Amid a row at Banaras Hindu University over the appointment of a Muslim professor at its Sanskrit department, teachers at Aligarh Muslim University recalled their institute’s contribution to the subject.
An AMU scholar was the first Muslim to earn a PhD in Sanskrit. Two of the nine present faculty members at the Sanskrit department in the university are Muslims, they reminded.
At BHU, a group of students has been protesting against the appointment of Feroze Khan, saying a Muslim professor cannot teach Sanskrit. The BHU administration has backed the professor.
AMU spokesperson Rahat Abrar told PTI that when the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College turned into a university in 1920, its Sanskrit department was among the most prestigious at AMU.
The second vice-chancellor of AMU, Sahibzada Aftab Ahmad Khan, in his inaugural address at the varsity in 1924 had highlighted the importance of Sanskrit.
"Sanskrit literature is a record of Hindu civilisation and culture and it is our aim to produce Muslim scholars who would enrich our culture by a contribution from this source,” he was quoted as saying.
“It is proposed to award special scholarships to Muslim students for the study of this subject," he had said.
Pandit Ram Swarup Shastri, a noted Sanskrit scholar, was among the first members of the faculty to be appointed at the newly established university, Abrar said.
It was this modern outlook which helped AMU to become one of the top universities in the country immediately after it was established, he added.
Abrar said there have been several Muslim professors at AMU’s Sanskrit department in recent years, including Salma Mahfooz, Khalid Bin Yusuf and Mohammad Sharif.
Mahfooz became the first Muslim woman in the world in 1970 to earn a PhD in Sanskrit, he said.
Mass Communication department head Shafey Kidwai recalled the achievement of another Muslim scholar of Sanskrit.
"A noted Hindi and Sanskrit scholar, Habibur Rehman Shastri, who was a member of the faculty at AMU in the 1950s, has the distinction of being the first scholar to write a book on Indian aesthetics and the subject of 'Principles of Ras', titled 'Ras ke Nazarye',” he said.
The book was recently republished by the Sahitya Akademi, he said.
Kidwai said that the hallmark of Indian civilisation has been its ability to produce great scholars who have traditionally transcended the barriers of caste, creed and religion.
Muslim scholars won acclaim for their mastery of Sanskrit in the Mughal era, he said, naming Abdur Raheem Khankhana, Abul Faiz Faizi and Dara Shikoh among those who translated the great epics of Sanskrit literature like Bhagavad Gita and the Vedas.
It was this broad-minded and progressive approach that made India great, Kidwai added.
Former AMU student union president Faizul Hasan said the controversy over the professor's appointment at BHU reflected poorly on claims of the emergence of a "new India".
He said the founding fathers of BHU and AMU, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya and Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, never promoted such sectarian policies when these institutions were established.
Hasan said that when Sir Syed Ahmad Khan set up the MAO College in 1875, the Sanskrit department was amongst the first three languages departments to be set up.