Born as Salma Begum in a Muslim family of a small town Dibai, District Bulandshahar in the northern state of India, Uttar Pradesh, she went on to become the first Muslim woman in the world to do her PhD in Sanskrit (1969), India’s ancient language. After marriage she changed her name to Salma Mahfooz.
“My father, Ishtiaque Ahmed and mother, Ehsaan Fatima encouraged me to pursue my higher studies in Sanskrit as I was deeply interested in the language.
After completing high school from the UP board, I came to Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) for higher studies in 1961 and opted for Sanskrit,” says Dr. Salma Mahfooz.
Salma Mahfooz completed her BA and MA in Sanskrit and finally went on to write her PhD thesis in Sanskrit on the ‘Types of Heroines in Sanskrit Dramas’ under the supervision of India’s acclaimed Sanskrit scholar Dr. Ram Suresh Tripathi. She also did an MA in Hindi literature.
“In my PhD thesis, I have analysed several roles that a woman portrays in multiple Sanskrit literary forms,” says Dr. Salma Mahfooz.
She taught Sanskrit at Rani Bhagyawati College in Bijnor and later joined AMU as a 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 visa-vis-The Upanishads’ by Dara Shikoh (1615 – 1659), the eldest son of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan
“I have taught Upanishads, Hindu religious texts, and various other Sanskrit literature components,” adds Dr. Salma Mahfooz.
A practicing Muslim, Salma Mahfooz has studied Hindu scriptures and texts, 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 also headed the Sanskrit Department of the Aligarh Muslim University.