By JAWED ANWAR
This is a series of articles for the understanding of the history of centuries old Madrasah and Islamic Education System in South Asian perspective published in Muslims Weekly, New York, USA, in 18 series of the weekly column “Personal Notes.”
First Published: Muslims Weekly, Issue No. 220, May 21, 2004
WHEN Muslims ruled India, their government never established a separate department of education and never appointed salaried teachers. Already established was a tradition where the kings, rulers, and the affluent citizens had to establish educational institutions. This system was facilitated by thwab (as a deed to receive rewards in the life hereafter). The rulers allotted scholarships to scholars, teachers, and students. They established trusts, assigned assets, and tax-exempted properties in order that the teachers and students involved in the education process would be economically free. The rulers and wealthy citizens never interfered in the education system, even down to the curriculum and syllabus. These were the exclusive responsibilities of the teachers and scholars.
These trusts and properties were made available at every corner of the country, and no area was left without an educational facility. This education system was independent from the interference of the government. No changes in the political climate affected the system. There was nary an instance where a Muslim ruler tried to retain the properties assigned exclusively for educational purposes or tried to discontinue the scholarships of ulema, teachers, and students. To have done so would render any ruler extremely unpopular, as those acts are completely un-Islamic, anti-education and anti-people. This education system flourished enormously in India before the British occupation. Even a Hindu or Sikh ruler of states never touched it.
The above-mentioned situation was the general practice. However, several Muslim rulers took special interest in spreading education. Ali Adil Shah, the ruler of Beejapur, in 1561, established a palace in the Beejapur Castle in 1561 and built a huge Mosque. He also built two big Madrasahs --one Arabic Madrasah (for divine knowledge) and one Farsi Madrasah (for worldly knowledge). Additionally, he also established several maktab (primary schools) in the city. At these schools, students were fed hearty meals twice daily. All educational expenses were met by the government. Students received a monthly scholarship of one Hun (a gold coin) for books and stationeries. Zul Hajj (the last month of the Islamic Calendar) marked the end of the academic year. The academically excelled students of the year received huns (gold coins), and talented students were granted government jobs. Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir (d.1707) ordered the rulers of the provinces to give a daily stipend to every student. The amount, depending on the category of students, was from one aana to eight aana (six cents to seventy-two cents).
Teachers and students both benefited from these financial resources. The Islamic notion was that education is mandatory, and, therefore, there was no concept of tuition fees. Traditionally, instead of students’ having to pay fees, students were being compensated. If the teachers were affluent and wealthy, they taught their students in addition to taking care of the financial needs of their students. Only the impoverished teachers accepted salaries for their expenses.
In the first four centuries of Islam, Masjid and Madrasah were unified. There were not separate buildings for the Madrasahs. However, in the period of Nizam ul Mulk Tusi (1019-1092), the celebrated minister of the Saldjuqid sultans Alp Arslan in Khurasan, the tradition of separate buildings, organized syllabus, and curriculum, were established. Madrasah Nizamia Bughdadia (1067) was the first separate building of Madrasah. Other than Masjid and Madrasah, the homes of the affluent people were also used as Madrasah. Whenever there was extra space, it was almost immediately converted to a Madrasah. As testimony, the green grasses under the shadow of trees became Madrasahs.
These traditions of separate buildings for Madrasah of Khurasan were imported by the Ghoris when they later conquered India.
The types of Madrasah in Muslim India according to financial resources were:
1. The Madrasahs established by one or several affluent good citizens and trust were established to meet their expenses for life. All expenses of the teachers and students were met by these trust properties.
2. The Madrasahs established by a rich person. All the expenses of Madrasah, teachers, and students (including food and lodging) were met by that one individual.
3. The Madrasahs established by a rich person when he appointed a teacher to teach their children in their homes. Other children of neighborhood could attend the classes. No student was turned away. Their rooms, kitchens, dining rooms were open and availble for studens and teachers.
4. The Madrasahs, established by an Alim (scholar). Students lived in the residential rooms in the Masajid or in the homes of affluent people, and meals came from different homes, and teachers and students ate together. Feelings of degradation were none. It was an established tradition.
5. At the last era, the expenses of teachers were met by affluent parents and other people. However, tuition fees and expenses of meals were never asked of students.
6. The doors were open for any interested students. Whenever, a student asked a teacher to teach him, one didn’t deny. The hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) was always in front of them: “If any scholar will show stinginess in promoting knowledge that he knows, his mouth will be burnt in fire in the day of judgment.” Even the government officials, educated businesspeople, and others taught students in their available times.
Establishment of a Madrasah was extremely easy. Whenever, a teacher was available, the Madrasah was established.
The furniture of the Madrasah was very basic. Students sat on the rugged carpet with a small wood rack, and teacher, on a woolen pillow. Tables and chairs were not available even in the homes of the rich.
The economy of establishing a Madrasah is a low cost; that is why it was easy, affordable and practical for all.
When the East India Company of Britain occupied India, they passed a “Resumption Act, No.19 of 1793, and “Land Resumption Act, No.2 c of 1818-1819.” From these two acts, they occupied all the trust properties, lands, buildings, all the facilities of the Madrasahs provided by the Muslim rulers from centuries. According to William Hunter, “That was the government’s death blow on Muslims’ education system” (Our Indian Musalman, p.177). Madrasahs (according to Max Muller, there was one Madrasah for every 40 homes) started collapsing. The company didn’t take interest in education in their first century of government. After first century, when they opened the door for the Christian missionaries and secular education, they were targeting Hindu Brahmins and wealthy Hindus in their “Downward Filtration Theory” of education. There was no room for Muslims and general public education. They gradually banned Arabic and Farsi languages and enforced English, an alien and difficult language for Indians.
The Western historians couldn’t hide the truth despite all their lies and deception. The British history of occupation is a bleak history in education. 85% of literate Indians of the eighteenth century were reduced to 11% literacy in 1947, the year of the independence.
Jawed Anwar can be reached at Jawed@TheMuslim.ca