Some Questions About Traditional Madrasahs

Contemporary Fatawa, Education, Fiqh / Saturday, October 9th, 2010

Q. I. I would like to learn about the traditional system of Muslims as it began, and as it exists today, in our subcontinent as well as other areas of the world.

What levels of education are denoted by words like maktab, madrassa, jamiah, dar-ul-uloom etc.?

What language (s) is / are used as medium of instruction.

What syllabi are being used? Is there a standard syllabus or a standard set of subjects used all over the Muslim world.

Are students exposed to subjects like history, geography, mathematics, literature, economics, etc. at any stage?

What degrees are conferred on students who complete various levels of education?

What is the significance and meaning of the following words: Farigh ul-tehseel, aalim, mufti, maulana, maulvi, Sheikh ul-hadith. (Irfan Ali Hyder, Karachi).

(i) The word ‘Maktab’ is generally used for a small institute of religious education in which the children learn the recitation of the Holy Qur’an (which is called the nazirah education, or they memorize the text of the Holy Qur’an by heart. At the same time, some elementary Islamic principles are also taught in such institutes.

The word ‘Madrasah’ is a wider term. Our early history tells the word was used for an institute of higher education. This institution was generally used for all the levels of education known in the contemporary terminology as secondary, higher secondary and graduation. In some cases, even the specialized courses were also held in the same madrasah. Thus the term sometimes was applied for an institute of secondary level only, and sometimes for higher secondary and graduation levels also.

As for Darul-Uloom, it was originally a proper known for a madrasah giving education at all levels, like a university. But later, it was used for every madrasah of a higher level.
‘Jami’ah’ is a modern term which is not found in our early history. Actually, this is an Arabic translation of the English word ‘University’. When the word ‘madrasah’ has been adopted as a substitue for the English word ‘School’ which is generally restricted in modern usage for an institute of secondary, education only, some people in the traditional ‘madrasahs started using the word ‘jami’a’ for their educational institutes in order to avoid the impression that their institute is of secondary level only. However, a large number of traditional religious institutes continues to use the traditional word ‘madrasah’.

(ii) The prescribed books studied in our traditional ‘madrasahs’ are mostly in Arabic. Some preliminary books, however, are in Urdu or Persian also. But the teacher always delivers his lecture in the local language. In some ‘madrasahs’ the Arabic language has been adopted as a medium of instruction for the lectures of the teachers also.

(iii) & (iv) The exact syllabus of the traditional ‘madrasahs’ differs from country to country, but the subjects of study are, by and large, the same. Their main emphasis is on the subjects of Tafsir (Exegesis of the Holy Qur’an), the science of Hadith, the Fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence and theology. Since these institutes are meant for those special fields of study, their main objective is to specialize the students in these disciplines. All other subjects have been included in the curriculum to the extent of their necessity for the intensive study of the main subjects.

For example, the extensive knowledge of Arabic language, literature and criticism is a prerequisite for a competent study of the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah. Therefore, all the relevant Arabic subjects are a necessary part of the curriculum. Similarly, a brief introduction of logic and philosophy is also necessary for a better understanding of Islamic theology and for the study of comparative theology. So, these subjects are also included in the curriculum. The Mathematics, Geography and History are also taught to some extent. Economics, as a separate discipline is not a subject of study in these ‘madrasahs.’ But various economic problems are dealt with in other branches of knowledge.

The titles of the degrees conferred to the students at different levels vary from country to country. The standard name of the final degree conferred by a full-fledeged madrasah in our country is Shahadah-al-‘alimiyyh’ which is now recognized officially as an equivalent to the M.A. in Islamic Studies.

(v) Farigh-ul-tahseel means a person who has obtained the final degree from a traditional ‘madrasah’. The words Alim and Fadil are also used for the same person. The word Mufti means a person who after obtaining the final degree of alim, has specialized himself in the Islamic jurisprudence and is thus competent to give Fatwa (explaining a Shari‘ah ruling in a particular situation).

The word Moulvi was a synonym to Alim in the past. Moulana is neither a degree nor a designation. It is a word of honour normally used to respect an Alim. Literally it means “Our master”. “Shaikhul-Hadith” is a person who is appointed as a senior-most proffessor of the science of Hadith in a madrasah.

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