In 1838, Syed Ahmad entered the service of East India Company and went on to become a judge at a Small Causes Court in 1867, and retired from service in 1876. During the Indian Rebellion of 1857, he remained, loyal to the British Empire and was noted for his actions in saving European lives. After the rebellion, he penned the booklet The Causes of the Indian Mutiny – a daring critique, at the time, of British policies that he blamed for causing the revolt. Believing that the future of Muslims was threatened by the rigidity of their orthodox outlook, Sir Syed began promoting Western–style scientific education by founding modern schools and journals and organising Muslim entrepreneurs.
In 1859, Syed established Gulshan School at Muradabad, Victoria School at Ghazipur in 1863, and a scientific society for Muslims in 1864. In 1875, founded the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College, the first Muslim university in South Asia. During his career, Syed repeatedly called upon Muslims to loyally serve the British Empire and promoted the adoption of Urdu as the lingua franca of all Indian Muslims. Syed heavily critiqued the Indian National Congress.
Syed maintains a strong legacy in Pakistan and Indian Muslims. He strongly influenced other Muslim leaders including Allama Iqbal and Jinnah. His advocacy of Islam's rationalist (Muʿtazila) tradition, and at broader, radical reinterpretation of the Quran to make it compatible with science and modernity, continues to influence the global Islamic reformation. Many universities and public buildings in Pakistan bear Sir Syed's name.
Sir Syed Ahmed 'Khan Bahadur' was born on 17 October 1817 to an Syed family in Delhi, which was the capital of the Mughal Empire. His family were desandants of Muhammad and then moved to the Indian subcontinent in the ruling times of Mughal emperor Akbar–I. Many generations of his family had since been highly connected with the administrative position in Mughal Empire. His maternal grandfather Khwaja Fariduddin served as Wazir (lit. Minister) in the court of Emperor Akbar–II. His paternal grandfather Syed Hadi Jawwad bin Imaduddin held a mansab (lit. General)– a high-ranking administrative position and honorary name of "Mir Jawwad Ali Khan" in the court of Emperor Alamgir II. Sir Syed's father, Syed Muttaqi Muhammad bin Hadi Khan, was personally close to Emperor Akbar–II and served as his personal adviser.