The State of the Education System in the Muslim World


Mufti Muhammad Taqi ‘Uthmāni

Transcribed and translated by Umer Ansari

Translator’s Foreword: The following is an English translation of a 30 minutes talk by Shaykh Mufti Muhammad Taqi ‘Uthmāni given at a “Adae Shuker” ceremony on March 15, 2016 that was organized by the Hira Foundation School, which is a division of Dārul-‘Ūlūm Karachi. Video recording of the original lecture can be found here

[After salutations, peace and blessings upon Prophet Muhammad]

Peace be upon you all,

Today we have gathered here at the Hira Foundation for the hifẓ program ceremony. What is the background of the Hira Foundation? The President of the University (Dārul-‘Ūlūm Karachi), Grand Mufti of Pakistan, my respected brother Mufti Rafi’ ‘Uthmāni has stated on numerous occasions, and I have also been able to mention what my father (Mufti Shafi’ ‘Uthmāni) had once stated at a gathering: “After the creation of Pakistan, we need a new education system.”

Before the creation of Pakistan, there were three major education systems that were in effect (in South Asia):

  1. The system of Dārul-‘Ūlūm Deoband

  2. The system of Aligarh Muslim University

  3. The system of Dārul-‘Ūlūm Nadwatul Ulama

In 1950 or 1951, my father said that after the creation of Pakistan, we do not need Aligarh, Nadwa, or Deoband (education systems), rather we need a different education system that follows through from our predecessors (aslāf). It was strange for people to hear that a Grand Mufti of Deoband would say that we do not need Deoband, instead we need a new education system.

Akbar Allāhabādi had commented on these three major systems that were prevalent in India:

ہے دلِ روشن مثال دیوبند، اور ندوه ہے زبانِ ہوشمند
اب علی گڑھ کی بهی تم تشبیہ لو،  ایک معزز پیٹ تم اس کو کہو[1]

,The likeness of Deoband is that of an enlightened heart
 ;Nadwah is the tongue of astuteness
Now also take the likeness of Aligarh 
you may call it naught more than a glorified stomach to feed

In reality, my father’s statement was a very deep one, and the result of not understanding is that we now face great many misunderstandings. These three education systems in India were not natural or organic; rather they were a reaction to an education system and plans of colonization that the British had brought. If we are to look at our centuries-long education system, we will not find any difference between the madrasa and the school. From the very beginning until colonialism, we find that the schools or universities that were established would provide religious education as well as worldly education together.[2]

The Shari’ah has stipulated that it is not an individual obligation (farḍ al-‘ayn) to become a scholar (‘ālim), rather it is a communal obligation (farḍ al-kifāyah).[3] In a town or a country, if there are enough scholars then the communal obligation has been fulfilled. However, it is an individual obligation to learn the basic obligations of the Deen, and it is incumbent upon every Muslim to learn it. So the education system was such that every Muslim would receive the education in which they would learn their individual obligations, and then if they wanted to pursue higher studies, they could. If a student wanted to pursue their higher studies in the religious sciences, then they had those opportunities available, and if a student wanted to pursue higher studies in the worldly sciences, then they had those opportunities available as well.

A few days ago, my older brother Mufti Rafi’ ‘Uthmāni was in Morocco. Last year I visited and this year my brother did. There are two major cities in Morocco- Marrakesh and Fes. I was in the city of Fes last year, and my brother visited it this year, where there is a university called University of Qarawiyyin that is still operational. If we are to look into our history,  we find four major universities:

  1. The University of Qarawiyyin in Fes, Morocco

  2. The University of Zaytuna in Tunis, Tunisia

  3. The University of Al-Azhar in Cairo, Egypt

  4. The University of Dārul-‘Ūlūm Deoband in Deoband, India.

Qarawiyyin University was established in the 3rd century Hijri (i.e. 9th century CE) in the city of Fes. It is recorded in its history, it is claimed-and I have not found any other claim against it-that it is not only the oldest university of the Muslim world, rather it is the oldest university in the entire world! What does this mean? It means that in Qarawiyyin University, the curriculum then included the religious sciences like Tafsir, Hadith, Fiqh, along with Medicine, Mathematics, Astronomy and all the modern worldly sciences that are now called the ‘Aṣri ‘Ulūm.[4]

Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Rushd (Averroes), and Qāḍi ‘Iyāḍ had taught there, along with a long list of our predecessors (aslāf), and their teaching spots are preserved to this day! The spot where Ibn Khaldun and Ibn Rushd taught, the spot where Qāḍi ‘Iyāḍ gave lectures, and the spot where Ibn al-’Arabi al-Maliki taught, all of their spots are still preserved! This is one of the oldest university of the world. The smaller madaris would certainly have existed but the Qarawiyyin University existed as a university where all the religious and worldly sciences were taught (under one roof). Even today, the University has replicas of the scientific inventions that were developed in the 3rd and the 4th century Hijri from that university. Legendary Islamic religious scholars learned from this university along with the famous philosopher Ibn Rushd and major scientists of that era.

The system was designed as such to provide obligatory education to everyone, and then for higher studies in religion, the student would take relevant classes and for mathematics, medicine or other worldly sciences;[5] the student would take those classes within the same Qarawiyyin University. Similar was the case in Zaytuna University (in Tunisia) and Al-Azhar University (in Egypt).

These three of our oldest universities had such an education system that you would see Qāḍi ‘Iyāḍ, who was the Imam of Hadith and Sunnah, and Ibn Khaldun, who was the Imam of History, both appearing the same. One would not be able to distinguish who is the scholar of religious sciences and who is the scholar of worldly sciences by their appearances. Their appearance, their clothing, their culture, their manner of speaking was similar. If you look at our scientists like Farābi, Ibn Rushd, and al-Birūni, their appearance was the same as our Mufassirin, Muhaddithin and Fuqahā. Both used to pray, both used to know the issues of Ṣalāḥ, and both used to know the issues of fasting. So the basic foundational knowledge that is an individual obligation upon every Muslim, was known to all the Muslims, and it was taught to all the pupils across the board.

The separation occurred when the British came with their education system and according to a well thought out plan and conspiracy,[6] they removed the Deen from the land. Facing this our elders were compelled to react to safeguard the knowledge of individual obligations of the Muslims and they established Dārul-‘Ūlūm Deoband. However, the reality (of our education system) was that which had existed in the Qarawiyyin University, Zaytuna University and in the preliminary days of Al-Azhar University.

If Pakistan would have been truly a Muslim state, then as my father had stated, we would not have needed Aligarh, Nadwa or Dārul-‘Ūlūm Deoband, instead we would have needed Qarawiyyin and Zaytuna University. A university that would have been the center of learning for all of the various sciences and all of its graduates, having the same foundation of the Deen whether they become engineer, doctor, or tread the path in any other field.

The education system that was imposed upon us- it only taught us to be intellectually enslaved and made us into slaves. Akbar Allāhabādi had truly stated:

اب علی گڑھ کی بهی تم تشبیہ لو،  ایک معزز پیٹ تم اس کو کہو
Now also take the likeness of Aligarh, 
you may call it naught more than a glorified stomach to feed

It completely destroyed the rich history and tradition of the Muslims. The result of this is the great divide evident among the Muslims, where one group that is graduating from this system does not even know their individual obligations (Farḍ al-’Ayn); they do not know what their individual obligations are- they are completely unaware of them. Secondly, they have been conditioned to think that if you want to progress and think, then you must look towards the West. Thirdly, their entire culture has been overturned to where they have been conditioned to think that if they want to progress, they can only achieve in the environment and in the manner of the West.

It is sad to see that those who graduate from such an education system, or earn their doctorate or become professor, they criticize the students of knowledge like us on a daily basis, that we have closed the doors of Ijtihād, as it used to have a significant place in the Qur’an, Sunnah and Fiqh. However, there were fields where the doors of Ijtihād were wide open, for example in science, technology, mathematics and other worldly sciences, and no one had closed the doors of Ijtihād for them in such fields. Why did they not prepare Mujtahids that could have done Ijtihād in the field of medicine and made a new development in that field? Or those who could have contributed in the field of Astronomy? The fields that were wide open. They did not do Ijtihād in it and did not contribute anything, but when it comes to the Qur’an and the Sunnah, where Ijtihād must be exercised within its prescribed limits, there they complain that ‘Ulama do not do Ijtihād.

A few days ago, a fellow forwarded me a clip in which a religious scholar was being questioned:

Mawlana sahib, the contribution of ‘Ulama is known but why is it that there has not been any scientist or doctor or new invention from the ‘Ulama? What do you have to say about this?

Oh servant of Allah, you should have questioned yourself that from the education that you have received, has there been a Mujtahid that has invented a new thing? Here, the doors of Ijtihād are sealed in such a manner that whenever anything that is said by the Englishmen, it is accepted without any fact checking. If the West says that something is harmful to your health, then so it is; and if they say otherwise then so it becomes? For a couple of years, it was being said that the egg yolk increases cholesterol and thus harmful for the body, but now suddenly all the doctors are saying that egg yolk is fine to consume and there is no harm. Why is that? It is so because the West said that it is fine to consume, so you accepted that it must be true. There are plenty of herbs across our lands, why have you never researched them to find their medicinal use? The Prophet mentioned the benefits of black cumin (kalonji), why have you never researched on it? Here the doors of Ijtihād have been sealed shut, instead they demand why (Ulema do not do) Ijtihād in the Qur’an and the Sunnah. So this is the system of enslavement that has brought us to this stage.

Acquiring knowledge once used to be a respectable venture to serve the people- to serve the creation of God, and that was the actual objective of learning. If through this venture a person would acquire any economic gains, that would have been a side benefit. Today, the sole objective of seeking knowledge is for economic gains- to learn as much as you can so that you can take as much wealth out of other people’s pockets. Your knowledge is only beneficial if you can earn more than other people. Look around and notice how many people are studying and graduating with Master’s degrees and PhD degrees. Look at their thinking as to why they are studying. They are studying so that they can have a good career, so that they can get a good job, and so that they can earn more money.

The concept of education has been overturned by making the purpose of learning to just earn money. There is no concept of serving the community and humanity in this education system. The result is that everyone is engaged in a race to earn more and more, and they do not have any concern for their country or their nation, or a desire to serve the people or humanity. They are busy day and night to earn as much as they can, so much so that people have resorted to deceit, theft, and murder. From the people who have graduated from this system, how many have served humanity and benefited the people?

We were taught by the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, not to engross ourselves in this dunya, and not to make this dunya our sole objective, however, this education system flipped that worldview. So my respected father used to say that we need to re-overturn this post-colonial mindset, and go back to tread the path that was shown to us by Qarawiyyin University and Zaytuna University and the path that was shown to us by the early days of Al-Azhar University, as its system has also been overturned.

Since we could not get that system established at the government level, we at least tried to preserve the system of Dārul-‘Ūlūm Deoband, and because of that, madaris were established. Since we do not trust these politicians, their governments, and their laws, and in the near future we don’t even have any hope of having such a trust, we will defend these madaris in shaa Allah, and we will continue them on the path that our elders of Dārul-‘Ūlūm Deoband had established.

However, we want our people to step by step move towards that system that we once had, and towards that end, you have watched the presentation that preceded this lecture of mine. By the grace of God, we have madaris spread across the nation (of Pakistan) and they are fulfilling the communal obligation, and they are probably just 1% of the nation. The 99% of the nation that is attending the prevalent system, and the way they are becoming intellectually enslaved to the Englishmen; I often speak to the male and female teachers of the Hira Foundation that for God’s sake take this generation out of this intellectual enslavement, and that you have to give them a perception that we are a free people and a free nation and possess freedom of thought, and that we follow the teachings of the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him. This is why we had established the Hira Foundation.

Not everything that comes from the West is bad, as there are things that are also good. So take the good that the West has, and leave the bad. If we act on this principle then we can reach our desired destination.

Iqbal has commented on this in beautiful [Persian] couplets:

قوّتِ مغرب نہ از چنگ و رباب،  نے زرقصِ دختران بی حجاب
نے زسحرِ ساحرانِ لالہ روست،   نے زعریان ساق و نے از قطع موست
محکمی او را نہ از لادینی است،  نے فروغش از خطِ لاطینی است
قوّتِ افرنگ از علم و فن است،   از ہمیں آتش چراغش روشن است

The power of the West comes not from lute and rebeck, not from the dancing of unveiled girls,
not from the magic of tulip-cheeked enchantresses, not from naked legs and bobbed hair;
its solidity springs not from irreligion, its glory derives not from the Latin script.
The power of the West comes from science and technology,
and with that selfsame flame its lamp is bright.
Wisdom derives not from the cut and trim of clothes;
the turban is no impediment to science and technology.[7]

So this is the vision for which the Hira Foundation was established, and it has achieved many milestones as you have seen (in the presentation), although it is only a beginning. Honestly, because of my son I should not be saying this, but Allah enabled Mr. ‘Imrān Ashraf to have special passion  and, with a lot of hard work with his colleague Mufti Mujeeb, they have worked hard to make this institution a successful one. Due to the circumstances, this school has been established as an English medium, although my personal opinion is that the education should be in one’s own mother tongue. However, there is a culture now of this, and to attract such parents, we have made it an English medium school. Along with that there are Hifz classes, Arabic classes, and we are also trying to teach Urdu up to a proficient level.

We ask Allah to accept this.

[End of the speech]


[1] Kulliyāt-e-Akbar Allahabadi, Volume 3, 472

[2] ‘Aṣri ‘Ulūm (عصری علوم) has been translated as worldly sciences or worldly education.

[3] Farḍ al-’Ayn (فرض العین) is an individual obligation that every Muslim is obligated to know about and fulfill it. For example, the 5 daily obligatory prayers.

Farḍ al-Kifāyah (فرض الکفایه) is a communal obligation. If a significant people from a community fulfill it then it is fulfilled on behalf of the entire community, but if no one fulfills it then the entire community is sinful. Example of this is the Funeral Prayer.

[4] See footnote 1 above.

[5] Another contemporary scholar Wael B. Hallaq observes regarding pre-modern Islamic education tradition:

In the intellectual spheres, the structure of Muslim education was determined by priorities laid down in the Shar’ia. Such fields as language, linguistics, hermeneutics, logic, rhetoric, dialectic, and epistemology were created, developed, and refined within the purview of the Shar’i domain. Even mathematics and astronomy – which became the foundations of early modern European science – evolved to impressive degrees as responses to Shar’i stimuli. In whatever field a scholar or an intellectual ultimately specialized, his or her basic “undergraduate” training was always Shar’i.

(See, Hallaq, The Impossible State: Islamic, Politics, and Modernity’s Moral Predicament, 10)

[6] Reference is being made to Lord Macaulay’s plan that systematically removed Persian, Urdu and Arabic as a language of instruction, and forced English as a language of instruction in the schools in the British India.

[7] The English translation of the Persian couplets are by A.J. Arberry


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Waqar Akbar Cheema

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