Sayyid Ahmad had the intellectual make-up of a true historian and his entire thinking was colored with a deep sense of obligation to the past. He did not become an unreasoning worshiper of the past like Burke. He could distinguish between its healthy and injurious legacies. He viewed political and social problems in the light of history and his ideas bore a close resemblance to the findings of the historical school in political science. As a historian he was science concrete and objective his political science his monograph on the history of the mutiny in the district of binaural opens with the following observations about the responsibility of a historian….
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“The contents of this book mostly deal with what I saw with my own eyes and did with my own hands. I have taken great pains to ascertain the truth of events and incidents beyond my own experience. Tampering with historical truth is a fraudulent enterprise. It damages the truth and its evil influences works for ever.”
Asar-ul-Sanadid meaning the relics, they or monuments of the prince i.e. Former kings of Delhi are an enlightening historical writing of Sayyid Ahmad. Is an Arabic word, plural of meaning a brave or noble person, a prince the word also occurs in the well-known Persian couplet?
The book deals with the ancient building and historical monuments of Delhi and its suburbs. The city of the oldest capital and can boast of a hoary antiquity. It is the graveyard of oldest capitals and can empires. Time has hallowed every bit of its territory. When Sayyid Ahmad entered the field of historical research, he was fascinated by the wealth of Delhi’s unexplored archaeological remains. He personally surveyed some one hundred and thirty sites, measured their dimensions, transcribed their inscriptions and reconstructed their original plans. He spun the data thus collected into a lively narrative of an almost encyclopedic. The book was translated by a French oriental list and introduced sayyid Ahmad to the scholar of oriental history in Europe.
Sayyid Ahmad next turned his attention to Ani-i-Akbari, the principal source book for the colorful reign of Akbar who presided over an administration remarkable for its efficiency as well as complexity. The land-revenue system built up under the British was faithfully raised upon the foundations laid in the reign of this renewed monarch. But the availed copies of this classic were full of errors and were positively unserviceable for an understandings of an important epoch. Sayyid Ahmad sought to establish the text of this great work. He collected all the manuscripts within his reach and prepared his own version in which he corrected all the inaccuracies including those of the author himself. All this represented an immense improvement upon the utility of the original work. But unluckily a god part of the manuscript together with its printed portions was destroyed during the mutiny.
Tarik-i-Sarkashi-i-Dijnaur is a history of the mutiny in a particular sector. This is, in fact, an uninterrupted day –to-day dairy maintained by Sayyid Ahmad dealing with the events that took place in the district of binaural between May 1857 and April 1858. He recorded all that he witnessed and preserved all that he wrote admits the death-dealing conflagration. He had numerous enemies about him and lived in hourly peril of his life. One has to be a historian to the marrow of his bone to enter into the stream of history with a stoic indifference to one’s personal circumstances.
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Resale-I-Saab-I-Baghdad-I-Hind was the next outstanding contribution of sir Sayyid to contemporary history. The pamphlet represents an important landmark in the evolution of Sayyid Ahmad mind. His former concern with history was in nature of a disinterested, intellectual and cultural pursuit. But the horrifying and humiliating consequences of the mutiny taught him to resort to history for practical ends. The aim of this new motivation was to promote accord between the rulers and the ruled.
The British rule in India has a credit as well as a debit side. However, admirable the qualities of the British mind it has been too sensitive about its own prerogatives and too much off the balance to make a fair estimate of the intensity of Indian feeling and sentiment. Like all foreign master they were prone to dwell glibly on the benefits and blessing of their own domination but their claims were summarily dismissed by the Indians as mere hypocrisy. In this book sayyid Ahmad spotlighted the errors of the administration of east India Company and brought home the manifold Indian grievances against foreign rule. He called attention to the unrestrained zeal of the Christian missionaries who followed in the wake of the conquest and the mistaken enthusiasm of the company in helping the missionary propaganda. This inflicted a mortal injury on the pride of a people who were deeply attached to their religious creeds. In the economic sphere, the company rule had created financial and fiscal monopolies. The local industries had been crushed out of existence to create a market for British imports. The officials of the east India Company showed little sympathy for the people over whom they ruled. They loved to assert their authority and suppressed all manifestations of discontent. Sayyid Ahmad explained all this without mincing words and attributed the outbreak to the ferocity of the British rule. His book was a powerful plea for humanizing the administration and making it responsive to the urges of the people freedom of expression and opinion was unthinkable in those indictment times. Any Englishman who read it was likely to brand it as treasonous and inflict direct chastisement upon its author. Saying Ahmad was in the point of sending the pamphlet to the viceroy and members of the British parliament when some o his friends dissuaded him from the course. But Sayyid Ahmad disregarded the friendly pressure though he experienced some difficulty after wards in clearing himself of the charges of disloyalty brought against him by the British rulers.
After the mutiny, Sayyid Ahmad was engrossed more and more in the advancement of social reform and the preaching of political quietism. But a subtly sense of history pervades all his later writing. Sayyid Ahmad discovered new uses of history. He informed one of his friends from abroad that the vilification of Islam and the distortion of his friends in the west were directly responsible for the political adversities of Indian Muslim. He felt that a more objective approach to the past would go a long way in conquering in deep-rooted aversion of the west Muslims to realize their own ideals in thought and their lofty principles. What can be done depends much upon what has been. It was under the stimulus of this goading thought that Sayyid Ahmad become instrumental in getting that revolutionizing poetic masterpiece produced which goes under the imperishable name of Musaddas -i-Hale-the rise and fall of Islam. History thus became an instrument of Muslim renaissance in Sayyid Ahmad’s hands. He was probably the first man of letters in India to make out a case for the reformulation of historical values. He makes a sharp distinction between history and fiction. The two belonged to different department of literature, each with a method of its own. Historical romance was fatal to history and fiction alike. The mere stylist must never be entrusted with the job of putting history into shape. He may be tempted to sacrifice accuracy for the sake of smart phrases. Sayyid Ahmad did not have a high opinion Macaulay talent as a historian because he (i.e. Sayyid) did not look upon history as an affair of chiseled idiom. According to him, the historian most cultivates the art of expressing himself in intonate and exact prose. Sayyid Ahmad owns contribution to history was not inconsiderable. But the inspiration which Shibli received from him in this direction is equally important. Shibli was a professor of oriental languages at the M.A.O college Aligarh when he first came into contact with Sayyid Ahmad. At that time Shibli was deeply imbued with the orthodox tradition. But he gradually out grew his narrowness of vision under the liberalizing in flounce of the master in the addition to a comprehensive biography of the prophet he wrote a series of works of some on the leading personalities of Muslims history such as the Caliph Umar Mamun ,Rumi, Al-Ghizali and the like. He had to undertake and expensive journey to turkey and other Muslim countries in search of material for his volumes. Shibli work had a great vogue and constituted an important force behind the Muslim renaissance in India initiated by Sayyid Ahmad and his Aligarh movement.