Barbara D Metcalf: India’s natural marvels were like the Garden of Eden

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The India observer, TIO, NJ: “Indian Muslims consider the very soil of India to be sacred and for them, India’s natural marvels were like the Garden of Eden,” said Barbara D Metcalf, the recipient of the 2022 Sir Syed Excellence International Award.

The annual award is given by the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) on its founder Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s birth anniversary on October 17. This year, AMU is marking the 205th anniversary of Sir Syed.

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Metcalf, who attended the event virtually from the US, said “Sir Syed’s modernist interventions preceded those of the Egypt-based modernists who too often are taken as founders of these trends of thought.”

Metcalf’s writing has contributed heavily to the understanding of the history of India and Pakistan’s Muslim population, especially during the colonial period.

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In her acceptance speech, Metcalf said, that despite constituting a quarter of the population at the time of Independence and forming a crucial share of the citizenry in the Republic of India, the history of Indian Muslims has remained “understudied.”

She pointed out that ‘scholarly work on Indian Muslims remains essential for telling India’s history well because just history yields just politics.”

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Professor Emerita of History at the University of California, Barbara Metcalf completed her Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1974. Her doctoral dissertation was on the history of the Muslim religious scholars of Deoband, a reformist religious seminary founded in the late 19th century.

Referencing the main ideology of Indian scholars like Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madni of the Deoband School, Metcalf stated that her studies on the role of Indian Muslims and Islamic scholars in the freedom movement had shown that the ulemas are a social group that has “often been subjected to stereotypes just by looking at their physical appearance.”  

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She appealed to historians to “rise above stereotypes and also stressed the importance of fostering “serious evidence-based history writing in India.”

The international award, given to Metcalf this year, carries a cash prize of Rs. 200,000, while the national award of Rs. 100,000 was given to the Maulana Azad Education Foundation in New Delhi.

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Tahir Mahmood, former chairman of the National Commission for Minorities and legal scholar, was the chief guest of the event, while National Archives of India Director General Chandan Sinha was the guest of honor.

The Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) bestows a yearly International and National Sir Syed Excellence Award to noted scholars or organizations that produce seminal work in the areas of Sir Syed Studies, South Asian Studies, Muslim Issues, Literature, Medieval History, Social Reform, Communal Harmony, Journalism, and Inter-Faith Dialogue.

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Curated and Compiled by Humra Kidwai

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Syed Ali Mujtaba

Syed Ali Mujtaba

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a Sr.Journalist, Author based in Chennai, India. Writes frequently for the USA based News Portal, TheIndiaObserver. He is author of the book Soundings on South Asia, New Dawn Press (2005). He can be reached at or TIO, at

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