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Islamic Society ( 22 May 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Madrasa Curriculum and Contemporary Schools: A Nadwa Graduate Asks Some Pertinent Questions


By Md. Akram Nawaz, New Age Islam

(Translated from Urdu by Arman Neyazi, New Age Islam)

Education is a fundamental pillar of Islam. Higher education and especially Islamic education imparted by madrasas can never be ignored by the Muslims of Indian sub-continent. They have a significant role in taking the educational graph to new heights. It is the madrasas which produced men of letters in the field of education and management like Sher Shah Suri, Abul Fazal Faizi, Raja Todarmal and Fatahullah Shirazi.

The organisers of these madrasas sacrificed their lives for the independence of the country. (1) Maulana Quasim Nanautawi, Maulana Mahmood Hasan Deobandi, Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi, Allama Shibli Nomani, Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and innumerable people like them are the products of these madrasas.

Basically, madrasas were known for their religious tolerance and this is why their alumni include many non-Muslim personalities like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Dr. Rajendra Prasad and Dr. Sachidanand Sinha.

Madrasas continued their good work till the end of 19th century. (2) But gradually they started losing their individuality and stagnation crept in.

 No justification behind madrasas not taking government cooperation

There was positive justification behind these madrasas supporting non-cooperation movement against the British government. But, today when we have our own government, not taking cooperation from it for running madrasas is not justified from any angle. Indeed, it is our democratic right. We have never lagged behind our other Indian brethren in the setting up and running of democracy in our country. It is not right to say that we will not take any cooperation from our government and somehow live our lives by doing Imamat (leading prayers in the mosques) and by calling Azaan (calls from a mosque to announce the time of prayer).

Undoubtedly, people entertaining such thoughts have no knowledge of Islamic tenets. Instead of accepting their weaknesses they say they are happy in whatever they have. They live their lives with these weaknesses and feel proud of it. How terrible and disappointing this is!

If worldly comfort was a forbidden thing why had Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) sought God’s forgiveness from poverty? Why had the Prophet ((pbuh) asked for Medina’s development and prosperity from God? Why had the Prophet (pbuh) taken the services of the prisoners of Badr in the field of education, for his companions, the Sahaba-e-Keram? Why had the Prophet (pbuh) said that knowledge and wisdom is a lost belonging of Muslims and wherever they find it they should take it as it is their right?

Prophet Mohammad (SAW) showed the way to prosperity

If being worldly was wrong, why did Prophet (pbuh) take to business and ask his followers to follow his way? If worldly comfort was a sin why did Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) train these pious souls in acquiring worldly comfort and prosperity? What is this Zakat? If economic backwardness is not a matter of concern, if comfort has no meaning, why did Islam establish the system of Zakat? What is it, if not a way of economic reform to bring the poor in the mainstream? Muslims should have been left in poverty and misery.  On the basis of Zakat poverty of any community can be tackled.

If following Arabian way of life is so important, why did Rasool (saw) accept the way of ‘defence by digging a pit’ when it was part of an Iranian and totally non-Arab culture? What do Umar, Abu Bakr, Ali, Usman, Umro bin Al Aas, Ameer Moa’wiyah, Umar bin Abdul Azeez and hundreds of such people stand for?

In fact, religion means a system or a way of life. This is a system through which one can lead one’s life in a very natural way. It is said that Islam is ‘a way of life’ and no doubt it presents a complete constitution. In Islam, religion and world are not two different things. There is no reason to differentiate religion from the world. This is the reason that Allah (rab-bul-Izzat) asks to pray for the comfort of both the worlds. “Rabbana Aatina fid Duniya Hasanataun w fil Aakherate Hasanah

During the days of Caliphate, the Caliph of the time used to be both religious and political guide. (3) After the Caliphate it became two different things but even then religion and the social life were not divided by such a huge gulf.  This difference was created with the influence of Christianity. The self-appointed leaders of religion sentenced many scientists to death. One well known scientist Galileo was burnt alive and when these atrocities crossed their limit, a new sect, Protestant, came into being.  Martin Luther King was its founder. Church and politics, religion and government, religion and world acquired two different identities. And thus religion was imprisoned under the four walls of the Vatican.

We, the Muslims, adopted this outlook from the Christians, although unconsciously. (4) The Muslim view has been to adopt the good and leave the bad from any society or community. Leaving this attitude aside we adopted the attitude that shook the basis of Christianity. This difference between religion and the world affected our madrasas fully. And till date we are struggling with its negative impact.

Islam asks us to ‘study’ as much as we can. But, practically our attitude towards education is shocking. Islam asks us to live a life full of respect; we say, no, we are happy with a life of dishonour and disrespect. (5)

Islam asks us to ‘earn’ and we take earning as a ‘prohibited thing’. Islam asks us to be saviours of others; we say no we will ourselves be slaves. (6) Today, Muslims in India are living exactly the same life as non-Muslims used to live in Muslim-majority countries. They used to pay ‘Jizyah’ (tax) and receive protection in lieu of that. Our life in India is exactly the same. We are neither in the army nor in the police and other civil services. In a way our relationship with the government machinery has got reduced to cipher.

There are various factors behind this situation. The biggest factor is that of our Ulama-e-Karam’s austere seclusion from the society. Masters of the rule became the first prey of the degradation of the community. This is what has happened with us. The proverb “as the king so the subjects” comes true to us. Our Ulama are our kings. They are our pious leaders. When our Ulama started treating the world as a place of sin, we also followed them. They did away with all those subjects in the madrasas which are necessary to live the life of a gentleman. These subjects could have been helpful to understand purely Islamic teachings as well. They ousted like an enemy subjects like mathematics, physics, chemistry, geography, social studies, economics, history and fine arts from the curriculum. They excluded themselves from the history of this country and of course world history has no meaning for them. They felt no hesitation in adopting ‘Persian’, but when ‘English’ took its place, they bluntly refused to take it in their curriculum. Even today when English is an international language, they have the same attitude towards it. Government of India took a step forward for the benefit of madrasas in the form of proposal for a Central Madrasa Board. The attitude of the powers that be of madrasas towards Madrasa Board has been a bad omen for the Muslim community.

The dream of Allama Shibli shattered to smithereens

Nadwat-ul-Ulama was founded to take necessary steps in formulation of madrasa curriculum as and when needed. But most shockingly its attitude towards bridging the gulf between old and new subjects has also not been encouraging. And today, this movement is almost dead. Now, Nadwat-ul-Ulama is alive only in the book named, “Tareekh Nadwat-ul-Ulama” (History of Nadwat-ul-Ulama). The dream that the founders of Nadwatul Ulama had seen has got dashed to smithereens. What is the reason behind the movement going silent? It founded just one madrasa and there also almost the same curriculum is being followed as in others. In Nadwa too innovation is considered un-Islamic.

The dream seen by Allama Shibli was not only shattered but he himself was forced to leave Nadwat-ul-Ulama.  According to Tareekh (History of) Nadwat-ul-Ulama the main objective of founding this centre was to produce such Ulama who can fulfil demands of the new age. Maulana Shibli had visited several known schools and colleges in Constantinople. He had talked to various teachers and professors, got their reports and studied them for the purpose of getting along with the curriculum of the new age. At that time Maulana Shibli was associated with Aligarh Muslim University, a new centre of Muslims’ hope. Though himself a student of the old curriculum, he was well aware of the demand of new times. He was quite desperate to know how Muslim-majority countries are maintaining a balance between the old and the new age. But, in the Muslim world too he did not get encouraging results and was saddened to see that they too have maintained the same distance with the new curriculum.

Commenting on this situation, he once wrote to Sir Syed Ahmad Khan: “I am sorry to say that Arab system of education is very low and it has no hint of the European system of education. Both the systems of education have been kept too far from each other. No real development is possible unless this gulf is bridged. This is what our country lacks.” (7)

It will not be out of place to mention that because of having a modern view on education, Nadwa had to face tough opposition.(8)  Ulama having very old views wrote innumerable articles. Couplets mentioned below will give an idea of the opposition Nadwa to face:

Jo ho khud zalalat mein banaye Nadwa

Kya zamane ko rah-e-rast pe lagaye Nadwa

Peer nature ki hai yeh Shobada bazi saari

Aag lag jaaye ise, Bhanr mein jaaye Nadwa

(One who himself is humiliated should establish Nadwa!

How Nadwa can bring the society on the right path?

All this drama is that of the people who believe in nature!

May this get burnt, let Nadwa go to hell!)

 Nadwat-ul-Ulama took the same route as other madrasas

To a certain extent Nadwa achieved success in its objectives. It produced great scholars who won the world for their knowledge of Arabic language.(9)  Had Nadwa not left its path, Muslims today would have been in a different class in India. In fact Nadwa had two sections; first section was supposed to produce Ulama who could be able to understand the demand of modern times and change according to its requirements; and the second was supposed to produce such Ulama who might not be specialist but could understand the basics of  Islamic studies and Sunnah. They should not be made responsible to guide Muslims in Sharia laws. And it was to be kept in mind that up to tenth standard students of both the sections should be taught the same syllabus. Old and useless subjects were to be kept out of syllabus so that students did not waste their valuable time. But this was not to be. First section is still working as in all the madrasas of India and the second section was not given any value. Alas! Nadwa also took the same route as others.

For the last few years madrasa students are getting attracted towards universities. It is distressing that students from madrasas are able to get themselves admitted only in Arabic, Persian and Urdu departments. They are almost incapable of getting admitted in any other departments. There is hardly any scope for Arabic, Persian and Urdu students acquiring a good career in our country. Students not having madrasa background also take admission in Urdu and Persian departments.

This, however, is in itself a positive point. Madrasa graduates are at least coming to universities for higher education. This situation has, however, also rung alarm bells in some quarters. Some of the teachers think they should join the mainstream after coming to the universities and compete for civil services and other professional examinations and if they cannot do this they must limit themselves to where they are. But this is not the solution. If they come to the universities, somehow or the other they will be able to change their life pattern and become economically sound.

Another bright point is that the students who join the mainstream and achieve success do not send their wards to madrasas even though they never get tired of praising the system of education in madrasas. Therefore saying that if they come to mainstream they should first prepare themselves to compete here is being irresponsible. The solution is that the place they are coming from should have the arrangement for making them capable of competing in mainstream exams. This responsibility goes to all the known madrasas of the country and specially to my alma mater, Nadwat-ul-Ulama.

Because of stagnation in madrasa education people have started getting fed up and have started taking patronising madrasas as wastage of their hard earned money. This is not good for Muslim society as far as Islamic, religious and cultural education is concerned.

Thousands of students pass out from madrasas every year with no possibility of jobs. Society at large also does not have any plan for such a big number of madrasa graduates. The students are unbelievably laborious with sharp intellect and have numerous qualities. But these are worth nothing as they spend the best part of their lives in useless and unnecessary education.

 Traditional system of teaching demands a thorough change

Traditional system of teaching in madrasas also demands a thorough change in its approach but the powers that be of the said institutions are rigid in their orthodox and useless systems. This is no less than a ‘killer poison’ for the Muslim community.  Madrasa authorities don’t seem to be even aware of the irony inherent in teaching Arabic grammar with the help of a book written in Persian? How fair is it to force students to learn one foreign language just to be able to study another foreign language? Teaching too many grammar books is also of no use from any point of view. It is a clear mistake to teach ancient courses and not valuing the modern ones. This is precisely what is being done in the name of religion.

World famous Aalim-e-Deen Maulana Anzar Shah Kashmiri(10) of Deoband asks: “Who is responsible of keeping these students of Islamic madrasas deprived of their bright future? Will contemporary education be harmful for the madrasa pass outs? Is this why Mullah Nizamuddin Sahalwi had kept medicine, philosophy, logic and mathematics in the syllabus? And thus he himself opened the doors for contemporary studies. Well aware of this fact, rigid fixation on the ancient courses and not favouring the modern courses of study is not a reasonable thing.”

Former Vice Chancellor of international repute Aalim-e-Deen Quari Mohammad Taiyyab of Deoband says, “Compilation of Dars-e-Nizami itself was a major change in the curriculum of madrasas and thus proof that change in syllabus is not only possible but important and desirable because it was not based on the societal needs of the first century of Islam but based on contemporary requirements. Hence, if change was possible earlier, it is possible even today.”(11) Based on contemporary syllabus Islamic world had once produced competent students well aware of the basics of other subjects as well.

Madarsa syllabus of that age produced great Fuquaha, masters of mathematics, authors, doctors, master biologists, scientists and statesmen. This list includes Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Shaafai, Imam Ghazali, Ibn-e-Sina, Ibn-ul-Hasheem, Khaar Razmi, Mohammad bin Jaabir Bataani, Abu-ul-Wafa, Ibn Yunus, Batrash, Ibn Rashad, Omar Khaiyyam, Abu Musa Jabir Ibn Hayaan, Isma’i, Jaahiz, dseeri, Damisqui, Ibn-ul-Lais, Kirghy, Hakeem Ibn Ata- Ibn-ul-Muquanna, Hasan bin Musa bin Shaakir, Khawaja Muammad ibn Muammad ibn asan ūsī, Ibn Aalam, Abu Quasim Abdullah, Abu Hasan Ali.

Getting a syllabus ready is not a child’s play. No doubt, it demands a long time. It needs faithful and serious labour. There are lots of hurdles and the path is difficult to tread. But a brave and intelligent community which has a golden history never accepts defeat in case of difficulties rather braves them all. One should take lessons in courage from Late Hakeem Abdul Hameed who worked under the most difficult of circumstances. It was not an easy job. At a time when the country was undergoing the trauma of partition and seeking to find its bearing in a new world, he was busy arranging land for Hamdard University on the outskirts of Delhi. People were of the opinion that Hakeem Saheb is wasting money. But it is only because of his sincerity and dedication that he could establish a university like Hamdard. Now Hamdard University is counted among the most modern educational institutions of India.

New madrasa syllabus required

It is necessary that with the advice and help of contemporary education experts and Ulama all the Higher Secondary books be taken in the madrasa syllabus. It will not be a hurdle in the Islamic education of madrasas. In fact these will be helpful in making the Islamic subjects understood more authentically. Student’s ability will increase and they will be able to explain Islam with the help of modern courses.

Madrasas could have, no doubt, been helpful for the Indian society in general and Muslim society in particular and without any exaggeration it can be said that they could have brought a revolution in the society. The community which has such big a network of educational institutions is lagging behind in the entire social department. This is an absurd situation. In a country where education has become a challenge the Muslims could have provided the cheapest possible education using this infrastructure. We, the Muslims could have had no parallel in taking the mainstream education to the highest level in our country.

Everything needs to be balanced otherwise it becomes invalid and useless. Even good and useful things become useless and dangerous. So, it is not necessary to open so many madrasas only for Islamic education. This keeps our students unable to compete in the contemporary world. What will happen if a society has innumerable scholars of Islamic studies and just a few professionals in other fields? Today everybody knows how these madrasa graduates are taken in the society and how the meagre is the salary they earn in madrasas, schools and mosques?

The strictness with which these madrasa students are dealt with in the name of training and guidance has to be taken care of. Their dress, their hair and their living standard is abysmal. One will be shocked to know how certain madrasas behave with their students. A friend Ahmad Nazeer told me that in Madarsa Haseeniya of Ranchi in Jharkhand, from where he completed his Hifz, CCTV cameras are fitted even in public conveniences to keep an eye on the students in the name of taking care of the children.  Lots of valuable money of the community was wasted on installing cameras. Management did not listen to anything even after prolonged agitations of the teachers and students. Later, on the advice of the teachers, students somehow got rid of these CCTV cameras.

Shocking tales emanate from madrasas

I was shocked to go through a notice on the Notice Board of Madrasa Mazahirul Uloom (New), Saharanpur, where I had gone for a personal work in March 2010. Some of the students of the said madrasa were expelled because they had taken a room on rent in the town somewhere and used to watch cricket matches there. Well, nobody will ask to arrange TV sets in madrasas for the students but the question is why did the students take this extreme step? Is our unnecessary strictness responsible for it? These situations may escalate if students are forbidden to play or to watch matches. This is but natural. We must think for which world are we preparing our children? Is if for such a world where there is nothing like a TV or internet. One may recall that some years ago Darul Uloom, Deoband had given a Fatwa that watching any kind of programme on TV or internet, even if it is of a religious nature, is a sin.(15)

If we are in search of any such world we are searching water in a mirage which obviously is a foolish act. If we take a look at the management system of madrasas, it will be clear that it is necessary to make it democratic. It is not logical or right to appoint a particular teacher as a Nazim (manager) or Muhtamim (Headmaster) for life. It will be nice if teachers are given this responsibility according to their ability for a certain period of time. One or the other junior teacher can be handed over this responsibility in between the seniors. This way madrasas will be able to take advantage of various kinds of talents and if somehow an undeserving person is appointed on any of these posts, he will not be there for life. In the present situation whoever is appointed as a manager of headmaster, be he the most undeserving one, runs the show for the whole of his life.

In short, the history of Islamic madrasas is one to be proud of and these are for the service of Islam. The services rendered by its products in the war of independence of this country are unforgettable. At a time when even the villages are under the influence of western civilisation, it is the same madrasas that are combating its negative influence.

In my view, madrasas have not lost their relevance. Their responsibility has indeed increased. Despite all their virtues there are some shortcomings in their approach towards their way of teaching and their syllabus. Getting rid of these shortcomings is the need of the hour. If we did not go according to the demands and needs of the present age and kept ourselves rigid, we are sure to collapse. A kind of disgust will creep in the Muslim society and for this only and only the authorities of madrasas will be responsible.

Therefore if we wish to maintain our belief in public, produce such students who are well versed with contemporary world and its happenings along with the Islamic studies, we will have to go according to the needs and demand of our age. It is a big challenge in front of Islamic scholars, educationists and well wishers of the community. They have to think and bring changes in the madrasa curriculum and help it come out of the difficult times. It is their humanitarian duty and without their help this work cannot reach to its goal.

(1)          Ameerullah Khan, Mohammad Saaquib, Zafar Anjuim, “Madarsa System in India: Past, Present and Future

(2)          Arshad Amanullah, Madrasas in India: A Historical Perspective, pective

(3)          Quran Surah Baqra Ayah 201

(4)          Al Hadees: Abunnasar Sanaullah Madani bin Isa Khan, JaaezatulAhwazi Filtaliquaat Ali Sanan Al Tirmizi, 26/4 Almutbafiya, Banara, First Edition, 2007

(5)          Talabul Ilm Menalmehdaaliullehad (It is a saying of some ancient Aalim, not a Hadees)

(6)          Quran, Surah Juma ayah 9-10

(7)          Syed Suleman Nadwi, Hayat Shibli, Darul Musannefin, Shibli academy, Azamgarh, UP, Hind, October 2008, P: 178

(8)          Syed Suleman Nadwi, Hayat Shibli, Darul Musannefin, Shibli academy, Azamgarh, UP, Hind, October 2008, P: 178-179

(9)          Mohammad Iqubal Ansari, “Nadwatul Ulama ek Deeni Tahreek”, Islam aur Asr Jadeed, Mahnaama Urdu, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, Issue 7, copy 2 April 1975, P 45

(10)   Nazar Shah Masoodi Kashmiri, Asriyaat, Muhaddis Asr, Mahnaama Urdu, Deoband, Jild 5 Shumaara 9, april-May 2007 P 5-6

(11 Mohammad Taiyyab Quasmi, Khutbaat Hakeemul Islam, Vol. 2, P 478

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Md. Akram Nawaz is a madrasa graduate from Nadwatul-Ulema, Lucknow and research scholar at JNU, New Delhi. He occasionally contributes articles to New Age Islam.

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