Traditional Islamic Learning in Colonial India: The Madrasa through the Eyes of a 20th Century Islamic Reformer

Sohaib Baig

A Senior Thesis Completed by Student # 703902362 Under the Supervision of Professor Nile Green for the Approval of the UCLA Department of History March 2012

© Sohaib Baig 2012 All Rights Reserved.

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British educational policies in colonial India provided a unique avenue of interaction with Muslim scholars of Indian and Islamic learning, exposing them to British institutions and concepts. Many of these concepts were incorporated in the institutional madrasas the Muslim scholars later established. However, because of their emphasis on Islamic tradition, the madrasas were often seen through the prism of the Islamic tradition they propagated, thus clouding the historical circumstances they emerged from. This article attempts to arrive at a deeper understanding of the origin and nature of the modern madrasa. The first half explores the impact of British educational policies and conceptions of knowledge on the very “traditionalists” attempting to protect Islamic knowledge from its feared extinction under colonial rule. The second half analyzes a reform proposal made by Mawlana Manazir Ahsan Gilani (1892-1956), a prolific Islamic scholar who attempted to expose the modern madrasa’s role in society as unprecedented and calamitous, casting doubt on its presumed traditional and Islamic nature. In light of this, the madrasa emerges as a more complex entity that absorbed both colonialist and traditionalist conceptions which continued to be renegotiated even after the madrasas had been firmly established.

As the British consolidated their rule over India in the late 18th century, they triggered significant upheavals in the indigenous system of education. These were not always enshrouded in terms of assertions of colonial authority and resistance to colonial authority, but also created a setting where British-sponsored educational institutions involved a wide array of Muslim Indian scholars within their operation. This left them vulnerable to new British concepts and institutions which would be continually developed and cemented within their consciousness as British policy changed and evolved throughout the 19th century. Thus, madrasas, or centers of learning which represented a widespread, informal indigenous system of education within India, were also eventually impacted as Muslim scholars began to institutionalize them along British patterns of organization and bureaucracy to bolster their own visions and plans for Islamic learning within India. Instead of shying away from tracing these influences, I attempt to explore them further and see how they were initially introduced by the British and subsequently adopted and renegotiated by Muslim scholars, even as the madrasas transformed from an official and mainstream educational system of pre-colonial India to a relatively marginalized institution under British colonization. This does not entail neglecting the voices of Muslims scholars involved within these madrasas, but allows us to reconcile internal criticism of the madrasa by Muslim scholars who believed these madrasas were not in line with their pre-colonial predecessors. Thus, I

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attempt to synthesize a narrative, a fine line, which runs through the shifting frameworks of reference from British colonialists to reformist Islamic scholars to madrasa reformers and sheds important light on the origins of the institutional madrasa in its colonial and reformist context, as well as the complications arising out of the overall role it began to play. The most important groups to develop and utilize the institutional madrasas are known in recent historiography as reformist scholars leading reformist movements. These reformist movements were characterized by attempts to recreate and imitate the original ideals of the community of the Prophet Muhammad in face of a perceived Muslim political, intellectual, and moral decline,1 and usually drew their legitimacy and authority from claiming to be the inheritors and guardians of religious scholarship stemming directly from that time.2 Following the Revolt of 1857, the most prominent institutional madrasa which emerged was a madrasa located at Deoband. Although institutionalized, the madrasa took on the titles of being “traditional” and “religious” because of the strong efforts made by its founders to link it with the pre-colonial system of education. It retained the general appellation of “madrasa” used in Islamic discourse to designate a place of learning, and insisted upon teaching a more religious version of the Dars-i Nizami curriculum, which was organized in the 18th century as a combination of Arabic and Persian classical texts on manquli or religious and ma’quli or rational subjects. Its refusal to include modern, Western subjects in its curriculum set it apart as being “more conservative” or “less modern” than those Muslims who had embraced the secular British educational system. Thus, the reformist leaders’ conceptions of “tradition” and “religion” were understood to have played a leading role in determining the institutional madrasa’s roles, goals, and limits.3 This conclusion can be reached by the model proposed by Barbara Metcalf for studying Islamic reformist movements. For her, Western “pigeonholes” of understanding these movements would fail to recognize the similarities and commonalities in the “Islamic reality,” the Islam lived and espoused by the leaders of these movements. This “Islamic reality” was shaped by their standing as traditional Muslims, and involved looking at the world specifically though religious terms, as Islam was meant to encompass all of life. Describing these movements

Barbara Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband, 1860-1900 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004), 4. 2 Muhammad Qasim Zaman, The Ulama in Contemporary Islam: Custodians of Change (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), 10. 3 Though some of the titles, such as “less modern,” are debunked by historians, the conclusion still generally stands. For example, see Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India, 88.

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in their own Islamic terms, instead of modern terms, would thus enable historians to describe patterns shared by all reformist movements and transcend the superficial “veneer” that modernist explanations would provide. Thus, the madrasa as an institution was interpreted as constituting an integral part of the “Islamic reality” developed by the reformist movements, regardless of its origins. While this methodology may hold true for understanding reformist movements as a whole, it does not provide us with a strong basis to measure how deeply that overall Islamic reality extended into individual aspects of the reformist movement, and whether it actually retained its importance then. This difficulty becomes especially pronounced when the legitimacy and authenticity of the Islamic nature of these components continued to be debated about, and were themselves particularly influenced by Western elements that may have even contradicted the ideals of those who were influenced by them in the first place. Thus, to simply focus on the Islamic reality of these individual components may itself form a “veneer” that blocks the deeper and varied issues which were at the heart of some of their differences. A striking instance where this dynamic is played out is the status of the institutional madrasa itself. Although it had become center of operations of reformist movements (and here I mean essentially the Deobandi movement), its adoption was not in any way a smooth process, and continued to trigger calls for change from within the ranks of the ‘ulama, the scholars who had completed a higher education in the Dars-i Nizami curriculum. After years of discussion and conferences, the founding of the Nadwat al-‘Ulama in 1898 represented an effort to widen the scopes of the institutional madrasa, by training future ‘ulama in both modern (represented by Western learning) and traditional sciences (represented by the Dars-i Nizami) so they could also engage with those Muslims who only had a modern education. When Nadwa failed in this aspect, individual calls for reform continued, and scholars such as Mawlana Manazir Ahsan Gilani (1892-1956) wrote lengthy proposals on the need and methodology of educational reform in pre-Partition India. The topic of reform remains an important concern even today in the general concerns of the ‘ulama, in addition to those outside the realm of the traditional madrasa. 4


For further information on attempts at madrasa reform within independent India, see Yoginder Sikand, Bastions of the Believers: Madrasas and Islamic education in India (New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 2005) as well as JanPeter Hartung and Helmut Reifeld, eds., Islamic Education, Diversity, and National Identity: Dini Madaris in India Post 9/11 (New Delhi: SAGE Publications, 2006).

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Yet, if tradition and religion are understood as the markers from which the institutional madrasa was sculpted and to which it was oriented, then the internal calls for reform stand in marked contrast to them, because of the use of the same strand of tradition and religion to advocate two apparently contradictory positions. One called for including modern and Western education within the madrasa curriculum whilst the other opposed it. They thus demand another look at the formation of the institutional madrasa and its place in Indian history, to trace how and when it became part of any “Islamic reality” of the ‘ulama in the first place. This involves delving into its roots, whether Islamic, Indian, Western, or otherwise, and juxtaposing it with the claims of those who sought reform in the institutional madrasa system. How can we reconcile the historical insistence of ‘ulama in adhering to the educational patterns set by the institutional madrasa on one hand, with the repeated calls for reform on the other hand? In calling for reform, were ‘ulama succumbing to pressure by modernists or did they see themselves as following their own tradition? What does the whole phenomenon of internal madrasa reformers reveal about the historical origins of the institutional madrasa itself, as well as the role of other factors including colonialism that may have influenced the roles, goals, and limits of the madrasa? In this article, I analyze an educational proposal made in 1942 by Mawlana Manazir Ahsan Gilani, who was a prominent and prolific Deobandi intellectual.5 Although many other advocates for educational reform such as Mawlana Mawdudi (1903-1979) had argued along theological lines, Gilani eclipsed theology by his emphasis on history. He gave a frank assessment on how distant he believed the institutional madrasa was from the indigenous system of education existing in pre-colonial times, pointing out that the Dars-i Nizami did have a significant “worldly” role (in the sense that it facilitated worldly needs such as securing employment in the Mughal courts) throughout history, thereby casting doubt on the religious foundations of the “Islamic reality” the traditional madrasas had assumed by adopting the Dars-i Nizami curriculum. For Gilani, the strict exclusion of secular subjects from the educational curriculum of the new madrasas had no historical precedent. Thus, his assessment itself served to deconstruct the “Islamic reality” of the madrasas as having no basis or precedence in his understanding of their shared theological and historical tradition. In analyzing his proposal, we are thus given a direct entry point from which to question the origin and nature of the

Manazir Ahsan Gilani, Pak wa Hind main Musalmano ka Nizama-i Ta’lim wa Tarbiyat (Lahore: Maktaba-yi Rahmaniyya, n.d.).

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institutional madrasa itself, and to understand what it represented in the overall scheme of history, beyond the localized, Islamic reality of the ‘ulama. To begin, I analyze British educational polices which preceded the founding of the first institutional, reformist madrasa at Deoband in 1867. I argue that the strategy of “Orientalism” adopted for a time by the British in supporting the study of Indian languages and sciences, followed by the counter movement of “Anglicism” which opposed these studies, were crucial in laying the groundwork and painting the rough contours that the future madrasas would follow. In this, I utilize Guari Viswanathan’s Masks of Conquests, which provides key insights into the political, theological, and economic strings which were at the heart of British educational policy.6 Bernard Cohn’s Colonialism and its Forms of Knowledge also studies the nature and process by which colonialists “learned” and studied India as a whole, and how that also brought out changes in the way Indians began to view themselves and their history. 7 None of them delve deeply into madrasas, however, so I attempt to search for any precursors within the British educational policies they have examined that may have influenced the ideology and role of the institutional madrasas founded later on. Thereafter, I examine the emergence of the reformist movements themselves, which is the term I use to refer mostly to the Deobandi movement specifically (this is simply because the institutional madrasa was the most successfully utilized by Deoband).8 My main focus in this section is in understanding how and under what circumstances the institutional madrasa was incorporated by the ‘ulama in their reformist movements, how this was received by other educated circles, traditional or modern, throughout India, and what larger role the madrasa played in society, beyond serving as a base for the reformist movements. This approach calls for a wider selection of sources, and I thus draw upon the works of Barbara Metcalf and Muhammad Qasim Zaman to provide insights into the Deobandi movement. I also use the Tarikh Dar al‘Ulum Deoband as means of gauging the perceptions of the ‘ulama themselves under British rule.9 A volume edited by Margrit Pernau on the Delhi College, a British-sponsored institution which attempted to transmit Western education through Urdu, focuses on the ways in which


Gauri Viswanathan, Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989). 7 Bernard Cohn, Colonialism and its Forms of Knowledge (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996). 8 Sikand, Bastions of the Believers, 70. 9 Sayyid Mahbub Rizwi, Tarikh Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband (Karachi: Idara Islamiat, 2005).

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“boundaries between cultures” are “crossed and transgressed from both sides.” 10 This approach thus fits neatly for the purposes of this article. Francis Robinson and David Lelyveld also shed light on other groups of Muslims, including the Aligarh College which endorsed receiving a modern education and the Farangi Mahall family which represented a different line of tradition from the Deobandis.11 These approaches serve to provide a more thorough historical context in which the madrasas were formed. Peter Hardy, Francis Robinson, and Jamal Malik also provide insights into the overall political and economic conditions of the 19th and 20th centuries.12 Ultimately, to bring these works together under this article, I attempt to synthesize some of the arguments and factual evidences uncovered by their research into one narrative, as dictated by my original focus. The last section is about Gilani and his proposal. Not much can be found in modern historiography about him,13 so I delve into the Hayat-i Gilani, a biography written by his student who became a chief mufti at Deoband.14 The biography is valuable in terms of factual evidence, but not as much in analysis. Since Gilani’s own experiences with education can be taken to have influenced his views on education, I make sure to analyze these experiences, as well as other factors outside education, even if they are not usually addressed by other historians. For example, the princely states as a whole have not received as much attention in modern historiography,15 so I am careful to analyze the role of Hyderabad as a semi-autonomous princely state outside the direct control of the British Raj (and by extension, Deoband) in facilitating Gilani’s capability to critique current practices among the traditionalists, without costing him his reputation as a traditional scholar.


Margrit Pernau, introduction to The Delhi College: Traditional Elites, the Colonial State, and Education before 1857, ed. Margrit Pernau (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006), 2. 11 See David Lelyveld, Aligarh's First Generation: Muslim Solidarity in British India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996), and Francis Robinson, The 'Ulama of Farangi Mahall and Islamic Culture in South Asia (London: C. Hurst, 2001). 12 See Francis Robinson, Separatism among Indian Muslims (London: Cambridge University Press, 1974); Peter Hardy, The Muslims of British India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972); and Jamal Malik, Islam in South Asia: A Short History (Leiden: Brill, 2008). 13 Apart from two articles by Muhammad Qasim Zaman, Gilani is not given much attention in modern historiography. See: Muhammad Qasim Zaman, “Bridging Traditions: Madrasas and their Internal Critics,” in Islamophobia/Islamophilia: Beyond the Politics of Enemy and Friend, ed. Andrew Shyrock (Bloomington: Indian University Press, 2010), 111-140; and “Studying Hadith in a Madrasa” in Islam in South Asia in Practice, ed. Barbara Metcalf (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), 239. 14 Muhammad Zafir al-Din Miftahi, Hayat-i Moulana Gilani (Karachi: Majlis Nashriyat-i Islam, 1994). 15 Dick Kooiman, Communalism and Indian Princely States: Travancore, Baroda and Hyderabad in the 1930s (New Delhi: Manohar Publishers, 2002), 13.

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I do not concern myself with the particulars of the two-volume history Gilani composed, though I sometimes use them as a means of measuring “subconscious” views he may not explicitly reveal. Ultimately, I am more concerned with the general themes he is writing about – the glorious intellectual tradition he perceives himself to be part of, the legitimate, historically grounded place of both worldly and religious studies in Islamic education, and so on. These form the essential justifications he erects his proposal upon, which I analyze in much more detail as a means of understanding the problems he perceived as being brought along with the appearance of institutional madrasas and secular British government schools. I actually process Gilani’s solution as a sort of a compromise on one level, as indicated by his rush to appease different Muslims factions to establish a universal education system, but I also view it in terms of the historical themes Gilani perceives himself as following by offering this solution in the first place. Throughout, I juxtapose his proposal with many others who also discussed educational reform, as a means of both determining the uniqueness of Gilani’s ideas and contextualizing his transcendence of the “Islamic reality” assumed by the madrasas through Islamic historiography. I also briefly attempt to explore why Gilani’s proposal failed to spark any immediate, tangible movements or discussion for reform. Here, the previous sections on the emergence of institutions and their utilization by reformist movements come together to make historical sense not only of Gilani himself, but also of the “Islamic reality” Gilani claims had been existing throughout history but was torn apart by the current systems of education. I also extrapolate on the larger roles the madrasas had begun to play as pre-Partition politics divided Muslims even further. Thus, with an overview of the broader historical roots and the nuanced, variable “Islamic realities,” I hope to contribute to our understanding of the historical place of the institutional madrasa as a collective merging of colonial and traditional influences that produced an entity which has at once been ingrained firmly within the reformist movements but, precisely because of its deeply “untraditional” origins, has sparked internal demands for reform and change for the larger part of its operation.

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Part 1: Colonial Education as Introduced by the British
My purpose in this section is to present a narrative that analyzes British policy making which may have had an impact on the emergence of the institutional madrasas. Here, I treat institutions not just as representing models of organization and bureaucracy, but also as embodying deeper principles and ideals stemming directly from the British. I attempt to expose how British secularism, religion, politics, and economics all played an important role in fashioning the forms and shapes of the educational policies and institutions throughout British rule. The goal is to set the groundwork for the next section, in seeing how reformist madrasas such as the one established at Deoband reflected and carried these British influences in their own educational institutions, in contradistinction to the pre-colonial madrasa system. British attitudes towards the education of the “natives” were continuously evolving. Initially, they were not even concerned about Indian education. While the East India Company (EIC) had provided chaplains and schools for the instruction of its own employees, it was initially largely indifferent to the education of the Indians and saw itself primarily as a commercial enterprise.16 Thus, Western education of the Indians was confined to whatever missionaries or the governor-general at Calcutta managed to do themselves.17 Yet, as Parliament concern began increasing over rumors of corruption and disorder especially following the takeover of Bengal at the Battle of Plessey in 1757, the EIC began facing more scrutiny from the Parliament. In an attempt to bring order and organization to the Company, in 1773, the Company’s directors appointed Warren Hastings (d. 1818) as the first governor-general of India.18 The reign of Hastings (1773-1785) was extremely influential in laying the basic foundations for British administration and rule. His rule witnessed, among other things, the foundation of the Calcutta Madrasa in 1781 as well as the institutionalization of many important British concepts about Indians that had far reaching impacts for India. These concepts will be explored below. Hastings’ mission to bring order and organization to the Company led him to realize that he would have to bring order and systematization to British knowledge of native affairs, and

J. P. Naik and Nurullah Syed, A Students' History of Education in India, 1800-1965, 5th ed. (1964; repr., Bombay: Macmillan, 1970), 29. 17 Krishnalal Surajram Vakil and Swaminath Natarajan, Education in India (Bombay: Allied Publishers, 1966), 48. 18 Thomas R. Metcalf and Barbara Daly Metcalf, A Concise History of Modern India (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 56.

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more importantly, knowledge of the Indian sciences and languages. Under him, the British thus began earnest efforts to conquer “not only a territory but an epistemological space as well.” Indian sciences and languages were to be learned and studied so they could be classified and categorized under British modes of understanding, and transformed into usable forms, such as statistical returns, surveys, and histories that would bolster British political and ideological control of India.19 Hastings himself had come with two preconceived ideas about Indian culture: first, that there existed a fixed body of original Indian law that had been corrupted over the centuries and second, that there were different civil codes for Muslims and Hindus. 20 Thus, he embarked upon a project of determining the original “fixed” code of laws that could be utilized by the British. In doing so, Hastings was in many ways institutionalizing and inaugurating the “Orientalist” phase of British rule. “Orientalists” claimed to introduce the West to the “literary treasures of the East,” as well as to protect Indian culture and heritage from the “oblivion to which foreign rule might doom it.”21 Scholars such as Nathaniel Halhed (1751-1830), Jonathan Duncan (1756-1811), and Charles Wilkins (1749-1836) thus attempted to study Sanskrit and Persian learning “with the same methods and respect” with which they would study European learning.22 Although some British officials had been studying Indian languages from before, Hastings gave power and organization to this movement. He also considerably involved the Indians in the British process, employing them as judges and officials. This, Hastings believed, was necessary to strengthen British rule not only by conquering the mysteries of Indian law and tradition, but also by making British rule more administratively efficient in the complicated tangle of the Indian scene.23 Despite their scholarly pretenses and achievements, “Orientalists” were not simply “learning” Indian language and law – they were transforming them into European objects, which once classified and bounded, would constitute components that would help consolidate British rule. Indeed, Orientalism was born out of a heightened political awareness, as explicitly recognized by Hastings himself: “Every accumulation of knowledge, and especially such is obtained by social communication with people all over whom we exercise a dominion founded
19 20

Cohn, Colonialism and its Forms of Knowledge, 4. Metcalf, A Concise History, 58. 21 Viswanathan, Masks of Conquest, 27. 22 Bernard S. Cohn, “Notes on the History of Indian Society and Culture” in An Anthropologist among the Historians and Other Essays (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1987), 147. 23 Viswanathan, Masks of Conquest, 28.

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on the right of conquest is useful to the state: it is the gain of humanity…”24 The underlying purpose of the accumulation of knowledge to serve as a utility for the state thus was clear to Hastings, and would remain a key marker by which future British administrators and scholars compared the advantages of one system of education with another. Now Indian scholars, judges and lawyers could all participate in and become “instruments” of colonial rule.25 Thus, not only would they serve the British, but they could also be influenced by British utilization of Indian knowledge and British ideas in general. For example, the codification of Hindu Law led to a “Brahmanization of law,” as Brahmin law under British influence began to dominate over local Hindu and caste law.26 Indians would also be given considerable time to become acquainted with British bureaucracy and institutions, which would later become an integral part of the reformist madrasas. One such British institution was the Calcutta Madrasa, which was founded in 1781. In line with his Orientalist beliefs, Hastings had enthusiastically supported the Calcutta Madrasa, even securing financial support from London in 1782, long before the Charter of 1813 made the responsibility for native education an obligation for the British. 27 By teaching them Arabic and Persian, he aimed to create “well qualified officers” that could serve in the British bureaucracy and Courts of Justice.28 This development had a profound impact on the educational scene. It marked the first time the traditional Dars-i Nizami curriculum would be taught to a Muslim audience, by Muslims, in a structuralized and institutionalized manner. Whether or not this model specifically would be imitated by Muslim madrasas later on, the practice of the institution would thus finally be introduced to the Muslim population as something they could interact with and utilize for their own purposes. It signified an instance of a mutually complicit and interpenetrated relationship between the colonizers and the colonized, where the ideals and actions of each party were renegotiated and carried through in new environments and settings. The strong British connection to the institutions did not seem to form a cause for Muslim

Letter of Hastings to Nathaniel Smith, October 4, 1784, quoted in David Kopf, British Orientalism and the Bengal Renaissance: The Dynamics of Indian Modernization 1773-1835 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), 18 (emphasis added). 25 Cohn, Colonialism and its Forms, 21. 26 Metcalf, A Concise History, 59. 27 Mojibur Rahman, History of Madrasah Education with Special Reference to Calcutta Madrasah and W.B Madrasah Education Board (Calcutta: Rais Anwer Rahman, 1977), 77. 28 Syed Mahmood, A History of English Education in India: its Rise, Development, Progress, Present Condition and Prospects, being a Narrative of the Various Phases of Educational Policy and Measures Adopted under the British Rule from its Beginning to the Present Period 1781 to 1893 (Aligarh: M.O.A College, 1895), 18.

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suspicion and distrust, probably because the British still made sure to give it a strong Muslim and Indian character. In fact, the founding of a madrasa in Calcutta had been requested by the “gentry of Calcutta” themselves, to help the “poor Muslim community who could not afford to send their children in expensive schools and colleges,” though it is not exactly clear which expensive schools they were referring to. The first “head moulana” would be Mawlana Majd al-Din,29 a scholar who had the honor of studying directly under Shah Wali Allah Dehlavi, an intellectual giant and reformer of Indian Islam in the 18 th century.30 Thus, an undeniably traditional personality, who gained his knowledge and credibility solely through traditional means, was now rerouted to work and serve under a British system. This marked a major victory for Hastings, who vigorously supported this project. Initially, the madrasa also started out in a traditional fashion – it began in a small home just like any other madrasa, but was soon forced to move to its own property to deal with the overwhelming number of students it attracted. And although Mawlana Majd al-Din would be forced to retire in 1791, another Muslim would take up his post as principal – thus maintaining the Muslim character of this British-sponsored institution though this decision would be criticized later on.31 The Calcutta Madrasa as it existed during this stage remains important to our study for several reasons. First is the Muslim coloring of this British institution, which signifies the beginning of the introduction of the institution into a Muslim reality. It also signifies the fact that the Indian Muslim-British relationship was not simply that of one-sided appropriations of the British and the resistance and self-assertion of the colonized Muslims, as might be understood by the phenomenon of the “conservative” reformist madrasas later on. In fact, Muslims remained susceptible to adopting and incorporating British influences, which would later enable them to find room within their own traditions and view these features as consistent with their own, as happened with the institution. Second were the changes inherent in the institution itself: the pedagogical changes involving the system of examination, fixed curriculum, separate departments, and class division created by the institution were previously foreign to India and would also be picked up by reformist madrasas, perhaps as an expression of their own desire to regulate and systematize the traditional process of learning.

Apart from Majd al-Din, I’ve also seen names such as “Muiz-ud-din” and “Mulla Madan” to describe the same person. His dates of birth and death were not found. 30 Mojibur Rahman, History of Madrasah Education, 75. 31 W.W. Hunter, The Indian Musalmans: Are They Bound in Conscience to Rebel against the Queen? (London: Trubner and Company, 1871), 199.

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The third was an example of the overall role played by institutions within Indian society, a role which may have not been immediately apparent and stemmed from British understandings of India. The Calcutta Madrasa was uniquely exclusionist in nature. This colonial construction specifically was aimed towards uplifting one segment of the Indian population, at the exclusion of the other. The “other,” Hindu, segment of the population was granted the Benares Sanskrit College in 1791, which followed along the same goals of providing Hindu officers for the British bureaucracy while cultivating Sanskrit literacy and knowledge of Hindu law. Although perhaps there was not a strict division in terms of student population, there evidently was at the foundational level. For the British, a division along these lines of religion and language seemed perfectly natural and logical, considering their conceptualizing of different laws for Muslims and Hindus. Yet it represented a new phenomenon in the Indian scene. While Hindus and Muslims may have carried different sets of laws at certain levels, it was much more blurry than the English perceived it as. Under Mughal times, the road to government employment, which was the goal of this institution, did not actually require separate institutions, as the language of the educated class was Persian. Thus, Hindus and Muslims both had become participants in and contributors to the Persian tradition, which itself underwent transformations as it was absorbed by the world of Hindustan. In fact, even as the 18 th century witnessed British ascension over India, it also witnessed a time when Persian was used the most it ever was by Hindu authors. 32 There did exist separate schools, but their informal nature usually made for permeable boundaries and did not represent the same absolute exclusion announced by the British. Thus, by building two different institutions for the Hindus and Muslims to service their own empire, the British began a process of unraveling an intellectual and social relationship that had formed over centuries of interaction and intermingling. Sponsoring these institutions gave them the right to assert what was “Muslim” and what was “Hindu,” and apply these labels accordingly. Persian and Arabic would eventually become known as “Muslim” languages, while Sanskrit would remain the “Hindu” language. Here, not only can we detect the seeds of later Hindu-Muslim battles over the narrative of their historical relationship, 33 and of what constituted true Indian nature, but we can also understand the eventual discarding of the Dars-i Nizami curriculum by
32 33

Robinson, The 'Ulama of Farangi Mahall, 18. Later, James Mill (1773-1836) would light the intellectual fire of this debate by his strict division of the history of India into separate Muslim, British, and Hindu eras. Jamal Malik, Islam in South Asia: A Short History (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 243.

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Hindus in their own schools, and the intense emphasis placed on it by Muslim madrasas later on. Although there were many factors at play for the heightened communalism of the late 19 th and early 20th centuries, the idea that each could only intellectually best cater to their own community was also key to establishing the exclusivist nature of the reformist madrasas later on. This feature of the Calcutta Madrasa thus formed an example of the institutionalization of British perceptions regarding the relationship of Hindus and Muslims. Unsurprisingly, because of his historical approach, this eventual shift or divide would be noticed and lamented deeply by Manazir Ahsan Gilani. The relatively close relationship between Indians and British as instituted by Hastings in his administration did come under attack from British quarters. Hastings’ successor as governorgeneral, Lord Cornwallis (1786-1793) struggled with European corruption, and came to the conclusion it was caused precisely by “contact with natives.” 34 He thus began to exclude Indians from public office, and he would remain at best indifferent towards Oriental learning. Cornwallis’ successors however returned to Hastings’ favorable approach towards Oriental learning, but could not hold out for long. The opposition towards Indian learning was widened in the aftermath of the Charter Act of 1813. This charter, which renewed the Company’s permission to operate, officially sanctioned missionary activity “in its completest and widest sense,” and obligated the company to provide for the revival and encouragement of education among the Indian natives.35 In addition, the EIC’s trade monopoly was abolished, thus opening India to new traders who lacked the EIC’s experience and refined approach towards Indian affairs. At the same time, attention began to shift towards reforming “Indian character.” Oriental literature, it was soon learned, inevitably carried with it the religious biases of the Indian faiths – something which was unacceptable in the British campaign to uplift the Indians morally and intellectually. Missionaries and private traders, who had gained more prominence following the Charter Act of 1813, were especially forceful in arguing for Western education along English lines. The vague wording of the 1813 Charter Act regarding “revival” further opened the door to furious debates and opposing interpretations. Was revival to mean a revival of Indian literature, as the Orientalists insisted? Charles Trevelyan (1807-1886), one of the most vocal opponents of Orientalism, declared that the Oriental project had only served to produce “a revival, not of
34 35

Viswanathan, Masks of Conquest, 31. J.A. Richter, pp. 150-1, quoted in J. P. Naik and Nurullah Syed, A Students' History of Education in India, 48.

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sound learning, but of antiquated and pernicious errors.” 36 He, like his brother-in-law Lord Macaulay, fiercely supported Anglicism, which called for direct Western education in English for the natives. In 1835, Lord Macaulay (1800-1859), the most famous Anglicist perhaps of all, published his land-mark minute in favor of English education. Unsurprisingly, Lord Bentinck (1833-1835), the governor-general at the time, passed his famous resolution a few months later establishing “the great object of the British government” to be the “promotion of European literature and science” through “English education alone.”37 The existing Orientalist institutions would continue to exist, but would not be funded to grow and spread (which may have marked a compromise from Macaulay’s call to abolish them all). This marked the official beginning of the marginalization of Oriental education, a marginalization which would have an immeasurable impact on the perceptions and roles of the reformist madrasas. Although it is beyond the scope of this article to fully demonstrate the vast consequences of the legislative and ideological shift towards Anglicism, one major theme inherent in this shift was the deep ideological and institutional “separation” of European and traditional Indian sciences. Now, European and Indian traditions were unequivocally declared as representing two different streams of learning, with one of them being held as clearly superior to the other. This was perpetuated in part by the Anglicist dismissal of traditional Indian literature as not constituting important intellectual value, but it also was arguably fueled more so by the idea that the two bodies of knowledge promoted different morals, ethics, and intellectual perspectives on life. Anglicists promoted English, not only because of the “pre-eminence” of English in the world, as many of them grandiloquently argued, but also to promote English morals and values. As Macaulay famously wrote, the goal was to produce “a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect” – emphasizing the transformational power and purpose of European learning that was actually supposed to override and protect against any harmful effects of traditional Indian education. Perhaps the most significant conclusion of this line of thinking was its extension to the institutional level. Oriental institutions thus became starkly differentiated from English colleges, in terms of funding and reputation. Although some Oriental institutions did have English departments, they usually had a


Charles Trevelyan, On the Education of the People of India (London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green & Longmans, 1838), 89. 37 Ibid., 14 (emphasis added).

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separate batch of students, which were often measured up and compared with each other.38 According to Viswanathan, after 1835, the teaching of English would become “confined to institutions devoted to studies entirely conducted in English.” 39 Although there may have been exceptions, the differences of their functions were still perceived as being so vast as to cancel the possibility of a joint curriculum altogether at the mass level. Yet once they were separated, Oriental learning would become confined to its “archaic institutions,” and the Muslim traditional world would be sent reeling, struggling for survival in a dichotomy which would eventually become a major liability and responsibility of the ‘ulama, including Gilani. 40 Interestingly, the transformational power of European sciences, which had been touted by the British, would later be cited by ‘ulama as the very raison d’être why they resisted European education in the first place. Of those that opposed learning English, most would not oppose the learning of English per se; rather, they would oppose it on the grounds of the role and dangerous affects it was perceived to be capable of causing in their specific historical climate. 41 This, combined with the popular fears nurtured about the activities of missionaries, would thus shelve together English and Indian sciences in two exclusive, opposing boxes. And because the British had rejected sponsoring Indian education, they were perceived as aiming to supersede Indian and specifically Islamic culture. The reformist madrasas would thus see themselves as having to swim upstream to restore some semblance of the previous priority and position occupied by the traditional sciences. It is worth noting that this attribution of a “corrective” or transformational function for Western education was also present among Orientalist scholars. Indeed, the distinctions between “Orientalists” and “Anglicists” had become increasingly blurry in the mid 19 th century, even as the distinctions between Oriental sciences and Western sciences had grown.42 As Margrit Pernau reveals, beneath the zeal of Aloys Sprenger (1813-1893), one of the most prolific Orientalists, was the idea that “while the East only contributes knowledge to the West, which remains otherwise unchanged, it is itself to be transformed by Western knowledge…”43 Despite his

38 39

Mojibur Rahman, History of Madrasah Education, 123. Viswanathan, Masks of Conquest, 41. 40 Ibid., 42. 41 For example, see the fatwa by Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanwi (1863-1943) on the permissibility of learning English: Ashraf ‘Ali Thanwi, Tahqiq-i Taʻlim-i Ingrezi (Deoband: Maktabah Dar al-Tabligh, 1900). ̲ 42 Gail Minault, “Aloys Sprenger: German Orientalism's 'Gift' to Delhi College,” South Asia Research 31, no. 1 (2011): 7-23. 43 Margrit Pernau, introduction to The Delhi College: Traditional Elites, the Colonial State, and Education before 1857, ed. Margrit Pernau (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006), 18.

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interest for Oriental literature, his book on the life of the Prophet Muhammad also drew great criticism from Muslim scholars, most notably Sayyid Ahmad Khan, who actually wrote a deeply scathing review of it.44 This distinction helps us understand the experiment at Delhi College, a unique British institution which attempted to transmit Western education through the vernacular language of Urdu. Although at first glance it seemed to be a neatly balanced mixture of both Western and Eastern learning, at a closer look, the asymmetry becomes clear. The choice of the Delhi College itself, which was established over a remnant madrasa from Aurangzeb’s time, was the result of a careful political calculation. 45 More importantly, Urdu was chosen as the medium of language mainly because it was believed that it may wield greater power than English in disarming the natives’ minds and stimulating their intellectual capabilities with Western education. Thus, it was no surprise that translation became the center of the Delhi College’s activities, especially after Sprenger’s three year reign from 1845-1847 as its principal.46 Though it is a different question altogether of how successful the Orientalists actually were in imparting Western education through the process of translation, the inferior position of the Orientalist sciences vis-à-vis Western sciences in the perspective of Orientalist scholars was not a secret, and therefore hints towards an unequal separation of Oriental and Western science wherever the distinctions were actually institutionalized. This would have large repercussions not only on the status, but also the mobility of the ‘ulama in the quest (or lack thereof) of somehow connecting the two together in their madrasas. Another hurdle encountered by the British in their quest to uplift the natives was the issue of religion. The long-standing tensions between missionaries and the Company officials again simmered through here, and debates broke out on religious neutrality. Should the Bible be taught to the Indians? How could Christian morals be imparted to the natives? In this regard, the discovery of English literature, as Viswanathan demonstrates, proved crucial. Missionaries could now be assured that Christian morals would theoretically still be indirectly imbibed through the technically “unreligious” British literature, while the Company would not have to bear the political consequences of Indian outrage over explicit proselytizing. 47 Although the fortunes of English literature posed different dynamics, and debates continued as the studies took various
44 45

Minault, “Aloys Sprenger: German Orientalism's 'Gift' to Delhi College,” 17. M Ikram Chaghtai, “Dr Aloys Sprenger and the Delhi College,” in The Delhi College, ed. Margit Pernau, 105. 46 Pernau, introduction to The Delhi College, 17. 47 Viswanathan, Masks of Conquest, 38.

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twists, the ultimate consequence this had on the madrasa scene was the introduction of the dichotomy between the secular and the religious sciences. Post-Enlightenment Europe itself was reaching a point where religion was becoming subordinated and confined to a private and “inessential” sphere. This new status granted to religion could be seen in the private institutions built for religious purposes – they were private, yet inessential for the functioning of the rest of society.48 In India, where religion was nowhere near as clearly demarcated and detached from the rest of society as it was in Britain, the British strove to dig out its boundaries and imprint them in the minds of the Indians. This was considered part of the quest to civilize them, and was done by either diminishing the role of religious studies even in Oriental institutions, or by removing them altogether. The status of religious knowledge was further weakened by the spread of utilitarianism, under which religious knowledge was deemed as useless, while secular knowledge was deemed useful. Thus, in the Delhi College, for example, there was an “almost complete exclusion of religious books.” The primary goals of learning Arabic and Persian became simply the mastery of the languages, not studying religion. 49 In the curriculum of the Calcutta Madrasa, the only religious texts included in 1850 were law books – nothing is mentioned about the foremost authorities of religion, the Qur’an or Hadith.50 In Punjab, the Director of Public Instruction in 1858 actually “ordered all village schools to be removed from the precincts of mosques and other buildings of a religious character.”51 Thus, even beyond the distinctions made between Indian and Western sciences, the British did come effectively discriminate and in many ways create distinctions between religious sciences and secular sciences that were originally intertwined in the prevailing Dars-i Nizami curriculum. The British debates on Orientalism and Anglicism, on whether to financially endorse the study of Indian languages and sciences, still at the end of the day represented just one aspect of education – they simply dealt with what education the British would impart in British-run schools. The indigenous traditional system was not the primary concern here. Thus, even while “Orientalism” was still in vogue, British economic policies were destroying the system of

Talal Asad, Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 207. 49 Pernau, introduction to The Delhi College, 25. 50 Ghulam M.D. Sufi, Al-Minhaj, being the Evolution of Curriculum in the Muslim Educational Institutions of India (Delhi: Idarah-i Adabiyat-i Delli, 1977), 91. 51 Education Report from the Director of Public Instruction, Punjab to the Financial Commissioner, Punjab, June 25, 1858, section 18; extracts in G. W. Leitner, History of Indigenous Education in the Punjab since Annexation and in 1882 (Patiala: Languages Department Punjab, 1971 [first published in 1883]), Appendix, vi, 20.

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indigenous education without paying any heed to the more polished debates occurring between the Orientalists and Anglicists.52 The Permanent Settlement in 1793 by Lord Cornwallis, the successor of Hastings, signified the “virtual closing of the door to land-lordism to Muslims” at least in Bengal.53 Although different sectors of society reacted differently to British policies, losses incurred by Muslim landholders had direct consequences for the education and culture they patronized.54 Even W.W. Hunter in 1871 blamed British economic policy for the loss of Muslim schools, saying it had delivered the Muslim educational system in Bengal “its deathblow.”55 Thus, it is unsurprising the reformist madrasas would also be built with an overall feeling of decline and extinction. If many Muslim landholders had started feeling “threatened by the Company,” it would be unsurprising to find the scholars who depended on their patronage feeling threatened by the Company as well. Institutions such as the Calcutta Madrasa and the Delhi College formed unique points of interaction and confluence, but would prove insufficient in keeping traditionalist concerns at bay over their perceived potential extinction. The Delhi College itself would never recover after 1857. In a telling indication of their attitudes, the historian of the Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband would write regarding the context in which the madrasa was founded: after 1857, “the English… left nothing unturned in destroying Islamic learning and sciences…”56 Thus, there was a very real perception amongst at least the founders of Deoband that they were fighting for the very survival of traditional Islamic education. Thus, British policies, including educational, political, and economic policies introduced and institutionalized many ideas in India. The distinctions between Hindu and Muslim education, traditional and Western education, secular and religious subjects, as embodied by their institutions greatly influenced the ‘ulama who also were interacting with them. This, along with the added elements of fear over the survival of traditional education and religion left the ‘ulama in a bind to focus solely on the aspects they considered most precious to them. These would go long ways to influence the orientation of the reformist madrasas they would soon establish themselves.


Gregory C. Kozlowski, Muslim Endowments and Society in British India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 21-32. 53 Hardy, The Muslims of British India, 43. 54 Farhan Ahmad Nizami, “Madrasahs, Scholars and Saints: Muslim Response to the British presence in Delhi and the Upper Doab 1803-1857” (PhD diss., University of Oxford, 1983), 44. 55 W.W. Hunter, The Indian Musalmans, 183. 56 Rizwi, Tarikh Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband, 150.

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Part 2: The Emergence of Institutional Madrasas
This section investigates how the institutional madrasas absorbed many of the British influences mentioned in the previous section. Indeed, as British policy evolved, so did Muslim approaches to Western and traditional education. The intellectual differences between Hindus and Muslims, Indian and Western education, and the religious and the secular subjects emphasized by the British were increasingly difficult to simply cast aside, especially as political and economic changes soon rocked their life and destroyed any illusions regarding the reality of British rule after the revolt of 1857. Thus, ten years after the revolt, the first major institutional madrasa was founded at Deoband. During this time, Sayyid Ahmad Khan, the visionary of the modernist movement which supported receiving English and Western education, also began his work on his ideal Muslim college to help jumpstart Muslim modernization. As important as 1857 was in shaping Muslim activities for the rest of the British reign, it is also necessary to realize that the pre-Revolt era was also immensely important in giving Muslims, and for our interests, the pioneers of the reformist movements, a chance to interact with their British colonizers. The British had actually conquered Delhi, the capital of the old Mughal Empire, about half a century ago in 1803, and had kept the Mughal emperor in his symbolic place. The British presence there drew interesting reactions from Muslim reformist scholars that were part of the Shah Wali Allah tradition mentioned previously, reactions that would continue to affect how the reformist ‘ulama even after 1857 would act in terms of educational policy. After the British conquered Delhi in 1803, they felt “heavily inclined” towards the reformist scholars of Delhi, providing opportunities for cooperation and arguably maintaining a generally “sober and even peaceful” environment for intellectual activity within Delhi. 57 One of the most important movements of reform had been started by Shah Wali Allah, an intellectual giant who made powerful criticisms of Muslim practices in his society, including its education. In the Madrasa Rahimiyya (established by his father in Delhi), he thus emphasized Qur’an and Hadith at the expense of logic and philosophy, whose intellectual scope he considered limited and ultimately subordinate to the Divine truth.58 This marked a major difference in curriculum from the Farangi Mahall scholarly tradition in Lucknow, which considered the ma’quli or
57 58

Malik, Islam in South Asia, 247. Ibid., 201.

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rationalist sciences its main subject of study. Though there had been previous attempts made to spread Hadith in the subcontinent, Shah Wali Allah finally succeeded in planting it firmly in the region, adding to the list of religious reforms he achieved. 59 Thus, his actions distinguished reformist education from other streams of the Dars-i Nizami curriculum with its dominant focus on manquli or religious subjects, even though ma’quli subjects would still remain part of the curriculum. After Shah Wali Allah, his successor and son Shah ‘Abd al-‘Aziz (d.1824) played an important role in charting a course and setting precedent as to how reformist movements should interact with the British. In a famous fatwa, he ruled that India had become a dar al-harb (an abode of war, not Islam), though he did not call for military activity. Instead, he legalized cooperation with the British if it proved profitable, thus making it legitimate to learn English and work for the British as long as it did not entail harming other Muslims. 60 Although the fatwa did not stop other members of the Wali Allahi tradition from engaging in jihad, such as Sayyid Ahmad (1786-1831) of Rae Bareli, the fatwa had profound implications: it gave scholarly and traditional legitimacy for opting not to militarily resist colonial rule, and it gave priority to the project of education as a means of eventually attaining religious revival and strength. 61 In the absence of any meaningful political ruler, it also enhanced the position of the reformist ‘ulama as the leaders and guides of the Muslims, which was manifested through the increasing power and reach of the fatwas issued. Thus, for the reformist movement, education became subject to renewed attention and focus as a means of achieving reform itself. This opened a new avenue to cooperate and interact with the British on the very basis of their traditional learning, in ways which may not have been possible otherwise. Ultimately, this was crucial in introducing the reformist ‘ulama to the intellectual and cultural sides of the British, beyond the mere politics. A major point of the convergence of the reformist ‘ulama and the British colonial project was the Delhi College, which was established the year after Shah ‘Abd al-‘Aziz passed away. Here, men associated with the Wali Allahi tradition, including Mawlana Mamluk ‘Ali and his teacher Mawlana Rashid al-Din Khan, a student of Shah ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, became teachers at the Oriental department of the College. Mamluk ‘Ali actually became the head Arabic teacher in

Mahmood Ahmad Ghazi, Islamic Renaissance in South Asia (1707-1867) (Islamabad: Islamic Research Institute, 2002), 161. 60 Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India, 52. 61 Ibid.

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1833, and was able to use this position to bring many young students to Delhi and teach them, even if they did not become registered students at the Delhi College. His most notable students included Muhammad Qasim Nanawtawi (1833-1877), Haji Imdad Allah (1817-1899), and Rashid Ahmad Gangohi (1829-1905), all of whom were future visionaries and founders of the Deoband madrasa. Interestingly, among his “associates” were the future champions of the Aligarh movement: Zaka Ullah Khan (1832-1911), Nazir Ahmad (1830-1912), and Sami Allah Khan (1834-1908). Each of them spent different amounts of time within and around the Delhi College, giving them all a taste of its “ambiance” and the overall functioning of the institution. Thus, the future leaders of the two main educational movements after the Revolt had both drank deeply from the well of British institutionalism. 62 But after the Revolt, and the closing of the Delhi College, they each would take vastly different paths. Institutions like the Delhi College however, were not enough to satisfy the concerns of the ‘ulama regarding their threatened traditions. The reformist ‘ulama increasingly found themselves and their traditions to be facing an onslaught from all directions. Legislation before the Revolt had already ruled out religious education in the government schools and colleges on the grounds of religious neutrality. The Wood’s Educational Dispatch of 1854, and the ensuing universities established in Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay in 1857, specifically prohibited including any religious education within the curriculum. This prohibition extended even if universities were to provide an optional course of Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit, and the vernacular languages.63 The grants-in-aid system was then used as a back-up, where the British agreed to offer financial support “within certain limits” to “denominational institutions” as long as they also offered a “good secular education.” Yet the additional conditions it imposed would hardly form a strong incentive for the reformist ‘ulama: it stipulated that a small fee be levied to students, that the schools remain open to government inspection, and that they also would be subject to new rules imposed at any time by the government. 64 The Revolt had changed the nature of their relationship, and the ‘ulama had no desire of cooperating with them on the institutional level, even though many ‘ulama were individually employed by the government and did have a history of cooperation with the British. Now, ‘ulama increasingly would feel it
62 63

Ibid., 75. Mahmood, A History of English Education in India, 89. 64 Report of the Indian Education Commission (1882), p.352 quoted in Mahmood, A History of English Education, 103.

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necessary to remain aloof from the government on the institutional level to preserve their autonomy and independence, so they could pay complete attention towards rescuing traditional religious education on their own terms from a perceived precarious, threatened state of existence.65 Meanwhile, Muslim leaders in general were becoming increasingly perturbed not only at the usurpation of power by the British but by the rapid advances of Hindus in the British bureaucracy. In this regard, the English government was often regarded as having favored and facilitated their rise. Even so, Muslims lagged behind Hindus in adopting English education: in the year 1860-1861, only 8.4 percent of students in government colleges were Muslims, as compared to 85.7 percent being Hindus. 66 The Indian Education Commission of 1882 mentioned several reasons why it believed this was so: Muslim suspicion at the ulterior motives of English schools, stiff relations between Muslims and Englishmen, general Muslim poverty, the small number of Muslim teachers in government schools, and the lack of proper cooperation among British educational officers and Muslims. 67 Regardless of how accurate this assessment may have been, the comparisons made between Muslims and Hindus would help enhance feelings of communalism where they had not yet spread, as well as add fuel to the Muslim community’s own sense of decline. Now, whatever ideas Muslim educational theorists proposed would mostly be for the uplifting of the Muslims, even if Hindus were not to be excluded from them. And each Muslim school, including Deoband and Aligarh, would perceive itself as battling a decline of Islam. Interestingly, Barbara Metcalf mentions that the Revolt itself did not linger in the thoughts of the ‘ulama, though she concedes the lesson of British political dominance and cruelty remained and visibly affected their decisions. 68 This, she notes, was perhaps due to their general abstention from taking part in the Revolt itself, even though they were often suspected of having done so. Now, they focused more on internal, spiritual reform, which reflected their desire to create a sub-Islamic world or network to maintain the presence of Islam in their society despite the loss of political authority. Their main political strategy would henceforth only consist of the
65 66

Rizwi, Tarikh Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband, 154. Robinson, Separatism among Indian Muslims, 39. 67 Report of the Indian Education Commission (1882), p.183 quoted in Mahmood, A History of English Education, 147. 68 In this, they would be differentiated from the more modern Muslims such as Sayyid Ahmad Khan who would analyze the causes of the Revolt itself in The Causes of the Indian Revolt (1858) and write about Muslims who remained loyal during the uprising in An Account on the Loyal Mahomedans of India (1860).

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directive to avoid unnecessarily offending their rulers and having as little to do with them as possible, because defeating them military was perceived to be impossible. Though this maintenance of distance from the government had large precedent in Islamic history, it was still unique in the fact that the government here was non-Muslim and had previously enjoyed some level of cooperation. Thus, an immediate consequence of the Revolt would be to create the drive for institutional autonomy, for only autonomy here could guarantee any semblance of an Islamic “sphere” under British rule. The first institution to be founded was the Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband in 1867. After the Revolt, many ‘ulama spread out from Delhi, moving towards smaller towns or princely states where the British presence was not as prominent as it was in the capital. Deoband, located around ninety miles northeast of Delhi, was one such town with a sizeable Muslim presence. The first classes began in Deoband’s old Chatta Masjid under a pomegranate tree. Despite its traditional origins, the school was envisioned as a distinct institution based on British bureaucratic styles. Here, the influence of the Delhi College and the Calcutta Madrasa becomes evident. There would eventually be separate classrooms, a central library, a fixed course of study, yearly examinations and convocations, and a professional staff consisting of teachers, administrators, and councilors. Muhammad Qasim, the student of Mamluk ‘Ali at Delhi, composed eight principles for its administration. Perhaps the most unique was his emphasis on keeping the madrasa’s funding strictly dependent on informal public donations, so it could remain independent of any jagir, wealthy family, and the British government. The goal of the school was to train ‘ulama that could spread their teachings and contribute to the cause of reformed Islam. This specialized focus on building a body of scholars would later be used as justification for rejecting the need to include anything that did not ostensibly contribute to the cause of traditional, scholarly studies. The curriculum was drawn from the Dars-i Nizami curriculum, but followed the shift towards Hadith studies initiated in the days of Shah Wali Allah. Instead of just one book of Hadith, all six classical collections of Prophetic sayings would be taught. There was also a secondary emphasis on fiqh, on Islamic jurisprudence, and an office for the mufti was added in 1892. Rational or ma’quli subjects were included, though there was initially strong debate on whether they were necessary at all. Eventually, the school did include them because those ulama who considered them a necessary part of “Islamic” education

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outnumbered those—like Rashid Ahmad Gangohi and, later, Manazir Ahsan Gilani—who questioned this notion. Thus, in what may seem to be a strange twist of events, the ‘ulama rushed to embrace traditional religious education, instead of running after what ostensibly appeared to be the road to political power by enrolling in government colleges and schools. Rather, they concentrated on building the pillars of their spiritual and intellectual power as a means of preserving and reviving their Islamic sciences.69 Even though the founders did not prohibit learning English per se, they did not include it in their curriculum because, they stated, there was no shortage of English institutes. Plus, adding English education would encumber their students, which was also an excuse used previously by the British to separate the Oriental and English departments in the Delhi College. The main acknowledgement towards the possibility of cooperating with the public system was to shorten the duration of the course from ten years to six, to allow graduates enough time to pursue a secular education as well, though few did. 70 This policy, however reasoned, ultimately marked the formal, internal adoption of the British policy of differentiation and separating between Oriental and Western institutions. Each now represented an entirely different branch of epistemology, with different functions and legacies – and by excluding Western education from a syllabus that was meant to train religious leaders, the ‘ulama were effectively embracing the uneven dichotomy the two would come to represent. While the distinctions made between traditional religious learning and Western learning were clear from the foundation of the institutions, the distinctions between secularism and religion demand a deeper look. Indeed, the emphasis on religion at this early stage should not only be seen as a reaction against any secularism on the part of the British– it was also an attempt to purify themselves and reconnect with the Islamic tradition as a source of power and revival in the aftermath of Muslim political defeat. In any case, it was following a precedent set previously by the British in differentiating between traditional and Western learning at the institutional level. The madrasa itself had retained many of the rationalist aspects of the Dars-i Nizami and had not rejected “secular” or “rationalist” studies; it had simply eschewed Western learning. Yet as the secular British government schools grew in prominence and became the main means of procuring jobs within the British bureaucracy, this distinction between Western
69 70

Rizwi, Tarikh Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband, 143. Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India, 102.

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education and Oriental education transformed into a dichotomy between secularism and religion. At the time of Warren Hastings or even Lord Bentinck, qualified graduates of madrasas could manage to find jobs under the British courts. Now, secular government schools fulfilled this task. Thus, increasingly, graduates of institutions that taught the Dars-i Nizami found themselves excluded from many of the occupations that had been theirs historically.71 This would leave them at loss on how to go about finding a living, and even Gilani would touch upon this subject in his book. Thus, many graduates would become limited to playing “religious” roles in society like teaching, preaching, becoming Imams, and generally spreading the reformist teachings of Deoband. However, because of the religious nature of the Deobandi institution, the limiting factor which came to be perceived as preventing Deobandis from taking a broader part in society was their focus on religion. Thus, a curriculum which at one point in time could have provided much more leeway and freedom to its graduates as an integral part of its society now became largely defined by its religious activities. In other words, what was on one hand a divide between Western and traditional religious learning, evolved into a perceived divide between religious and secular roles in society – roles which had only taken meaning under the British colonialist presence. This feature became especially pronounced with the emergence of Muslims who became known as “pro-Western,” “modern,” or even “secular” because of their advocacy for accepting and utilizing Western learning. The divide was then extended to create factions within the Muslim community of “religious” and “secular” Muslims. The more “modern” of them went on to found the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College in 1875. Ironically, for all British beliefs regarding the importance of English education in cultivating loyalty, the intellectual leader of this college was Sayyid Ahmad Khan, a man whose only education consisted of some basic studies in traditional education. Yet he remained firmly loyal to the British even during the revolt, and was convinced of the need to learn from them. He was greatly inspired by a trip to London in 1869, where he was left dumbstruck by the wonders of British civilization. After his return, he launched a campaign to establish a university that would embrace European sciences, stimulate the intellect, and produce loyal citizens of the British Empire. In doing so, he also made sure to attack the government system as simply producing a generation of “letter-writers,


Nizami, “Madrasahs, Scholars and Saints,” 58.

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copyists, signal-men, and railway ticket collectors.”72 The college he would propose was then born out of stiff opposition to the institutional madrasa system, as well as an overwhelming sense of Muslim decline. It was modeled after Oxford and Cambridge, which he and his son Sayyid Mahmud (1850-1903) had visited, and initially was planned to teach modern education through Urdu, English, and even the classical languages. There would be courses in religion and theology, though they would fade behind the emphasis on European sciences. Eventually, as Robinson mentions, Aligarh provided “more than an education in English; [it] had an English education.”73 Students were exposed to English teachers, English recreations, and prepared for studying at English universities. There was also the glaring absence of much of the Dars-i Nizami curriculum which the ‘ulama considered prerequisite for providing any meaningful traditional, religious education. The college itself had not innovated much in terms of curriculum, and in this regard was hardly different from Calcutta University (which it actually was required to become affiliated with by the British government as a pre-condition of its grantin-aid). Thus, for all the hype of bringing an educational breakthrough, the main breakthrough simply seemed to be an official embracing of modern education, with the added touches of some religious elements. In this the role of British was extremely important. Aligarh would probably not have survived without government aid, and would not have even drawn so much publicity without it. By supporting the college, the British actually “assisted at the birth of a Muslim political party.”74 Sayyid Ahmad had already alienated many ‘ulama with his desire to interpret the Qur’an with a 19th century European rationalist approach. Hence, many ‘ulama began to view him as a heretic, and if not, still took the pains to rebut his philosophy. Such criticism also transferred to the college, which found it hard to gain donations from Muslims. Thus, the dichotomy between the traditional and modern education remained unresolved, though choosing modern education at the exclusion of the other had won a source of “Muslim” legitimacy from a source that would have likely remained unpopular without government support. As divergent as they seemed, however, Aligarh and Deoband formed the first institutionalized movements that aimed to uplift the Muslim population through education. But the features the Europeans had institutionalized in organizing the two systems of traditional
72 73

Lelyveld, Aligarh’s First Generation, 107. Robinson, Separatism among Indian Muslims, 110. 74 Ibid., 131.

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education and modern education were now even deepened. Now, one brand of Muslims would assert authority on the basis of tradition, while the other on the basis of a modern education. One would become known as “conservative” and “religious,” while the other as more “secular” or “modern” – even if both would claim to serve the religion of Islam. Both relished in the newfound institutional autonomy they had gained under British rule, even as they perceived themselves as fighting through a decline of Muslim power. Both were thus profoundly shaped by the British policies which preceded their founding. The search for a common ground between them had not yet proved fruitful, and perhaps did not even constitute a top priority. Each movement inspired many new affiliated ones, and thus became solidly entrenched within the general Muslim consciousness. The role of the pre-colonial madrasa, as catering to both Hindu and Muslim needs was increasingly vanishing as the thirst for institutional legitimacy increased. Because of their limited scope and the generally historically unprecedented nature of these new divides, neither Aligarh nor Deoband would succeed in quelling the restlessness for educational reform that came to be found even among their graduates. Thus, attempts at reform would continue.

Part 3: Reversing the Role of the Madrasa: Subordinating Modernity to Tradition
Although reformers of education came in different shapes and with different perspectives, my focus here is simply on the recurrent phenomena of reformers amongst the Sunni ‘ulama. Why did they not simply embrace the “Islamic reality” established at Deoband? What larger patterns can their dissatisfaction with the educational model proposed by Deoband fall into? What can these patterns reveal about the historical place and role of the institutional madrasa in the colonial context, even as it spread and cemented itself within Indian society? Here, I will focus on the proposal made by Manazir Ahsan Gilani. Although there was much talk of reform amongst the ‘ulama, especially around the end of the 19 th century with the formation of the Nadwat al-‘Ulama,75 Gilani’s proposal becomes especially significant

The Nadwat al-‘Ulama represented the most famous attempt at reform made by an initially broad coalition of traditional scholars (from Deoband and elsewhere). It aimed to produce scholars who could combine traditional learning with the modern as well. Led by many scholars, including Shibli Nu’mani (1857-1914), a traditional but forward-looking intellectual, the institution actually began teaching English in 1905. Yet it ultimately failed, and its

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considering the time it was composed in, the place it was made from, and the deeply thought out reasoning behind it. Composed in 1942 from the princely state of Hyderabad, Gilani thus had witnessed other major reform attempts such as the Nadwat al-‘Ulama fall short on their goals, whilst remaining at a relative distance from them. Writing in the latter part of his life, he had the opportunity to detail his thoughts and present a comprehensive solution which would solve the issues he was concerned with. I thus start by analyzing his biography, paying attention to his own personal experiences with education and the institutional madrasas. Then I analyze the proposal itself, as a means to understand his critique of the role played by the institutional madrasa in Indian society. I juxtapose his complaints, arguments, and evidences alongside that of his contemporaries as well as in relation to the historical rise of the institutional madrasa. Then, I briefly survey the main themes in his history, which he instills to reinforce his critique. I finally take into account the failed legacy of the proposal to highlight the complex nature of institutional madrasas. Ultimately, I attempt to show how his critiques, not unlike others, in essence revolve around the newfound character and roles the institutional madrasa had assumed within the British colonial context, as discussed in the previous sections. These roles had to be changed and reversed, so the madrasa could retain its preeminence as the fountainhead of all knowledge and wisdom in Muslim Indian society. A Personal Experience of the Dichotomy in Education Manazir Ahsan Gilani was born in 1892, in the province of Bihar. 76 His family came from a line of zamindars who had been farming lands for centuries under the Mughals. Gilani’s grandfather, however, had gone out of his way to become a scholar of the Dars-i Nizami and set up a madrasa, teaching students from the surrounding localities, and sometimes even further outside. Of his three sons, the second managed to achieve a relatively deep grounding in the Dars-i Nizami, and the youngest, who was Gilani’s father, had his academic pursuits come to an end

curriculum in most aspects simply came to resemble that of Deoband’s. Its failure, however, was not as significant as the fact it had actually tried to bring about a reform, or in other words, challenge the binary approach to institutional education as symbolized by Deoband and Aligarh. In this, it could be viewed as an effort to push back against the binary reality represented by them, despite Nadwa’s own close connections to Deoband. 76 The biographical details of this section come from Muhammad Zafir al-Din Miftahi, Hayat-i Moulana Gilani, which can be corroborated by the dozens of articles written by other ‘ulama about Gilani. These articles are usually added as introductions to his own books. Curiously, there is not much to be found in modern historiography about the details of his career and education, let alone an analysis of how that impacted his views. This goes to show how much of a neglected figure Gilani has been in modern historiography.

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after the death of his father when he was just fourteen years old. Gilani’s education therefore became the responsibility of his uncle. After Gilani learned how to read the Qur’an and received some rudimentary lessons in Persian and Arabic, his uncle made one of the most important decisions of Gilani’s life: he resisted family pressure to give him an English education, as was the fashionable new trend among the zamindar classes (according to Gilani’s biographer), and sent him to a madrasa to further his traditional studies. Gilani’s own two younger brothers would be given an English education, and would never attend a madrasa – but his uncle, who wanted to keep alive the family’s tradition, sent Gilani towards Tonk, which was said to be a major center of the rationalist sciences. At Tonk, Gilani immersed himself for several years in a world of logic, of ma’quli sciences.77 These years left an indelible imprint on his views towards the madrasa system in general, both because of his studies and the experience he had. As Gilani would narrate later, he, along with twenty other students, paid no tuition and had their meals arranged for by their teacher, Mawlana Sayyid Barakat Ahmad Sahib, who also worked as a physician and owned a few jagirs. This experience gave him a very positive view of the versatile nature of the informal and un-institutionalized madrasa system, which Gilani would consider as the last remaining vestiges hailing from the pre-colonial madrasa system. This experience also would create a sort of educational divide between Gilani and his siblings, and probably would give him a very early and personal taste (and dislike) of the differences the two systems of education had created. While at Tonk, Gilani underwent a spiritual crisis of sorts after reading the works of the classical Islamic theologian al-Ghazali (1058-1111), who deconstructed the superiority of the rationalist sciences. Gilani decided to study Hadith at Deoband, but he was opposed by his uncle who wanted him to continue at Tonk. Thus, Gilani from the beginning was made aware of the variety and diversity of different streams of the Dars-i Nizami, and knew that Deoband just represented one stream of traditional education – not the only one. Nevertheless, at Deoband, Gilani immediately attached himself to the preeminent teachers of the time, including Anwar Shah Kashmiri (1875-1933), Mahmud Hasan (1851-1920), and Shabbir Ahmad ‘Uthmani (1886-


This was not something unusual – in fact, it was the Deoband school with its emphasis on manquli sciences, that could be said to be unusual. The existing Dars-i Nizami curriculum, as organized by the influential Farangi Mahall family in Lucknow, still displayed a stronger emphasis towards the rationalist sciences.

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1949).78 After graduating the next year in 1913, Gilani struggled to find a respectable income, writing in Deoband’s magazine Al-Qasim for some time and teaching at Tonk. Discontented, he traveled to Hyderabad, and found again to his disappointment that the pay in the madrasas there was also minimal. Instead, he found a Hindu maharaja eagerly willing to sponsor him to remain in his court, and Gilani found himself deciding between a low pay at a madrasa and an unscholarly, yet luxurious career as a courtier. Eventually, he decided to return back north– but the cohesion and understanding he reached with the maharaja mirrored the harmonious version of historical cooperation and unity he would later write about and remain firmly in favor of. It would also give him a personal taste of the historical role the kings and rulers had played in patronizing and sponsoring the intellectuals of their times, thus giving him a glimpse into the history he so cherished. The underlying struggle to find a career that would satisfy both material and intellectual needs just on the basis of traditional education also left a deep imprint on him. This was a negative experience which was becoming more common in the colonial period, and was shared by other scholars as well, including Shibli Nu’mani (1857-1914).79 It impressed within him the need for both traditional and modern systems to unite, so they could equally equip their graduates with the basic preparation to lead to careers in both religious and non-religious fields. Back in Deoband, he found work as a teacher, and drew closer to his own teachers and administrators. Yet his stay here was interrupted by an uproar at Calcutta, where a leading English newspaper published blasphemous remarks against the Prophet Muhammad. A delegation of senior Deobandi ‘ulama including Gilani was subsequently requested to travel there and petition the government to properly resolve the issue. As riots broke out in the city, Gilani left Calcutta on a long detour through that first went south to Hyderabad and then back north to Deoband. While stopping in Hyderabad, Gilani was advised by Hamid al-Din Farahi (1863-1930), a current teacher at Hyderabad and a graduate of Aligarh, to immediately apply for a position at the soon-to-open Osmania University. Gilani consulted his teachers, who informed him that it would be beneficial to have him representing Deoband in Hyderabad. Thus, in 1920, Gilani was hired as a professor at the Islamic studies department of Osmania University. Here,

Gilani also fondly and nostalgically relates his days at Deoband in his book, Ihata-yi Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband men bite huwe din (Deoband: Maktaba-yi Tayyiba, n.d.). 79 C. W. Troll, “Muhammad Shibli Nu’mani (1857-1914) and the Reform of Muslim Religious Education,” in Madrasa: La transmission du savoir dans le monde musulman, eds. Nicole Grandin and Marc Gaborieau (Paris: Éditions Arguments, 1997), 146.

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Gilani found stability and good pay, and eventually became the head of the faculty of Islamic studies in 1929. In working at Osmania, Gilani was not breaking any ideological barriers between the ‘ulama and the secular colleges or universities – in fact, Muhammad Qasim’s own son-in-law had taught at Aligarh since 1893. 80 Gilani himself continued to remain in touch with Deoband, writing prolifically for Al-Qasim and even being appointed to the Majlis-i Shura of the madrasa administration, where he stayed on board for about two decades before quietly resigning. In Osmania’s world of transmitting European and religious education through Urdu, Gilani found himself at a unique intersection of traditionalism and modernity, of religion and secularism in a manner that echoed faintly of how the founders of Deoband had found themselves decades ago in the Delhi College. There were many differences now, and the most important of them was probably his role as an ambassador of Deobandi reform to another body of Muslims in Hyderabad. This role of representing Deoband gave him the impetus of advancing the cause of traditional curriculum as embodied by the Dars-i Nizami – but the intertwining of Urdu and modern education at Osmania also opened him to a feasible way of acquiring modern education. The vast differences between madrasa students and university students saddened him and reinforced in his mind the need for their unity. Thus, he also became an ambassador of modern education to Deoband, as he grew increasingly wary of clinging to a dichotomy between tradition and modernity, and religion and secularism. This special vantage point, made all the more complicated by Hyderabad’s unique degree of “Muslim” rule, afforded him opportunities to observe the differences between the two educational systems. From this distance, Gilani was able to evaluate closely the different trajectories the madrasa system and the university system were taking. He witnessed the fortunes of Nadwat al-‘Ulama, which failed in its goals of providing a platform for uniting all the ‘ulama, and of bridging the gap between the traditional sciences and modern education – but succeeded to some degree in innovating its Arabic curriculum. He saw the Jamia Millia Islamia, founded in the fervor of the Khilafat movement of the 1920s, turn into a nationalist institution. He observed the Farangi Mahall family struggle to keep its traditions alive as the younger generations increasingly opted to receive a Western education. Above all, he lamented the marked


Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India, 329.

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differentiation that Gilani perceived as dividing the Muslim community in two sections: the Muslims of the secular government schools and the Muslims of the madrasas. Thus, Gilani’s own personal education allowed him to transcend any one model of education. He had a strong background in informal, rationalist education, in Deoband’s institutional and religious education, and finally as a professor at Osmania University. Though he became part of the Deobandi reformist movement, he was not in any way bound to the educational model used by them. He had become appalled with the dichotomy between tradition and modernity, and religion and secularism which had managed to frustrate him at almost every stage of his life. He had very much suffered from the evils he would write about. His main focus would thus be to end a dichotomy he perceived as a product of colonial rule – something he believed madrasas were failing to overcome. Analyzing the Proposal After a lifetime of evaluation, Gilani finally proceeded to write his proposal. Although originally requested as a small article on Muslim education for Al-Qasim, Gilani could not control the rush of thoughts flooding through his mind, and within the span of three weeks produced a 750 page book on the history of Islamic education in South Asia to support his arguments for reform. The proposal itself was simple in conception. Extracting only the manquli books from the Dars-i Nizami curriculum that he deemed as basic and essential for all Muslims (namely, the Mishkat al-Masabih81 for Hadith, Tafsir al-Jalalayn82 for Qur’an, and parts of the Hidaya83 and Sharh alWiqaya84 for fiqh), Gilani proposed to stick them onto the existing British metric system, which would fulfill the role traditionally held by ma’quli sciences in providing mental stimulation and employment opportunities. These four books were only used as a standard, and could be substituted by other books or none at all as long as whatever was taught matched the substance and amount of information within these four books. Since Arabic would only be limited to Qur’anic Arabic, a child could learn everything he needed to from the three religious subjects,

This famous Hadith collection was originally compiled as Masabih al-Sunnah by Abu Muhammad al-Husayn alBaghawi (d.1122) and later revised by Wali al-Din Muhammad al-Tabrizi (d. 1348) to become the Mishkat alMasabih. 82 This was composed by Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (1445-1505) and his teacher Jalal al-Din Ahmad al-Muhalli (13891459) as a very brief explanation or tafsir of the Qur'an in Arabic. 83 An important book on Islamic jurisprudence of the Hanafi school of thought produced by Burhan al-Din alMarghinani (d. 1197). 84 Another book on Hanafi fiqh by ‘Allama ‘Ubaid Allah ibn Mas’ud (d.1346/47).

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alongside the rest of the secular subjects by the time he would finish his bachelor’s degree. Instruction would be in Urdu, and rudimentary Persian would be taught mainly to enhance an understanding of Urdu. Thereafter, the student would be free to specialize and work in any field so desired, with institutions such as Deoband and Nadwa functioning more as graduate institutions for advanced studies. Gilani was confident the British would agree to adopt these changes in their own government schools, as well as provide financial aid to madrasas if they adopted modern education. These would be supplemented by “Islamic hostels” which would provide another way of building an Islamic identity. Thus, the need for private madrasas in their current form would no longer exist. There would be one single source of education, in which tradition, religion, and modernity would all be given a prominent role to play, and a Muslim would become intellectually strong enough to remain firm in his religion and study anything he wanted, including English. Ultimately, Gilani hoped that the distinctions created by the different systems of education would disappear. Although simple in theory, Gilani’s proposal struck at the heart of discord regarding the competing conceptions of Muslim education, as it tried to appease every party he considered important by including the major elements of their demands. Indeed, it can almost be considered as a compromise, as an attempt to achieve some sort of reconciliation between them. Where he could not completely accommodate their demands, he attempted to convince them that the elements he was including were in fact sufficient to satisfy their real needs. This form of argument was mostly addressed to the traditionalist circles, where Gilani would attempt to use history as evidence for his arguments. This necessity to appease all sides, however, drew from Gilani’s ultimate goal of bridging different Muslim groups and platforms together – the ideological unification of modernity and tradition was more a by-product than the actual focus of this scheme. Thus, Gilani’s ambition transcended simply building another new “Gilani” model school, or bringing the Deoband madrasa and Aligarh College together – he wanted all Muslim schools throughout India to remain tied to the same, unified system. This is significant because it probably had never been seriously and earnestly proposed before. Educators and reformers of all types had usually concentrated on reforming or building their own private institutions. Thus men like Shibli Nu’mani, Ross Masud (1889-1937), and Sulaiman Nadwi (1884-1953) would focus their efforts of educational reform mostly alongside the institutions they were part of. The question of somehow uniting every Muslim school throughout British India would probably form

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too gigantic a task to even cross their minds as a serious possibility. This itself was a reflection of the vast autonomy each institute had gained vis-à-vis other Muslim groups within the colonial context. As far as Gilani was concerned, it showed his urgent insistence on returning to a precolonial system of education which would remain free of the differences created and sustained by their autonomy. Thus, this formed one instance where his vision of Islamic education as manifested through the pre-colonial system tussled with the newfound features of the institutional madrasas.85 Related to this was Gilani’s call to reposition Deoband as an institute of specialization instead of a main center of traditional studies. In Gilani’s view, Deoband would no longer need to function and represent itself as the sole repository of traditional, religious knowledge because the entire system throughout India would now theoretically function on the same platform of religious education. Even though Aligarh could still be functioning completely separate to Deoband, it would no longer constitute a dichotomy because they would be part of the same system. Deoband’s battle against secular Muslim education would be over, and it could now transform into a center for, as Gilani suggested, advanced Hadith studies. Similarly, Nadwa could become a center of advanced tafsir studies, the Farangi Mahall for fiqh studies, and potentially even Ajmer Sharif in Hyderabad could become a center for tasawwuf, or the science of Sufism. Although Gilani was merely making suggestions for potential areas of specialization, the broader plan to subsume all the internal differences and autonomies behind these institutions into one unified mass of individual schools was audacious for a Deobandi or any Muslim of his time – it again signaled his complete dissatisfaction with the way all the institutions were operating, and thus threatened to push him in direct confrontation with them. 86 Thus again, Gilani’s understanding of pre-colonial history would end up clashing with the foundations of the institutional madrasas.


This is not to imply that the pre-colonial madrasas did not have autonomy. They did have some autonomy, but they were still dependent on the needs and demands of their societies - unlike the modern institutes which were usually built around what the founders perceived as the need of their societies, and did not have to fully depend on the population or village in which their school was situated in. For example, see Deoband’s struggle to remain independent of the village authorities: Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India, 116. 86 To mitigate possible negative reactions of this point, Gilani pointed out that his scheme would open up access to traditional knowledge to an exponentially greater number of people, since everyone who would graduate from college would in theory be eligible to apply to these madrasas to further their Islamic education. In this way, the madrasa could reach a wider audience than it did now. On the other hand, modern education would also be taught more extensively, so it too would not be deprived.

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Underlying Gilani’s attention to manquli and ma’quli subjects was the idea that Muslims have to embrace all forms of education and not distinguish between the secular and the sacred. This was not a revolutionary idea, and it formed a staple of most reformist discourse, including the Nadwat al-‘Ulama – yet it still undertook fresh significance in Gilani’s scheme. By combining the two, Gilani saw himself as combining two different bodies of Muslims who had grown increasingly disconnected, and even hostile, to one another. There was thus a sense of undoing what the colonial order had brought about in the Muslim world, and returning to a precolonial, idealized state of education. This again stemmed from Gilani’s history of the precolonial madrasa, but nevertheless it threatened to put Gilani in confrontation with the existing institutional madrasas and secular schools. Gilani hence took great pains to prove that the Dars-i Nizami, contrary to “popular” opinion, only had three purely religious subjects, and that the majority of the books were otherwise. This was done to persuade traditionalists of the need to incorporate ma’quli subjects, in addition to manquli subjects. Ma’quli subjects in this age would now consist of the modern subjects. This way the ma’quli component of the curriculum would remain present, as it had throughout the history of the Dars-i Nizami, but it would be internally transformed to meet the ever-changing, worldly needs of society. Thus, Gilani was simultaneously reassuring the ‘ulama of the continued, full-blown functioning of the Islamic hierarchy, while also sympathizing with those who claimed that the bulk of the Dars-i Nizami was unnecessary and irrelevant for their time. He was also attempting to establish a universal Indian identity in the Dars-i Nizami, by portraying it as the historical prerequisite for achieving any educated career within India. In other words, Gilani was ultimately trying to stretch the Dars-i Nizami as far back as he could, to wrap it around all the education being taught in his time. This simply indicated his zeal to transcend the differences created in colonial times with the help of history. In keeping with the Islamic character of the schools, Gilani would also seek to establish Islamic hostels which would be supervised by men of honesty and piety. This idea of utilizing boarding schools was not new to India, and many including Sayyid Ahmad Khan and Shibli Nu’mani had already explored and utilized this option as a means of building a national identity within Aligarh itself.87 But the regurgitation of this idea by Gilani showed that fears felt over the

Safia Amir, Muslim Nationhood in India: Perceptions of Seven Eminent Thinkers (New Delhi: Kanishka Publishers, 2000), 38.

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lack of an Islamic school environment as well as the perceived secularizing nature (or Christianizing nature) of government schools still persisted. An Islamic environment for Gilani would not only function to instill Islamic values and protect the moral purity of the students attending government schools, but it would also serve as protective cushioning against any intellectual and cultural vulnerabilities the students may be prone to by studying the modern arts (that was still supposed to be accompanied by religious training as well), by cementing their sense of Muslim identity. Thus, the role of an Islamic environment expanded to also function as a make-shift fix for a long-term problem of containing the intellectual dangers of Western education, a problem which could only be addressed at a later stage. This reveals Gilani’s own longstanding fears of Western education in spite of his zeal to embrace it, in a manner almost reminiscent of Shibli Nu’mani and others before him. What differentiated Gilani from most other ‘ulama was simply the realization of an overpowering need to adopt Western education anyhow, and to simply hope for the best.88 What differentiated Gilani from modernists was to include modern education not just for the purposes of gaining favor with the British government or to achieve “progress,” but to simply undo the negative consequences the dichotomy British rule had brought with it. Thus, the fear of the secularizing tendencies of Western education, which had accompanied colonial rule especially in the aftermath of 1857 through its own policies, did form a major theme in his proposal. Ultimately, he was grappling with a perception of modern education that was largely influenced and perpetuated by the nature and history of the colonial presence. One consequence of Gilani’s zeal to bridge the dichotomy was the willingness to be inclusive of different Muslim groups who had existed before the colonial period. Thus, Gilani proposed to let Shi’i Muslims decide which religious texts they would use, so they could remain part of his scheme. This conflicted with more conservative attitudes towards the Shi’i Muslims – for example, Muhammad Qasim himself had refused to teach at Aligarh because of its Shi’i presence.89 Gilani’s willingness to allow Farangi Mahall to become a center of fiqh also represented a position many Deobandis would vehemently disagree with, as they both differentiated themselves with their own particular styles of fiqh. According to Metcalf, the fatwa had taken a new authority after the loss of political control, and would thus remain an
88 89

After all, Gilani argued, Muslims like ‘Allama Iqbal had gone through the same system and still emerged safely. Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India, 329.

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important asset for the scholars of Deoband. But for all his calls of universalism, Gilani curiously made no overtures towards the Ahl-i Hadith, Hadith rejecters, or even the Barelwis, which had all evolved by Gilani’s time into separate reformist tracks of Islam clearly distinguishable from Deobandi Islam in terms of both beliefs and practices. In the case of the Hadith deniers, Gilani had previously written an entire volume defending the authenticity and importance of Hadith in the Islamic legal tradition, so his exclusion there could perhaps be understood on theological grounds.90 Yet the Ahl-i Hadith and Barelwis had also emerged as separate, distinct tracks of Islam, and had even established their own educational centers.91 Thus, they could not simply be shoved underneath the guise of Sunni Islam, and in a unifying educational scheme, would have to be given at least some distinct mention, even if, in the case of the Barelwis, much of the curriculum was the same as Deoband’s. Perhaps the Barelwi campaign to discredit the Nadwat al-‘Ulama played a role in this, but they were not the only ones to oppose the founding of a new madrasa. Instead, Gilani’s omission reveals the limits of his own “universalist” position. His version of the Islamic educational legacy, of the legacy of the Dars-i Nizami only extended to those who were grounded in the Indian scene, those who existed before the colonial period and actually possessed a history. This history would then come together to form one, Islamic legacy that would establish their legitimate claim to the Dars-i Nizami and a proper Islamic education, transcending the different factions created in the aftermath of colonial rule, including Deoband itself. Now, Gilani would be willing to incorporate Shi’i Muslims within his scheme, but would not even indicate any signs of considering others who may have been doctrinally closer to his own version of Islam, simply because they were absent from history. This reflected his own unwitting focus to simply work in contradistinction to the reality of colonial rule, as he neglected to address other possible venues of exercising his call for unity. Thus, in many ways, Gilani’s proposal essentially delved around reconstructing the precolonial era whilst accommodating circumstantial changes and necessities. For him, this was something the proclaimed guardians of tradition, the institutional madrasas, were simply failing to do. Instead, they were simply heading along patterns laid out to them by the British (who ironically could still be expected to approve Muslim reforms if the Muslims actually demanded
90 91

See Manazir Ahsan Gilani, Tadwin-i Hadith (Lahore: Maktabat al-‘Ilm, n.d.). The Barelwis did manage to establish many of their own schools in Bareilly, Pilibhit, and Punjab. Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India, 312. Similarly, the Ahl-i-Hadith also had established a network of religious schools by the late 1930s. Abu Yahya Imam Khan Nausharwi, Hindustan men Ahl-i Hadith ki ‘Ilmi Khidmat (Chichawatni: Makaba-yi Naziriya, 1970).

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them).92 While they were certainly propagating traditional Islamic learning, they were doing so in a completely different setting, where traditional Islamic learning no longer held the same position it did in the past. To bring modern education within the sphere of the traditional Islamic hierarchy of education thus become the main intent of Gilani’s reform. Gilani’s Use of History: A Brief Analysis History composed the weightiest justification of Gilani’s proposal. 93 Here I would like to delve into a brief analysis over Gilani’s use of history and his version of history, to understand the ideas implicit in his critique. To begin with, Gilani’s use of history marked a change from the way previous histories had been written specifically regarding the subject of education. Many of his facts and figures were actually based off other histories and hagiographies produced before him, and this is where he gained additional scholarly credibility for his work. Gilani made use of the Ma’athir al-Kiraam by Mir Ghulam ‘Ali Azad Belgrami (1704-1786), a major Persian and Arabic poet and biographer who also lived the latter part of his life in Hyderabad, and whom Gilani had immense praise for. 94 The text was written in Persian, and was a biographical work detailing the lives of scholars, saints, and poets associated with Belgram specifically and India on a general level.95 Gilani also used the Nuzhat al-Khawatir by ‘Abd al-Hayy Hasani (1869-1923), who served as a nazim at the Nadwat al-‘Ulama from 1915 to 1920. The Nuzhat al-Khawatir contained the biographies of over 4,000 historical figures, and was written in Arabic deliberately as a means to fight its perceived decline in the Indian subcontinent and to gain a wider audience in the Arab world.96 The only major Urdu source Gilani used was Hindustan ki Qadim Islami Darsegahen by Abu al-Hasnat ‘Ali Nadwi (1890-1924), a famous scholar who had joined the

This hopeful attitude towards the British was not shared by everyone. Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938) described the British as “a kind of a Roman Catholic Church trying to suppress all the agencies that tend to enlighten the laity.” Muhammad Iqbal, On the Cut Motion on Government’s Demand for Grant under “Education,” 10 March 1927, in Speeches, Writings, and Statements of Iqbal, ed. Latif Ahmad Sherwani (Lahore: Iqbal Academy, 1977), 46. 93 As Gilani had written this work only in a period of three weeks, and did not take the pains to edit it thereafter personally, the work itself was not a rigorously researched or encyclopedic masterpiece. Instead it was filled with personal anecdotes, digressions, and observations about current societal trends that mostly clustered around historical facts and ideas evolving from the basic premises of his proposal (though they became increasingly less relevant in the second volume). His history did include fresh arguments and theories, and Gilani did attempt to refute or debunk ideas he found historically inaccurate. 94 See Gilani, Pak wa Hind, 17. 95 For more about Belgrami, see M. Siddiqi, “Azad Belgrami’, in Encyclopaedia Iranica, ed. Ehsan Yarshater (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982). 96 Sayyid Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali Nadwi, Hayat-i ‘Abd al-Hayy (Karachi: Majlis Nashriyat-i Islam, n.d.), 270.

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famous Dar al-Musannifin Academy envisioned by Shibli Nu’mani as a center for research and scholarly production. This work provided more of a historical survey, researching various madrasas throughout India and making general observations about their curriculum and methodology.97 Gilani therefore was making increasingly inaccessible but important Persian and Arabic sources available in Urdu, and turning them into fodder for his arguments. Thus, what distinguished Gilani’s history from others was its utilization as evidence to support the larger argument for reform Gilani was making. This would place Gilani’s history within a growing field of Islamic historiography which was emerging in the face of colonial expansion. Although Gilani may have not explicitly mentioned it, his history would thus serve as a means of challenging Western rule and modernity itself, by finding strength and reassurance in history. What is significant is that the institutional madrasa would also be regarded by him as belonging to modernity (and not as a natural consequence of Islamic or pre-colonial education), in contrast to the “Islamic reality” Metcalf describes the founders as being part of. This becomes increasingly clear once we actually read Gilani’s history. It was thoroughly focused on expounding upon the virtues of the educational system in Indian history, in contradistinction to the problems faced now. His entire book was written with a sense of intense nostalgia and pride in an idealistic pre-colonial period. Gilani actually begins his book describing a scene where people seeking to learn were travelling… east to west, west to east, north to south, south to north… caravans upon caravans were continuously streaming to learn and teach, to study and encourage other studies – imagine a region thousands of miles wide, imagine that every province, every city, every village had judges, muftis, teachers, and people of guidance and enlightenment…98 Gilani does not anchor this era into a specific timeframe, and thus gives a strong impression that this existed throughout Muslim rule before colonialism. This awe-inspiring attitude also extends to his description of the entire nizam, or system of education, often in contradistinction to the problems he perceived in his time. Gilani describes with passion the benefits the informality of the system - how classes were arranged by book (not grade level), how students had open access to absorb their teacher’s wisdom through debate and discussion with the teacher (as opposed to the “mute,” one-sided lectures of his day), how students could excel at their own pace instead of

Abu al-Hasnat ‘Ali Nadwi, Hindustan ki Qadim Islami Darsegahen (Azamgarh: Matba’a-yi Ma’arif Dar alMusannifin, 1971). 98 Gilani, Pak wa Hind, 17.

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being bogged down by large classes, and could master the material and actually retain it without having to undergo the counterproductive “terrifying” annual examinations (which Gilani simply considered as facilitating the “vomiting” of the material, not understanding of it).99 Gilani also praised the purely intellectual character of the system, of how it remained free of materialistic and worldly motivations – teachers would pay and provide for their students to study, because they would consider spreading knowledge their human, if not religious duty.100 Thus, many teachers would be ashamed of even demanding payment for their lessons. Gilani contrasts this to his time, lamenting how education has become a business. He scorns the different brands of inkpots and pens being sold, how the textbooks continuously have to have some new editions prepared (as opposed to the stable, enduring Dars-i Nizami), how schools now require buildings and classrooms, thus making education too expensive. Gilani goes as far as to call business men robbers in disguise, because of how they have produced a “market” out of the student population. In contrast to the simplicity and austerity with which students would previously spend their student lives, now students become too warmed into luxury at their expensive boarding houses – and upon graduation, they resort to bribery and corruption to maintain their unrealistic standard of living, especially if they are unemployed. Gilani’s nostalgia for the past, however, is somewhat tempered by his discussion of the changing dynamics of the manquli and ma’quli components of the Dars-i Nizami curriculum throughout Indian history. Although Gilani goes on to present various historical arguments over the roles they occupied in various times, and how these roles ended up being changed, a key point Gilani argues for is the essential benefit of the ma’quli components themselves. These, he says, open the mind and stimulate intellectual activity. Besides, studying philosophy and logic increases one’s own conviction in their faith. While these ideas may sound similar to those of Sayyid Ahmad Khan, his remarks in no way grant reason and rational thought the authority that Sayyid Ahmad had given them. Instead, they simply represent Gilani’s beliefs regarding the lack of a dichotomy between worldly and religious subjects. Gilani would argue that famous Muslim personalities throughout history, such as Ibn Sina (980-1037) had undergone both religious and ma’quli training, and had succeeded in excelling in both (interestingly, Ibn Sina’s controversial theological views pose no impediment to Gilani in mentioning him as a prized product of the


Ibid., 325. Ibid., 362.

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Islamic education system, showing once again Gilani’s passion to establish a single Islamic legacy). Gilani then praises the intellectual creativity of the past, marveling over the bridges, palaces, gardens, and other wonders created by various imperial powers throughout history, remarking that the “engineers” and “scientists” behind them all were graduates of the precolonial madrasa system. Gilani even goes as far as to state his belief that the past has seen greater technological wonders than he sees now. In fact, Gilani takes this contrast as a launching pad for an attack on current British government schools and Aligarh, scolding them on how they are simply there to produce clerks and secretaries to staff British institutions and not encourage intellectual freedom and creativity (and he simultaneously chides the clerks for thinking themselves as sophisticated, learned people somehow superior to their traditionally educated countrymen, when they are nothing more than employees). Another theme in Gilani’s history was the previous system’s cosmopolitan nature, in terms of religion and also in terms of the close relations established between Indian, Arab, and Persian world. For Gilani, the Dars-i Nizami epitomized the highest level of cooperation and unity possible amongst Hindus and Muslims. Thus, he mentions how Muslim scholars would learn Sanskrit, how Hindus would learn Persian and even Arabic. As far as Arabic was concerned, Gilani rebuts the claim that Arabic as a language lagged behind in India, as compared to the rest of the Muslim world. Even if it did so, Gilani exclaims, it was simply following the standard Muslim procedure of learning the language of the people and the rulers, so they could better influence them, and it was not in any way due to a lack of religious zeal or consideration given to the status of Arabic. Gilani actually attempts to demonstrate how Arabic flourished in India. The famous classical dictionary Qamus al-Muheet by al-Firuzabadi (1329-1414) was actually based off Hisab, which was written by an Indian scholar named ‘Allama Razi al-Din Hasan.101 For Gilani, the traditional system clearly indicated the synthesizing of at least three different worlds. Indeed, Gilani’s claims were not without some historical or philosophical merit. The reports of Reverend William Adam, a missionary educationist who was asked by the British Government to compile information on the state of education in Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa in the 1830s gives some credence to his claims about traditional education remaining untainted by business:

Gilani, Pak wa Hind, 175. The complete name of the Indian scholar was not clearly discernible in this edition.

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There were many private Muslim schools started and conducted by individuals who had made the cultivation of letters the chief occupation of their lives, and by whom the profession of learning was followed, not as a means of livelihood, but as a meritorious work productive of moral and religious benefit to themselves and their fellow creatures. Few accordingly gave instruction for any stipulated pecuniary remuneration, and what they received was both tendered and accepted as an interchange of kindness and civility between the master and his pupil…102 Furthermore, Gilani’s attack on government curriculum’s constant changing too as simply a means of making more profit could also be an attempt to turn the tables on those who criticized the perceived stagnation of the Dars-i Nizami. Now, the stability and endurance of the Dars-i Nizami became an asset instead of a liability, giving it the appearance of holding true knowledge above and beyond the whims of businessmen. Gilani’s criticism of Aligarh as simply producing workers to staff the British government was not unheard of, and also had statistical backing. As of 1911, two thirds of the surveyed Aligarh former students served the government, 334 for the British and 64 for the princely states. 103 Gilani’s contention that government schools, and by extension Aligarh, were not promoting intellectual and scientific creativity would also be made by many others. Even Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) would later state that the goal of the “average student [at Aligarh] was government service.”104 The widespread use of the texts in the Dars-i Nizami curriculum is also revealed in an article by Francis Robinson. 105 The idea that previous scholars were more learned than current graduates was also not unheard of. As far back in 1857, there were complaints that “the eager desire of the government [is] to multiply the number of schools without improving knowledge. Scholars of the former times were decidedly superior to those of the present time.”106 Despite the passage of almost a century, Gilani found himself sending the same message. Beneath this criticism was the idea that secular Muslims were far behind even traditional Islam in making contributions to science and society. Thus, on the basis of history, it gave traditionalism the very scientific and worldly prestige they were perceived as neglecting, while simultaneously discrediting the broader secular system as remaining less faithful to “true” scientific and religious enquiry. The road ahead for everyone,
102 103

Sufi, al-Minhaj, 94. Lelyveld, Aligarh’s First Generation, 324. 104 Jawaharlal Nehru, An Autobiography: with Musings on Recent Events in India (Bombay: Allied Publishers, 1962), 464. 105 Francis Robinson, “Ottomans-Safavids-Mughals: Shared Knowledge and Connective Systems,” Journal of Islamic Studies 8, no. 2 (1997): 151-184. 106 The Englishman, 12 January 1857, quoted in Satpal Sangwan, “Science Education in India under Colonial Constraints” Oxford Review of Education 16, no. 1 (1990): 90 (emphasis added).

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both traditionalists and modernists, would be to reclaim the religious and worldly subjects, for the dichotomy had clearly reduced them to a simulacrum of what was perceived to have been their past – and what could be their potential. This brief analysis of the basic ideas reverberating throughout Gilani’s history is significant because it illustrates how Gilani’s work fits somewhat into a larger pattern of Islamic historiography emerging against the backdrop of colonial expansion. Sayyid Ahmad Khan himself was one of the early scholars who tried to reconcile Islam with the rational thought of the West through history, but this is not what Gilani had in mind whilst calling for modern education. The main figure Gilani can be said to have been redolent of was Shibli Nu’mani, who was one of the most important figures involved in the emergence of Islamic historiography in Urdu. Yet his works were usually biographical and were focused on tracing historical patterns of reform and growth through celebrated Islamic individuals. They were also keenly set on responding to the distortions and misconceptions produced by Western scholars.107 Gilani’s own history differed in that it was not intended primarily and explicitly as a response to Western notions of Islamic history. However, through the intense nostalgia, the constant comparisons between modern and historical practices, Gilani shared the sentiment of turning inward into glorious and luminous periods of Islamic history as a means of providing solutions for problems facing the Muslims, as well as implicitly challenging the superiority of modernity and Western civilization in general. 108 Gilani’s use of history allowed him to simultaneously strike a chord with other traditionalists by invoking a past cherished by them all, while at the same time trying to disengage them from the limited role of the institutional madrasa. Thus, Gilani’s very choice and utilization of history revealed that his deepest criticisms simply revolved around the new position and features institutional madrasas had gained (or lost) in the colonial context. The dichotomy between modernity and tradition, between religion and secularism that later came to be associated with the institutional madrasas had no precedence in history as far as Gilani was concerned. This history gave his proposal fuel and evidence, and his own life story gave him personal conviction.


See the chapter on Islamic history in Aziz Ahmad, Islamic Modernism in India and Pakistan 1857-1964 (London: Oxford University Press, 1967), 77-102. Also see Muhammad Qasim Zaman, “A Venture in Critical Islamic Historiography and the Significance of Its Failure,” Numen 41, no. 1 (1994): 26-50. 108 Perhaps this could have been a result of Deoband’s own history in turning inward as a means of strength, and Gilani was probably one of the most important figures from the Deobandi movement to do so with historiography.

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The Legacy of Gilani’s Proposal: Revealing another Feature of Institutional Madrasas Although there is reason to believe it initially did attract some level of attention, 109 the fact Gilani’s book did not even succeed in sparking a movement towards the fulfillment of the reform proposal lends itself to deeper explanations.110 Gilani himself was not lacking in intellectual authority and prestige; his articles at Al Qasim and his numerous books had already earned him the respect and support of leading scholars from both Nadwat al-‘Ulama and Deoband, and cemented his reputation as a researcher and scholar of the traditional world.111 Yet from a practical standpoint, the scheme itself was neglected and mostly forgotten by the Muslim community at least for the next few decades. This is not to say that the book was forgotten – descriptions of Gilani’s book would mostly mention its value for its history, but would neglect to highlight its intended purpose as evidence for a plan for reform. 112 The “success” of Gilani’s history but “failure” of his reforms thus leads to a further important aspect pertaining to the role and character of educational institutes in general. Although it would be tempting to explain this failure in terms of the logistical challenges his proposal presented,113 it alone would not convey the depth and complexity of the educational landscape Gilani was attempting to smoothen out. There were limitations within the framework and rhetoric of Gilani’s proposal that hampered his cause, including the fact that his book primarily addressed traditionalists, and not modernists, but they took on a secondary level of

For example, three years after publishing the book, Gilani wrote a small summarized version of the proposal upon demand. This was published in Ma'arif, Azamgarh in July 1945 under the title “Mera Mujawwazah Ta'limi Khakah.” See Madiha Younis, “Outlines of a Unified Educational System,” Islamic Studies 47, no. 3 (2008): 367. 110 Zaman suggests that Gilani may have had eventually realized his proposal would not be able to convince many Muslims, and hence produced a new proposal which only called for building Islamic hostels for students. This does not seem likely. In 1944, Gilani wrote in a letter that even though his proposal was being ignored, Muslims would one day have to come back to it to get rid of this dichotomy. In 1945, Gilani again repeated his larger call (and mentioned Islamic hostels within it) in the summarized article mentioned in the previous footnote. See Manazir Ahsan Gilani, Makatib-i Gilani: Hazrat Mawlana Manazir Ahsan Gilani ke Khutut ka Nadir Majmu’ah, ed. Minnat Allah Rahmani (Mongir, Dar al-Isha’at Rahmani, 1972), 368. For Zaman’s comments, see Zaman, “Bridging Traditions,” 124. 111 His life and books continue to command respect and attention even today. A recently published anthology on Gilani which is more than 700 pages long includes more than a dozen articles from different scholars just about his biography and personality, in addition to his writings on Hadith, fiqh, and tafsir. See Muhammad Ikram Cugtai, ed., Mawlana Manazir Ahsan Gilani: ‘Alam-i be Badal: Sayyid Manazir Ahsan Gilani ke Savanih aur Maqalat Mutalliqah-yi Qur’an, Ḥadith, aur Fiqh (Lahore: Sang-i Mil Publications, 2009). 112 One notable exception can be found in Miftahi’s Hayat-i Moulana Gilani. Here, the biographer actually takes the initiative to quote passages directly about the proposal 113 For example, Gilani himself had shed absolutely no light on “how” to accomplish this. He had delved deep into the details of the curriculum, but not on how each madrasa and college could actually come together and incorporate his changes. In fact, Gilani himself seems to be aware of this deficiency in his proposal, and he earnestly hoped for a young man who could take on this struggle and somehow put everything in place. It was his job to envision, and someone else’s to engage in the struggle to implement it.

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importance. A more fulfilling and overarching reason is that these institutions had come to represent something far beyond competing educational systems. As time progressed, many of them seem to have taken on new meanings and roles that were not even immediately present at the time of their founding. In fact, they represented a myriad of different symbols on different levels, serving, for example, to represent the power and influence of political parties, princely states, nationalist ideals, or religious groups whose higher concerns transcended the educational system but were simultaneously represented by them as well. Thus, efforts on bridging the educational systems were severely hampered as the political and social scenery of India changed, and these and other differences, were thrown up in high relief. Again, these differences were emblematic of the new roles the individual madrasas had achieved in the colonial period. 114 The complexity can be seen in the relationship between the two symbols of the dichotomy, Aligarh and Deoband. In the late 19th century, Sayyid Ahmad Khan had become famous for his extreme loyalist and anti-Congress beliefs, while Deoband initially remained as apolitical and aloof from the British as possible. Yet, as Sayyid Ahmad struggled to convince the restless younger graduates of Aligarh of his political ideologies until his death in 1898, Deoband started becoming more politically active when Mahmud Hasan became the head teacher of Deoband in 1890. There was a brief moment of cooperation in the years preceding World War I, as both ‘ulama (Deobandi and others) and the Muslim League found common cause against the British government. Ubaid Allah Sindhi (1872-1944), the rising student of Mahmud Hasan, founded the Jami’at al-Ansar in 1910 to encourage fraternity among the alumni of Deoband and Aligarh.115 However, they would each take their own paths. The continued struggle by Aligarh leaders in a post-Sayyid Ahmad Khan era to establish Aligarh as a university with the power to affiliate colleges also illustrated their lack of effort to accommodate traditional institutions.116 Even though a splinter group would break off and attempt to “reform” Aligarh by establishing the Jamia Millia Islamia in 1920, where Mahmud Hasan would deliver an inauguration address, it would remain absorbed in its nationalist fervor and eventually become known for its “modern”


See Dietrich Reetz’s chapter on the politicization of these movements: Dietrich Reetz, Islam in the Public Sphere: Religious Groups in India 1900-1947 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006), 172-261). 115 Hardy, The Muslims of British India, 181. 116 Gail Minault and David Lelyveld, “The Campaign for a Muslim University, 1898-1920,” Modern Asian Studies 8, vol. 2 (1974): 145-189.

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tendencies, not traditional.117 The establishment of the Jam’iat al-‘Ulama-i Hind in 1919, which was meant to bring together various ‘ulama on a common platform, signified the exclusive focus on ‘ulama, on religious scholars. Ultimately, it too would come to be dominated by Deobandi ‘ulama. Though the Khilafat movement brought another opportunity to bring the various Muslims together (and differentiate some as well), this “rapprochement had no intellectual content,” and their “irreconcilable differences” remained irreconcilable even then.118 The two educational institutions had thus becomes representatives of different political programs. During the years preceding the Partition in 1947, these differences would come out in full swing. Aligarh became a bastion for the Muslim League, while Deobandi ‘ulama dominated the Jam’iat al-‘Ulama-i-Hind, which opposed the Partition. Although they had many reasons for opposing the Partition, one of the main reasons the Deobandi leadership opposed the idea of Pakistan was because they did not expect the leadership of the Muslim League to properly implement Islamic law.119 On the other side, modernists had no faith that the ‘ulama could navigate the deceiving, political trenches of India, as they had no more than a traditional religious background. When Mawlana Husain Ahmad Madani (d.1957) argued that Hindus and Muslims could form one single nation state, even the religious, but non-traditional intellectual Muhammad Iqbal, who himself was highly critical of Western philosophy, lamented how “formerly, the half-Westernised educated Muslims were under the spell of Europe; now the curse [of Europe] has descended upon religious leaders!” 120 This revealed the underlying criticism that the traditional ‘ulama were unequipped to properly handle the “spell of Europe” and did not actually know what to do in the political arena. Although there were some ‘ulama, such as Shabbir Ahmad ‘Uthmani and Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanwi, who did support the idea of Pakistan, their views were born out of a sense of pragmatism and political strategy.121 Thus, differences between Aligarh and Deoband increasingly morphed into differences in political

For Jamia Millia Islamia’s role in the nationalist movement, see Mushirul Hasan and Rakhshanda Jalil, Partners in Freedom: Jamia Millia Islamia (New Delhi: Niyogi Books, 2006). 118 Ziya-ul-Hasan Faruqi, The Deoband School and the Demand for Pakistan (Bombay: Asia Publishing House, 1963), 67. 119 Ibid., 119. 120 Mohammad Iqbal, “Statement on Islam and Nationalism in Reply to a Statement of Maulana Husain Ahmad, published in the Ehsan on 9 March 1938,” in Speeches, Writing and Statements of Iqbal, 252. 121 For example, see Shabbir Ahmad ‘Uthmani embracing Muhammad ‘Ali Jinnah (1876-1948) as a political leader, but not as a religious leader - and clearly acknowledging that Pakistan would not overnight become an “Islamic” state, but would represent one step forward in doing so. Shabbir Ahmad ‘Uthmani, Column in Manshur, November 12 1945, quoted in Dr. Muhammad Miya Siddiqi, ed., Siyasi Maktubat (Lahore: al-Misbah, 2009), 72-75.

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beliefs and ideas for the future of India’s Muslims, and not just a question of education. It is thus unlikely that a proposal such as Gilani’s, which solely focused on educational reform in terms of curriculum and content, would gain much attention. There were larger issues of politics at stake here, which now overshadowed debates on education. There were also elements of nationalism and princely state patronage. Hyderabad’s Osmania University had been established by the Nizam Osman ‘Ali Khan (1885-1967) to spread and promote the cause of Urdu as well as to assert Hyderabad’s position in Muslim India. He thus invited scholars from North India, including Ross Masud, the grandson of Sayyid Ahmad Khan. Although the campaign for building an Urdu university initially involved people from both traditional and non-traditional backgrounds,122 Osmania would very quickly become invested with nationalist concerns. Indeed, for many teachers and administrators at Osmania, “it was precisely the fate of the nation, the people within its territories and the language of national communication which took centre stage” of their thoughts and concerns. 123 Ross Masud, the director of Public Instruction in Hyderabad from 1918-29, categorically denied any religious element in Osmania’s foundation: “it has nothing to do with any religious movement. It is purely a secular idea…”124 His emphasis on the words “national,” to build a “national language” and impart a “national education,” which he felt was denied to him by a purely English education, would also be found, albeit in a different fashion, in the Jamia Millia Islamia. Thus, these two institutions came to adopt their educational systems for very different reasons and motivations than Gilani had for producing his reform proposal. The dichotomy between the ‘ulama and modernists was not their ultimate concern, though it may have formed a nice bonus to include teachers such as Gilani within its faculty. Gilani’s proposal simply would not go very far in convincing them of the need to changes. Thus, it becomes clear that institutions increasingly began to play roles alongside causes and interests that extended beyond Muslim education. This again was a reflection of the autonomy they had gained, and points to the vast differences between them and the pre-colonial madrasa system. This would pose problems not only for a traditionalist reformer like Gilani, but

Mujib al-Islam, Dar al-Tarjuma Osmania ki ‘Ilmi aur Adabi Khidmat aur Urdu Zaban wa Adab par us ke Asrat (Delhi: Urdu Academy, 1987), 30. 123 Kavita Delta, “A Worldly Vernacular: Urdu at Osmania University,” Modern Asian Studies 43, vol. 5 (2009): 1119. 124 Ross Masud, “National Education: Bold Experiment at Osmania University,” in Khayaban-e-Masood: A Collection of Writings, Speeches etc. on and by The Late Nawab Masood Jung Dr. Sir Syed Ross Masood, ed. Jalil A. Kidwai (Karachi: Ross Masood Education and Culture Society of Pakistan, 1970), 111.

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others as well, including Mawdudi,125 Shibli Nu’mani,126 and Muhammad Iqbal,127 which pointed to the fact that many of the obstacles faced by Gilani were faced by other reformers as well. Thus, the main issues Gilani was dealing with extended far beyond the “Islamic reality” established at Deoband, as described by Metcalf. In a way, one of the goals of Gilani’s history was to illustrate other Islamic realities throughout history precisely to persuade other traditionalists of his proposal. This is where his history came in, adding evidence and depth to his critiques of the role played by the madrasa in the colonial period, as well as the general state of education. These critiques essentially revolved around the features the madrasas had picked up through their exposure and utilization by the British before and after 1857. Hence, the differences he saw between the pre-colonial period and colonial period were very real, and the continued impact these features had for their larger reformist movements became a source of constant worry for Gilani (and the continued relevance of his ideas). 128 In the end, Gilani found himself grappling with how to bring his own “Islamic reality” from his version of history into life in his times, to be superimposed over the new, smaller realities cut out under colonialism.

Education presented a crucial challenge for Muslims living in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, not only in India but also in the Arab world.129 Deoband on one hand represented the desire to return to a pure and reformed practice of Islam via a more religious Dars-i Nizami curriculum. However, in doing so, it utilized important concepts introduced by the British, such as distinguishing between and growing increasingly sensitive to the differences at the

Since the 1930’s, Mawdudi had been actively critiquing both traditional and secular systems of education (often using the same criticisms they both attacked each other with), giving lectures at the very institutions he criticized. Even though he was granted a much larger audience than was Gilani to exercise his powerful oratory and rhetoric, his ideas too were not able to make a tangible impact on the institutional level before Partition. Even after the creation of Pakistan, his educational program also did not manage to take root. See: Mawdudi, Ta’limat (Lahore: Islamic Publications Limited, 1976). 126 While having a major influence on the Nadwat al-‘Ulama as one of its founders and administrators, Nu’mani would eventually have to leave Nadwa so he could continue his own vision of reform. 127 Although Iqbal did not have a single, coherent proposal as did Gilani, his comments did peter out in the various speeches and articles he wrote. See: Iqbal Singh Sevea, “Schooling the Muslim Nation: Muhammad Iqbal and Debates over Muslim Education in Colonial India” South Asia Research 31, no. 1 (2011): 69-86. 128 Gilani’s ideas would come to be endorsed by some, such as ‘Abd al-Bari Nadwi (d. 1976), his biographer Mufti Miftahi, and even an important 21 st century scholar, Sayyid Salman Husayni Nadwi (b. 1954). 129 For a discussion of education in the Arab world under colonialism, see A. L. Tibawi, Islamic Education: Its Traditions and Modernization into the Arab National Systems (London: Luzac & Company Ltd., 1979).

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institutional level between Western and Indian learning, secularism and religion, and tradition and modernity. This increasingly pushed it to resemble and even perpetuate the precedent set by the previous (and ongoing) British framework, although the madrasas had also internalized, enriched, and embraced these roles as part of their own “Islamic reality.” This situation was especially confounded by the emergence of the Aligarh movement which aligned itself with the British system of modern Western education and began making inroads into the Muslim community. This created differences within the Muslim community, transforming the struggles between the reformist movements and the colonial society to struggles between differing groups of Muslims within the colonial context. These differences were solidified within Indian society, and presented a new quandary Muslim reformers struggled with. Manazir Ahsan Gilani is an example of a figure who had lived through and received an education in this era. Through history, he attempted to unravel the foundations of this institutional divide, creating an image of the Dars-i Nizami as being universally accepted and united throughout history, and hence as nothing like the current dichotomy. His argument was resonant with the patterns generally found amongst reformist movements in returning to a pure and golden era of Islam. But in doing so, he had to step out and criticize the current practices among his fellow reformers. He insisted it was necessary to incorporate Western education within the curriculum of the madrasa, on the grounds that Western education simply represented another form of the secular or worldly education Muslims had historically always incorporated. Thus, in his scheme, he brought modern sciences under the umbrella and framework of the Darsi Nizami curriculum, safeguarding his standing as a traditional scholar of the Dars-i Nizami whilst transcending the limits imposed by the institutionalized version taught at Deoband. This points to the limitations of the institutional madrasa in colonial society. For Gilani, it did not represent an accurate continuation of the pre-colonial system of education. If anything, it was a very truncated version of it, precisely because of its reduced role and importance in society, as being on the less favored end (by the West) of the dichotomy between religion and secularism. Even though the religious leaders within Deoband saw the madrasa as essential for the continued success of their reformist movements, Gilani saw it as simultaneously contributing in some level to a calamitous divide amongst Muslims. Gilani even would mention that the madrasa, and hence Islam in South Asia, could be heading down a path that would lead to its destruction and decline. While he did not mention it explicitly, the main impression from

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Gilani’s work that can be gained is that he believed that the institutional madrasa and the dichotomy it became part of had strictly evolved within the complexity of colonial rule, as it had no precedent in Indian or Muslim history. Gilani was not alone in his ideas, and calls for reforming and bridging this divide have continued into contemporary times. Although previously they had failed in part due to the multifaceted symbols the educational institutions had come to represent, contemporary times have seen an emergence of different approaches that has reached a level where Yoginder Sikand can claim there is no longer one, standard madrasa, at least in modern India.130 In essence, this forces us to transcend the “Islamic reality” the colonial institutional madrasas had become part of, within the reformist movements. To account for these internal challenges, we therefore must take into account the colonial or outside influences that shaped not only the formation, but the larger role of these madrasas in the first place. Doing this does not have to entail ignoring or downplaying the “Islamic reality” that otherwise seems to have almost concomitantly been part of the madrasas, but actually adds depth and perspective as to the limits of how far back that “Islamic reality” actually extended within the reformist movements. Once we can situate the historical context of this “Islamic reality,” we will be able to reach a nuanced understanding of how different factors such as colonialism and Islamic revivalism merged together along uneven lines of understanding to produce the modern institution known as the madrasa – and how eventually, its contradiction of reformist understandings of Islamic history remained in part responsible for many of those campaigning for reform.


Sikand, Bastions of the Believers, 93.

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