one else at this moment to Zakir Hussain."

What attracted everybody towards Zakir Hussain was his essential humanity combined with gentleness and courteousness to everyone, especially those occupying inferior social, political and economic status.

For this reason he was acknowledged as the master by all sections of Indian people, with firm faith in the ideals of nationalism, secularism and democracy. Zakir Hussain rendered valuable service to the nation and worked for the preparation of higher ideals of life. He died on May 3, 1969.

Among the Muslim leaders of the early twentieth century Zakir Hussain was among those nationalists who could see the reality without any personal interest and ambition. The Muslim League was dominated by rich landlords. They tried to exploit simple, uneducated Muslims in the name of Islam for their own glorification and political interests.

Zakir Hussain, under the inspiration of Gandhi, decided to serve his community and the nation through distinctive constructive activity. He made valuable contribution to the development of modern Indian thought through his educational and social philosophy.

He knew that a nation could not progress without proper education, without education related to the social and economic, needs of the people. In order to evolve a new educational approach he took the initiative for the establishment of a national institution of education in the form of Jamia Millia.

During 1920-21 it was a very extraordinary work of national service in the face of strong opposition from influential Muslims controlling Aligarh. Zakir Hussain prepared the basis for nationalist Muslims to engage themselves in constructive national activity.

On his own part, Zakir Hussain made bold experiments for the development of national education and Islamic culture. His entire life is the story of service to the nation. With courage of conviction, very high intellectual caliber and high moral character, Zakir Hussain made his place in the galaxy of modern Indian thinkers.

His services to the cause of Muslims of India, to the cause of education and to the cause of Indian nationalism can never be forgotten.