Some Notes from Reading Makdisi’s “The Rise of Colleges”

Here are some interesting points I noted down from reading Makdisi’s The Rise of Colleges:

1. Fiqh was studied over the course of four years. It was taught without any focus on dialectics (jadal), disputation (munazarah), or comparitive fiqh (ikhtilaf). Study of ikhtilaf, academic disputations, and dialectics was taught to students after the four year course and to those serious and capable of legal argumentation.

2. Striking a balance between emphasis on memorization and comprehension was key to a strong Islamic education.

3. Note-taking, although more important in the past as a means to record material in the absence of textbooks, is still important to studies as it allows for refreshing one’s memory of lecture notes and allows students to note down the peculiar and beneficial points of the professor not found in texts.

4. Repetition (takrar or mudhakarah): absolutely necessary for the proper retention of knowledge. Material should be delivered at a pace in which proper repetition can be done. Additional material should only be taught after repetition is complete.

5. Fridays, besides being holidays, were set aside for disputations, academic sermons, and the issuing of legal opinions.

6. Individual tutoring was part of traditional learning until difficulty would arise due to large student populations.

7. Hadith lessons (sard) were typically larger than circles of Arabic study, fiqh study, etc… It is harmful to imitate the hadith class setting for other subjects.

8.Students were seated in fiqh classes by seniority and intelligence. More intelligent students sat directly around the professor and newer or less capable students sat farther away.

9. The sequence of learning has always been non-uniform. It is hard to say that there was a single sequence of learning the sciences in the history of Islamic learning.

10. The concept of waqf is key to the sustainability of large-scale Islamic learning institutions. This is possibly the greatest challenge that has faced schools in the past and will continue to be so in the future.

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