Many prominent Muslim leaders and scholars have studied at Aligarh, and it served to provide an important focus for the development of Muslim unity and political awareness, particularly during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The college has its roots in the belief of Sayyid Ahmad Khan that there was no conflict between education in modern empirical science and belief in the Qur’an. Khan desired to educate young Muslims in English, modern science, and the principles of Western government so they could take a leading role in the contemporary world. He was particularly interested in enabling them to compete with Hindus and other religious and ethnic groups for positions of power in British-ruled India. In order to prepare Indian Muslims to accept Western education, Khan first created the Scientific Society of Aligarh in 1864, which translated Western scientific, historical, and philosophical works into Indian languages.
Khan visited England in 1870, and his inspiration for Aligarh College was the universities at Oxford and Cambridge. He founded what was then known as the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh in 1875; it offered a Western curriculum similar to that of an English public (private) school, and the first principal, Theodore Beck, was British. Aligarh College became the leading center for the education of modern Muslim leadership in India and helped to create an educated Muslim elite that held many political positions and were catalysts for change within the British system. The college was particularly important in providing practical experience in politics through campus debating societies and student elections and in encouraging the formation of a collective and unified identity by the Indian Muslim community.
Aligarh College became a full fledged university in 1920 and was renamed Aligarh Muslim University. The university is located in the city of Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, in northern India. It currently has about 30,000 students representing many religious and ethnic backgrounds and offers instruction in 80 fields of study, including law, medicine, and engineering.