– Mohd. Naushad Khan
Salma Begum, who was born in Bulandshahar district of Uttar Pradesh became the first Muslim woman in the world to complete PhD in Sanskrit in 1969. Her father, Ishtiaque Ahmed and mother, Ehsaan Fatima encouraged her to pursue higher studies in Sanskrit as she had keen interest in the Sanskrit language.
Salma Mahfooz, who is recuperating after her knee operation, was kind enough to talk to Radiancenews.com. She said, “I had keen interest in Sanskrit and my performance in Sanskrit was very good right from early childhood days. My performance in Sanskrit in my High School was also excellent.”
After completing high school from the UP Board, she came to Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) for higher studies in 1961 and opted for Sanskrit. After her marriage, she changed her name to Salma Mahfooz. She completed her BA and MA in Sanskrit and then wrote her PhD thesis in Sanskrit on the “Types of Heroines in Sanskrit Dramas” under the supervision of Dr. Ram Suresh Tripathi.
In her PhD thesis, she analysed several roles a woman portrays in multiple Sanskrit literary forms. She taught Sanskrit at Rani Bhagyawati College in Bijnor and later joined AMU as Lecturer.
Under the fellowship of India’s regulatory body for higher education, University Grants Commission, she authored a book ‘A Critical Study of ‘Sirre Akbar vis a-vis-The Upanishads’ by Dara Shikoh (1615 – 1659), the eldest son of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan.
She taught the Upanishads, Hindu religious texts, and various other Sanskrit literature components.
Salma Mahfooz also studied Hindu scriptures, including The Bhagavad Gita, a 700-verse Sanskrit scripture that is part of the Hindu epic Mahabharata, and Kama Sutra, an ancient Indian Sanskrit text on sexuality and eroticism.
She was a senior research fellow and research associate at the University Grants Commission and was the chairman of Sanskrit Department of the Aligarh Muslim University from 2001-2003. Her husband Prof Mahfoozur Rahman was the chairman of Commerce Department in AMU during 2001-2002.
“Many girl students were inspired by my Sanskrit and around 10 Muslims students, girls and boys, and many non-Muslims completed their PhD in Sanskrit under my supervision,” said Salma.
On the language controversy we come across every now and then, she said, “It is very painful to hear any controversy regarding language – either Urdu, Sanskrit or any other. Language should be treated as Lingua Franca and should not be seen through the prism of any religion. I know many languages including, Urdu, Hindi, English, French. I have studied The Qur’ān, The Gita. When I hear any controversy, I feel pain because language should be used to bridge the gap and not to divide society and communities.”
On comparison of India from the days she was doing her PhD and today, Salma said, “India has changed a lot from the days when I was doing my PhD if we compare it with today’s. Earlier, we both Hindus and Muslims lived harmoniously and there was no hatred that we can see these days. Today there is more communal feeling and people are very much divided.”