Degrees of excellence

Among the more fascinating and fabled parts of Dr. Hussain Nainar’s academic journey is the time he spent at Aligarh Muslim University, simultaneously pursuing Bachelor of Laws (LLB) and Master of Arts (MA) in Arabic, from October 1925 to May 1927.

According to family lore, the young Hussain would have got his first exposure to Arabic at the Madrasa in Bothakkudi (Thanjavur district) and at the Madrasa Jamaliya in Perambur, Chennai. However, the same family lore later brought in an incredible ‘twist’ to Hussain Nainar’s tryst with education at AMU, by claiming that he had ‘run away’ from home to study, and as a result, lost touch with his family for over two years.

The myth would have lingered unchallenged, had we not discovered a neatly typed resume by Dr. Hussain Nainar detailing his school and college years, with testimonials from his tutors.

Why would a man on the run keep all these certificates safe in a metal suitcase and then reproduce them while applying for his Ph.D studies in UK nearly a decade later?

Among his papers, we also found diaries with entries about letters being sent to Batlagundu (also spelled as Vathalakundu). Considering the fact that wife Ayesha Bibi was from this village on the foothills of the Kodai Hills, and that his eldest daughter was born in 1926, it is quite possible that Hussain Nainar was already married when he went to AMU.

He was perhaps corresponding with his wife, and parents in Palani, even though as letters reveal, Hussain’s father Syed Bawa Rowther didn’t really approve of both his sons' decision to opt for higher education.

A testimonial letter by A.S. Tritton, noted British Arabist, about Dr. Hussain Nainar’s term of study under him at Aligarh Muslim University, dated December 16, 1926.
A proud ‘Alig’

In his pursuit of knowledge, he may have been inspired by his tutor and later close friend M. Naimur Rehman, who taught him in Muhamadan College, Madras, to choose AMU, which was known for its espousal of modern education. Mr. Rehman later shifted to the University of Allahabad.

Established by reformer Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, who felt that Muslims should get educated and aim for public service, AMU began life as Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College in Aligarh, on January 7, 1877.

It was modelled on the leading universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and offered Western education without compromising Islamic values. The residential college was to shape several generations of Muslim graduates who would call themselves the ‘Aligs’.

According to information provided by Rahat Abrar, director, Urdu Academy, and former public relations officer, AMU, Dr. Hussain Nainar was a student of renowned scholar Allama Abdul Aziz al-Memani, who was known for his mastery over Arabic.

In 1925, al-Memani was made Reader of Arabic at Aligarh Muslim University -- the first non-European to be appointed to this post.

Among Dr. Hussain Nainar’s other tutors was British Arabist Arthur Stanley Tritton, who served at the AMU from 1921 to 1931. As the British scholar’s testimonial reveals, Dr. Hussain was no ordinary talent. “He is one of the best of my pupils, and I believe that he is certain to get the degree... I have been struck by the keen interest he takes in every thing connected with Arabic. He has a will and ideas of his own,” he writes, in a note dated December 16, 1926.

The student and master would meet again a decade later, when Dr. Hussain Nainar was sent to do his doctoral studies at the School of Oriental Studies, University of London from 1936-1938, and Dr. Tritton was one of the three professors who guided him.

Another interesting fact that emerged from a careful perusal of his AMU documents is that Syed Sajjad Haider was the Registrar at the time. An alumnus of AMU himself, Mr. Haider was also a noted Urdu short story writer, travel writer, translator, and the father of Urdu author Quratulain Hyder.

The Arabic phrase from the Holy Qur’an, Allam-al Insaana Malam Ya’lam (Taught Man that which he knew not; Surah Al Alaq; 95:05) is a part of the Aligarh Muslim University’s logo. Many of Dr. Hussain’s books are stamped with this phrase, perhaps as a reminder that the quest for knowledge is never-ending.

The Lytton Library at Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College in Aligarh, circa 1920s.
General view of the tombs of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Syed Mahmood at Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College in Aligarh, circa 1920s.
Minto Circle Hostel No.1 at Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College in Aligarh, circa 1920s.
Juma Masjid at Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College in Aligarh, circa 1920s.
From a collection of postcards printed in Germany, and presented to Dr. Hussain Nainar.

Hall tickets show that Hussain Nainar appeared for both his Bachelors of Law (LLB) and Masters of Arabic (MA) exams, within weeks, in the same year.