Aliah University: Past and Present

02 Jun

By TCN News,

Students of Aliah University are divided on the issue of name of the historic educational institution. A section of the students, particularly those studying religious subjects, wants addition of Madarsa tag as was the case before it becoming a university. But another section of those learning modern, technical and professional courses opposes the demand on the premise that the word Madarsa sounds like a school besides carrying the risk of its students being discriminated by companies at the time of recruitment. They, however, are ready to accept a name on the pattern of Jamia Millia Islamia or Aligarh Muslim University.

Before getting the status of university in 2007, it was Aliah Madarsa. The new status made it Aliah University (in English) and Jamia Aliah (in Urdu/Arabic). However, students protested and demanded continuation of the word Madarsa in its name. The Left Front in power then did not heed the demand, but Mamata Banejee in a bid to please Muslims promised the protestors that if she came to power she will fulfill their demand, and last week she did so acting on her promise, but this instigated another protest by a new section of the students. The students of professional and technical courses do not want Madarsa tag.

This is the right time to look back at the 231-year-long journey of the institution which, never in its entire history, saw its name becoming an issue of debate, protest or demonstration. It was set up in 1780 as Mohammedan College of Calcutta, popularly known as Madrasah-i-Aliah or Calcutta Madrasah.

Aliah University: A Historical Note

Aliah University has with it the rich heritage of the 230-year old educational and cultural institution, Mohammedan College of Calcutta, popularly known as Madrasah-i-Aliah or Calcutta Madrasah, the first educational institution set up in India in 1780 by Warren Hestings, the then Governor General of India. Thus, one of the oldest centres of higher learning and culture, the institution is steeped in history. Many eminent scholars were associated with this institution as administrators, principals, teachers as well as students.

The Aliah UniversityCalcutta Madrasah was upgraded to Calcutta Madrasah College and then to Aliah University by the Government of West Bengal through Aliah University Act XXVII of 2007 passed in West Bengal Legislative Assembly.

The Early Years

Calcutta Madrasah was established chiefly for the study of the Arabic and Persian languages and Muslim Law so that the sons of the Muslim gentry can perform the duties as officers for running the revenue administration and judiciary. The Naib Nizam was instructed to recruit the students of the Madrasah as vacancies occurred in the Fauzdari Courts, on production of certificates of efficiency. However, within a decade Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, Astronomy, Islamic Theology, Oriental Studies, Natural Philosophy, Geological Studies, Law, Logic, Rhetoric, Grammar, and Oratory were added on the list of prescribed subjects for study. In 1821, the Annual Examination of the Madrasah was held in the presence of many respectable officials and gentlemen of Calcutta. This was the first public examination held in British India. A medical class, headed by Dr Breton, Professor of Medicine, was started at this Madrasah in 1826 for the first time in British India. Dr Breton was authorized to purchase a skeleton and collect medical books. An anatomical work published by John Taylor was arranged to be translated into Arabic. The medical class continued here till the establishment of Calcutta Medical College in 1836. However, the students of the Madrasah were allowed to study medicine at Calcutta Medical College. This speaks for the high standard of education at the Madrash in those days.

The logo of Aliah UniversityThis clearly shows that the curricula taught at this institution were a blend of theological studies, natural sciences and the humanities, as was done in the world-wide madrasah system of education which produced the galaxy of scholars who made original contributions to astronomy, mathematics, chemistry, physics, medicine, geology, art & architecture, and so on.

The authorities tried to introduce English as a subject for study in 1826. However, not many students were found willing to learn English as Persian was still the medium of administration in India. But in 1837 the colonial government replaced Persian with English as the official language. So the Anglo-Arabic Department was opened at the Madrash in 1839 for the teaching of English. However, at the recommendation of a Committee, again in 1854, this Anglo-Arabic Department was abolished and an English school, in the name of Anglo-Persian Department, was started under the direct control of the Principal of Calcutta Madrasah. The great reformist Nawab Abdul Latif (1828-1893), a product of Calcutta Madrasah, played an important role in the establishment of this Department so that Muslim children could receive the much-needed English education.

The Crisis of 1857 and After

After the Great Rebellion or the so-called ‘Sepoy Mutiny’ of 1857, the British rulers began to have a suspicious attitude to the Muslims. Questions were raised regarding the maintenance of Calcutta Madrasah at Government cost. There were proposals to abolish the Madrash, at least the Arabic Department, retaining only the Anglo-Persian Department. However, in 1860, the Government of India, rejecting the idea of abolition, rather recommended improvement in its management. So the Madrasah continued to exist.

Students of Aliah University protesting against the change of nameIn 1869, a Committee consisting of C.H. Campbell, Commissioner of the Presidency Division, I. Suitcliff, Principal of Presidency College, and Nawab Abdul Latif, then a Deputy Magistrate, was formed to inquire into the affairs of the Madrasah and suggest improvement. Some reforms were introduced at the Calcutta Madrasah according to the suggestions of this committee. Further reforms were introduced at the recommendations of the Education Commission headed by W.W. Hunter in 1884. Nawab Abdul Latif and Justice Syed Amir Ali played a very important role in these reforms. In 1896, Elliot Hostel was founded, with funds raised out of donations from the public, for the accommodation of the Madrasah students who so far had used the ground floor of the Madrasah as their hostel. In 1902 the Muslim Institute was established as a part and parcel of Calcutta Madrasah. The Principal of the Madrasah was ex-officio President and Treasurer of the Muslim Institute. Several committees and commissions were appointed in 1915, 1923, 1931, 1938-40, and 1946 for the improvement in the syllabi, curricula, and all round development of Madrasah education in Bengal, particulary of Calcutta Madrash.

The Post-Independence Period

The Partition of India in 1947 dealt a serious blow to this historic institution. According to the decision of the ‘Separation Council’, all the movable properties including the Library with its thousands of rare books and manuscripts of Calcutta Madrasah were transferred to Dacca Madrasah. Calcutta Madrasah almost ceased to exist. But responding to the demands of the leading Muslims of West Bengal, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the first education minister of independent India, took the initiative to reopen Calcutta Madrasah on 4 April 1949. In the following years many great scholars and educationists who also took part in India’s freedom movement served this institution as principals and teachers. The 205th Foundation Day was celebrated in 1984 with great enthusiasm. In 1985, His Excellency Shri Uma Shankar Dikshit, the then Governor of West Bengal, in his inaugural speech at a belated Bicentenary function of Calcutta Madrasah, proposed that Calcutta Madrasah should be treated as an educational institution of national importance and be upgraded to a University.

Dr. A.R. Kidwai Committee, 2001

The Government of West Bengal, in 2001, constituted a Madrasah Education Committee under the Chairmanship of the great educationist and the former Governor of West Bengal and Bihar, His Execllency Professor (Dr). A.R. Kidwai. Among its seven members were Justice K.M. Yusuf and Dr. Abdus Sattar, the then President of West Bengal Board of Madrasah Education, now the Hon’ble Minister of State, Minority Affairs and Madrasah Education Department, Government of West Bengal. In its report submitted in 2002, the Committee made many thoughtful and far-reaching recommendations regarding Calcutta Madrasah and its curricula and syllabi. This Committee recommended that the Calcutta Madrasah should offer courses in both Islamic Studies and modern social sciences and humanities under the aegis of different units. It should continue to have scope for higher learning and research in Inslamic Studies including Kamil and M.M. courses at Maulana Abul Kalam Azad institute of Islamic studies ; modern Economics, Sociology, Political Science and History under the Faculty of Social Studies; apart from Arabic and Persian, English, French, German, Chinese, and Japanese at the School of Modern Languages and Literature; 3-year degree course in Journalism and Mass Communication and 1-year diploma course in Television Journalism at the Institute of Mass Communication and Journalism; and B.Ed, and M.Ed courses under the Faculty of Education and Education Technology. Thus Calcutta Madrasah should develop as a leading centre of higher education in Eastern India. Gradually it should be recognized as a Deemed University. Several initiatives were taken by the Government in pursuance of its recommendations. Finally, the Aliah University Act was passed by the West Bengal Legislative Assembly in 2007. The Act came into force on 5 April 2008 and then and there the History changed.

Aliah became university in 2007

Aliah University started its glorious journey from the 2008-09 academic session with great potential and immense opportunities. It is hoped that this university, harmonizing tradition and modernity, will emerge as a unique institution of higher studies and research. As per Aliah University Act 2007, Section 3 (3), it has been conferred the status of a minority educational institution. Aliah University is an autonomous university under the Department of Minority Affairs and Madrasah Education, Government of West Bengal. It is hoped that along with the people of any race, creed, caste or class, this University will play a crucial and leading role in the advancement of higher education for socially and educationally backward classes belonging to the Minorities

Vision of the University

Aliah University is marching on with a vision to recapture the ambience and dynamic cultural heritage of the madrasah system, to expand and deepen it, to evolve it further with a successful outreach into the emerging areas in each branch of modern science, technology, social studies, and humanities. We would like to instil the dynamism of the glorious heritage of the past among all our students, so that they can successfully cope with the critical needs and challenges of the present and contribute to the future advancement of science, technology, and human civilization, develop love and respect for fellow citizens of the country, and integrate themselves to the nation.

The University envisages creation of ever-expanding opportunities for higher education and research in traditional as well as newly emerging areas for the capacity-building and empowerment through all-round development of our countrymen, particularly the socially and educationally backward classes belonging to the Minorities. The University shall also develop, with its rich resources and immense potential, Centres of Excellence for higher studies in classical languages, Islamic jurisprudence and Islamic culture, comparative religion, science and technology, professional and management education. Through its Centre for Vocational Studies (CVS), the University has undertaken programmes for development of skills amongst the minorities, particularly the out-of-school people and school/college drop-outs, so that their economic conditions improve through wage / self-employment opportunities. At the initial stage, due to lack of adequate infrastructural facilities, the University had to go for public-private partnership, but now, from the 2009-2010 session, the university has started several of its academic programmes on its own. Very soon, when its new campus becomes ready, the university will go for further expansion of its teaching, research, and training programmes.

Academic Programs of the University

Aliah University has started its academic programmes from the 2008-09 academic session. At present, it offers the following courses:

5-year integrated M.A. in Arabic (with a provision of dual degree, 3-year B.A. Hons. + 2-year M.A.).

5-year integrated M.A. in Islamic Theology (with a provision of dual degree, 3-year B.A. Hons. + 2-year M.A.). (Equivalent to the combination of the existing 3-year Kamil (UG) course and the MM (PG) course)†.

2-year M.A. in English.
2-year M.Sc. in Geography.

5-year integrated M.A. in English (with a provision of dual degree, 3-year B.A. Hons. + 2-year M.A.).

5-year integrated M.Sc. in (a) Computer Science, (b) Chemistry (with specialization in Medicinal Chemistry), (c) Physics (with specialization in Engineering Physics), (d) Mathematics & Computing, (e) Statistics & Informatics, (f) Economics, and (g) Geography.

4-year B.Tech. / 5-year dual-degree M.Tech. (Computer Scence & Engineering, Electronics & Communication Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Civil Engineering and Mechanical Engineering).

5-year integrated MCA

5-year integrated MBA (with specialization in Hospital Management, Retail Management, and Financial Management)

2-Year M.A. / M.Sc. in Media Science (Journalism & Mass communication)

All these courses are being taught under the semester system, as advocated by the UGC and as it is the prevalent system in modern universities the world over. Letter-grading has been adopted in our examination system. All our courses and curricula are designed to provide an interface between the academy, the industry, and employment market.

Future programs

With the progress of infrastructure development, new faculties and courses will be introduced gradually. Along with the traditional theological courses and religious studies and the already started professional courses, Aliah University, depending on the availability of space, will offer 5-year integrated M.A. in Bengali, Urdu, Persian, Islamic History, Modern History, Sociology and Public Administration, 5-year integrated M.Com., 2-year PG Diploma in Islamic Finance and Banking and 1-year Diploma Course in Islamic Insurance under the Faculty of Commerce and Business. There has been a great deal of interest and demand in the two last-named areas; there are also worldwide employment opportunities in Business and Media. And yet, not much scope is available for formal study in this subject. Therefore, we have planned to offer these courses at Aliah University.


(With inputs from the official website of Aliah University)

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1 Comment

Posted by on June 2, 2011 in ARTICLES, News



One response to “Aliah University: Past and Present

  1. Abdul Maleque

    June 10, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    “Madrasha”tag should not be added with the Aliah University.Madrasha and University are two different entities.


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