CONTRARY to general perception, educational institutes have been working in Indo-Pak subcontinent since long. Even if one ignores the Islamic schools or madressahs, educational institutes imparting modern knowledge have been part of history of our education system.
Even a cursory glance brings to memory the names of many of subcontinent’s centres of higher learning. Some of them are:
Aliah University, Calcutta
Even before the onset of 19th century, an educational institute was set up by Warren Hastings, the governor general of East India Company. Established in 1870 at Calcutta (now Kolkata), it was known as Calcutta Madrasa, as the Arabic word madressah literally means an educational institute or a school. Also known as Muhammadan College and Madrasa-i-Aliya, it taught subjects like Arabic, Persian, Islamic Law, philosophy, mathematics and logic. It tried different syllabi ranging from Dars-i-Nizami to medical science. After the independence, it was made a university and it now works as Aliah University.
Fort William College, Calcutta
Fort William or the Citadel of William, named after King William III, was built by the East India Company in Calcutta between 1696 and 1702. It was temporarily taken over by Siraj-ud-Daula in 1756 and reclaimed by the British in 1757. The British reconstructed it in 1773.
Here an institution for oriental studies was founded in 1800. The main purpose was to train the British administrators. At Fort William College eastern languages, such as Bengali, Urdu, Hindi, Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic were taught. Many scholars and translators were hired to write textbooks and general books. A large number of works were published in Urdu and other languages. Its library held an invaluable collection of manuscripts, many of which were sent to Europe. Fort William College was closed for good in 1854.
Dehli College, Delhi
The impressive, old building of Dehli College was built in the last decade of 17th century by Mir Shahabuddin Ghaziuddin as his tomb, writes Malik Ram in his book Qadeem Dilli College. When Mir died in 1710 in Ahmadabad, Gujarat, his body was brought to Delhi for burial here. Keeping in line with the tradition, along with the tomb a mosque was built. With the mosque a madressah was established in 1792.
To educate the people of subcontinent, the British established Dehli College in this building in 1825. Here languages, culture and modern sciences were taught. Dehli College adopted Urdu as medium of instruction and modern scientific works were translated into Urdu. It was closed down in 1877. Also known as Anglo-Arabic College, it was reopened and reorganised in 1948. Now it is called Zakir Husain Delhi College and imparts modern education.
In the aftermath of 1857, it was evident that the time was not conducive for any revolution or violent confrontation with the British. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan had reached the same conclusion and felt that survival of Muslims depended on modern education. But some Muslim scholars decided to establish a religious educational institute instead to defend their beliefs, values and culture.
With this view, Dar-ul-Uloom Deoband was established on May 30, 1866, in a town named Deoband, district of Saharanpur, UP. Inspired by Shah Waliullah School of thought, Dar-ul-Uloom Deoband played a tremendous role in the spread of Islamic learning and its influence has reached beyond the subcontinent. Ziauddin Desai in his book Centres of Islamic Learning in India has termed Deoband “perhaps second to the famous Al-Azhar University of Egypt”.
Aligarh Muslim University
Though Sir Syed was inspired by the teachings of Shah Waliullah, too, he believed the way out for Muslims was to obtain modern and western education. So he established a madressah at Ghazipur in 1863, which was later on changed into a school. In 1875, Sir Syed established Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh and it became a university in 1920. Aligarh indeed played an instrumental role for Muslims of India, both in educational domain as well as in political arena.
Shibli No’mani, an important companion of Sir Syed at Aligarh, and some other scholars were dismayed by Aligarh’s policies as they felt Aligarh was only promoting western education and western culture and there should be an alternate that would interweave both eastern and western education to guide the nation on right path.
They also felt that there was an urgent need to bring together different factions of educated Muslim elite. So in 1892, when Madrasa Faiz-i-A’am, Kanpur, held convocation, many scholars, mainly hailing from Deoband school of thought, stressed the need to establish a new institution on the basis of academic needs, including teaching English at madressah. Finally, Nadwat-ul-Ulema was established. Initially set up at Kanpur, it was moved to Lucknow in 1898. Nadwa produced some very fine scholars, equally at home with both religious and modern sources of knowledge.
Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2022