Dubai: Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), one of the oldest and leading educational institutions in India, is ready for a legal battle to defend its ‘minority’ status, said the Vice-Chancellor of AMU Lt Gen Zameeruddin Shah on Saturday.

Speaking at the Sir Syed Memorial Lecture at the Consulate General of India, an annual event organised by AMU alumni in memory of the 150- year-old institution’s founder, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Lt Gen Shah said: “AMU is prepared to fight a legal battle against any attempt to change its ‘minority status’. I have not lost any battle in my life and we are confident we will win this battle as well.”

Lt Gen Shah was referring to the Government of India’s recent submission in the Supreme Court that “the university was not a minority institution, since it was set up by an act of parliament”.

He was earlier quoted as saying that the minority character of the university is a matter of life and death.

“The status concerns the education and advancement of the socially and economically backward section of Indian society, Muslims. The government has retracted from its earlier stand. We will fight our cause in court,” he said.

The Constitution of India, as stated in Article 30(1), gives all religious and linguistic minorities the right to set up and manage educational institutions, ranging from schools to universities.

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan founded Mohammedan Anglo Oriental College in Aligarh, a city in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, in 1877.

In 1920, the college was transformed into AMU through an act by the Indian Legislative Council and all assets of the college were transferred to it. “The name Aligarh Muslim University was chosen to convey to the Muslims that this institution was theirs and it will uphold their values and right to education,” Lt Gen Shah said on Saturday as he ran through the history and achievements of the institution.

However, he added that the university doesn’t grant seats on the grounds of religion.

“We only grant admissions on merit and follow no religious preferences,” he said.

Urging the AMU alumni to step forward and participate in building the institution further, he said: “Alumni of every institution are key to its success and survival. For all the alumni of AMU I want to say it is a payback time. You have to give back to the university where you set the foundations of your career.”

At least one alumnus seemed to heed the the call in an emphatic manner.

Speaking at the Consulate on Saturday, US-based entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist Frank Islam called on fellow alumni to step forward and help empower Muslims of India through education.

“Poverty is entrenched in the Muslim community of India and it can be overcome only through education. We have to use our empowerment and join hands with AMU to empower others and help Muslims become the first class citizens of India,” said Islam, who has donated $2 million (Dh7.35 million) to set up a management school at AMU.

Renowned philanthropist Ameer Ahmad, who is working closely with AMU, as well as K. Muralidharan, Deputy Consul General of India to Dubai, and Prof Abdul Razzaq Muthanna, President, American University in the Emirates, also spoke on the occasion.

The event was organised by AMU Alumni UAE, led by Syed Qutburrahman.