Between Modern Learning and Religious Sciences: A Debate

Between Modern Learning and Religious Sciences: A Debate

Javaid Ahmad Malik

Few days ago , a video appeared on social media where a person who seemed to be from the subcontinent sarcastically mocked the Ulema and Dar al-Ulums and tried to convince his viewers that they were responsible for the Muslim Ummah’s backwardness in the field of modern science and technology. Given this, let’s try to understand this frequently made accusation and see whether it carries any weight.
Prior to 1857, Daras-e-Nizami (which included both pure religious sciences and subjects of modern educational system) was the curriculum of educational institutions in the entire Indian Sub-continent. These institutions produced religious scholars like Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi, Shah Waliullah, Shah ‘Abd al ‘Aziz, Shah Abd al-Haq, ‘Abd al Hayy Lakhnawi and others who were well grounded in the classical Islamic sciences, and brilliant architects and visionary statesmen like Ustad Ahmad Eesa (Architect of Taj Mahal) and Abu al Hasan Asif Khan (Prime minister of Mughal empire during the period of Jahangir).
The educational system of the Indian Muslims was undoubtedly based upon realistic grounds wherein the basic essential religious knowledge was given to every student up to elementary level then the student’s inclination, natural tendency and potential would be observed and then he would be taught and trained in a specific subject. As a result, students in both the systems, religious and secular, would be found getting education in these institutions simultaneously.
Notwithstanding differences in the educational systems, the students of both the systems would wear the same dress. This uniformity in dress code was in vogue in the whole Muslim world. Though scholars like Ghazzali, Razi, Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Sina, Ibn Baytar, Al Khawrizmi, Ibn Hayyan and so on belonged to different fields including both religious and secular, they would all look alike.
But, soon after 1857, the entire educational system in India was changed by the British who banished religious knowledge from educational institutions and established the system of education on purely western grounds where there was no place for religious subjects.
In his Muhazrat Ta’leem, Dr Mahmud Ahmad Ghazi says, “First of all, they (British) quashed Arabic and Persian Language and made English as the official language. Those people who till 1857 were regarded educated, all of them in the eyes of government became uneducated for administrative and other demanded posts.”
As a result, the Muslims of India got divided into two groups: one group preferred pure religious education to safeguard not their own interests but the interests of their religion. They established the religious seminaries (Dar al-Ulums) thereby providing chances to seekers for obtaining religious knowledge. Consequently, they mostly remained aloof from learning modern sciences. This group was led by traditional scholars like Mawlana Qasim Nanotawi and his colleagues. The other group led by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, that preferred engaging Muslims in studying modern scientific subjects and desired the economic wellbeing of the community. The advocates of this school of thought sent Muslim children to the western educational institutions where they learnt modern subjects but knew nothing about their religion. These people argued that the only way for the Muslims to progress in the modern world was to attain modern secular education. Although both the groups had good intentions and desired to work for the betterment and advancement of their society, yet this created a kind of schism in Muslim society.
It is interesting to note that while the religious institutions thrived exclusively on public support through voluntary donations and charity, the secular institutions got full support of the government and elite class in every respect. This resulted in the poor and pathetic condition of the students of the religious seminaries while the students of the secular institutions looked affluent and progressive.
After one and a half century, the religious group led by traditional Ulama with meagre and scanty resources in hand succeeded in producing world renowned Scholars like Allama Anwar Shah Kashmiri, Mawlana Ashraf Ali Thanwi, Sanaullah Amritsari, Husayn Ahmad Madni, Syed Sulayman Nadwi, Shaykh Zakariyya Kandhalwi, Abu al-Hasan Nadwi, Safi al-Rahman Mubarakpuri, Mufti Taqi Uthmaniand so many others, who by their remarkable achievements won the accolades and tributes of the whole Islamic academic world and whose great works paved way for Islam to penetrate into the very distant lands. On the other hand, the modern institutions of education were supposed to produce scientists and to strengthen the position of the community in terms of modern science and technology. But unfortunately, history is witness to the bitter fact that, despite many commendable achievements in the field of education and literature, these institutions have so far failed in achieving their real goal and the Ummah is yet to see any scientist like Copernicus, Newton, Einstein and Hawking.
It is therefore, very unfair, an illogical also, to lay the blame on the religious seminaries for not producing scientists, doctors, engineers and so on
Today instead of providing any innovative researches and new theories our scholars of modern education consume their entire energy and resources of the community in simply copying the theories of western thinkers.
The case is clear: while evaluating what we have achieved so far we feel sorry to see ourselves still at the doors of outsiders.

—The author, a PhD Scholar in Islamic Studies at IUST, Awantipora, Kashmir can be reached at:
javaidislamicstudies@gmail.com