Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Sense and Sensibility, Islamia College, Peshawar

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About the middle of the 19th century men like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in the north and Hassanally Effendi in Karachi realised that the regressive mindset among Muslim youth was attributable mainly to their rejection of modern education. Working independently, these two dedicated men succeeded in the latter half of the 19th century in bringing English education to young Muslims in their respective areas.


In Peshawar, this shift had already occurred in the classrooms of Edwardes High School founded by the Church Missionary Society in 1855. In order to take education a notch higher, Sir George Roos-Keppel, chief commissioner of the province, floated the idea of a college for Muslims. This was around the end of the first decade of the 20th century, when there was no institution of higher education anywhere in the newly established North West Frontier Province.

Sir Sahibzada Abdul Qayyum Khan, the political agent of Khyber Agency and an associate of Roos-Keppel, became the prime mover behind the realisation of the idea of the college. By 1911, some 250 acres of land was acquired a few kilometres west of Peshawar cantonment, just off the highroad leading to the Khyber Pass. Two years later, the first 26 pupils started classes under the roof of the magnificent new building of Islamia College.

If the builders of the Raj elsewhere in the Indian empire were raising edifices strongly reminiscent of their home or were busily wedding vernacular architectural forms with European ones, an altogether different concept was at play to guide the form of Islamia College. For the Pathan, with their strict religious views, a college, and that too named ‘Islamia’, could only be built in the strictest Islamic tradition.

The result was an extravagantly Saracenic building sprawling across spreading lawns, echoing the undiluted spatial aesthetics of Islamic architecture. Here was an unrestrained profusion of domes and finials, multi-cusped arches from the late Mughal period and plain ones from the time of Akbar, minarets from where a muezzin could call for the prayer and decorative merlons and brackets adapted to fit the scheme. Indeed, if human memory was suddenly to be lost, it would be impossible to locate this building within a time period. It would be moot if it dates to the early 17th century or from 200 years later.

Islamia College remains a masterpiece of architecture on the skyline of Peshawar. More than that, it plays a significant role in the training and education of young men from across the province. But what college history does not tell is that even as Roos-Keppel and Quyyum Khan were discussing the nitty-gritty of their graduate-level institution, the first-ever to be built in the province, Edwardes High School, already upgraded to intermediate college in 1900, was on its way to stealing this honour from them. In 1910, even as the advocates of Islamia College were scouting for a suitable site, Edwardes College had already started its first graduate class.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 11:58 AM,

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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand


Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days