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Schools of Religious Education
Moiz Amjad
(Tr. by:Amar Ellahi Lone)


Today we hardly find schools of religious education of the calibre which we encounter in history. The high character which was the trade mark of our scholars has become a story of the past now. The intellectual ability and the standard of character of scholars is on the decline for a long time. There can be many reasons for this. The most important, however, is the low standards of institutions that produce scholars. There is no doubt about it that whatever remains of religion in our country, it is because of these religious schools, but we will also have to admit the fact that these schools are victims of stagnation for a very long time and we should not expect more service than what they are providing.

The system of religious education which is in vogue in our country has serious flaws because of which graduates from these schools do not come up to the required standards. Although these flaws are discussed in the intellectual circles and sometimes planning to bring a change is also done but every change gives rise to more problems and doubts. Man actually possesses a nature that resists change and with the ageing process this resistance to change becomes more and more strong. Moreover, it is also a fact that sometimes reasoning and logic do not convince people, instead it is success that convinces them. Experience tells that in existing circumstances no drastic change can be expected from the administrators of religious institutions. The only way to reform these schools is to establish religious schools of such high calibre under the supervision of the government which set examples for these existing religious schools. In this regard universities should be set up for higher education just like universities for other specialised fields. At the same time the existing religious schools should be encouraged to bring about the required changes and reforms.

But the most important question is what are the flaws in the current system of religious education that need to be eradicated? What are the types of reforms that should be encouraged? Any step taken to reform these schools without first locating the flaws in the system would not produce the desired results.

Here we shall try to suggest some positive changes in the system of religious schools, but first it is important to have a full knowledge of the short comings present in this system. After doing so it will become easier to suggest changes.

A Separate Education System

Every year a lot of doctors, engineers, architects, lawyers and business managers graduate from different universities in our country. All these people are masters of different fields of study which differ from each other a lot. These are based on various faculties like medicine, law, economics etc. Although masters of these faculties are important need of the society but despite this need it does not happen that children are admitted to special schools for say medicine and engineering at the beginning of their academic life. To the contrary we notice that up-till class eight all the children study the same subjects and after that the division between science and arts take place. A child decides according to his/her aptitude. At this level some specialised courses are introduced in each group apart from the common basic courses. This trend continues till class ten. On the intermediate level students are further divided into special fields. For example in the field of science the division between medicine and engineering takes place. Again at this stage a child is not pressurised by the society to take certain courses. He/she chooses freely. At this level some courses are taught to both student of Arts and Science. Similarly irrespective of the division of medicine and engineering some courses are studied by all the students of Science. After Intermediate the students seek admission in their different specialised institutions. At this stage students of Medicine and Engineering study totally different courses according to their respective departments. In reality this is the point from where actual division starts.

Therefore, whether a child wants to become a Doctor or an Engineer, a Scientist or a Lawyer, up till class twelve all the students study the same courses with the exception of a few specialised ones. It is because of this common ground that masters of these different faculties share common intellect, thinking process, language and way of living. They can talk to each other and explain their thoughts easily. They can comprehend each other’s problems and share happiness. They actually seem to be people of the same society.

Along with these people, masters in the field of religious education are also an important need of the society. In reality these scholars should be the brains of the society. But the method adopted for producing religious scholars is the one in which a student is admitted to a totally different system of education from the beginning. He lives in a different atmosphere, speaks a different language. Infact he becomes totally different from the society in his style of living, appearance, dress code, ideals and emotions. It is because of this separation that the doctors, engineers, lawyers etc. can talk to each other freely but these religious scholars can neither convey their message nor understand what the society says. In their eyes the whole society is on the wrong track while in the sight of the society these scholars are incapable of understanding the realities of the world. In this way these religious scholars cannot perform the important task of guiding people.

Another dilemma of this system is that most of the people who study religion do not have the aptitude for it. So neither they become proper religious scholar nor they can pursue a career in other fields because of the difference in the two education systems. In this situation they remain unable to provide their services to the nation.

It should be kept in mind here that according to Qur’ān it is the duty of religious scholars to call the whole nation towards the religion of God and warn them of His wrath. A religious scholar is supposed to answer questions of people from all walks of life. He has to communicate with doctors, engineers, lawyers, philosophers, economists etc. at their level of understanding. In this regard a scholar should have basic knowledge about all the related fields and in that sense the area of operation of a scholar becomes wider and wider.

This reality demands that people with highest calibre should excel in the field of religious education. An ordinary person cannot do so. Contrary to this fact in the existing system of education only those people excel who are not capable of doing anything else.

The basic remedy for all these ills is that students joining these religious schools should first pass the intermediate exams spending their first twelve years of academic life in ordinary schools. As a result of this, the distance between our religious scholars and the society will gradually disappear. Only then it can be hoped that our scholars will be able to play their positive role in the society. Moreover, the condition for compulsory F.A., F.Sc education will only bring those people towards this line who have the aptitude for it.

To raise the standard of religious scholars it is necessary that only those people should be selected who are of the highest calibre intellectually. The concept that a person unable to do anything else becomes a religious scholar, should be completely uprooted. Contrarily the idea of religious and intellectual leadership of these scholars should be strongly inculcated in the society. There is no doubt about the fact that maintaining high admission standards would cause a decline in the number of people taking admission in these religious schools, but it does not matter as such. Infact producing one scholar with high calibre and intellectual prowess is far better than producing hundreds who are misfits everywhere.

Drawbacks  in the Curriculum of Religious Schools

Some of the main drawbacks in the curriculum of religious schools are as follows.

a.  Indifference towards the Qur’ān

Qur’ān is the basic book of our religion. Every person, whether a Muslim or not realises it fully that Qur’ān holds the ultimate position in Islam. This is the book which the Almighty has declared as the criteria for judging good and bad. This is the book which Almighty has declared as ‘the rope of Allah’. This is   the legacy of Holy Prophet (sws), and the Ummah has been made its custodian. Naturally then, this status of Qur’ān demands that it should be the focal point in religious education. Any person who is not well-versed in the subject of Qur’ān can not be a scholar of Islam.

The Qur’ān should therefore secure the central position in the curriculum of religious schools, but in reality the situation is quite opposite. Qur’ān, almost, does not enjoy any position in the curriculum of our religious schools.

According to Javed Ahmad Ghamidi:

Although these are religious schools but they could never realise the actual position of Qur’ān which it enjoys in Islam. In Islam Qur’ān is the criteria for distinguishing between good and bad, revealed by Allah. The natural outcome of this reality should have been that it should be the pivot in these schools also. The teaching process should have started from and terminated at Qur’ān. Student should have leaped forward in its guidance, exploring the world of knowledge. Whatever is taught would be to have the understanding of the meaning of Qur’ān. Fiqh, Hadith, Philosophy, Literature, everything should have been tested on its basis and it should have served as the distinguisher between right and wrong. All the discussions related to beliefs and doctrines should have started and ended on it. Students should have undergone a thought provoking process for each of its verses. They should have been told that only Qur’ān rules on Abu Hanifa and Shafa’ee, Bukhari and Muslim, Junaid and Shibli, and anything contrary to Qur’ān present in these works should be rejected.

This is the true position of Qur’ān in Islam and it should have enjoined the same position in the system of these religious schools. But every knowledgeable person is aware of the fact that in the first phase, the students of these schools devote themselves only to memorise Qur’ān, and in the last phase they only have a glimpse of it in the pages of Jalalain and Baidawi. No other privilege has ever been given to it.

This attitude towards Qur’ān has resulted in the fact that now we have nothing as the Divine will to guide people’s deeds and thoughts and all that remains are conflicts and controversies. These sources of light have been turned into realms of darkness. (Pas che bayad kard 22)

For the betterment of these affairs it is inevitable that the curriculum of the universities of higher religious education should be set up in a manner in which the focus should be on Qur’ān. It should be the criteria for Fiqh, Haidth, Philosophy and Literature, and the decision to accept or reject something should be made in the light of its verses. All the discussions about beliefs and doctrines should end on it. Students should be made aware of the fact that all the jurists and scholars are ruled by Qur’ān, and anything contrary to it cannot be accepted as religion.

b.  Drawbacks in the Teaching of Different Disciplines

If a student, who is not capable of speaking, writing and understanding the English language, is taught subjects like Science, Geography, History and Mathematics in English then it does not make any sense; and this is the basic defect in our existing system of education. It is because of this trend that instead of deciphering, the students start cramming. They infact are not capable of understanding something and then explaining it into their own words. Obviously, it is meaningless to teach a student, different disciplines in a language with which he is not fully familiar.

This same defect present in the existing system of education, is very much there in the system of religious education. At the religious schools the curriculum is taught in either Arabic or Persian. For a student, who is usually not even well versed in Urdu, it is very difficult to grasp disciplines like Logic, Philosophy, Literature, Rhetoric and Oratory in foreign languages like Arabic and Persian. So the students only remain to the extent of solving the problems of language instead of actually focusing on these disciplines.

Moreover, the prescribed books included in the curriculum of these schools have the tendency to explain even a simple matter in a difficult style.

The passage of time has brought about such a drastic change in the literary style, that today when we read these books, we feel that the authors did not have the purpose of communication, with their readers, before them. Simple statements have been made complex, and commonly understood facts have been written down in an intricate and difficult manner. As a result one has to consult commentaries on these books to comprehend them; and ironically, the commentaries are also written in the same evasive style. Thus the student is lost in the labyrinth of the complicated sentences of these books and instead of understanding the concept given in the books, he wastes his time in parsing and revealing the intricacies of the construction of the sentences.

It is the consequence of studying these text books that on graduation, when these religious scholars assume the responsibilities of services in a mosque, delivering sermons from the pulpit or teaching  and thus try to carry the message of faith to common man, their style of speaking is identical to the one found in their text books. As a result the common man needs commentators to decipher their language and style.

The Rector of the celebrated religious University of Deoband, Maulana Marghoob-ur-Rehman, while delivering a speech on this subject, says:

Our curriculum, despite some changes, largely consists of the books which were selected by Mulla Nizamu-ud-Din Sihalvi (d. 1161 A.H.). These books were compiled by the scholars of later age. Despite their brevity, they were meant to encompass all the topics and contents of the subject so that the student is informed on all aspects of the subject. These brilliant writers have succeeded in their objective but as a result of the brevity these books suffer from frequent ambiguities and errors. This difficulty created the necessity of writing commentaries and study aids for these texts. It became necessary that while explaining the texts the principles of lexicon, grammar, morphology, and the art of  communication should be applied so that the brief sentences become intelligible. This approach does not allow the student to attend to the entire picture of the issue. In other words this pedagogy has failed in helping the students to grasp the issues in totality, to develop the thought on these issues, or to reach the required stage of clarity of concept. But on the other hand, this pedagogy has helped tremendously to impart the abilities to analyse, critically evaluate, and resolve textual difficulties. When these students study the voluminous commentaries which explain the issues in detail, they gain a lot and they attain heights of scholarship.

There is a parallel method of education that is prevalent in our times. It prefers to select simple and easy books where difficult analyses of the text is not required, and the subject matter and concepts are absorbed easily. This pedagogy has definitely proved successful in helping the student attain command over the subject. However in the light of their experience, the experts on education think that this method has failed to enable the students to comprehend, analyse and overcome the difficulties of a text. (Monthly ‘Dar-ul-Uloom, July 1994, p.24)

It is clear from the above discussion that the purpose of teaching on the basis of these books is not to produce scholars of high calibre but to train students to understand the meanings of difficult sentences. Even the Mulana admits, that these books are not very useful as teaching material. For this purpose, books written in simple language would be more useful.

So the above mentioned situation would be tantamount to teaching students of class seven, books of Advanced Science. Doing so, with the concept, that at least they will learn how to read these books, will be totally absurd, and this logic will not be acceptable.

It should be kept in mind here that these books were written in a certain time period in history, and so they are only helpful in solving the problems of that certain age and its literary style. Students do not acquire the capability of solving the problems related to the understanding of Qur’ān by reading these books. In this way tremendous effort is wasted and students are only forced to understand a difficult sentence. It is not the correct way to produce scholars of high calibre.

In our opinion the simple solution for this problem is that only those books should be included in the curriculum which are written in easy and simple language and in the contemporary modern styles. As a result, it will be easier for students to understand different disciplines. After teaching these disciplines a course on the study of the writing styles of different early scholars can be included in the curriculum in the later years.

c.    Outdated Curriculum

There was time when our scholars were fully prepared to counter any intellectual and philosophical attack on Islam. With the advent of Greek philosophy, a new round of discussions started concerning beliefs and thought. Had our scholars ignored this situation at that time, the whole structure of Islamic beliefs and disciplines would have transformed according to Greek philosophy. But the scholars of Islam took up this challenge and presented the Islamic belief in such a way that it automatically wiped out the effect of Greek philosophy. The specimens of this period can be found in the works of scholars like Ibn-e-Taimiyya, Ibn-e-Rushd, Razi and Ghazali.

For the past many years the Ummah is facing the same situation. The only difference is that this time the West has taken place of Greece. Instead of doctrines and beliefs, laws and Shariah are being criticised. But today we do not have scholars of the calibre of Ghazali, Razi, Ibn-e-Rushd and Taimiyya. Although the scholars of today are also fighting against this invasion but their endeavours are directed towards their own people and not the real enemy. Our scholars are entangled in charging each other of blasphemy, declaring each other infidel, dishonest and heretic.

During the past fifty years Islam was criticised on every field of life ranging from politics and penal laws to social and economic laws. A systematic struggle is being carried out to up root the Islamic concepts of slavery, equality between sexes, interest and insurance, democracy, human rights, crime and punishment, polygamy and divorce etc. As a result, a large section of Muslims has started eyeing teachings of Islam with suspicion. They do not allow Islam to take a step forward but want to confine it to the discussions of doctrines and beliefs. They do not allow the interference of Islam in collective matters, rather they brand all the laws mentioned in Qur’ān and Sunnah as temporary and hence try to show that these laws are non-practical.

But our scholars are fighting among themselves. They are neither aware of the principles of economics nor they are interested in the social laws. They do not know what politics is and are unaware of the logic of Penal laws in different countries of the world. They are not interested in any field of modern study and knowledge such as Philosophy, Psychology or Physics.

We think that the cause of this ignorant behaviour on the part of our scholars towards the western invasion is the curriculum of religious institutions. Students are not even introduced to the modern disciplines. It is because of this curriculum that the scholars from these schools are not capable of answering the questions, related to Science, Economics, Sociology, Politics, Penal laws, Psychology and Philosophy, which are posed not only by non-Muslims but also by the Muslim.

Mr Javed Ahmad Ghamidi writes about this curriculum as follows:

The curriculum of these schools is totally out dated and not at all sufficient for our religious and intellectual requirements. This curriculum is generally believed to have been prepared by Mulla Nizam-ud-din or on the opinion of the Saint of Phulwari Sharif, Mulana Fatah Ullah Sherazi was the one who prepared it. It is the product of that period when we were indifferent to the real sources of knowledge. We have already discussed the position that Qur’ān was given in this curriculum. Although Hadith was included in it but the way it was done, it could never promote the interest of Hadith in either the teacher or the student. Literature of the pre Islamic period was never considered at all. So students are unaware of the language, rhetoric of the Qur’ān.  The text books on rhetoric and eloquence included in the curriculum give more importance to logic than to eloquence. If a student has the taste for classy discussions in these arts, it is likely that he will lose that interest after studying these text books. The portion in the curriculum reserved for logic, philosophy and theology has more hazards than utility. Law is only taught from the Hanafi view point. The architects of law never had any concept about its pedagogy.  Jurisprudence, as evolved by the Muslims, is a matter of pride for us. Even on this subject no text book that could motivate free thinking was included. Even after two centuries, but this curriculum has not been able to incorporate the progress achieved in secular sciences. The progress achieved in subjects like Philosophy, Psychology, Economics, Astronomy, Physics, Political Science and others, have not been allowed access here. It is mere figment of the love for Maibazi and Sadra that their books have become immortal in the curriculum of our religious schools. Our religious scholars consider them so holy, that it is not permissible to bring about any change in these books. New disciplines are now ruling the world but the students of this curriculum are not even aware of their existence. During the last two centuries, the world accepted and then rejected a number of things, but these people are neither aware of the acceptance nor has the news of the rejection reached them as yet. (Pas che bayad kard 23-24)

In our opinion this problem can be solved by giving due importance to, Hadith, Jurisprudence, Fiqh, Literature of the Jahalya period and higher study of grammar in the curriculum. Contrary to the existing curriculum, students should be taught ancient Philosophy and Logic to an extent that they should get familiar with the key terms so that they do not face difficulty in reading books related to these disciplines. As far as modern disciplines are concerned, Philosophy, Psychology, Economics, Physics, Political Science should be taught in such a way that students should actually grasp these disciplines in a way that they can explain the point of view of Qur’ān while comparing it with these disciplines. A short course of International Literature should also be included in the curriculum, so that students can fully enjoy the literary style of Qur’ān. Similarly a book related to modern Law should be part of this curriculum. All the schools of jurisprudence should be taught and the ability to distinguish between right and wrong in the light of Qur’ān and Sunnah should be inculcated in the students.

d.   Ignorance of the Arabic Language and Literature

It becomes evident on a study of the Qur’ān that it is a masterpiece of literature. It is a matchless piece of work in the Arabic Language. There are many ways of communication in the world. An expert in the field of Logic would explain a view very differently compared to the explanation of the same view by a writer or a poet. The style of a mathematician is totally different from a historian. But every person who has some awareness of the history of knowledge of the world will agree that out of all the styles, the literary style has always been considered the best one. The main characteristic of this style is that a view expressed in it does not seem flat. It not only appeals to the brain but penetrates into the soul of a person and affects his / her emotions. Therefore in Qur’ān we find many examples of all the literary techniques and instruments.

So all the techniques, which have always been used in the great literary works of the world, have also been used in Qur’ān. Because of this literary style of Qur’ān, it is necessary for every person who wants to become a scholar of Qur’ān to have a good literary taste. He/she should know how a particular view is expressed in this style and how is it distinguished from other styles of communication. Although an ordinary person lacking this taste for literature will receive guidance from this book if he/she consults it honestly, but for a person, wanting to make Qur’ān the focus of his/her research, it is absolutely necessary to foster a good taste for literature. Without this qualification if a person tries to work on the Qur’ān he would be like a guide who is himself blind.

But even in the presence of this fact no effort is made to stimulate the literary interest of the students of our religious schools. Students are taught all those books which familiarise them with the writing style of the scholars of the past, but no step is taken to familiarise them with the style of Qur’ān.

Mr Javed Ahmad Ghamidi writes about the language of the Qur’ān in the following words:

However every student should understand it clearly that this Arabic is not the one written by Hareri or Razi nor is the one which is printed in newspapers and magazines of Syria and Egypt of our times, neither it is the Arabic of their poets and writers. But the Arabic in which Qur’ān was revealed is different in its words and idioms and style in the same manner in which the Urdu and Persian of our times is different from the times of Ghalib and Sadi. So it is a fact that the present Arabic language does not help in developing a taste for the language of Qur’ān, rather it makes a person positively ignorant of it. And if some one makes this present language the order of the day he sometimes even misses the whole philosophy of Qur’ān.

So it is absolutely necessary to master the language in which Qur’ān was revealed in order to have the full understanding of Qur’ān. Mr Javed Ahmad Ghamidi writes about the sources of this language as follows:

To master this language the basic source is Qur’ān itself. It is a fact that when Qur’ān was revealed in Makkah and its divine origin remained under discussion, nobody ever challenged its language. The Qur’ān itself claimed that it can never be the work of an Ajmi, because it is revealed in Arabic. It considered itself a miracle of literature and oratory and challenged the Quraysh to bring even a single Sūrah like that of Qur’ān’s. Even to the extent that it gave them the permission to seek help from their writers, poets, orators, diviners and even jinns and their gods and goddesses. But it remains a fact of history that the Arabs could neither deny the superiority of its language nor could take the challenge.

Out of the authors of the Seven Hanging Odes, Labeed was alive. He was the poet to whom all the poets of the Fair of Ukkaz paid homage by lying down prostate before him when he read out the famous stanza. But even Labeed, when he listened to the Qur’ān, assumed such a silence, that when Umar (ra) asked him to recite his poetry, he replied, ‘Poetry after the chapters of Baqara and Aal-e-Imran?’ It was not the admission of an individual. It meant that the eloquence of the entire Arabia had bowed down before the Qur’ān.

Then it is a fact that this miracle of language and style has reached us through history verbatim, without even the slightest corruption or variation in a single letter. Thus it is now an established fact that the Qur’ān is not only the sole authority of faith on this earth, but is also the final and definite authority for the language of that age.

After the Holy Qur’ān, this language is found in the corpus of sayings of the Holy Prophet (sws) and the sayings of his companions (ra). No doubt, since this material has not been communicated to us verbatim, therefore only a small part of it can be invoked as authority to determine the meaning of any part of the classical Arabic language. However, whatever original language has survived through these means, is a precious material for those who have the taste for the classical Arabic. It is the language used by the Holy Prophet (sws) who was the most eloquent of all Arabs, and the language of his companions (ra) who were prominent people of their age in the matter of eloquence. In its words, idiom and style, it is the masterpiece of the language in which the Holy Qur’ān was revealed. The examples of this language are mostly found in the Prophet’s prayers (sws), allegories, and dialogues with his companions (ra), because the exact words of the Prophet (sws) have been usually retained while communicating them. Therefore if the students of Arabic language dare to dive into this deep sea, they can gather a lot of pearls from there, and they can get tremendous help in solving the difficulties of Qur’ānic words and meaning.

The third source of classical Arabic is the classical literature. It includes the poetry of Imra al Qais, Zuhair, Amar bin Kulsūm, Labīd, Nābigha, Turah, Antara, A’shā, and Hārith bin Halza and the speeches of orators like Qass bin Sā’ada. Scholars know that a major part of this literature has been collected in the works of poets and Asma’iyat, Mufadaliyat, Hamasah, Sab’ Mu’lāqat, and the works of Jāhiz, Mubarrad and other writers like them. The  collected works of  a number of poets, which were not available since long, have recently been published.

Caliph Umar (ra) has underlined this fact when he said:

Preserve your literature, you will not go astray. People asked: What is our literature? He replied: The poetry of classical poets; because it contains the explanation of your Holy Book and the meaning of your language. (Baidawi: Anwaar ul Tanzeel vol. 1 p. 459).

Similarly the Jurist of Muslim Ummah, Abdullah bin Abbas (ra) advised:

If you face difficulty while interpreting the Qur’ān, search for the answer in the verses of classical poets, because this poetry is actually the literature of the Arabs. (Al Suyuti%: Al Muzhar fi Ulūm il Lugha, v 2, p 302)


(To be continued)
(Translated by Amar Ellahi Lone)

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