Notes: Hakim al-Ummat’s Comments on the Method of Teaching in Madrasahs

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.

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10 thoughts on “Notes: Hakim al-Ummat’s Comments on the Method of Teaching in Madrasahs

  1. Zia Hydari says:

    Nice note about Indo-Pak madaris—I have heard that Madressah Ibn e Abbas in Karachi (Dr. Amjad Ali) requires students to first develop proficiency in Arabic. Also, the Arabic textbooks developed by Madressah Ayesha, where some of my relatives studied, seem to provide exercises rather than just memorizing grammar rules {I am a beginning Arabic learner so I would not know for sure}.

    BTW, can you please include a reference to Maulana Thanwi’s advice?

    On another note: I believe you were a freshman at UIUC when I was finishing my graduate studies in CS … if correct, we met many times at CIMIC

    • Bilal Ali says:

      Yes Zia Bhai, I remember you well. I believe it was you and Nazeer Bhai who first introduced me to cricket back in my freshman year. I hope you are well.

      There indeed has been much improvement in many programs in the subcontinent when it comes to the instruction of Arabic. Hasanain and Ibn ‘Abbas are two madrasahs with the top programs in Pakistan. I’ll be posting Hasanain’s most recent curriculum soon iA.

      As for the reference, I’m afraid I can’t find it at the moment. I posted these as notes as I can’t recall where I got them from. I found then stored on my computer and have been looking for their source since. I’ll try to provide one once I find it.

    • Bilal Ali says:

      Some of the past posts on Hasanain’s curriculum will perhaps be of interest to you as well as some future posts as well iA.

      • Zia Hydari says:

        Many thanks … glad to have met you again albeit online … I intend to follow your blog on a regular basis insha Allah.

        May I request you to also post your thoughts (occasionally) on the religious education of our young ones in the US. The issue is close to my heart as I am blessed with three kids (11, 9, 6). My goal right now is to help them learn fusha Arabic so they could understand Quran. I consider this goal more important than just getting my kids to be fluent readers (as is the custom in Indo-Pak) … needless to say that I have had quite a few interesting conversations about why “nazira” should be the my first priority … my argument is that my kids have memorized enough Quran correctly for their salaat to be valid. And reading the Quran fluently will be automatic if they have learnt fusha Arabic.

        I believe that learning fusha Arabic is going to be a long process (5–10 years) and it is imperative that the kids start early so that they become natural in the language. Given the long public school day in the US, they have limited time which I want them to use to learn fusha Arabic.

        However, getting kids to learn Arabi has not been easy. My brother (in Karachi) teaches my kids online but due to the power outages / internet outages, the classes are not held consistently. They also learn Arabic in their Masjid school on Sunday but one day of classes is not adequate (also the class mix in Sunday school has very high variance and the teachers tend to teach to the weakest student).

      • Bilal Ali says:

        Al-salam ‘alaykum,

        To be honest, I don’t have much experience or research in the education of children. My oldest is four and so its certainly on my mind, but I don’t have any concrete thoughts yet.

        My wife has taught children in the past and is currently reading “A Well-Trained Mind” which she recommends. I might also recommend reading “Concentric Circles” by Elda Ruth Meye. My wife also recently read a book on raising children multilingual. It seemed to have some great suggestions for your questions on teaching language to children.

        On a similar note, how much have you and your wife studied Arabic. It usually helps to have parents speak the target language or be studying it themselves.

        Bilal

      • Zia Hydari says:

        “how much have you and your wife studied Arabic?”: I have not studied much (about 1.5 years in secondary school and then here and there) but I am studying with the kids right now. Also as you would know, Urdu has many loan words from Arabic which helps me out a bit (although the structure of Arabic sentence is very different). My wife studied the standard Arabic curriculum used in PK madaris for 6 years.

        I believe that with the right resources, it is possible to learn the language that your parents do not speak. I can recall classmates whose parents could not communicate in English but they learnt English through schooling.

        Also, I feel that there should be more effort especially in the US to facilitate learning of fusha Arabic so that the Quran becomes accessible to the kids. The goal I believe should be (first and foremost) reading comprehension, (second) listening comprehension, (third) writing, (fourth) speaking.

  2. Namra Khurshid (@engr_nk) says:

    Assalaamu ‘alaikum. Really beneficial post. I would like have your opinion on the matter that the general masses still believe that Darul Uloom and Jamia Binoria and Binori are most popular and recognised. Would you do the comparison or curriculum analysis of these vs the two you have mentioned? Jazakallahul khair.

    • Bilal Ali says:

      Al-salam ‘alaykum,

      I’m not familiar with which madrasahs are most popular and which context you are referring to, as the madrasahs you mentioned are all situated in Karachi. When I was studying in Karachi, the most recognized schools were the following:

      1. Jami’ah Dar al-‘Ulum Karachi
      2. Jami’at al-‘Ulum al-Islamiyyah (Binnori Town/New Town)
      3. Jami’ah Faruqiyyah
      4. Jami’at al-Rashid
      5. Jami’ah Binnoriyyah

      Of course, Karachi is full of madrasahs, including some very interesting programs like the Madrasah Ibn ‘Abbas/Madrasah ‘A’ishah. Most of the schools mentioned above follow the Wifaq system, which doesn’t allow much variance in the texts taught (as every two years standardized tests are issued based on particular books). Ibn ‘Abbas is like Hasanayn in that it radically departs from the wifaq system and its suggestion of texts.

      A full comparative analysis of all these schools is very challenging, as factors involved include teaching staff, textbook selection, tarbiyah, classroom size, pedagogy, etc…

      Bilal

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