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MADRASAH. An establishment of learning where the Islamic sciences are taught, the madrasah is a college for higher studies. During the tenth and eleventh centuries, the madrasah was devoted primarily to teaching law, and the other Islamic sciences and literary philosophical subjects were optionally taught. Today, however, the designation madrasah is ambiguous. Although originally the madrasah was created as an institution of Islamic higher learning in contrast to the kuttab or maktab, the children’s schools in the Middle East, currently the term madrasah is sometimes used for establishments for elementary teaching of Qur’anic knowledge.

History. Related to the madrasah, in particular to the pre-madrasah institutions, is the masjid (mosque), which was the first institution of learning in Islam. The jami` (congregational mosque) had its halaqdt (study circles): the ddr, bayt and khizdnah are three terms that mainly designate libraries. Other institutions similar to the madrasah are the ribat, khanqdh, zdwiyah, turbah, and duwayrah, all types of monastery colleges in medieval Islam.

At earlier stages the instruction in the madrasah was linked with the mosque: at a later stage the mosquekhanqah complex developed and served to house students. The final step was the creation of the madrasah as a distinct institution. A madrasah was an edifice used

for study and as a residence for teachers and students; annexed to it was usually a library. Madrasahs were subsidized with permanent sources of income, such as land or rent-bearing urban property in the form of the waq f (religious endowment). The waqf provided for salaries for the faculty and scholarships for students. For a long time there was much overlap between the mosque and the madrasah. The regular mosques continued to be seats of learning even after the creation of madrasahs, and the word madrasah also signified a room in a mosque dedicated to teaching. In Mecca, for example, the madrasahs were often built near the large mosques. There is much debate about the history of the madrasah and its association with teaching in the mosque. Although madrasahs existed before Nizam al-hulk, he is nevertheless given credit for having institutionalized and created a vast network of these schools. According to Asad Talas (1939), the madrasah served as an institution to combat anti-Shi`i propaganda. Nizam al-hulk ordered that the Nizamiyah madrasah be constructed in AH 457 (1o65 CE), and the school was completed two years later in Baghdad. During the time of Nizam alMulk and immediately afterward, madrasahs spread in Iraq, Khurasan, al-Jazira and other leading cities of the Muslim world.

The madrasahs were established mainly to teach law, and originally each institution was devoted to a single school of law. The ordinary madrasahs, however, included other subjects in addition to fiqh (jurisprudence). The phenomenon of “traveling students” who strove to sit at the feet of scholars to collect the Prophet’s sayings applied equally to madrasahs. In fact medieval Muslim scholars were great travelers.

As Louis Gardet has noted (1977), many of the students frequenting the madrasah and university mosques originated from the poorer strata of society. The madrasah was a path to escape manual work, and many strove to obtain the meager stipends given by the mosque or madrasah. Until completing their studies, such students lived modestly in lodges of the school and were given a daily ration of bread. C. Snouck Hurgronje (1931) has pointed to the decaying state of madrasahs in Mecca during the late nineteenth century. Government officials treated the schools as abandoned property; the only university building in Mecca where lessons were taught was the great mosque.

In Muslim India the madrasahs were establishments of higher learning that produced civil servants and judicial officials. One of the most important events in terms of the revival of the of the madrasah during the latter part of the nineteenth century was the founding of the Deoband school by Rashid Ahmad and Muhammad Qasim in 186’7 in British India. This led to the establishment of many madrasahs modeled on Deoband. Deoband itself remained a center for Islamic studies. Its madrasah was created in the old Chattah mosque as a distinct institution with a central library and was run by professional personnel. The students were required to take examinations. The school aimed at spreading reformist Islam. Some methods of instruction in Deoband differed from those of other madrasahs. Deoband was thus considered as a successful example of how the `ulama’ might propagate their message through modern organizational style and innovative educational methods.

Decline. With the advent of colonialism in Muslim countries, the introduction of Western curricula and teaching, and subsequent independence movements, the madrasahs experienced tremendous changes, varying from country to country. First, most Muslim countries adopted modern educational institutions in the form of universities, academies, colleges, and institutes. Quite often modern Islamic institutes, centers, and faculties of theology were created to counterbalance the old madrasahs. In some countries the madrasahs themselves adapted by introducing secular subjects. At the same time they lost potential students to secular institutions. This fact constitutes one of the most important reasons for social change.

Turkey is a case in point. When Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was elected president, the new republican regime undertook measures to control religious institutions. The Kemalist secularist reforms between 1924 and 1928 aimed, among other things, to close the medreses (the Turkish term).

Al-Azhar University in Cairo likewise witnessed successive reforms since the end of the nineteenth century in the government’s attempts to stabilize the standards of education. Cairo University and Dar al-`Ulum, as modern institutions of learning attracting the rising elites, certainly competed with al-Azhar. In particular, a 1961 law, Article 103, led to the secularization of alAzhar through the introduction of secular faculties. The idea was to produce graduates who would have “multiple exposure”, meaning both a scientific and a religious perspective, so that religion would cease to be a profession. The al-Azhar certificates were standardized vis-avis the national system. This law recomposed the institution and created new colleges in such areas as business and administration, Arabic studies, engineering and industries, agriculture, and medicine, in addition to the existing Islamic. Colleges. [See Azhar, al-.]

In Iran, after the introduction of a Western-influenced educational system, the maktab or Qur’anic school witnessed a significant decline; the only institution that survived the modernizing policies of Reza Shah was the madrasah, although the number of students in madrasahs declined. Even the sons of prominent mullahs were attracted to the secular schools because of the economic advantages of such degrees.

There is much debate among social scientists regarding the dual system of education in Muslim countries. It is viewed as having generated an antagonism between the `ulama’ who are the product of the traditional religious educational system, and the Western-trained intelligentsia who dispute with them about the legitimate interpretations of religious texts. ‘Ali Shari`ati, one of the most distinguished ideologues of the Iranian revolution, expressed criticism of traditional education in the madrasah; he considered that the alternative Husayniyah Irshad Islamic Institute, established in the 1960s by reformist ayatollahs, offered a more stimulating education.

Despite such conflicts, both the `ulama’ and the intellectuals who teach in Western-style universities have in most Muslim countries been integrated into the state bureaucratic apparatus and have become professionalized; they simply function through different educational channels. Thus the significance of al-Azhar University in Cairo rests not only in its being the most important Sunni center in the Muslim world, but equally because it is a huge bureaucratic apparatus providing organizational status, income, teaching facilities, publications, and international networks for a wide range of `ulama’ and religious officials.

Renewed Interest. Only in recent years, with the success of the Iranian revolution and the growing impact of the `ulama’ has a renewed interest among scholars concerning the significance of “traditional intellectuals” and their channels of transmission of knowledge been observed. Dale Eickelman (1985) considers that although traditional intellectuals place a particular value upon the past they are not necessarily stagnant, and that traditional social thought is revealed to be politically dominant. He recounts the social biography of a rural Moroccan `alim who received his education in a rural madrasah and zdwiyah, an exclusively male student community, and later in a mosque-university in Marrakesh, revealing the intellectual vitality of this traditionally educated class.

With renewed interest in Islam and with further islamization launched by both Muslim state and the religious opposition, there has been a revival of the madrasah. For example, under the islamization policies of Zia ul-Haq in Pakistan the dini madaris witnessed a flowering; they underwent reforms and their degrees were recognized by the national system. In recent years, a significant Muslim migration from the Indian subcontinent to England, from North Africa to France, and from Turkey to Germany has been accompanied by the establishment of muslim religious schools in Europe. There has been a proliferation of private madrasahs as Qur’anic schools for the European-born children of Muslim migrants.

Turkey has also seen an increase in the number of Imam Hatip schools, which were created in 1951 and which operate as both middle- and high-school levels. In 1986 there were 386 of these schools. Parallel to this, the Muslim world has witnessed the creation of alternative colleges and religious centers of education. For example the African Islamic Centre in Khartoum, Sudan, was founded in 1977. Various faculties of theology were newly established in many Muslim countries, including two faculties of divinity in Turkey; the Islamic Research Institute and the Faculty of Shari ah at the University of Damascus, Syria, which was founded some thirty years ago and was influenced by the methods of teaching practiced at al-Azhar; the International Islamic University in Islamabad, Pakistan, and the similar institution in Kuala Lumpur; the International Institute of Islamic Civilization in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, established in 1987 as a continuation of the madrasah tradition; and the IAIN (Institut Agama Islam Negeri) in Indonesia. These are all examples of contemporary attempts to promote higher Islamic education.

Southeast Asia. In discussing the madrasahs of Indonesia it is crucial first to mention the pondok pesantren, an educational system spread generally in Malaysia and particularly in the regions of Kedah and Kelantan as well as in Southern Thailand. The word pondok comes from the Arabic word funduq, meaning “inn”; it is a boarding school for Qur’anic and other religious subjects. The word pesantren comes from santri, “religious students.” In such a school there is a teacher-leader, the kijajilkiyayi, and a group of male pupils-ranging in number from three or four to a thousand-called santris.

The santris reside in the pondok in dormitories, cook their own food, and wash their own clothes. There are also pesantren for female students and others with segregated male and female quarters. The students travel from one pesantren to another to obtain a certificate (ijazah) in various religious subjects, but they always return to the mother pesantren once a year to maintain the link. The santris lead a very disciplined and regulated religious life. Lombard has pointed out (Le carrefour javanais, vol. 2, Les reseaux asiatiques, Paris, 1990 that the functioning of most of the pesantrens in Indonesia relies heavily on the person of the kiyayi. The pesantren usually faces decline with the death of the kiyayi and thus lacks continuity. In Indonesia there are around forty thousand pesantren teaching eight million students. Most of these schools are in rural areas.

Perhaps what makes a pesantren different from the traditional Middle Eastern madrasah is the fact that the former never belonged to royal patrons, nor did they rely on waqf funding; they are instead dependent on personal contributions. Recently important changes have occurred in some pesantren with the introduction of classes, chairs, and tables. Special attention should be drawn to the famous Gontor Pondok Moderen, “Pendidikan Darrusalam” at Gontor Ponorogo in East Java. This pesantren is significant for sending a number of students to the Middle East. Arabic and English are the medium of instruction. The pesantren itself has many returning Indonesian graduates from the Middle East who teach there. The certificate offered by Gontor is recognized by al-Azhar University.

The madrasah diniya are a special category of madrasah that provide religious instruction to pupils within the state school system. After completion of state secondary schooling, these students are admitted to religious studies at a tertiary level. These schools are divided into madrasahs for elementary and higher education, called the madrasah ibtida’iya (“primary school”), madrasah thanawiya (“secondary school”), and madrasah `aliya (“high school”). The madrasah ibtida`iya negeri (M.I.N.) is a six-year elementary state madrasah. Since the 1970s the government has introduced secular subjects into the madrasahs; in 1994 religious subjects constitute 30 percent of the elementary curriculum, while in the `aliya religious subjects constitute 70 percent. In recent years the modernization of the pesantrens and madrasahs under the auspices of one of the largest religious movements in Indonesia, the Nahdatul Ulama, has been perceived as a positive step toward the integration of madrasah and pesantren graduates into the national higher-education system.

In Singapore there are now thirty-six Islamic religious schools and madrasahs, of which only four offer both primary and secondary education. Since 19’71 these schools have introduced mathematics, science, and English, and their students can sit for the same examinations as students from secular schools. These madrasahs are a link to the Middle East, and their students’ success is measured by their admission to study at al-Azhar or any other Middle Eastern institution. Al-Azhar recognizes only the certificates from Madrasah al-Junied alIslamiiah, and any student wanting to travel to the Middle East must complete one year in this madrasah. As a result of financial problems, MUIS (Majlis Ugama Islam Singapora, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore) recently placed the madrasahs under its auspices in order to support the system.

In the early 1960s the pondoks of Thailand underwent state intervention that transformed them into regular private schools with special emphasis on religious education. The most important contributions the students of the pondok make while studying is preaching in remote areas. The pondoks have recently come under the control of the Thai state, and further government intervention in the pondok curriculum has led to students being sent abroad to study in Middle Eastern countries. These students have become a channel through which external Islamic influence has been brought into Thailand.

[See also Education; Khanqah; Mosque; Pesantren; Universities; Zawiyah. ]


Boland, B. J. The Struggle of Islam in Modern Indonesia. The Hague, 1971. Insightful overview of the role of Islam in contemporary Indonesia since the Japanese invasion.

Eccel, A. Chris. Egypt, Islam, and Social Change: Al-Azhar in Conflict and Accommodation. Berlin, 1984. Extensive and rich study of the evolution of Al-Azhar University and mosque.

Eickelman, Dale F. Knowledge and Power in Morocco: The Education of a Twentieth-Century Notable. Princeton, 1985. Brilliant study of the education of a Moroccan notable, with information about the madrasah in Morocco.

Faruqi, Zia-ul-Hasan. The Deoband School and the Demand for Pakistan. London, 1963. One of the best studies of the Deoband school.

Feillard, Andree. “Les oulema indonesiens aujourd’hui: De l’opposi-tion a une nouvelle legitimite” Archipel, no. 46 (1993): 89-111. Gardet, Louis. Les hommes de l’Islam: Approche des mentalites. Paris, 1977. Interesting “history of mentalities” approach to Islamic history.

Geertz, Clifford. The Religion of Java. New York, 196o. Excellent study of the various religions in Java, with outstanding information on the pesantren and madrasah.

Kepel, Gilles, and Yann Richard. Intellectuels et militants de l’Islam contemporain. Paris, 1990. Collection of essays about the tensions between traditional and Western-trained intellectuals in contemporary Muslim societies.

Lapidus, Ira. A History of Islamic Societies. Cambridge, 1989. Excellent historical survey of Islamic institutions, politics, and culture in the Muslim world.

Lombard, Denys. Le carrefour javanais: Essai d’histoire globale, vol. 2, Les reseaux asiatiques. Paris, 1990. Fascinating study of Javanese spiritual and material culture, with insightful data on religious education in Indonesia.

Makdisi, George. The Rise of Colleges: Institutions of Learning in Islam and the West. Edinburgh, 1981. The best study to date of the growth of colleges, their methods of teaching, and various types of institutions in medieval Islam.

Malik, S. Jamal. Islamisierung in Pakistan, 1977-84: Untersuchungen zur Auflosung autochthoner Strukturen. Stuttgart, 1988. Perceptive study of politics, religion, and changing educational patterns in Pakistan.

Metcalf, Barbara D. Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband, 1860-1900. Princeton, 1982. The best study to date of the Deoband school and the role of the Indian `ulama’ in politics and education. Mottahedeh, Roy P. The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran. New York, 1985. Excellent biography of an Iranian Muslim scholar, with descriptions of the evolution of the madrasah in Iran. Pedersen, Johannes, et al. “Madrasa.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 5, pp. 1123-1154. Leiden, 1960-.

Pitsuwan, Surin. Islam and Malay Nationalism: A Case Study of the Malay-Muslims of Southern Thailand. Bangkok, 1985. The best study to date of the Muslims in Thailand.

Reed, Howard A. “Ataturk’s Secularizing Legacy and the Continuing Vitality of Islam in Republican Turkey.” In Islam in the Contemporary World, edited by Cyriac K. Pullapilly, pp. 316-339. Notre Dame, Ind., 198o. Insightful data on the role of the state and religion in Turkey.

Richard, Yann. L’Islam Chi’ite. Paris, 1991. Overview of Iranian Islam and contemporary intellectual trends.

Saint-Blancat, Chantal. “Hypothese sur l’evolution de l’Islam transplante en Europe.” Social Compass 40.2 (1993) 323-342.

Snouck Hurgronje, Christiaan. Mekka in the Latter Part of the Nineteenth Century: Daily Life, Customs, and Learning; The Moslims of the East-Indian-Archipelago. Translated by J. H. Monahan. Leiden and London, 1931. Lively anthropological study of Meccan life, containing insights into the religious teachings and customs of the Meccans and other communities.

Talas, Asad. La madrasa Nizamiyya et son histoire. Paris, 1939. Exemplary study of the most important madrasah in medieval Islam.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/madrasah/

  • writerPosted On: July 28, 2014
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