The State of Educational System in the Muslim World

Talk by Shaykh al-Islam Mufti Taqi Usmani
Translated by Umer Ansari 

[After salutations, peace and blessings upon Prophet Muhammad]

Peace be upon you all,

The President of the University (Darul-‘Ulum Karachi), Grand Mufti of Pakistan, my respected brother Mufti Rafi’ ‘Uthmani has stated on numerous occasions, and I have also been able to mention this idea Mufti Shafi’ ‘Uthmani had once articulated at a gathering: After the creation of Pakistan, we need a new educational system.

Before Pakistan was created, there were essentially three major Islamic educational systems in effect (in South Asia):

  • The system of Dārul-‘Ulum Deoband
  • The system of Aligarh Muslim University
  • The system of Darul-‘Ulum Nadwatul Ulama

In 1950 or 1951, Mufti Shafi’ ‘Uthmani said that after the creation of Pakistan, we do not need educational system of Aligarh, Nadwa, or Deoband anymore, rather we need a disparate educational system that follows in the footsteps of our predecessors (aslaf). It was strange that the Grand Mufti of Deoband would say that we do not need Deoband, instead we need a new educational system.

Akbar Allahabadi commented on these three major systems that were prevalent in India:

ہے دل روشن مثال دیوبند ، اور ندوه ہے زبان ہوشمند
اب علی گڑہ کی بهی تم تشبیہ لو ،  ایک معزز پیٹ تم اس کو کهو

In reality, the greater depth of my father’s vision was not comprehended because of which we are now faced with innumerable setbacks. These three educational systems in India were natural nor were they innate, they were rather borne out of a reaction to the educational system and colonization established by the British. If we were to look at our centuries-old educational system, we will not find any difference between them and the regular schools. From the very beginning until colonialism, the Islamic schools or universities provided both religious and secular education [1] together.

The Shari’ah has stipulated that it is not an individual obligation (Farḍ al-’Ayn) to become a scholar (‘alim), rather it is a communal obligation (Farḍ al-Kifayah) [2]. A town or a country having enough scholars will have its communal obligation fulfilled. However, it is an individual‘s obligation to learn the basic obligations of the Deen; this is incumbent upon every Muslim. So in the previous educational system, every Muslim would receive education to learn their individual obligations, and then, if they wanted to pursue higher education in the religious sciences, they had those opportunities available, and if a student wanted to pursue higher education in secular sciences, then they had those opportunities available as well.

A few days ago, my older brother Mufti Rafi’ ‘Uthmani was in Morocco. There are two major cities in Morocco — Marrakesh and Fes. I was in the city of Fes last year, and my brother also visited it this year. They have a university called University of Qayrawan which is still operational. If we were to look into our history, we would find four major Islamic universities:

  • The University of Qayrawan in Fes, Morocco
  • The University of Zaytuna in Tunis, Tunisia
  • The University of Al-Azhar in Cairo, Egypt
  • The University of Darul-‘Ulum Deoband in Deoband, India

Qayrawan University was established in the 3rd century Hijri (i.e. 9th century CE) in the city of Fes. In their records they have claimed — and I haven’t found any other claim against it — that it is not only the oldest university of the Muslim world, rather it is the oldest university in the entire world! What does this mean? In Qayrawan University, the curriculum then included the religious sciences like Tafsir, Hadith, Fiqh, along with Medicine, Mathematics, Astronomy and all the modern secular sciences that are now called the ‘Aṣri ‘Uloom [3].

Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Rushd (Averroes), and Qaḍi ‘Iyaḍ had taught there, along with a long list of our predecessors (aslaf), and their teaching spots are preserved to this day, including the spot where Ibn Khaldun and Ibn Rushd taught, the spot where Qaḍi ‘Iyaḍ gave lectures, and the spot where Ibn al-’Arabi al-Maliki taught. This is one of the oldest universities of the world. The smaller madaris would certainly have existed but the Qayrawan University existed as a university where all the religious and worldly sciences were taught (under one roof). Even today, the University has replicas of the scientific inventions that were developed in the 3rd and the 4th century Hijri from that university. Legendary Islamic religious scholars studied in this university along with the famous philosopher Ibn Rushd and other major scientists of that era.

Their system was designed as such to provide obligatory education to everyone, and then for higher studies in religion, the student would take relevant classes and for mathematics, medicine or other worldly sciences, the student would take those classes within the same Qayrawan University. Similar was the case in Zaytuna University (in Tunis) and Al-Azhar University (in Egypt).

All three of our oldest universities had such an educational system that you would find both Qaḍi ‘Iyaḍ, who was the Imam of Hadith and Sunnah, and Ibn Khaldun, who was the Imam of History, very similar in their appearances. One would not be able to identify who was the scholar of religious sciences and who was the scholar of worldly sciences. Their appearance, their clothing, their culture, their manner of speaking was similar. If you look at our scientists like Farabi, Ibn Rushd, and al-Biruni, their appearance was similar to our Mufassireen, Muhadditheen and Fuqaha. They used to pray, they knew the issues of Ṣalaḥ, and the issues of fasting. So the basic foundational knowledge that is an individual obligation upon every Muslim, was known to all Muslims, and it was taught to all the pupils across the board.

The separation occurred when the British came with their educational system and a well thought-out plan [4] to remove Deen from the land. Faced with this issue our elders were compelled to react in order to preserve the knowledge of individual obligations of the Muslims and thus they established Dārul-‘Ulum Deoband. However, the reality (of our educational system) was that which had existed in the Qayrawan University, Zaytuna University and in the preliminary days of Al-Azhar University.

If Pakistan would have been truly a Muslim state, then as my father had stated, we would not have needed Aligarh, Nadwa or Dārul-‘Ulum Deoband in the first place, instead we would have needed Qayrawan and Zaytuna University; a university that would have been the center of learning for all of the various sciences, with all of its graduates having the same foundation of the Deen whether they became engineers, doctors, or chose to tread the path in any other field.

The educational system that was imposed upon us — it only taught us to be intellectually enslaved. Akbar Allahabadi truly stated:

اب علی گڑہ کی بهی تم تشبیہ لو ،  ایک معزز پیٹ تم اس کو کهو

It completely destroyed the rich history and tradition of the Muslims. The result of this is the great divide evident among the Muslims, where one group that is graduating from this system does not even know their individual obligations (Farḍ al-’Ayn); they do not know what their individual obligations are =- they are completely unaware! Secondly, they have been conditioned to think that if they want to be progressive and think intellectually, then they must divorce their own system and look towards the West.

It is saddening to see graduates of this educational system, or doctorates, or professors, criticize the students of knowledge like us on a daily basis, accusing us of closing the doors to Ijtihad, as it used to have a significant place in the Qur’an, Sunnah and Fiqh. However, there are fields where the doors to Ijtihad are wide open, for example in science, technology, mathematics and other secular studies. Why did they not prepare Mujtahids that could have done Ijtihad in the field of medicine and contributed a new development in that field? Or those who could have contributed in the field of Astronomy? These fields were (and still are) wide open.

A few days ago, a fellow forwarded a clip in which a religious scholar was being questioned:

“Mawlana sahib, the contribution of Ulema is known but why is it that there has not been any scientist or doctor or a new invention from the Ulema? What do you have to say about this?”

Oh servant of God, you should have questioned yourself that with the education you have received, has there been a Mujtahid that has invented a new thing? Here, the doors of Ijtihad are sealed shut such that whenever anything is said by the Englishmen, it is accepted without any fact checking. If the West says that something is harmful to your health, then so it is; and if they say otherwise then so it becomes? For a couple of years, the egg yolk was thought to increase cholesterol level and thus it was considered harmful for the body, but now suddenly all the doctors are saying that egg yolk is fine to consume and there is no harm in it. Why is that? It is so because the West said that it is fine to consume, so you accepted that it must be true without any research. There are plenty of herbs across our lands, why have you never researched them to find their medicinal use? The Blessed Prophet (sws) has mentioned the benefits of black cumin (kalonji), why have you never researched on it?

Acquiring knowledge once used to be a respectable venture to serve the people — to serve the creation of God, and that was the actual objective of learning. If through this venture a person would acquire any economic gains, that would have been a side benefit. Today, the sole objective of seeking knowledge is for economic gains — to learn as much as you can so that you can take as much wealth out of another’s pocket. Your knowledge is only beneficial if you can earn more than other people?

Look around and see how many people are studying and graduating with a Master’s and PhD degree. Look at their intentions as to why they are studying. They are studying so that they can have a good career, so that they can get a good job, and so that they can earn more money.

The concept of education has been overturned by making the object of learning just earning money. There is no concept of serving the community and humanity in this educational system. The result is that everyone is engaged in a race to earn more and more, and they do not have any concern for their community, or a desire to serve people or the humanity. They are busy day and night in earning as much as they can, so much so that people have resorted to deceit, theft, and murder. From among the people who have graduated from this system, how many have served humanity and benefited the people?

We were taught by the Messenger of Allah (sws), peace and blessings be upon him, not to engross ourselves in this dunya, and not to make this dunya our sole objective, however, this educational system flipped that worldview. So my respected father used to say that we need to re-overturn this post-colonial mindset, and go back to tread the path that was shown to us by Qayrawan University and Zaytuna University and the path that was shown to us by the early days of Al-Azhar University, as its system has also been overturned.

Since we could not get that system established at a governmental level, we at least tried to preserve the system of Darul-‘Ulum Deoband, and because of that, madaris were established.

However, we want our people to step by step move towards that system that we once had, and towards that end, you have watched the presentation preceding this lecture. By the grace of God, we have madaris spread across the nation (of Pakistan) and they are fulfilling the communal obligation, and they are probably just 1% of the nation. The 99% of the nation that is attending the prevalent system, and the way they are becoming intellectually enslaved to the Englishmen; I often advise both male and female teachers that for God’s sake take this generation out of this intellectual enslavement, and give them a vision of a free people and a free nation that possesses freedom of thought.

Not everything that comes from the West is bad, as there are many things that are also good. So take the good that the West has, and leave the bad. If we act on this principle then we can reach our desired destination.

Allama Iqbal has commented on this in beautiful [Persian] couplets:

قوت مغرب نہ از چنگ و رباب , نی ز رقص دختران بی حجاب
محکمی او را نہ از لادینی است , نی فروغش از خط لاتینی است
قوت افرنگ از علم و فن است , از ہمین آتش چراغش روشن است
حکمت از قطع و برید جامہ نیست , مانع علم و ہنر عمامہ نیست

“The power of the West comes not from lute and rebeck,
not from the magic of tulip-cheeked enchantresses,
its solidity springs not from irreligion,
its glory derives not from the Latin script.

The power of the West comes from science and technology,
and with that selfsame flame its lamp is bright.
Wisdom derives not from the cut and trim of clothes;
the turban is no impediment to science and technology.” [5]

[Parts of speech have been omitted for clarification]


Footnotes:

[1] ‘Aṣri ‘Uloom (عصری علوم) has been translated as worldly sciences or secular education.
[2] Farḍ al-’Ayn (فرض العین) is an individual obligation that every Muslim is obligated to know about and fulfill it. For example, the 5 daily obligatory prayers.
Farḍ al-Kifāyah (فرض الکفایه) is a communal obligation. If a significant people from a community fulfill it then it is fulfilled on behalf of the entire community, but if no one fulfills it then the entire community is sinful. Example of this is the Funeral Prayer.
[3] See footnote [1] above.
[4] Reference is being made to Lord MaCaulay’s plan that systematically removed Persian, Urdu and Arabic as a language of instruction, and forced English in the schools in British India.
[5] The English translation of the Persian couplets are by A.J. Arberry

(This was an English translation of a 30 minutes talk by Shaykh Mufti Muhammad Taqi ‘Uthmāni given at the “Adae Shuker” ceremony on March 15, 2016 that was organized by the Hira Foundation School, which is a division of Dārul-‘Ūlūm Karachi. Link of the original lecture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Skb–ane5Xk)

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