Archive for November, 2012

Some Aspects of the Muslim Educational System in Pre-Colonial India

November 6, 2012

By Amer Bashir

The aim of this paper is to bring to light some of the hitherto less known aspects of the Muslim Educational System in pre-colonial India.  By pre-colonial India, we refer to the time from the advent of Islam in India in the beginning of the eighth century CE up to the consolidation of colonial rule in the middle of the eighteenth century.[1] This short paper cannot do justice to all the details of the Muslim Educational System during this period. Therefore, we shall confine ourselves to only some aspects of it.  These include the evolution of the curriculum over the centuries, and general contours of the educational system.  We will also be challenging some conventional theories.  These include the notion that before the coming of the press, books were in short supply in India.  The other is that hadith was little known in India until the coming of Shah Wali Allah (d. 1762).  We will be presenting individual incidents which we feel to be representative of a broader trend and from these we shall draw general conclusions.

During the period under study Muslim rule gradually extended from Sindh to include the whole of Northern India until it became one of the three major Muslim powers of that time under the Great Mughals,[2] Ottoman Turkey and Safavid Iran being the other two.  Such a strong and vast empire required a strong administrative structure which in turn required an effective system of education.  As we shall see later, education was sufficiently sought after, and provided for during this time, such that India at that time could favorably compare and often compete with the central lands of Islam in the field of scholarship.[3]


We begin our analysis with looking at the position of knowledge and education in Islam.  Numerous Qur’anic verses and Prophetic traditions establish the centrality of knowledge in Islam.  The verses include “Are those who know and those who do not know alike?” (39:9); the first revelation “Read in the name of your Lord who created” (96:1); and the prayer taught in the Qur’an, “Say (O Muhammad), My Lord! Increase me in knowledge” (20:114).  Similarly, the Prophetic traditions (ahadith) exhorting people to seek knowledge are also well known.  Examples include the famous tradition in which the Prophet is reported to have said, “It is obligatory upon every Muslim to seek knowledge.”[4] Similarly, al-Tirmidhi has reported a hadith in which the Prophet (pbuh) said, “The excellence of a scholar upon the worshiper is like my excellence over the lowest one amongst you.”[6] This emphasis upon knowledge and education has been taken for granted in Muslim societies since the beginning of Islam.

The religious basis for the pursuit of knowledge resulted in defining the objective of education as al-fawz bi al-sa‘adah fi al-darayn i.e. to succeed through bliss in the world and the hereafter.

This in turn implied that education should be acquired

  1. To understand the will of God and to lead one’s life according to it.
  2. To inculcate Islamic values in oneself.
  3. To cultivate cultured behavior in oneself.[7]

As can be seen from these objectives, acquiring knowledge was considered a sacred duty. It was the sole means to success.  Knowledge (ilm) and practice (amal) were inter-linked. Instruction (talim) went hand in hand with training (ta’dib).  The traditional Islamic concept of education was, thus, holistic as understood at that time.  Muslim scholars had divided knowledge into two parts, the fardh ‘ayn (individually obligatory) and the fardh kifayah (collectively obligatory); but there was no strict separation between the religious and the secular sciences.  Both formed part of an integrated whole.


As we have seen above, Islam has placed considerable emphasis upon knowledge.  Because of this we find that, historically, the general attitude of Muslims, throughout the world, towards knowledge, scholars and students had been that of reverence.  In every land, there were to be found a significant number of people who had dedicated themselves to learning and/or teaching.  At the same time, the general public considered it an act of worship to help the scholars and the students.  This public attitude coupled with safety of the roads maintained by stable and strong Muslim governments, enabled people to move across great distances in search of knowledge.  In spite of the crude means of conveyance, people were constantly on the move; students setting out to learn, teachers traveling to teach.  Ghulam ‘Ali Azad Bilgirami (d. 1785) writes in his book Ma’athir al-Kiram, which is a historical account of sixteenth/seventeenth century Mughal India, that:

Seekers of knowledge travel in multitudes from one place to another. Wherever, the situation is agreeable, they get busy in learning…. The well-to-do people of each town take care of these seekers of knowledge and consider it a great honor to serve them.[8]

The teachers occupied a high position in society.  Though their emoluments were not always great, they commanded universal respect and confidence.  Gilani mentions a number of incidents when the teachers, in spite of their poverty, refused to accept any monetary help from others; and whatever help or gift was accepted, the giver always considered it to be an honor for his gift to have been accepted.[9] This attitude was widespread throughout the period under review.  Even absolutist monarchs showed deference to the ‘ulama and the Sufis.  Nizami has also mentioned several incidents of ‘ulama and Sufis refusing royal gifts even while suffering from abject poverty.[10] For many, poverty was a chosen path and the royal gifts were seen as undoing years of patient hard work.


The main institutions for teaching and learning during the period of Muslim rule in India were maktabs and madrasahs,[11] mosques and khanqahs (Sufi centers), and private houses.  Almost every mosque served as an elementary school.  However, a large number of eminent scholars and men of letter taught independently and even supported the students who came to them to study.  This then was the foundation upon which the whole system was built; the teacher and the student.  The issue of budgetary allocations for school buildings and provision of other services was not the top most priority for these people.  What was most important was the existence of a sincere teacher and a sincere student.  If these two were obtaining, other things could be improvised.  Azad has mentioned a famous teacher of his hometown Bilgiram, Mir Mubarak.  He taught there for years but throughout this time, he was based in the verandah of a certain noble of the town.  Hundreds came and studied from him but he continued to operate from that verandah.[12]

At the same time, the state was not negligent to matters of education.  Kings as well as local Nawabs and other well-to-do people considered it an act of virtue to build maktabs, madrasahs and to support teachers and students.  We find a network of such institutions; one-man schools as well as larger more organized affairs; scattered throughout the length and breadth of India.  All three levels viz. elementary, secondary, higher, were catered for.  However, no one level dominated in any one institution.  Private houses were being used to provide basic elementary education but at the same time could be seen to provide advanced studies to those interested.  In fact, this lack of bureaucratic uniformity was this system’s greatest strength.  The system reflected the needs of the people.  It accommodated the grassroots desires and ambitions of people regarding education.  Thus, we find huge well-funded, well-organized madrasahs existing side by side with one man schools operating out of private houses.[13] The student had the liberty of choosing which teacher to study from.  Problems of admissions and school discipline were rare.  The focus was on the real thing: education; with very little squabbling over the means to acquire it.

Muslim rulers also patronized scholars.  Amongst the earliest examples is that of the famous theologian Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d. 1209).  He was also a great philosopher and expert in many Islamic sciences.  He was patronized by many rulers.  Among these was Shihab al-Din Ghauri (1206), the founder of Muslim rule in India proper.  It is reported about him that he had al-Razi stay in his camp wherever he went.  Al-Razi was the official prayer leader and delivered sermons and lectures in the camp.[14]


Muslims first reached India as conquerors in the beginning of the eighth century.  The intellectual climate of their Arab homeland was extended to Sindh, the portion of India that had been conquered.  At this stage we find an active participation of Sindh based scholars in the field of hadith.  Their names appear in the chains of transmission of ahadith that were later on recorded by other hadith masters.  Some of their names and works have also been mentioned by ‘Abd al-Hayy al-Hasani in his al-Thaqafah al-Islamiyyah fi al-Hind.[15]

However, this period lasted for only four centuries and Muslim rule was confined to Sindh and Multan (southern Punjab).  Beginning towards the end of the tenth century, Muslims began to enter India from the North-West in successive waves, each time extending their territories even further towards North and Central India.  Along with each invading army, and on their own as well, came ‘ulama and Sufis.  Both had a role to play in the spread of Islamic knowledge in India.  Major cities in the newly acquired territories quickly turned into centers of learning.  Initially, Multan, then Lahore and finally Delhi became the pre-eminent centre of learning in North India.[16]

This second period starting from the end of the tenth century lasted until the last quarter of the fifteenth century.  During this time, India benefited enormously from an otherwise unmitigated disaster.  The Mongol hordes that ravaged Central Asia, Afghanistan and Khorasan forced many of the scholarly families based there to migrate to other countries.  India was the top destination for them.  Not a day passed but a noteworthy scholar would arrive in Delhi with camel loads of books.  The Indian rulers were fully aware of the worth of the newcomers. They made them feel extremely welcome.  Every newcomer was given a post or a stipend or an estate to support himself and his family.  Thus, the nascent Muslim community of North India benefitted from a continuous supply of scholars and books.

During this period, the education system in North India consisted of three stages:

At the first stage, as has been the practice throughout Muslim history in all Islamic lands, a child’s education began with the Qur’an.  Each locality had teachers who specialized in tajwid, the art of recitation of the Qur’an.  It is mentioned about Nizam al-Din Awliya (d. 1325), the great Chishti Sufi saint of Delhi, that he started his education in his hometown, Badaun.  This began with learning how to read the Qur’an.  His teacher was a freed slave who had converted from Hinduism to Islam and knew the seven major recitations of the Qur’an.[17] After Qur’an, students would normally move on to Persian, the official language of the country.  Most of the major works of Persian prose and poetry were studied.  These included the works of major writers such as Sa‘di, Hafiz, Salman Saoji, Anwari, and others.[18] The education of the general population normally stopped at this level.  However, it seems reasonable to assume that some elementary Arabic was also taught at this stage because the students were expected to understand the Arabic phrases that were often used in Persian books and regular conversation.  We also find people with only basic education being able to freely quote from the Qur’an and Prophetic traditions.[19]

The second stage was dedicated to an intensive study of the Arabic language as well as fiqh.  Some of the books taught at this stage included: Kafiyah and Mufassal for Arabic grammar; and Mukhtasar al-Quduri and Majma‘ al-Bahrayn for Hanafi fiqh (Jurisprudence).  Later on, Mufassal gave way to Sharh Jami and Sharh Wiqayah replaced Majma‘ al-Bahrayn.[20] Education up to this level was considered sufficient for those wanting to engage in teaching, preaching, etc. and entitled one to be called a danishmand (wise man) or a mawlawi.  Studies at this level would correspond to the fourth year of study in the present-day eight year Dars-e-Nizami.

In the third stage, also called fadhilat, advanced books of each science were studied. These included Kashshaf and Madarik for tafsir (Qur’anic Exegesis), Mishkat al-Masabih and Mashariq al-Anwar for hadith, al-Hidayah for Hanafi fiqh, and Usul al-Bazdawi for usul al-fiqh (principles of jurisprudence).  Along with these, major works in the various branches of balaghah (rhetoric) were also studied.  The one who completed this stage was called a fadhil.

As can be seen from this brief outline, rational sciences and kalam (dialectics) were not paid much attention in the regular curriculum.  Only a few basic texts of logic and kalam such as al-Qutbi and Sharh as-Sahaif were studied.[21] In fact, the general attitude amongst the ‘ulama towards these is best summed up in this statement of Fatawa al-Tatarkhania, a fatwa collection compiled during the fourteenth century:

The issues of ‘ilm al-kalam lead to new dissentions (fitnahs) and innovations and cause deterioration of faith; (and) the ones who normally engage in it are either less-intelligent or are seeking to dominate rather than seeking the truth.[22]

This all changed towards the end of the fifteenth century and the beginning of the sixteenth century.  During this third period which lasted until the beginning of the eighteenth century, logic, philosophy, and kalam got new impetus.  At this time, many students of Sharif Jurjani and Sa‘d al-Din Taftazani moved to India and brought with them new books on grammar, rhetoric, kalam and fiqh.[23] Later, Fathullah Shirazi came to India from Iran and brought with him works of Dawwani, Mulla Sadra and Mirza Jan.  These works were readily accepted by Indians and before long these became part and parcel of the curriculum.[24] Again during this period, purpose built institutions existed side by side with individualized private instruction.

The fourth period can be said to have begun from the early part of eighteenth century lasting until the founding of Dar al-‘Ulum at Deoband in 1866.  This period is characterized by the presence of two very important personalities.  Each of them contributed to education in his own way.  One is Shah Wali Allah of Delhi and the other is Nizam al-Din Sihalvi of Lucknow (d. 1748).  Wali Allah focused on the teaching of hadith especially the Sihah Sittah (the six major collections of hadith viz. Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Jami‘ Tirmidhi, Sunan Abu Dawud, Sunan al-Nisa’i and Sunan Ibn Majah) and al-Muwatta of Malik.  Later on, his son Shah ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, operating from his base in Delhi, helped to popularize it throughout India.

Sihalvi based at Farangi Mahal in Lucknow focused on developing a comprehensive curriculum which came to be called Dars-e-Nizami, after him.  Sihalvi focused more on the ma‘qulat (rational sciences) and fiqh than on the manqulat (transmitted sciences).  In fact, an examination of this curriculum shows that it included ten books on logic, five on dialectics and three on philosophy while only a portion from two works of tafsir and one book of hadith were studied.[25] This curriculum proved extremely popular because of its ability to prepare students for independent study.  Even the Shi‘ites of Lucknow came to the Sunni school of Farangi Mahal to study because of the reputation of this curriculum at producing well-rounded and rational, educated individuals.

Although, our period of research ends here, however, let us state this much. Wali Allah’s curriculum and Sihalvi’s curriculum represented two extremes in their emphasis upon the transmitted and the rational sciences, respectively.  Quite a number of people took advantage of both the curricula but there was still no single unified curriculum.  That came about with the founding of the Dar al-‘Ulum at Deoband in 1866.  The curriculum adopted at Dar al-‘Ulum, although still referred to as Dars-e-Nizami, was a combination of the two.  On the one hand, rational sciences were studied in almost as much detail as Nizam al-Din had envisaged; and on the other hand, Wali Allah’s emphasis on hadith was also incorporated so that during the last year of study, the Sihah Sittah, as well as the Sharh Ma‘ani al-Athar of al-Tahawi, and the al-Muwattas of Malik and Muhammad were studied in their totality.


The prevalent idea among the vast majority of Indo-Pakistani ‘ulama is that hadith was historically a neglected science in India.  It was only with the coming of Wali Allah that this changed.  The unique position that Wali Allah occupies in Indian Muslim intellectual history has meant that his supporters tend to sideline the important contributions made by others before him and during his time.

Regarding the contributions of Indian ‘ulama to hadith, we have to keep Indian history in perspective.  Muslims came to regard India proper (Sindh & Multan being the exception) as their home only after the coming to power of Qutb al-Din Aybak in 1206.  Indian Muslims’ contributions should be examined keeping this in mind.  By this time, all the major works of Hadith had already been compiled.  It was too late for Indians to form part of al-Bukhari’s chain of transmitters.  They could not have taken part in the formative period of the hadith sciences.  Sindh, which was Islamized earlier on, did take part in these activities and was the exception.  Later Indians, however, engaged in those pursuits that were still possible.  They compiled newer collections based upon the original collections. They learned the hadith sciences, memorized texts with their chains and taught these to others.

In this regard, a prominent example is that of Hasan al-Saghani al-Hindi (d. 1252).  He was the Indian ambassador to the Abbasid court in Baghdad.  Upon orders of the then Abbasid caliph al-Mustansir Billah, he compiled Mashariq al-Anwar, a collection of 2246 ahadith from the two Sahihs of Bukhari and Muslim.  The caliph himself studied this book from him.  For many centuries after that, this book was an integral part of the curriculum of Islamic madrasahs.  Numerous commentaries were written on it by ‘ulama in Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Hijaz. It was held in such high esteem that Sultan Muhammad ibn Tughlaq is reported to have placed it side by side with the Qur’an while taking oath of allegiance from his officers.[26]

There are many other examples from each of the succeeding centuries as well as some from the previous ones which show that learning hadith and teaching it to others was very much a part of the educational system.  There was Isma‘il Muhaddith (d. 1056) who was based in Lahore and had dedicated himself to teaching the various Islamic sciences including hadith.[27] Then there were Shaykh Bahlul of Delhi and Mufti Muhammad of Lahore, both from the time of Akbar (c. sixteenthcentury).  Both were well-known for their expertise in hadith.[28] Mufti Muhammad used to teach Sahih Bukhari and Mishkaat al-MasabiÍ.

Also from the sixteenth century is Mir Murtaza Sharifi, the grandson of Mir Sayyid Sharif Jurjani.  He left Shiraz to go to Makkah and learned hadith from ibn Hajar al-Makki and got ijazah (permission/license) from him to teach it to others.  He came to settle down in Agra and passed away during the reign of Akbar.[29] Then there was Hafiz Daraz Peshawari who had learned hadith from his mother.  This lady had written a commentary on Sahih Bukhari in Farsi.[30] Moreover, it is mentioned about Muhammad Farrukh, the grandson of Ahmad Sirhindi, that he had memorized 70,000 ahadith along with their chains and texts and their strengths and weaknesses.[31]

This devotion to ÍadÊth was not confined to North India alone.  Gujarat in western India is situated opposite the Arabian Peninsula and therefore, has enjoyed a closer relationship with the Arab peninsula from the beginning.  Prominent ‘ulama such as ‘Ali Muttaqi (d. c. 1568) and his students Muhammad ibn Tahir Patni (d. 1578) and ‘Abd al-Wahhab al-Muttaqi (d. 1592) were in the forefront in the science of hadith.  They flourished in Gujarat and Makkah and from there, their influence extended to various parts of the world.  In Delhi, ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s student ‘Abd al-Haqq (d. 1642) was active in disseminating hadith.  He wrote important commentaries on the major works of hadith.  He was followed by his son Nur al-Haqq, who similarly, was quite active in serving the hadithsciences.

In South India, we find the sixteenth century scholar Bhikari Kakorvi who wrote a book on the principles of hadith, titled al-Minhaj.[32] In Zaidpur in eastern India, Maulana ‘Abd al-Awwal (d. 1560) had written a commentary on Sahih Bukhari, titled Faydh al-Bari.[33] Even Azad, more famous for the historical works that he wrote, had written a commentary on Sahih Bukhari, titled Dhaw’ al-Dharari.[34] In Kashmir, there was Mulla Inayat Allah Kashmiri (d. 1713).  He had taught Sahih Bukhari thirty six times.[35] And then in the nineteenth century, we find Rahmat Allah Ilahabadi who had memorized the six books of hadith (Sihah Sittah).[36]

The rulers also took active part in patronizing hadith sciences.  It is mentioned about Sultan Mahmud Shah (d. 1397) of the South Indian Bahmani kingdom that he had set aside special stipends for the scholars of hadith so that they could stay engaged in their scholarly pursuits without having to worry about earning their living.[37]



Sufis enjoy perhaps the worst reputation in Islamic scholarly circles.  Much of this stems from the behavior and statements of ignorant Sufis.  This then leads to a blanket condemnation of all Sufis including the classical giants of tasawwuf.  Historical evidence points in a different direction.  It would be helpful to consider here the case of some Sufis and their attitudes towards education.  In fact, in the second half of the thirteenth century, Delhi saw the founding of the khanqah of the famous Chishti saint, Nizam al-Din Awliya.  Not only had Nizam al-Din studied the above-mentioned Mashariq al-Anwar from cover to cover but also knew the entire collection by heart.[38] The best source of information about him is his utterances (malfuzat) that were recorded by his disciple Amir Hasan Sijzi (d. 1336) in his famous work Fawa’id al-Fu’ad.[39] Even a cursory glance at this collection will show that Nizam al-Din had a thorough understanding of hadith and fiqh.  And this in spite of the fact that he was busy training his Sufi disciples and did not have time to be actively involved in the intellectual life of Delhi.

Another incident is worth considering.  It is mentioned about a certain Akhi Siraj who had moved at a young age from his native Lakhnauti to Delhi to benefit from Nizam al-Din Awliya.  He lived in Nizam al-Din’s khanqah for many years.  Once, someone recommended his name to Nizam al-Din for successorship.  Nizam al-Din replied that Siraj was not educated and therefore, not qualified to be a successor.  Upon this, one of the scholar disciples of Nizam al-Din, Mawlana Fakhr al-Din Zarradi volunteered to teach Siraj and fulfill this important condition for him.  He accomplished this in six months.[40] This shows the erudition and skill of Zarradi as well as the acumen of Siraj to learn.  Above all, this incident shows the central importance that Sufis gave to education.

One could argue that the sources for all such incidents are hagiographical accounts whose sole purpose is to glorify the personality of the person being written about.  Even if we were to accept this charge, although there is enough reason not to, even then, the fact that the biographers considered acquisition of knowledge to be praiseworthy shows the status of knowledge and education in the Muslim society of that time.


The scarcity of books in India before the coming of the press has been made quite an issue of.  Some historians, as evidence of this claim, have cited an incident involving Wali Allah’s son, Shah ‘Abd al-‘Aziz.  It is reported that when ‘Abd al-‘Aziz began writing his Persian commentary on the Qur’an (Fath al-‘Aziz), he could not even find al-Tafsir al-Kabir of al-Razi.[41] After a desperate search, he finally found it in the library at the Royal Palace in Delhi.  This is hard to believe.  All of ‘Abd al-‘Aziz works have come down to us.  We find him referring directly to classical works of Shafi‘i, Abu Yusuf (the main student of Abu Hanifah), al-Ghazzali, Ibn Hazm, Ibn Taymiya, etc.  Some of these works were hard to find even after coming of the press.  It is reasonable to assume that someone who had access to such rare works would also have had access to al-Razi’s work.  Even if the incident was to be considered true, it cannot be taken to be representative of a general trend.  It appears as an exception rather than the rule.

Moreover, Gilani has cited an incident involving Azad’s teacher, Mir Tufayl.  Azad writes that once Mir Tufayl went to see the Nawab of Agra.  There, a debate ensued about certain linguistic aspects of the Qur’anic verse “and for those who have the power” (2:184).  According to Azad even for this relatively minor issue, most major works of tafsir, including al-Razi’s al-Tafsir al-KabÊr, Kashshaf, Baidhawi, and other books of language and rhetoric were consulted.[42]

Mulla Muhib Allah Bihari (d. 1707) is a prominent scholar who flourished during Aurangzeb’s (d. 1707) reign.  He is the author of Musallam as-Thubut, a famous work on the principles of jurisprudence (usul al-fiqh).  A manuscript of the author’s marginalia on this work is available online.[43] In this, he mentions the books that he consulted while writing this book.  The list includes all the major works of usul of each of the Sunni schools viz. Usal al-Bazdawi, Usul al-Sarkhasi, Kashf al-Bazdawi, Kashf al-Manar, al-Badi‘ along with its commentaries, al-Tawdhih wa al-Talwih, al-Tahrir along with its commentaries al-Taqrir and al-Taysir, al-Mahsul of al-Razi, al-Ihkam of al-Amidi, Qadhi’s Mukhtasar along with its various glosses, Sharh of al-Abhari, Sharh of Taftazani, gloss of Fazil Mirza Jan, al-Rudud, al-‘Unqud, al-Minhaj of al-Baidhawi along with its commentary, Mukhtasar of ibn al-HÉjib and Muntaha al-Usul.  This is an exhaustive list.  If these books were available to someone working in Bihar, it is quite reasonable to assume that they would have been available in the capital Delhi as well.

In fact, not only were books easily available during the period under study, rather it was not such a major issue.  There are two important reasons for that.

Firstly, there was always a professional group of copyists in each locality who were called warraq (scribe) or nussakh (copyist).  They kept track of all the books available in their area as well as other cities and upon demand they could quickly make copies of the desired book.[44] Secondly, amongst the general educated public most people could write quite fast.  About the first contention, the following incident is quite telling.

‘Abd al-Qadir Badayuni (d. 1625) was an accomplished scholar and man of letters who was attached to Akbar’s court.  Although working under Akbar, he had become thoroughly disgusted with Akbar’s eclecticism.  Even though an officially approved history of Akbar’s reign had been written by Abul Fazl titled Akbar Namah, Badayuni felt that the record needed to be set right.  So, in secret, he wrote his historical work titled Muntakhab at-Tawarikh, in which he showed the darker side of Akbar’s reign.  He could not make it public during his own lifetime for fear of severe official reaction.  After his death, some copyists got hold of it and before long its copies were to be found all over the country.  By this time, Jahangir, the son of Akbar, had ascended the throne.  He tried to ban the book.  However, in spite of his absolutist powers, Jahangir could not take this book out of circulation.  Every now and then, a report would be received that this book was seen in this town or that city.[45] This can be reasonably attributed to the easy availability of copyists who made sure that they had access to books that people wanted.  In fact, this also explains the slow spread of the press in India.  The effective system of copyists had relieved people of the need for a printing press.

About the second contention, i.e., the writing speed of educated people, let us present some incidents.

Azad has mentioned about a certain scholar Shaykh Kamal:

Text books of sarf (Morphology), nahw (Syntax), mantiq (Logic), hikmah (Philosophy), ma‘ani, bayan, fiqh, usul, and tafsir, all of these, he copied with his own hand. And for every book, he wrote its gloss in such a way that the text did not require the commentary anymore and the commentary did not require the text anymore.[46]

Regarding Shaykh Nagauri, the father of Abul Fazl and Fayzi, Azad writes, “He wrote 500 volumes with his own hands.”[47] Similarly, it is mentioned in the account of a certain Shaykh Junayd Hisari that he could copy the whole Qur’an in three days and that too with the diacritical marks.[48]

To close this topic, let us mention what ‘Abd al-Wahhab Muttaqi has mentioned regarding his teacher ‘Ali Muttaqi.  This has been quoted by ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s student ‘Abd al-Haq Dehlavi in his Akhbar al-Akhyar.  ‘Ali Muttaqi had moved to Makkah and was the foremost scholar of that city.  ‘Abd al-Wahhab mentions about him that he had a habit of copying important books and sending them out to all those regions where such books were unlikely to be found and people would need them.  Writing books was a religious vocation for him.[49]



A systematic study of Islamic intellectual heritage (of India as well as the rest of the Muslim world) is essential for any scholar of Islamic civilization.  In the preceding account, we have tried to give a glimpse of the educational system of Muslim India.  This is just a preliminary study.  The abundance of historical evidence seems to suggest a very well-organized and organic system of education.  Madrasahs, maktabs, mosques, private houses, all kinds of institutions existed in harmony.  The options available to any sincere seeker of knowledge were many.  Seeking knowledge and imparting it was a sacred exercise and not a commercial enterprise.  The general attitude of the public towards knowledge and those who engaged in it was fundamental to the flourishing of this system.  General interest in the various Islamic sciences meant that all segments of the population participated in the cultivation and dissemination of Islamic sciences.  Sufis thus placed high value on seeking a proper Islamic education.  Similarly, Indian scholars paid close attention to the hadith sciences.  Many of them rose to become pre-eminent hadith scholars known for their erudition throughout the Muslim world.  Moreover, the curriculum that had evolved over the years maintained a healthy balance between the secular and the religious.  There were differences in terms of emphasis on the rational vs. the transmitted sciences.  However, the overall curriculum was still relatively holistic.  In short, Muslim India matched the central lands of Islam in terms of its educational advancement and achievements.


Al-Bayhaqi, Abu Bakr Ahmad ibn al-Husayn.  (1410 AH).  Vol. 2, Shu‘ab al-Iman [Bracnhes of Faith].  Bayrut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah.

Bihari, Muhib Allah.  Hashiyat Musallam al-Thubut [Marginalia on the Flawless Evidence].  MS. Or. 350.  University of Leipzig Library, downloaded from Usul al-Fiqh wa al-Qawa’id al-Fiqhiyyah [Principles of Jurisprudence and Legal Maxims], al-Mustafa min al-Makhtutat al-‘Arabiyyah wa al-Islamiyyah [Chosen Arabic and Islamic Manuscripts].   Retrieved August 16, 2010.أصول%20الفقه%20والقواعد%20الفقهية.

Dehlavi, ‘Abd al-Haqq.  (n.d.).  Akhbar al-Akhyar [Reports of the Select].  (Subhan Mahmud and Muhammad Fazil, Trans.).  Karachi: Madinah Publishing Company.

Gilani, Sayyid Manazir Ahsan.  (n.d.).  Pak-o-Hind main Musalmanon ka Nizam e Ta‘lim-o-Tarbiyyat [The educational system of Muslims in Pakistan and India].  Lahore: Maktaba Rahmaniyya.Jaffar, S.M. (1972).  Education in Muslim India. Delhi: Idara Adbiyat-e-Dilli.

Al-Hasani, ‘Abd al-Hayy.  (1983).  Al-Thaqafah al-Islamiyyah fi al-Hind [Islamic Civilization in India].  Damascus:  Mujamma‘ al-Lugha al-‘Arabiyyah bi Dimashq.

Jaffar, S.M. (1972).  Education in Muslim India. Delhi: Idara Adabiyyat-e-Dilli.

Keller, Nuh Ha Mim.  (1997).  Copyrights in Islam. Retrieved August 17, 2010.

Mubarakpuri, Muhammad ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn ‘Abd al-Rahim.  (n.d.).  Vol. 7, Tuhfat al-Ahwadhi bi Sharh Jami‘ al-Tirmidhi [Gift of the Skilful, a commentary on Jami‘ al-Tirmidhi]. Ed. ‘Abd al-Rahman Muhammad ‘Uthman.  Bayrut: Dar al-Fikr.

Muhammad Ishaq.  (1976).  India’s Contribution to the Study of Hadith Literature.  Dhaka, University of Dacca.

Muhammad Shafi‘.  (2002).  Futuh al-Hind [Conquests of India].  Karachi: Idarat al-Ma‘arif.

Al-Nadvi & Moinuddin, Survey of Muslim Education: India, (Cambridge: The Islamic Academy, 1985), 5.

Nizami, Khaliq Ahmad.  (1961).  Some Aspects of Religion & Politics in India during the 13th century.  Bombay: Asia Publishing.

Nizami, Khaliq Ahmad.  (1982).  Islami Tehzib ka Asar Hindustan par [The effect of Islamic Civilization on India].  Lucknow, Majlis Tehqiqat-o-Nashriat Islam.

Sijzi, Amir Hasan.  (1996).  Fawa’id al-Fu’ad [Benefits of the Heart].  (Ziya-ul-Hasan Faruqi, Trans.).  New Delhi: DK Printworld.

[1]All the dates mentioned in this paper are CE (common era) dates unless otherwise noted. 

[2] “Great Mughals” is a term used to refer to the first six Mughal Emperors of India.  These are, in chronological order, Babar, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Awrangzeb.  These are the first and the greatest of all Mughal Emperors.  In all, they reigned from 1526 to 1707 with a fifteen year interregnum from 1539 till 1555.  The empire reached its zenith with Awrangzeb (reigned from 1658-1707) and after his death began her decline which ended with the capture of the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar at the hands of the British in 1857.

[3] S.M. Jaffar, Education in Muslim India, (Delhi: Idara Adbiyat-e-Dilli, 1972), viii.

[4] Abu Bakr Ahmad ibn al-Husayn al-Bayhaqi, Shu‘ab al-Iman, (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1410AH), 2:253.

[6] Muhammad ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn ‘Abd al-Rahim Mubarakpuri, Tuhfat al-Ahwadhi bi Sharh Jami‘ al-Tirmidhi, ed. ‘Abd al-Rahman Muhammad ‘Uthman, (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, n.d.), 7:456.

[7] Al-Nadvi & Moinuddin, Survey of Muslim Education: India, (Cambridge: The Islamic Academy, 1985), 5.

[8] Sayyid Manazir Ahsan Gilani, Pak-o-Hind main Musalmanon ka Nizam-e-Ta‘lim-o-Tarbiyyat. (Lahore: Maktaba Rahmaniyya, n.d.) 19.

[9] Ibid., 24.

[10] Khaliq Ahmad Nizami, Some Aspects of Religion & Politics in India during the 13th century, (Bombay: Asia Publishing, 1961), 152-156.

[11] It should be noted that madrasah refers to an institute which offers a comprehensive multi-year course in Islamic studies.  It is different from a maktab which refers to part-time schools that offer basic instruction in reading the Qur’an and basics of Islam.

[12] Gilani, 21.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Muhammad Shafi‘, Futuh al-Hind, (Karachi: Idarat al-Ma‘arif, 2002), 60-61.

[15] ‘Abd al-Hayy al-Hasani, al-Thaqafah al-Islamiyyah fi al-Hind, (Damascus:  Mujamma‘ al-Lugha al-‘Arabiyyah bi Dimashq, 1983), 135.

[16] Ibid., 9-10.

[17] Gilani, 139.  Also cited by Nizami in Khaliq Ahmad Nizami, Islami Tehzib ka Asar Hindustan par, (Lucknow, Majlis Tehqiqat-o-Nashriat-e-Islam, 1982), 42.

[18] Gilani, 141.

[19] Al-Nadvi & Moinuddin, 4.

[20] Ibid., 5.

[21] Gilani, 151.

[22] Ibid., 155.

[23] Al-Nadvi, 6.

[24] Ibid., 7.

[25] Al-Nadvi & Moinuddin, 10.

[26] Muhammad Ishaq, India’s Contribution to the Study of Hadith Literature, (Dhaka, University of Dacca, 1976), 218-221.

[27] Ishaq, 45-46.

[28] Gilani, 129.

[29] Ishaq, 99.

[30] Gilani, 130. For more information about women muhaddithat (traditionists)throughout Muslim history, see Akram Nadvi’s up-coming 40 volume work Al-Muhaddithat: Women Scholars in Islam.  Its one volume introduction (muqaddimah) has recently been published by Interfaith Publications, UK.

[31] Gilani, 128.

[32] Ishaq, 124.

[33] Ibid., 122.

[34] Ibid, 163.

[35] Ishaq, 160 and Gilani, 128.

[36] Gilani, 128.

[37] Ibid., 134 and Ishaq, 103.

[38] Gilani, 119.  See Nizami, Some Aspects…, 347 for the ijazat namah (license to teach) that Nizam al-Din received from his teacher after completing Mashariq al-Anwar.

[39] Amir Hasan Sijzi, Fawa’id al-Fu’ad, translated from Persian into Urdu by Ziya-ul-Hasan Faruqi, (New Delhi: DK Printworld, 1996).

[40] Nizami, Islami Tehzib…, 43.

[41] Gilani, 38.

[42] Ibid., 57.

[43] Muhib Allah Bihari, Hashiyat Musallam al-Thubut, MS. Or. 350, p. 1, University of Leipzig Library, downloaded from “UÎËl al-Fiqh wa al-QawÉ‘id al-Fiqhiyyah,” al-MuÎÏafÉ min al-MakhÏËÏÉt al-‘Arabiyyah wa al-IslÉmiyyah, <أصول%20الفقه%20والقواعد%20الفقهية> (accessed 16 August, 2010).

[44] During the period under study, copyrights violation was not an issue.  There was no legal hindrance to making copies of other people’s books.  Today, the opinion is divided among traditional scholars regarding copyrights.  Some insist that they have no basis in Islamic law.  Others approve of them.  For a sampling, see Nuh Ha Mim Keller, “Copyrights in Islam,” Shadhili Teachings, <> (accessed 17 August, 2010).

[45] Gilani, 59.

[46] Ibid., 62.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid., 63.

[49] See ‘Abd al-Haqq Dehlavi, Akhbar al-Akhyar, translated from Persian into Urdu by Subhan Mahmud and Muhammad Fazil, (Karachi: Madinah Publishing Company, n.d.), 529.

Traditional Dars e Nizāmī Books

November 1, 2012

From the excellent blog of Shaykh abu Hasan (Allah ta’ala increase him, Ameen)

Traditional Dars e Nizāmī Books

The following books are commonly used in almost all traditional madrasahs in the Indo-Pak subcontinent spanning an 8 – 11 year course.  Older editions like the Bulaq or Indian prints are hosted locally and are listed under Local Downloads; newer editions of these books are avoided due to potential copyright issues; but they can still be found on and other sites. Link to the PDF and the page are listed under External Links. If the PDF link does not work, please navigate to the page (and if it exists) download it from there. Many of these books have multiple editions; I have linked those editions which are the easiest (among the PDFs I have) for students to read. In sha Allah, I will add descriptions of each book (accessed by clicking the name of the book) on a separate page which will also include further more editions of the book and links to manuscripts, if any. wa billahi’t tawfiq.


1. Some universities suggest ‘Additional Reading’ and these books are in grey colour.

2. Numbers after PDF indicate volume numbers; thus, PDF: 1 2 has links to vol.1 and vol.2 of the same book.

3. Alphabets indicate different versions of the book; PDF: A, B are two different editions of the same book.

4. Some works are too short (a few pages) to be separate books and are usually printed together with a commentary; in such cases, the PDFs are those of commentaries.

5. Please use the contact page or mail to inform us about omissions, errors, corrections or suggestions.

6. Please write to for any copyright issues