Tuesday, May 10, 2005

schools and educational institutions

In the Islamic Civilization, the mosque was the centre which developed the school. At that time, the mosque was not only a place of worship; its extensive open space served as a school where young children learned how to read and write and learned the Quran, Shari`ah, Grammar, and branches of various other disciplines. Next to the mosques kuttab were established that specifically taught reading, writing, Arabic and Mathematics. These kuttab resembled the present day primary schools; and there were so many that Ibn Hawqal calculated that there were three hundred kuttab in one of the towns of Sicily. They were so spacious that at any one time hundreds and thousands of students could be taught. Abu al-Qasim al-Balkhi writes about his own kuttab in which three thousand students would learn, “Its compound was so wide that a donkey had to be used [to go from one part to the other] for the supervision of the students.”

…The education in the schools were of two types: an internal section for the poor who could not financially afford to live on the wealth of their parents and an external section for those who wanted to return tot heir families in the evening. The internal [boarding] section was also free and provided food and a bed for the student. Every school had a mosque, classrooms, residential quarters for the students, library, kitchen and toilet facilities. Some scholars also had playgrounds outside. Even today there are examples of these types of schools which were previously to be found throughout the entire Islamic world. In Damascus, there is still al-Madrasah al-Nuriyyah founded by the great hero Nuruddin al-Shahid. It stands in the “Market of the Weavers” and is still operating and providing us with the mechanics of the schools established during Islamic Civilization. Ibn Jubayr, the traveler, visited it in the beginning of the seventh century after hijrah. He was also impressed with that that he wrote, “From among the best schools in the world is the school of Nuruddin, may Allah have mercy on him. It is one of the most elegant palaces ever established. For its water supply, a canal has been constructed up to the school building, in the centre of which stands a fountain, dividing the falling water into two small streams which further on join to fill a big reservoir situated in the centre of this palace. The beauty of the scene is captivating.”

…The mosque of al-Azhar is also a living specimen of a school within a mosque, wherein students gather to pursue their studies under the guidance of a teacher in various different sections. Around the mosque are rooms known as warraq where these students reside and live in their own groups. For example, there were separate warraq for the Syrian, Turkish, Sudanese and Iraqi students. Even today, the students of al-Azhar University get monthly stipends along with their free education from the income of the properties endowed for al-Azhar.

The principals of these schools used to come from among the best and most famous of scholars. The biographies of the famous scholars mention the schools that they taught in. Imam al-Nawawi, Ibn al-Salah, Abu Shamma, Taqiyuddin Subki and Imaduddin ibn Kathir taught at the “House of Hadith” in Damascus. Ghazali, Shirazli, Imam al-Haramayn, `Allama Shasi, khatib al-Tabrizi, Qazwini and Fayruzabadi and others taught at the Madrasah Nizamiyyah in Baghdad. In the early period, these teachers never accepted any remuneration for their services. However, at the height of Islamic Civilization, great seats of learning came into existence, large endowments were made for them and resulted in monthly salaries which were allocated in the budgets for the teachers…

There were many schools meant for various purposes. Some of them imparted knowledge of the Quran only, such as its commentary, recital and commitment to memory. There were others that taught hadith and relevant disciplines. There were many others exclusively imparting knowledge of Fiqh. Again, there was a separate Madrasah for every school of Fiqh. Similiarly, there were separate Madrasas for the education of medicine and there were also schools only for the orphans.

Na`imi, who was the most outstanding among the scholars of the tenth century, has given a complete list of the schools of Damascus and their endowments in his book al-Daramin fi’l-Tarikh al-Madaris. It tells us that there were seven Madrasas meant exclusively for the education of the Quran and relevant disciplines, sixteen for the teaching of hadith, three for the Quran and hadith combined, sixty-three Madrasas for Shafi`I Fiqh, fifty-two for Hanafi Fiqh, four for the Maliki school of Fiqh and eleven for Hanbali Fiqh. There were entirely separate schools for the education of medical sciences. There were also more houses of retreat, inns and the great congregation mosques than schools. It must be remembered that in al these places there was pursuit of teaching and learning in full swing…

Ibn Kathir, in his book al-Bidaya wa al-Nihaya, writes under the events of 631 AH, “This year the building of Madrasah Mustansariyyah was completed. No such Madrasah was ever built before that. This was dedicated to all the four schools of Fiqh. Sixty-two jurists of every school of Fiqh worked at this Madrasah. Four of them were experts, one a teacher of every school, one Shaykh of hadith, two reciters well versed in the recital of the Quran with proper intonation, ten careful listeners who guarded against the reciter making any lapses and correcting him on the spot, one a Shaykh of Medicine and ten Muslim physicians who ran the clinics. There was also a maktab of orphans. For every student there was a fixed quantity of bread, meat and sweets and a particular amount of money for other expenses which was far in excess of their needs.”

He goes on further to say, “For the school, a library was endowed, which was unparalleled in our knowledge. There were a large number of books and some of the best specimens of the art of calligraphy. The best books of every discipline were collected here.”

Dr Mustafa Siba`i
(from Chapter 9: Schools and Educational Institutions)


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