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During its medieval period, India was ruled by dynasties of Muslim culture and religion.
Muslims from Arabia first appeared in the country in the 8th century, but the foundation
of their rule was laid much later by Muḥammad Ghūri, who established his power at Delhi
in 1192. The original Muslim rule was replaced successively by that of the Muslim
Pashtuns and Mughals.

The foundations of Muslim education

Muslim educational institutions were of two types—a maktab, or elementary school, and a
madrasah, or institution of higher learning. The content of education imparted in
these schools was not the same throughout the country. It was, however, necessary
for every Muslim boy at least to attend a maktab and to learn the necessary
portions of the Qurān required for daily prayers. The curriculum in the madrasah
comprised Ḥadīth (the study of Muslim traditions), jurisprudence, literature, logic
and philosophy, and prosody. Later on, the scope of the curriculum was widened,
and such subjects as history, economics, mathematics, astronomy, and even
medicine and agriculture were added. Generally, all the subjects were not taught
in every institution. Selected madrasahs imparted postgraduate instruction, and a
number of towns—Āgra, Badaun, Bīdar, Gulbarga, Delhi, Jaunpur, and a few
others—developed into university centres to which students flocked for study
under renowned scholars. The sultans and amirs of Delhi and the Muslim rulers
and nobles in the provinces also extended patronage to Persian scholars who came
from other parts of Asia under the pressure of Mongol inroads. Delhi vied with
Baghdad and Córdoba as an important centre of Islāmic culture. Indian languages
also received some attention. The Muslim rulers of Bengal, for example, engaged
scholars to translate the Hindu classics, the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata, into

Under the Pathan Lodis, a dynasty of Afghan foreigners (1451–1526), the education of the
Hindus was not only neglected but was often adversely affected in newly conquered
territories. The rulers generally tolerated Sanskrit and vernacular schools already in
existence but did not help the existing ones with money or build new ones. At early stages,
the maktabs and madrasahs were attended by Muslims only. Later, when Hindus were
allowed into high administrative positions, Hindu children began to receive Persian
education in Muslim schools.

The Mughal period

The credit for organizing education on a systematic basis goes to Akbar (lived 1542–1605),
a contemporary of Queen Elizabeth I of England and undoubtedly the greatest of
Mughal emperors. He treated all his subjects alike and opened a large number of
schools and colleges for Muslims as well as for Hindus throughout his empire. He
also introduced a few curricular changes, based on students’ individual needs and
the practical necessities of life. The scope of the curriculum was so widened as to
enable every student to receive education according to his religion and views of
life. The adoption of Persian as the court language gave further encouragement to
the Hindus and the Muslims to study Persian.
Akbar’s policy was continued by his successors Jahāngīr and Shāh Jahān. But his great-grandson
Aurangzeb (1618–1707) changed his policy with regard to the education of the Hindus. In April
1669, for instance, he ordered the provincial governors to destroy Hindu schools and temples
within their jurisdiction; and, at the same time, he supported Muslim education with a certain
religious fanaticism. After his death, the glory of the Mughal empire began gradually to vanish,
and the whole country was overrun by warlords.

During the Mughal period, girls received their education at home or in the house of some teacher
living in close proximity. There were special arrangements for the education of the ladies of the
royal household, and some of the princesses were distinguished scholars. Vocational education
was imparted through a system of apprenticeship either in the house of ustāds (teachers) or in
kārkhānahs (manufacturing centres).

Muslim rulers of India were also great patrons of literature and gave considerable impetus to its
development. Akbar ordered various Hindu classics and histories translated into Persian. In
addition, a number of Greek and Arabic works were translated into Persian. Literary activities
did not entirely cease even in the troubled days of later rulers. Men of letters were patronized by
such emperors as Bahādur Shāh and Muḥammad Shāh and by various regional officials and

Such is the history of Muslim education in India. It resembles ancient Indian education to a great
extent: instruction was free; the relation between the teachers and the taught was cordial; there
were great centres of learning; the monitorial system was used; and people were preoccupied
with theology and the conduct of life. There were, however, several distinctive features of
Muslim education. First, education was democratized. As in mosques, so in a maktab or
madrasah, all were equal, and the principle was established that the poor should also be educated.
Second, Muslim rule influenced the system of elementary education of the Hindus, which had to
accommodate itself to changed circumstances by adopting a new method of teaching and by
using textbooks full of Persian terms and references to Muslim usages. Third, the Muslim period
brought in many cultural influences from abroad. The courses of studies were both widened and
brought under a humanistic influence. Finally, Muslim rule produced a cross-cultural influence
in the country through the establishment of an educational system in which Hindus and Muslims
could study side by side and in which there would be compulsory education in Persian,
cultivation of Sanskrit and Hindi, and translation of great classics of literature into different
languages. Ultimately, it led to the development of a common medium of expression, Urdu.

Education in the Muslim era was not a concerted and planned activity but a voluntary and
spontaneous growth. There was no separate administration of education, and state aid was
sporadic and unsteady. Education was supported by charitable endowments and by lavish
provision for the students in a madrasah or in a monastery.

The Muslim system, however, proved ultimately harmful. In the early stages genuine love of
learning attracted students to the cultural centres, but later on “the bees that flocked there were
preeminently drones.” The whole system became stagnant and stereotyped as soon as cultural
communication was cut off from the outside world because of political disturbances and
internecine wars. The Indian teachers were reduced to dependence on their own resources, and a
hardening tradition that became increasingly unreceptive to new ideas reduced the whole process
to mere routine.

S.N. Mukerji
A one day seminar was held in Lucknow on September 13, 2008, to share and
discuss the findings of the country report on the relationship between the State
and madrasas in India, to compare this with experience in Bangladesh and
Pakistan, and to consider the implications for the madrasa modernization
programme in India. 28 participants from government and representatives of
madrasas, religious leaders, researchers, scholars and the NGO sector from
Delhi, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh took part in the discussions.
The seminar began with an overview of the Religion and Development research
programme by Prof. Richard Batley, University of Birmingham. Prof Batley
presented the remit of the research programme as being to enable improved
understanding of relationships between religion and development and to
facilitate a dialogue between various types of development partners. Prof.
Surinder Jodhka, IIDS, who is the Country Coordinator of the RaD research
programme in India, then described the purpose and agenda of the research in
India. He pointed out that it added a new dimension to research in India, which
had not given much consideration to religion as a factor in development.
The key paper, based on the study in India, was presented by Padmaja Nair. It
focused on the multiple dimensions of the state’s engagement with madrasas,
with special reference to the context of Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal against
the backdrop of a reform or modernization process. Nair concluded the
presentation with the key finding that the State- madrasa relationship in India
was influenced by three key factors: the state’s constitutional obligations to
minority communities, varying ideologies of political parties in a multi-party
system, and the need of madrasas to survive while retaining elements of Islamic
education. This was followed by presentations by the representative of Madrasa
Shiksha Parishad in Uttar Pradesh and the President of the West Bengal Board of
Madrasa Education. Both the presentations described the key features of the
state supported modernization process and envisaged outcome in the
respective states. The last presentation, by Prof. Batley, of two parallel studies
conducted in Paskistan and Bangladesh by Dr. Masooda Bano, of the University
of Oxford, brought out the differences and dynamics of the relationship in the
two countries. This focused on the fact that while reforms had had a high level
of acceptance in Bangladesh, in Pakistan they had been boycotted by a
significant proportion of the madrasas. An essential element was the
establishment of trust between the state and madrasas.
The discussion sessions that followed the presentations were largely centered
on a critique of the modernization programme initiated by the Indian state. The
arguments included concerns over the unhelpful approach of the government
institutions and officials in-charge of the efforts and an apparent tendency to
view these essentially religious institutions as simply a part of the ‘school’
system. In summing up the discussions, Prof Jodhka noted that the state-
madrasa relationship had changed over time, and that it was dynamic and
context specific. The status of Muslims in India was lower than that of the
schedule castes and there was a perception within the Muslim community that
the state was not only ignoring it but that systematic discrimination existed.
However, at the same time there had been a growing process of
democratization of society, as was evident from the fact that the Sachhar
Committee Report was not only widely shared but also and taken seriously.
The leading policy issues raised in discussion were
• The need to recognize religion as a critical variable in development.

• The fact that global political and social development processes have
brought religion into the discourse on development. For instance, in
the Indian sub-continent any discourse on education also now tends to
include consideration of the role of madrasas and maktabs. Research
needs to contribute to the development of policy by creating an
understanding of the State-madrasa relationship and by examining the
internal systems of madrasa education including curriculums, teaching
methods, text-books, and mainstreaming into regular education.

• The need to ensure that policies are responsive to the livelihood

concerns of poor students in the madrasa system.