The Long Journey Of Madrasas Part 1

In the fourteen hundred years of Muslim history, the concept of religious schools (or madrasas) was for the first time introduced in the Sub-Continent by the British Governor-General Warren Hastings, who founded the first such Madrasa in Calcutta (Kolkata) in 1781. Previously, the glorious movement initiated by Baghdad’s Darul-Hikma, along with the Toledo School of Translators, had been the intellectual guide of the whole world for several centuries. The schools built under the influence of this movement did not make any distinction between worldly and religious sciences. Acting upon the saying of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that “Knowledge is the lost asset of a Muslim”, special arrangements were made in all the leading schools of the Muslim world to teach Philosophy, history, mathematics, chemistry, physics, medicine, astronomy, geometry, music and several other branches of knowledge, in addition to the Quran and Hadith. The same tradition was upheld by the Muslim schools of the Sub-Continent till the arrival of the British. The syllabi of Madrasa Rahimiya and Madrasa Farangi Mahal had the same variety and diversity of subjects. Besides religious scholars, these education institutes also produced qualified doctors, who spread far and wide to serve the humanity. Even today, the medical books which were taught in these schools can be found in the libraries of those whose ancestors once studied there. The teachers trained by these institutions were appointed as tutors in every village. This informal education system prevailed throughout the Sub-Continent, as a result of which the literacy rate in this region was more than 95 per cent. The book “Indigenous Education in Punjab” written by the first principal of Government College Lahore Mr. GW Leitner bears witness to the fact that during the Mughal era, there was a strong and solid system of primary education even in the rural areas of the country. Literacy in those days did not merely mean the ability to read and write. Besides being able to read the Quran and the Vedas, every literate person could read and write in Persian and possessed a fairly good knowledge of mathematics. Excellent teachers, who could be found in almost each and every village, were educated and trained in these schools. The gazetteers of all the Indian districts compiled in 1906 reveal the fact that in general, the literacy rate in the cities was around 90 per cent. A similar situation was shown by the census report of 1911. This vast network of education and literacy was spread by those who had studied at these education institutes, which produced civil servants like police officers, judges, revenue collectors, those who conducted the measurement of lands and architects, who constructed such magnificent masterpieces as Taj Mahal and Shalimar Garden. Only a well coordinated and well-integrated education system could be expected to perform this miracle. All foreign tourists who visited India in those days were unanimous in their admiration for the common man’s grasp of knowledge, literature, philosophy and politics. The travelogue of India written by Sir Thomas Rowe and published in 1642, supplies valuable information about the elaborate network of education institutes all over the country. A copy of this book is still preserved in the Punjab Archives. It shows that as many as four hundred colleges were working even in the far off city of Thatha. A salient feature of these education institutes was that unlike our present day system, they did not have any formal system of passing the examination and getting the required degree. In other words, degree or certificate could not be acquired by memorising a few important questions. Instead, teachers evaluated the performance of their students on a daily basis and, in due course of time, they announced that some of them had attained the required proficiency in their particular field of study.