Muslim education system was essentially religious in character. It was patronized by the Muslim rulers who held orthodox views regarding perpetuating Muslim faith in lands they invaded and settled.
The educational institutions they founded became strongholds of Muslim orthodoxy. The sole aim of Muslim education became spread of Islam, perpetuation and preservation of Muslim culture.
Spreading Islam was considered the most sacred duty of every Muslim citizen. The one, who disseminates and diffuses Islamic beliefs among the non-Muslims, vigorously, becomes Ghazi.
Principles and beliefs of Islam could be best propagated through education. Thus convinced, the Muslim rulers and beneficiaries established Maktabs and Madarsahs where the study of Holy Quran became a prominent feature.
These institutions were built near the Mosques where theological thinking could flourish to the maximum extent.
The Islamic laws, opinions, customs, and doctrines were subjects of study and all students were required to master them so that this knowledge could help them in bringing the non-Muslims under the fold of Islam.
A spirit of religiousness was strongly imbibed among the Muslim youth so that he could serve the cause of propagating Islam hastily.
The Muslim sovereigns had a very keen interest in the education of their youths so they founded schools, colleges, and libraries at places where they settled or brought under their rule. Stipends and scholarship were offered to the needy 2nd deserving. Orphanages were raised to help the poor.
The Slave and Tughlak dynasties patronised education very much. They established Madarsahs (seats of higher learning) in its capitals. For example, Feroz Tughlak endowed thirty colleges & most famous of these was Madarsahi Feroz Shahi.
It was a residential university established near Hauz-Khas. Professors and students required residing in the university and conduct government expense. The ruler spent 36 lakhs tanks every year.
Lodis also did a great deal to serve the cause of Muslim education. But the greatest patrons were the Mughal emperors. The credit for organising school and university education on sounder lines goes to Akbar, the Great.
Colleges at Agra and Fatehpur Sikri, in Gujarat and in other provinces were established on his initiative. Curricula were reconstructed and reformed. Hindus and Muslims were treated on equality basis.
The Muslim system of education was thus restricted not only to the concerned section of the society, but it did not spread outside the urban areas. It was round about the capitals where the Muslim people mostly lived and so it was in the cities or big towns that educational institutions flourished.
No attention was paid by any Muslim rulers towards educating the masses that lived in the rural areas. By the end of the 15th century A.D. Muslims in India appeared a ‘little more than an armed garrison in a foreign country.
It was only in the days of Akbar that we have the state offering equal opportunities of education to all sections of the society. In all other sovereignties the education system was meant for the good of the Muslim people.
Even when the doors of colleges were open to Hindus, they were not treated on equal footing. The Maktabs and Madarsahs were established to educate the Muslim youth in general-the youth that could help the rulers in governance and administration.
The elementary education was given not only in Maktabs but in Dargahs and Khanqahs also. The very atmosphere of these elementary schools was religious and religious education was at the base of Muslim education. These schools were mostly single teacher schools. Maulvis were in charge of these schools. The education was free. The local community or the state financed the schools.
Madarsahs and Higher Education
The word Madarsahs derived from the Arabic word ‘Dars’ meaning a lecture. Madarsahs therefore was centres of learning where a scholar delivered lectures to the eager students. The teaching method at the Madarsah was (But students were encouraged to make self-studies in libraries established for that purpose.
A madarsah was an institution of higher learning equivalent to a modern college. A student after acquiring primary and secondary education in a Maktab proceeded to a Madarsah.
Such seats learning were scattered all over thecountry. Those at Agra, Jaunpur,Lucknow,Delhi, Lahore, Multan, Sialkot, Ajmer andMurshidabadwere of great renown. To these, students flocked. Some of the seats of learningspecialised inone particular branch of learning only.
Others were established to teach literature, grammar, jurisprudence, logic, rhetoric, theology, metaphysics, law and medicine.
Among those that specialised in learning in some special fields were the following Madarsahs: (a) Delhi School of Shah Waliullah specialising in Hadi (Traditions), (b) Farangimahal School at Lucknow specialising in jurisprudence, (c) Sialkot School in grammar, (d) Rampur School in medicine, and (e) Agra Madarsah in medicine.
Students to these seats of learning were admitted to become learned scholars in the special branches of learning. They were given a fixed daily allowance for their maintenance as we learn from the traditional Madarsahi Feroz Shahi.
There was a close contact between the teacher and the taught. The teachers were required to reside in the college campus so that they could be available to the students at all hours.
These colleges were financed by the state. Some noble personages also contributed to the maintenance of the Madarsahs. The medium of instruction at all these colleges was Persian. Arabic was taught as a sacred language of the scriptures.
Female education in the Muslim period did not develop very much; yet there were some Madarsahs for women. Miasuddin Khilji of Malwa had one such college at Saranspur which specialised in arts and crafts as subjects of study.
Just as we had Vidyarambha Sanskar or Aksharasrikarna which was an initiation ceremony at the commencement of primary education in the ancient Indian system, so we had Bismillahkhani or maktab ceremony for beginning the education of a Muslim boy.
The age at which Vidyarambha Sanskar took place was generally five. Similarly, in the Muslim system the age was 4 years, 4 months, and 4 days. It was performed on this day in case of Humayun.
If the boy did not like to pronounce these, he was asked in pronounce Bismiilah and with this his education was considered to have started. In the case of a girl student, a blessing known as Zafarshani was written for her on a colored paper.
Just as we had hard and strict rules and regulations governing the life of a student in the Gurukulas or in the Viharas, so we had very strict rules in Maktabs and Madarsahs.
Pupils were generally well-behaved, morally strong and humble. Whenever a pupil was found breaking rules of conduct, he was punished adequately. The type and manner of imposing punishment was left to the discretion of the teacher. Sometimes students were inhumanly punished.
The reason behind such a harsh treatment was not vengeance but correction and preservation of discipline among others. However, such punishment was not given to a Brahmachari or a Pabbajja.
The Teacher-Taught Relationship
In ancient India the teacher was treated by his student as father, king and God. He was to serve him like a son, suppliant and slave. No progress in knowledge was possible without serving the teacher.
These traditions went on being observed. In the Muslim period also the student was always humble and polite to his teacher and served him whole-heartedly.
The Maulavi always regarded the student as his son. He had a constant touch with him and thus influenced his personality development. There was “mutual reverence, confidence and communion of life.”
In ancient India recitation and recapitulation were the two ways of leaning a material. Memorisation was resorted to. Learning in ancient times had to be at the tip of the tongue. In medieval times the student had to take recourse to rote learning.
The child was expected to learn by rote Qalma and verses of Quran even though he did not understand them. Many of these things were above his understanding power.
He was simply required to pronounce the verses correctly. The teacher in the Madarsahs used lecture method. Such, however, was not the case in ancient times when discussions and debates were adopted, as a rule, for acquiring learning.