The Madrassah – The Seven Lives of a Madrassah

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

The madrassah, an ancient institution founded in the early years of Islamic history, has gone through profound transformations in the last 1400 years. The various dimensions of this transformation have been investigated and documented in other articles in the encyclopedia. In the table given below, we summarize the major changes that the madrassah, as an institution, has undergone and the historical context of those changes. We hope this table will serve as a quick reference for the historical evolution of the madrassah.

Period Archetype Institutional Structure/Teaching Method The Syllabus The Universities
632-765The
UmayyadPeriod
The
visionary;Salman
Farsi;Omar bin Abdel Aziz
The halqa;Imam in an open halqa in a mosque or home Knowledge transmitted
by the
Prophet
Madina
and Kufa as centers of learning; Damascusis a learning
center
765-847The Early Abbasidperiod The
rationalist (man of the mind);al Mansur;al
Mutawakkil;
The mosque-madrasa complex;A’alim to talib;

Open discourse

The Qur’an;The
Prophetic tradition;Arabic
language;Philosophy; Logic; Mathematics
Baghdad
becomes
the
intellectual capital of
the world.
Darul
Hikmah established
in Baghdad
847-1258 The late Abbasid
period. Brilliant civilization in Khorasan and Spain
The integrationist; “al Hakim” ;Ibn Sina The mosque-madrasa complex; A’alim to talib. Structured discourse Qur’anic sciences; Akhlaq;Languages;

Mathematics; Logic;

Natural sciences;

Experimentation;

History;

Medicine Tasawwuf

Thriving universities
In Kairaoun,
Fas,
Cordoba,
Toledo,
Seville,
Baghdad,
Cairo
(Al Azhar), Esfehan,
Herat, Samarqand, Bukhara
1258-1650 Political and social disintegration in Asia
and the Maghrib (1212-1500);The
Ottomans,
The Safavids and the
Great Moguls
emerge.
The Sufi;The wali;(man
focused
on the soul);Man of
Akhlaq;Shaikh
Abdel
Qader
Jeelani
The zawiyah;Decentralized educational system; Shaykh to murids The Qur’an;Tasawwuf; Trade skills;

Basic technology;

Military
skills;

Chivalry;

“Aadab”;

Arithmetic; (Neglect
of basic
natural
sciences)

Universities in
Samarqand, Tabriz,Qum,Timbaktu,
Cairo,
Kairaoun, Bijapur,and Pasai
exist side

by side with the

zawiyas; Patronage of scholars in the Delhi courts.

1650- 1850 The ascent
of Europe. Science and technology move West.Muslims lose trade routes.European colonies
The traditionalist;The Mullah;The Mufti;

Aurangzeb

Isolation
of the
Madrasa. Beginning of “the age of discontinuity”;Mullah to talib
The Qur’an;Hadith
(Neglect of Mathematics, science,history and
the sciences of the soul)
Universities in Egypt and Africa survive as skeletons from a bygone era
1880-1920 Hey-day of colonialism The “reformer”;The
apologist; Jamaluddin
al Afghani
“Western”
style
university; Continuation
of “the age of discontinuity”; Complete dissociationof “deeni” and “dunawi”
or secular education;Professor to student
Languages;Clerical
skills;Some
science;Some math (Neglect of history and the sciences
of the soul)
“Western”style
universities in Istanbul;Aligarh,Cairo, and later in other major cities
around
the world
1920-TodayPost colonial period. Neo-colonialism The awakening; Mohammed Iqbal Attempts to reconcile western
thought with Islamic teachings;Professor to student
Emphasis on science and technology Western style
universities

* This article was submitted to the Encyclopedia of Islamic History (www.historyofislam.com) on March 1, 1995. This date may be used as the first date of publication. The article is based on lectures given by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed in the 1967 to 1992 period.

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