Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-1898) was decidedly the most significant Muslim Social Reformer who emerged on the Indian subcontinent scene in the 19th century. His path-breaking thoughts and lifelong efforts were truly epoch-making; they brought about a renaissance of the Muslims as a distinct nation in the subcontinent and paved the way to the ultimate establishment of a well-deserved separate country for them.
Having ruled India for several hundred years, the Muslims did have a polity and social framework of their own, but it was rudely shattered as a result of the failure of the 1857 War of Independence. In the utter confusion and dejection that this fiasco generated, Sir Syed came up with a prescription that provided the Muslims with hope and sustenance for the future. The core of this prescription was a plea for modern education to prepare the youth for the challenges ahead. A monument to Sir Syed's exceptional efforts to implement his proposals was the well-known Mohammadan Anglo-Oriental (M.A.O.) College established at Aligarh in 1875, which became the famous Muslim University in 1920. The driving force behind these Institutions was what is known as the Aligarh Movement. Initiated by Sir Syed and developed by relentless work by his associates and followers, the Movement is remarkably universal and abiding in its appeal and applicability. Its essence is education as the prime mover of modernization, progress and development, mainly as a self-reliant private effort. At the same time, it puts great emphasis on keeping intact the community's
Own distinctive cultural identity and base. Holistic in its approach, the Movement gives equal importance to character building along with scholastic instruction.
Pakistan owes to Sir Syed and to the Aligarh Movement in a special way. The country's very concept evolved over time from the initial characterization by Sir Syed of the subcontinent as a nation. What later followed in the political arena in the form of the Pakistan Movement, was the very reflection of the Aligarh Movement.
In fact “the Aligarh Movement and the Pakistan Movement are complementary and inseparable”. The torch-bearers of the Aligarh Movement and the students of the Muslim University rendered an invaluable service to the struggle for Pakistan. When the Country came into being; those educated at Aligarh remained in the forefront to run the country at every level and in every walk of life. As many as five Heads of State and Prime Ministers of Pakistan were Aligarh's Old Boys.
True to its representation of the essence of the Aligarh Movement, the Aligarh Muslim Old Boys' Association of Pakistan has made distinctive efforts in the field of education in the country. A notable fruition of these efforts is the Sir Syed University of Engineering and Technology, which does not merely carry Sir Syed's name but also, endeavors to serve the cause of education and character building in the true Aligarh spirit.