Hakīm al-Ummah Mawlānā Ashraf ʿAlī al-Thānawī is known to have proposed some very interesting modifications to the Dars Niẓāmī syllabus as well as a number of condensed versions of the course to meet the divergent needs of the general Muslim populace.
Amongst the proposals is his emphasis on exercises and practice questions of the rules and principles taught in the classical works. Thānawī (may Allah shower him with His mercy) argued that the pace of lessons had to be slowed down while more attention and greater emphasis should be accorded to the application of the rules of Arabic syntax (naḥw) and morphology (ṣarf). He noted that the memorization of grammar rules was wholly inadequate, especially in today’s times. It is more effective to occasionally skip lectures and devote the time to exercises and revision.
To Mawlānā, the number of supplementary texts in the common syllabus served no beneficial purpose as it resulted in rushing through texts simply to attain the “honor” of having completed the year’s quota of books. Meanwhile the students suffer in proficiency and ability.
Mawlānā often complained about the inordinate rush in madrasahs to complete texts regardless of the students’ understanding and the little attention given to developing proficiency in the Arabic language. Consequently, the higher works of Islamic law (fiqh), Hadith, tafsīr, etc… remain inaccessible to students.
He further highlighted the disproportionate emphasis on teaching students methods of speech and communication over actual study of course content. Students are encouraged to lecture in public and improve their oratory skills while they are still unable to read Arabic properly and barely have access to primary source texts. As a result, the public labors under the false impression that such students are highly qualified scholars and the proficiency in their speech acts as deceptive camouflage for the students’ inadequacy.
Knowledge has become judged more than ever by excellence in public speaking and melodious Quranic recitation when in early times when a higher calibre of scholar was being produced by educational institutions, students were in fact prohibited from public oration. It is hard to accept, but public speaking is not amongst the core goals of the path of knowledge.