Chapter 15: Islamic education: historical evolution and attempts at reform
Madrasas (Islamic schools) have become a focus of global attention since 9/11. The system of Islamic education has, in view of some, become synonymous with jihad and Islamic militancy. Madrasas are argued to indoctrinate children from poor families with radical ideals. However, what does the madrasa education really involve? And, why have the attempts by colonial and post-colonial ruling elites to reform Islamic education failed? Madrasas are one of the oldest institutions of learning in the Islamic world. While schools for Quranic learning, normally referred to as muktabs, and mosque-based study circles started in Prophet Muhammad’s time, the evolution of these Quranic schools into madrasas designed to interpret and understand the Quranic and other religious texts started in the eleventh century in Iran (Hefner and Zaman, 2007). The tradition spread to Baghdad in 1063, Damascus in the 1090s, Cairo in the 1170s, and by the thirteenth century had also spread to India, where the madrasa system consolidated under the Mughal Empire (ibid.). Unlike the mosques, the madrasa system allowed for the residence of teachers and students and provided a library. Normally drawing on permanent sources of income, such as a waqf (religious endowment) property, the madrasa provided for salaries of the faculty and scholarships for students. The main objective of madrasas was to prepare scholars of Islam with a special emphasis on the teaching of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence).
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