Traditional Curriculums’ New Significance 

Representational Photo

By Aaqib Anjum Aafi

THE famous poet Iqbāl had said that the fantasy of “old” and “new” is an indication of short-sightedness. If we were to look from a more awareprism, we will know that the religion of Islam gives everything its due. So,essentially, all dichotomies of the “modern” world which compartmentalise Islam are reductive and limited. This is especially true of “knowledge”.

During the colonial period, various discourses facilitated the disconnection of knowledge from religion. The Deoband seminary was established to help Muslims revive their lost identity and counter this colonisation of Knowledge. It’s curriculum focused on religion-specific subjects such as the Tafsir (exegesis), Hadith (Sayings/teachings of Prophet pbuh) and Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence).

The Aligarh school tried to work on the other front and majorly worked with a more materialistic approach. These steps taken by Muslim leaders could have been helpful in that relevant time period, however, they had a huge drawback as well. They led to the creation of a “Mulla vs. Mister” binary. Mawlana Manazir Ahsan Gilani aptly captures this division thus: For Muslims students who received their education from Aligarh, he said, “They have been robbed [of their religion], yet they know not of their robbing.” On the other hand, for the madrasah graduates he said, “Although imbued with religious predilections; they carry no real valence in society. To rub salt into the wound, these two classes of Muslims increasingly view each other with hostility and animosity.”

Various academic curriculums exist and are being taught in universities across the world. However, the Muslim madaris still focus on what is called the “Nizami” curriculum that was designed by Mulla Nizamuddin Sihalwi, a scholar of well repute belonging to the Farangi Mahali School. This curriculum was an amalgam of specific-religious subjects and non-religious subjects and included subjects as vast as medicine and mathematics.

The nizami curriculum was designed in a way that subverted this “religious and non-religious” binary and division in academic disciplines. Knowledge was regarded as a unity that belonged to no country or a kingdom.

In the contemporary age, this curriculum in essence exists nowhere but its namesake, the “contemporary dars-e-nizami”, partially or entirely modified, is taught in all the Islamic traditional seminaries in the subcontinent and in the UK and Africa. It is said the Sihalwi’s teaching circle was seen as the biggest seat of learning in Hindustan.

This glorious academic curriculum was lost in the battle against colonialism and Muslims began trying new ideas and solutions like the Nadwatul Ulama, the Islah and the Jamia Millia Islamia. The latter was established to help Muslims unite and stop the “Mulla vs. Mister” debate. Its co-founder was the first student of the Deoband seminary, Shaykh al-Hind, Mawlana Mahmud Hasan, who had just been released from the Malta prison and had turned very weak. He said, “We laid the foundation of this university to purify the milk-like pure syllabus of the state-linked higher institutions with which a drop of poison had been mixed”, the same statement that Gandhi had made. The Jamia was established on the lines of the Deoband seminary, having no connection with the government. It connected two schools, the one in Aligarh which was oriented towards materialism, and the Deoband, which focused on religion-specific subjects. Shaykh al-Hind died a month later, and if he had lived more – he would have made a more profound nizami based curriculum, ending the Mulla-Mister debate completely.

According to Muhammadullah Khalili Qasmi mentions, “As Islam is a comprehensive religion, its education system is also comprehensive. It includes all kinds of sciences and arts that are beneficial for human beings in this world and hereafter. Islam does not encourage such things that seem to be sciences, but they are based on ignorance and useless or even harmful for human beings. Thus, Islam classifies the useful sciences from the useless and harmful ones. Islam gave every science its due position and importance so that people can benefit from them as per their importance and need.”

Similarly, Mawlana Manazir Ahsan Gilani tried to identify a solution to this issue by suggesting a unity of the educational system. In his words, “People want to be free from Firawn, however it is more important that we try to be free from Firawnism”.

Mawlana Gilani too advocated a comeback of the unified old educational system to solve this issue.

These debates are all alive in one form or the other in academia. However, as these are a part of a legacy of Muslims, it becomes important for us to decolonise our education and fall back on the trust that our traditional scholarship put in an amalgamation of different kinds of discourses in pursuit of Knowledge. In the world of today, it should be deemed cardinal for all Muslims to dissociate themselves from definitions that create false dichotomies. One such dichotomy, as mentioned already, is the one between secular knowledge and religious knowledge.


The author can be reached at [email protected]

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

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