Establishment of Islamic Institutions of Learning in India
by Moulana Yunus Osman


The history of the arrival of Muslims in India and their positive contributions in the field of knowledge and culture, in the socio-economic sphere, and political structure are all well documented. Thus this chapter deals with the political trends that led to the establishment of Islamic institutions of learning in India.

Muslims came to India not for any worldly gain. Guided by their religious sentiments, they brought with them the message of equity and social justice which was non-existent in India at that time. Many progressive features in the socio-cultural structure of the different communities in India, for example, respect for women and their rights, can be traced back to the influence of Islam. It is unfortunate, however, that some historians chose to grossly distort the contributions of Muslims in India.

The Moghul Empire was founded in 1526 by Babar. He was one of the most important Muslim emperors in the East. Babar laid down the foundation of a great empire which continued to flourish for hundreds of years. Tremendous progress and prosperity were achieved during the Moghul era. As far as Awrangzeb (d. 1708) is concerned, he was the last of the powerful Moghul emperors and he will always be remembered in the annals of history of Muslim India for his pristine character, religious fervour and wide conquests.

Muslim emperors and conquerors on the whole never aspired to destroy the religions or cultures of other communities, nor did they force Islam upon their vanquished subjects. The Shaykhs (Islamic mystic leaders) and the `Ulama' (Muslim religious scholars) who were instrumental in the propagation of the Deen (religion) were well acquainted with the fact that forced conversion was strictly prohibited by the Qur'aan. Had there been a policy of forced conversions during the period of Muslim rule, which lasted for about nine hundred years, the Muslims in India would not have been included amongst the minority groups in India.

Islam spread in India long before the conquest had started. Many people had accepted Islam prior to the arrival of the Moghuls. Islamic values of equity, justice, truthfulness and honesty attracted many people in view of the fact that they were suffering as a result of the cast system that prevailed in India and were denied basic human rights as a result of being regarded to belong to an inferior caste. Moreover, Muslim rulers adopted a neutral policy towards all religions and the various communities that were in existence there. Furthermore, the 'Ulama' preached tolerance towards peoples of other faiths. Throughout the centuries of Muslim rule, necessary mechanisms were set in place in order to foster inter-communal relationship between Muslims and Hindus.

Akbar the great Moghul emperor (1556-1605) proclaimed himself as the Mahd (the awaited reformer). He was influenced by the thoughts of Messianism of Amad Jawnpur. He invented Deen-e-ilah (Faith of Unity) which was in effect a heretical move on his part in that he diluted the pristine teachings of Islam with that of Hinduism and traditions of the various communities. Although his aim in doing that was motivated by the need to forge mutual understanding among the different communities, Muslim scholars like Shaykh Amad Sirhind who was popularly known as Mujaddid Alf al-Thaan (d. 1624) and others challenged Akbar for bringing about this innovation. Their timely reaction succeeded in neutralising the effects of imperial heresy on the vast majority of Muslims.

During the middle of the seventeenth century Shah `Abd al-Haq Muhaddith of Delhi and Shaykh Amad Sirhind influenced the last powerful Moghul ruler Awrangzeb who remained committed to their theological emphasis and thus eased the tension of difference between the eclecticism of Akbar and the `Ulama'.

Shah Wali-Allah who was born in 1703, five years before the death of Awrangzeb, was considered to be the one who succeeded in building a bridge between the medieval and modern Muslim India. Since he was well aware of the religio-political and socio-economic disintegration of Muslims in India, he launched his two-fold reform movement. His Jihad (militant) movement was carried on through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and his educational and religious reforms led to the emergence of many great centres of Muslim learning, one of which was the Dar al-`Ulum in Deoband, Uttar Pradesh province of India.

1.1 British Colonization
The death of Awrangzeb marked the end of Muslim rule in India. Subsequentlty, Muslim India was colonized by the British in the eighteenth century. This new colonial power introduced drastic reforms in the political, educational and economic spheres.

1.2 Reaction of Muslims
Muslim revivalist movements such as that of Sayyid Amad Shahid (d. 1831) played an active part against British colonial domination by reviving the spirit of Jihad (armed struggle).

Haj Shar 'at Allah (d. 1841) founder of the Fara'id Movement and the `Ulama in general urged Muslims to hold fast unto the dictates of their faith in the face of British intellectual onslaught. They realised the threat that Westernization could pose on the Muslim masses.

The 'Ulama symbolized the aspirations of the Ummah (Muslim community) and as such were most capable in safeguarding the faith of the Muslim masses, rekindling in them the spirit of commitment to Islamic norms and practices. Their immediate task was to preserve the religio-cultural identity of Muslims and towards this end, they concentrated their efforts on Islamic education. The 'Ulama' of Delhi and Farang Mahal (near Lucknow) spearheaded this task. After the demise of Shah Wali-Allah, the Delhi school of 'Ulama' were led by his three sons, especially Shah 'Abd al-'Aziz (1746-1824), the eldest son. All of them continued the reformist teachings of their father.

The tragedy of Balakot and the failure of the 1857 uprising gave the British an opportunity to unleash their savage atrocities against the Muslims. They banished the Moghul King Bahdur Shah to Burma and the Muslims were expelled from Delhi, some of them were tortured while others were mercilessly murdered. Their properties were appropriated and many Mosques and centres of learning were either destroyed or closed for worship. The educational policy imposed by the British after the seizure of Delhi in 1803 and its eventual capitulation in 1857 was detrimental for the Muslims. They established colleges and schools with the aim of promoting Western culture and values.

The 'Ulama', post 1857 period, were convinced more than ever before that they had to rise to the situation and thus they evolved an alternative educational system in order to counteract the influence of the British model on the Muslim masses. There was growing fear that if nothing was timeously done, future Muslim generations would be totally ignorant of their rich legacy. They would neither be versed in Islamic Shari'ah (Islamic Law), nor in the moral system of Islam and its civilization. The strategy of the 'Ulama' in the domain of Islamic education was to concentrate their efforts in the establishment of Madaaris (sing. Madrasah i.e. a school that imparts education in the various Islamic disciplines), with the hope that from these institutions, a new army of Muslim preachers and crusaders would emerge. Foremost among these Muslim educational revivalists were Mawlana Qasim Nanotwi (d. 1879) and Mawlana Rashid Amad Ganghohi (1908). Both of them were dedicated educational reformists and received spiritual guidance from al-Hajj 'Imdad Allah (d. 1899). Referring to the positive contributions made by Mawlana Nanotwi in the field of Islamic education in the Indian subcontinent, Mawlana Manazir Asan Jilani notes in his biography of Mawlana Nanotwi that it was after the failure of the upheaval of 1857 that "the Mawlana's mind was actively engaged in the establishments of new fronts of resistance and struggle. The educational design of the Dar al-'Ulum was the most important of it all."

Education bears relation to the social system in which and for which it is carried out

The structure of society depends on the type of education that is imparted to the younger generation. The early Muslims were pioneers in every branch of knowledge precisely because Islam, from its inception, always laid great stress to learning and the very first word revealed in the Qur'aan i.e. 'iqra' (read) relates to learning. Thus from the very inception of Islam, emphasis on learning and education was laid. The first educational institution was established by the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) in Madinah and his students were known as ashab al-Suffah (i.e. the Companions of the Platform) because it was on that raised structure in al-Masjid al-Nabawiy (the Prophet's Mosque) that they received their education.

Initially, even in India, the Masjid was not only a place of worship but its extensive open space also served as a school where the young and old learnt how to recite the Qur'aan, listened to discourses on the Hadith (Traditions of the Prophet Muhammad - s.a.w.s.), studied Islamic calligraphy, and learnt basic Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) etc. Then gradually Maktabs (religious schools), separate from the studies conducted in the Masjid were established where formal education in the Islamic sciences were taught. Thereafter, various Dar al-'Ulums (literally House of Higher Islamic Learning) came into existence.

1.3 Some Institutions of Higher Islamic Learning
The Mongol invasion in the 13th century in central Asia and other Islamic lands was in a way responsible for the influx of numerous Muslim scholars into India. These scholars brought with them their own system of education and subsequently educational institutions based on that pattern came into existence throughout India. Some of them started their own private classes. Others took employment in State-run schools and colleges or other institutions that were established and run through private donations. Many such institutions continued to flourish, for example the Mu`izz Madrasahs in Delhi and Budaum, the Firuz Shah at Hau Khas in Delhi are among the many such institutions where eminent Muslim scholars taught. The Bidar Madrasah in Delhi which comprised of three storeys contained a Masjid, a library hall, lecture rooms, lodging quarters for lecturers and students. This pattern of educational institution has more or less continued throughout India to this present day. The course of study may have undergone some modifications, but by and large, the nature of the curriculum remained unchanged. Arabic was not only taught as a language, but most of the text books as well were in Arabic.

The British Government which was the most powerful representative and advocate of Western civilisation in the East was rooted firmly in India by the early eighteenth century. It had brought with it a whole army of ideas, institutions and techniques. The Indian Muslims, on the other hand, were at that time a defeated lot, dejected, baffled and humiliated. The failure of the 1857 uprising dealt a severe blow to the morale of the Muslims. The British looked upon them as the enemy and a host of charges were laid against them.

They dreaded the new masters and there was urgency to establish religious educational institutions so as to safeguard Muslim youth from the onslaught of Western culture and values.

At this critical juncture of the history of Muslims in India, two types of institutions of higher learning came into existence. One was totally religious under the patronage of the 'Ulama' (Muslim scholars) and the other combined in its curriculum both religious and secular education and was spearheaded by Sir Sayyid Amad Khan (d. 1898) and his colleagues who were influenced by the British system of education.

When Britain colonized India, the `Ulama' finally decided to leave beloved but desolate Delhi behind and opted to move to the villages in which many of them had their roots. Some of these places which they chose to settle in and establish their educational institutions were Deoband, Saharanpur, Kandhlah, Gangoh and Bareilly. British presence in them were nominal and hence they were considered the most appropriate venues for the preservation and promotion of Muslim culture and Islamic religious knowledge. Thus they placed all their efforts in that domain, with the hope that in due course an army of prominent Muslim preachers and crusaders would issue forth from such institutions.

1.3.1 Dar al-'Ulum Farang Mahal
At the turn of the eighteenth century a notable Muslim family settled in Lucknow. Its members were respected for religious learning. It was headed by Mulla Qutb al-Din (d. 1691) who had always retained close links with the Moghul court in Delhi. In fact he and his sons participated in the compilation of al-Fatawa al-`Alamghiriyyah. Since they occupied a French designed house this family came to be known as Farang Mahal.

Dar al-`Ulum Farang Mahal came into existence in 1693. It was founded by Mulla Nizam al-Din Sihal (d. 1748) and was a direct descendent of the Farang Mahal family in Lucknow. He was responsible for evolving the syllabus of this institution which is named after him i.e. Dars-e-Nizam. This syllabus is implemented in all the Muslim religious institutions in India and in other parts of the World, like in South Africa. Dar al-`Ulum Farang Mahal was noted for training Qaadhis (judges), Muftis (those competent to issue legal verdicts) and other legal officials that were, from time to time, required by Muslim courts. Thus Dar al-`Ulum Farang Mahal succeeded in filling the void in Islamic scholarship which existed after the displacement of religious centres in Delhi.

1.3.2 Madrasat aL-Aramiyah
Like the 'Ulama' of the Farang Mahal, Shah Wali Allah aspired for the restoration of stable Muslim rule in which the 'Ulama' would play an important role. He succeeded his father Shaykh 'Abd al-Ram (1644-1718) as director of Madrasat al-Ramiyah in Delhi and devoted his life to study and teaching. He effected some reforms in the curriculum. Shah Wali-Allah and the Farang Mahal 'Ulama paved the way for further reforms to be effected in the teaching of Islamic religious science.

After the demise of Shah Wali-Allah in 1762, his eldest son, Shah 'Abd al-'Aziz (d. 1824) continued to bring about changes in the curriculum. He and his brothers taught the religious sciences in Delhi, particularly studies in Hadith, to large number of students. Muslim public gained access to instruction in the Shari`ah through his famous fatawa (legal decrees).

During the second half of the nineteenth century the Muslim intelligentia felt that it was necessary to effect further changes in the curriculum. Thus these changes were finally made and implemented in the emerging Islamic religious institutions, like Dar al-`Ulum of Deoband, U.P., India.

1.3.3 The Dar al-'Ulum of Deoband
The town of Deoband lies ninety miles north-east of Delhi. The town was typical of other large villages scattered across northern India. Muslim scholars in Deoband belonged to two prominent families, namely the Uthman and Siddiq families. Their influence had persisted since Moghul times. The famous Dar al-'Ulum of Deoband was finally established in this town in 1867, ten years after the mutiny, by Mawlana Qasim Nanawti, Mawlana Rashid Amad Ganghohi, Muhammad 'bid Husayn, Mawlana Dhu al-Fiqr (the father of Mawlana Mamood Hasan), Mawlana 'Abd al-Raman 'Uthman (the father of Mawlana Shabbir Amad 'Uthman) and Mawlana Mitb 'Al Haj Muhammad ' bid Husayn who initiated the first contribution towards this institution was its first Principal.

Its first teacher, Mulla Mamood, and one of its first students, Mamood Hasan, shared, by coincidence, the first name Mamood. Later on this student became one of the most famous teachers at this institution. The first batch of students comprised of 16 young Muslims and Mawlana Mamood Hasan was the outstanding student in the first annual examinations which were conducted by Mawlana Qasim Nanawti.

In the early stages, classes were conducted in the old Masjid-e-Chatt under a spreading promegranate tree that still stands. Later on the Dar al-'Ulum of Deoband was shifted to rented houses and also occupied a section of the Jami` Masjid (Congretional Mosque). It procured its first independent building in 1897 and thereafter, gradually a number of buildings for housing students and staff and lecture halls for the departments of the various Islamic disciplines were finally constructed.

Over the years, the Dar al-'Ulum of Deoband became a fully-fledged institution of higher Islamic learning with a total number of about 1,500 students and 50 teachers. It attracted students from all over the world. Its budget which runs into millions of Indian rupees is met through public donation raised from among the Muslims. The decision to decline any financial assistance from the Government or any other body is strictly adhered too, lest there may be interference in the functioning of the institution.

The Dar al-'Ulum of Deoband is manned by a governing body comprising of the Chancellor (sarparast), Vice-Chancellor (muhtamim), Dean (adr-mudarris), and Head of the Fatwa Department. Apart from its administrative offices, it has 13 academic departments. Some of the 22 Islamic sciences that are taught are Qur'aan, al-Tafsir (Qur'anic exegesis), Hadith (Traditions of the Prophet - s.a.w.s.), Usul al-Hadith (Principles of the Traditions), al-Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence), Usull al-Fiqh (Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence), Arabic grammar, Persian, etc.

The Dar al-'Ulum of Deoband is ranked as the greatest institution of its kind in Asia and perhaps second only to the famous Al-Azhar Universty, Cairo, Egypt. For over a century now, this great seat of Islamic learning occupies an unrivalled place amongst Muslim religious institutions worldwide.

The goal of this institution is to train 'Ulama' who would be dedicated to promote the cause of Islam. Some of the scholars produced by this institution serve as a'immah (sing. imaam) in the various masajid (mosques) where they lead Muslims in the 5 congretional Salaat (Prayers), the Jumu`ah (Friday) Salaah and the 'Id (Festival) Salaah and engage in imparting religious education to the general Muslim public. Others take up employment at any of the Islamic educational institutions in India or elsewhere in other parts of the World. Some of them choose to be Du`aat (preachers) and some other devote their energies in disseminating the knowledge of Islam via the medium of the pen.

At the Dar al-'Ulum, traditional Islamic religious education based on the Dars-e-Nizam curriculum, is imparted over a six year period. The medium of instruction is Urdu and not Fars (Persian). It ought to be noted that the Dar al-'Ulum of Deoband and the Aligarh Muslim University at Aligarh, U.P., India, were instrumental in establishing Urdu as the language of communication among Muslims in India. Education at the Dar al-'Ulum is based exclusively on the prescribed textbooks. The students reads them in the presence of the teachers and the teachers expounds upon the texts.

At the end of their formal education, the students may choose to spend another two years in order to specialize in any of the Islamic sciences. Academic certificates issued by the Dar al-'Ulum of Deoband are recognised by academic institutions worldwide.

The `Ulama' of the Dar al-'Ulum of Deoband founded other institutions of higher Islamic learning in other parts of India. For example, Mazahir al-'Ulum was founded in Saharanpur, and Madrasat-e-Shah in Muradabad. Its graduates served in these newly established institutions.

1.3.4 The Aligarh College
The Aligarh Movement was founded by Sir Sayyid Amad Khan (1817-1898) and it supported British policies in India. Sir Sayyid had witnessed the last days of the Moghul Empire and the failure of the 1857 revolt. He was a high ranking civil servant under British rule and was influenced by their mode of living and admired their intellectual qualities. He regarded loyalty to the English as a religious duty. He advocated the acceptance of Western civilization with all its materialistic implications and the total adoption of the modern educational sciences. He even went to the extent of re-interpreting the Qur'aan and Islam. He advocated the promotion of rational theology in an attempt to reconcile the Qur'aan to modern science. The 'Ulama' vehemently opposed this movement and the Aligarh College which was instrumental in imparting Sir Sayyid's thoughts. Subsequently, however, the curriculum at the Aligarh College was re-structured and several Islamic sciences were introduced. This College became a fully-fledged University in 1921 and served to foster the cause of Muslim Education in India and even played a significant role in shaping the political future of modern India.

1.5 Dar al-'Ulum Nadwat al-'Ulama
The intellectual movement of Nadwat al-'Ulama founded in 1893 by Mawlana Muhammad `Al Monghor (d. 1927) and the Islamic Institution of Dar al-'Ulum Nadwat al-'Ulama in 1898 came into existence at a time when fierce controversies were raging among Muslim ranks. There were those who supported the British and those who stood with the 'Ulama. Thus the intellectual movement of Nadwat al-'Ulama came about to chalk out a balance and moderate course which would serve as a bridge between the old and the new order, since the founders were against extremism in both ancient and modern methods of education. The founders of this movement and institution called for the revision and expansion of the Islamic syllabus. This was a rather unfamiliar call in India where the old Dars-e-Nizami syllabus was still strictly being adhered to.

The British exploited the differences among the various Schools of Islamic Jurisprudence to sow discord among Muslims. Thus the founder members of the Nadwat movement endeavoured to foster unity and understanding amongst the different Muslim factions. Moreover, this movement sought to establish an Islamic institution of higher Islamic learning in Lucknow which would incorporate some aspects of western education along with the classical Islamic disciplines. Within a short period of time this institution came to be accepted in India and internationally as an acclaimed institution of Islamic learning.

The leaders of the Nadwat movement and the school have made an invaluable contribution to the propagation of Islamic culture and civilisation. It has produced scholars of repute who succeeded in effectively conveying the message of Islam in the modern world in such a way that appeals to both the educated or the ignorant.

In the midst of all these developments, Anwar Shah Kashmir (hereinafter referred as Shah Sahib in this dissertation) opted to pursue his higher Islamic education at the Dar al-'Ulum Deoband. He did that upon the advice of his teachers in Kashmir and Hazarah (which forms part of Pakistan, post British rule). One has to bear in mind that during his time it was considered an honour and privilege to study under a reputed teacher and Mawlana Mamood Hasan was the most notable teacher of Hadith at the Dar al-'Ulum in Deoband.

Excerpt from a book being written by:

Moulana Yunus Osman
Secretary General - Jamiatul Ulama (KZN)
Ex-Senior Lecturer - Dar al-Ulum, Newcastle