Aliah University: A Brief History

Aliah University – a State University under the Department of Minority Affairs and Madrasah Education, Government of West Bengal – came into existence through the Aliah University Act (Act XXVII of 2007) passed by the West Bengal Legislative Assembly. The Act came into force on 5 April 2008. However, its parent institution – from which it was upgraded to a University – was usually mentioned in various old Government records varyingly as Calcutta Mohomedan College or Calcutta Madrasah or Aliah Madrasah which was established by the British Governor-General Warren Hastings in 1780 at the request of some Muslim gentlemen of Calcutta. The newly-upgraded University started its glorious journey from the 2008-09 academic session with the hope that there would be a symbiosis of heritage and modernization here and through the participation and co-operation of people irrespective of race, caste, creed, or class, this University would play a leading role in the advancement of higher education especially of the Minorities who have for various historical reasons remained socially and educationally backward.

Aliah University has a unique pre-history. A brief look at this will offer an understanding of its social and cultural importance. Its parent institution Aliah Madrasah was the first government-established educational institution in British India. The chief intention for establishing this institution was to educate the children of Muslim families in Arabic, Persian and Muslim Law so that they might be eligible to get jobs in different Government Departments like revenue administration and the judiciary. However, within a decade the curriculum of Aliah Madrasah had also encompassed modern subjects like arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and the natural sciences along with the more traditional branches of learning like Law, Theology, Elementary Grammar, Philosophy and Logic. 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 Peter 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.

English was first introduced at Aliah Madrasah in 1826, though the number of students was quite low as Persian was still medium of administration in British India. In 1854 at the recommendation of a Committee an English school, in the name of Anglo-Persian Department, was started under the direct control of the Principal of Calcutta Madrasah.

After the Revolt of 1857, the British rulers began to have a suspicious attitude to the Muslims. There were proposals to abolish the Madrasah. However, in 1860, the Government of India, rejecting the idea of abolition, rather recommended improvement in its management. So the Madrasah continued to exist. Some reforms were introduced at the Calcutta Madrasah according to the suggestions of a committee consisting of C.H. Campbell, Commissioner of the Presidency Division, I. Sutcliff, Principal of Presidency College, and Nawab Abdul Latif, then a Deputy Magistrate. 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. 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 Madrasah.

After Partition in 1947, this institution again faced severe problems. According to the decision of the Separation Council, all books and manuscripts, assets and estates of the Aliah Madrasah were transferred to the Dacca Madrasah. It was only at the initiative of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the first Education Minister of independent India, that the institutional framework of Calcutta Madrasah was again set up and teaching restarted.

In 2001, the Government of West Bengal, under the direction of the eminent educationist and the then Governor of West Bengal and Bihar, Dr. A. R. Kidwai, formed a Madrasah Education Committee. This Committee presented its recommendations for the continued development and future excellence of Aliah Madrasah in 2002. Finally, the over-two-hundred-year old institution was elevated to the status of a University in 2007. Classes were being held in various rented buildings at Sector I and Sector V of Salt Lake City, apart from the Heritage building at Haji Md Mohsin Square. In 2011 the Government of West Bengal led by Mamata Banerjee, the Hon’ble Chief Minister, allotted 20 acres of land at New Town and the foundation stone for the New Town Campus was laid by her on 15 December 2011. The newly-built building was inaugurated by her on 11 November 2014, National Education Day. By this time the G+ 9 building at Park Circus Campus was also completed. So, the academic and administrative activities of the university started at both these two new campuses from January 2015.

It may be observed that Aliah Madrasah from its early days imparted teaching in both the traditional subject of theology and the modern sciences, social sciences, and humanities. To keep alive this tradition of teaching, right from the start, Aliah University has offered courses in the traditional Islamic Theology, Islamic Studies, and Arabic along with subjects like English, Bengali, History, Geography, Economics and many other branches of Science (Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Statistics, Computer Science) as well as Engineering (Civil, Mechanical, Electrical, Electronics and Electronic Communications, Computer Engineering), Management, Journalism and Mass Communication Studies. Keeping in mind the requirements of the employment sector in the 21st century, right from the start, great emphasis has been put on courses in the Sciences, Engineering, Technology and Management so that students from the minority community become eligible and can compete for jobs in various sectors.

In keeping with the great stress laid by the UGC on the Semester system of education and Letter Grade process of marking, Aliah University has adopted semesteriztion, credit system, continuous assessment, and letter grading from its inception. Now steps are being taken to introduce the CBCS in all the Departments as soon as possible.

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