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Curriculum of the Indian Madrasas and Islamic Seminaries, Dars-e-Nizami:

Full of Polemics and Shorn of Spiritual Beauty of Islam

By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi
There is no denying the fact that madrasas have always
been harbingers of Prophetic teachings and there are still
some madrasas that are making a mark. But majority of
madrasas today are unable to prepare their graduates to face the
challenges that the modern era places upon them. A mere glance at the
state of affairs in the present-day madrasas reveals that they have been
led far away from their ultimate purpose that our visionary Ulema and
Islamic intellectuals had designed at the beginning. The rapacious and
self-centred administrators who have not the faintest idea about the aim
and objectives of religious institutions, have now established their
monopoly on the majority of Indian madrasas. Hence, Muslim children in
many madrasas are deprived of essential Islamic education, not to speak
of preparing them for the imminent struggle in the world that educational
institutions should be meant for.
Types of Madrasas in India
Indian madrasas are mainly of two types: the ones run merely on
contributions from the community and those which are affiliated to state
governments particularly in U.P, Bihar, Bengal, Jharkhand and Assam.
These madrasas rely on government largesse and collect huge grants from
their respective state governments. The first kind of madrasas can be
categorised into three types: (1) Maktab (2) Madrasa (3) Darul Uloom.
Although they have considerable differences, common Muslims in India
dont differentiate among them and call all these types of Islamic
seminaries madrasas. However, the education systems and curricula of
these madrasas differ in accordance with the schools of thought they
subscribe to. So, the Madrasa curriculums represent myriad
interpretations of Islamic ideologies and doctrines. For instance, the
spiritual doctrine of Wahdatul Wajud (unity of existence) is taught and
professed in Sufi-oriented Madrasas, while it is a taboo in the hardcore
Wahhabi curriculums.
Madrasa Educational Curriculum

In the early eighteenth century, Islamic seminaries in India (madrasas)

had a comprehensive syllabus full of theological and philosophical
sciences. This Islamic educational curriculum offered a very holistic and
comprehensive view of education including mainstream subjects like
Mathematics, Astronomy, Medicine, Philosophy, Logic, Geography,
Literature, Chemistry and so on, as well as the Quranic exegesis, the
Prophetic traditions, Islamic Jurisprudence (Fiqh) and Sufism.
In fact, this Madrasa curriculum was initially framed and institutionalised
by Meer Fathullah Serazi in Akbars age. Later on, Indian Ulema
incorporated a few changes and modifications in this traditional Islamic
curriculum. The noted Islamic scholars of undivided India who worked
upon the Dars-e-Nizami curriculum after Meer Fathullah Serazi were:
Mufti Abdus Salam Lahuari, Maulana Daniyal Chaurasi, Mulla Qutbuddin
Sahalvi, Hafiz Amanullah Banarasi, Maulana Qutubuddin Shamsabadi and
Mulla Nizamuddin Sahalvi. They belonged to different eras and introduced
to the Islamic curriculum different dimensions. It was Mulla Nizamuddin
Sahalvi, a contemporary of Shah Waliullah Muhaddith Dehlvi, who
reshaped the educational curriculum in the mainstream Indian Madrasas.
Thus, the curriculum was named after him as Dars-e-Nizami.
As Mulla Nizamuddin Sahalvi hailed from the family of teachers and
clerics appointed at the leading Madrasas of Firangi Mahal, the citadel of
Islamic learning in India then, there was no stiff opposition to his
curriculum. Consequently, the Dars-e-Nizami syllabus took deep roots in
the mainstream Indian madrasas running particularly in Delhi, Firangi
Mahal, Lucknow and Khairabad. Even the leading Islamic scholars of
Lucknow and Delhi endorsed and accepted it due to the paramount
importance attached to the Firangi Mahal clerics and scholars.
There was variety of reasons for the Madrasas to embrace the Dars-eNizami curriculum. Mufti Taqi Usmani figures out one: After the Moguls
took control over India, the Dars-e- Nizami system became wide spread in
south Asia. India came to be known worldwide for its educational
institutions imparting religious sciences. It was this very system that
pushed the Asian society towards great success. He further says: It was
essential that we would adopt the Dars-e-Nizami system, as it produced
thousands of men well-versed in the fields of knowledge (Usmani .M.T.
(2000) page: 6).

The Dars-e-Nizami curriculum mainly consisted of books on the classical

Islamic sciences: Quranic exegesis, Hadith narrations, Jurisprudence
(Fiqh), Rhetoric, Arabic grammar, Morphology etc. However, it did not
give importance to the Islamic history or even study of the early Islamic
movements. In order to better understand its peculiarities, let us have a
look at the main subjects and books that were employed in the Dars-eNizami curriculum and are still taught in the majority of contemporary
Indian Madrasas:
Arabic Conjugation and Grammar (Ilm al-Sarf): Arabic Primer; MizanusSarf and Munsha'ib, Panj Ganj, Ilmus Segha and Fusool-e-Akbari
Arabic Syntax (ilm al-Nahv): Memorizing of Nahv-e-Mir, Sharh-e- Mi'ata
A'mil, Hidayatun Nahv, Kafiya, Sharah Shuzuruz Zahab, Sharah Jami
Rhetoric (ilm al-Bayan wal Maani): Mukhtasarul Maani, Mutawwal
Logic (Mantiq): Sharh Shamsah, Sullam, Risalah Meer Zahid, Mulla Jalal,
Sughrah, Kubra, Esaghoji Tahzeeb, Qutbi, Sharah Tahzeeb, Meer Qutbi
Philosophy: Mebzi, Shams Bazigha, Sadra
Mathematics: Qaushjah, Sharh Chaghmni
Reasoning (ilmul kalam): Sharh-e-Mawaqif, Sharh-e- Aqaid Nasafi
Jurisprudence (Fiqh): Noorul Izah, Qudoori, Sharah Wiqayah, Hidayah
Principles of Jurisprudence (Usool al-Fiqh): Usoolus Shasi, Noor ul Anwar,
Tauzeeh wa Talweeh, Musallam al-Suboot
Quranic Exegesis (Tafseer): Jalalain Shareef, Baidawi Shareef
Prophetic Traditions (Hadith): Mishkat ul Masabeeh, Bukhari and Muslim,
Tirmizi, Tahavi, Ibn-e-Maja, Shama'il Tirmizi, Mu'atta Imam Mohammad
Nearly all the Islamic seminaries and Madrasas in India, except the
Salafi/Ahle-Hadisi and Jamat-e-Islami-affiliated Madrasas, commonly
share the same curriculum with veritable difference in their external
study materials recommended for their students, as their theological
points of view regarding particular beliefs and doctrines are somewhat
different. Thus, Indian madrasas represent a diverse array of ideological
orientations which is mostly opposed to each other's interpretation of

Present State of Affairs

Since its formation, the very age-old Dars-e-Nizami is taught in the Indian
Madrasas as a universal Islamic curriculum with no paradigm shift, radical
reforms or any tangible development in it. Rather, it debars students
from choosing any other subjects or books suitable to their literary flair.
The present-day Madrasa curriculum in India is full of philosophical,
theological and polemical literature and quite shorn of spiritual beauty of
Islamic faith. The beautiful Islamic discourses compiled by the Sufis and
mystics of India that were taught in madrasas in the distant past, are no
more in their study materials. Not even Sufi-oriented madrasas of today
teach the books like Kashful Mahjub, Fawaidul Fuwad, Awarif ul Maarif;
historical documents of Islamic mysticism that preach universal values,
communal harmony, love for all and hatred for none. Gone are the days
when books on reason, wisdom, ethics and morality such as Gulsitan and
Bostan of Shaikh Sadi were the part of Madrasa curriculum in India. Far
from presenting the broader Islamic notion of Deen and Ummah, presentday madrasa curricula concern the students with the ideological
reproduction of their own sect (Maslak) and school of law (Fiqhi Mazhab).
Let alone modern education, even theological issues are not addressed in
synergy with the modern advancements. The traditionalist clerics and
obscurantist rectors of the madrasas loudly claim that the Dars-e Nizami
curriculum has a universal application and hence does not require any
change at all. They argue that since it churned out well-versed Islamic
scholars in the past, it will continue to do so in the present and future
too. In their view, anyone who calls for change in the Dars-e Nizami is
either a badmazhab (misguided in thought) or conspirator against the
religious institution of the madrasas.
On the contrary, a critical analysis of the Dars-e Nizami curriculum
reveals that it is not only dominated by the obsolete, polemical and
outdated branches of learning, but also detrimental to the mental
advancements of the students. There seems to be no scope for "renewal",
research or rethinking which are essential values of Islamic
education. There is a saying attributed to the Prophet (pbuh): "Every 100
years, Allah will send someone to renew faith for the Ummah." While the
Madrasas keep refreshing their students with this Prophetic exhortation,
they miserably fail to produce one who can stand up to this position and
address the changes and challenges of the modern era. As a result,

students come out of madrasas with stagnant minds and constrained

world-view antithetical to critical analysis of the socio-religious issues.
Religion needs not to be changed, reformed or perfected. God has
already completed his glorious religion with the Prophet Muhammad's
message, as he said: "This day I have perfected for you your religion and
completed My favour upon you and have approved for you Islam as
religion." We, actually, need reformers and change agents in our Madrasas
who can renew and revive the present-day Muslims' attitude towards their
religion. As long as this deep understanding of Tajdeed-e-Deen (renewal
of faith) is missing from the madrasa curriculum, we cannot hope an
enlightened vision for their future.
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a classical Islamic scholar. He has
graduated from a leading Islamic seminary of India, Jamia
Amjadia Rizvia (Mau, U.P.), acquired Diploma in Qur'anic Arabic
from Al-Jamiat ul Islamia, Faizabad, U.P., and Certificate in
Uloom ul Hadith from Al-Azhar Institute of Islamic Studies,
Badaun, U.P. He has also graduated in Arabic (Hons) and is
pursuing his M. A. in Comparative Religion from Jamia Millia
Islamia, New Delhi.