The word 'madrasa' has a Semite origin that means 'to study in a place'. In Arabic and many Arabic-influenced languages, madrasa (madrasah, madraza, or medrese) represents any private, public, secular, and religious learning institution including a school and a university for Muslim or non-Muslim learners. In Islamic countries, madrasas usually include few courses, often two, like hifz (memorizing the entire Quran) and ʻālim (for those who want to become Muslim leaders). A ʻālim teaches the interpretation of the Quran, Islamic law, teachings of prophet Muhammad, logic, and Muslim history. However, in Muslim minority countries, including the west, madrasa refers to a religious education system where learners study Islamic content in Arabic including the Quran, Hadith, Islamic History, and Arabic literature. Most madrasas are usually, but not always, linked to mosques.

History Of Madrasas

The Medina mosque, built in the 7th century by the Prophet Mohammed PBUH, is considered to be the first educational institution of the Muslim world.  During this era, mosques served as the primary environments for learning.  However, as societies evolved, learning circles expanded to include royal settings, as well as informal gatherings in market places.  By the Abbasid period (750 - 13th century), religious education assumed a certain significance.  It was not uncommon for some educators to specialize in the teachings of the Qur’an, theology, and law, while the emphasis for others was on history, the Arabic language, and literature.  Learning circles and study groups gradually increased in number, serving as the foundation of what were to become “madrasas”, or colleges, intended for adults who had completed their primary education in mosques or private schools.  During the 10th century, madrasas emerged as independent institutions, distinct from mosques, which helped to create a new type of educational system.  As a result, these madrasas became centers for religious and secular learning, as well as places where officials were educated according to Muslim orthodoxy.  Documentary evidence and architectural remnants trace the origin of these madrasas to Khurasan and Transoxania in the 10th century, as well as in the region now known as northern Iran.

Educational stratification was the direct result of the emergence of these madrasas.  They provided higher religious and secular education, while elementary education was provided by the “maktabs”.  It was during this era that the term “madrasa-mosque”, prevalent in the Middle Ages, was pervasive, thus reinforcing mosques’ positioning as important social, educational, and cultural centers along the Silk Roads.  In addition, madrasas containing libraries appeared in Bukhara, Khwarazm, Merv, Ghazna, and Nishapur between the 10th and 12th centuries.  There was a tendency to build architectural ensembles that often included a mosque, a madrasa, a mausoleum, and public “garmabs” (baths), at major urban sites.  Despite the 13th-century Mongol invasion, which severely destabilized learning, thereby disrupting the continuity of culture and creativity, madrasas continued to be the highest form of educational institution, spreading throughout the eastern Caliphate in the 15th century and 16th centuries.  After the successful introduction of monetary reform under the Mongols, economic life soon revived throughout modern-day Iran and Transoxania.  Moreover, madrasas were also established on the Indian subcontinent as early as the thirteenth century.  An example is the madrasa at Gwalior, whose architectural structure resembles that of some Buddhist “viharas” (monasteries).  During this period of cultural renaissance, madrasas underwent significant changes, with preference given to its organizational role as a promoter of scientific and literary thought.

Although subject to periods of growth and decline, madrasas flourished and were considered universal centers of education and intercultural exchange amongst diverse populations. They provided a range of curricula including theology, science, history, and philosophy, as well as language, literature, philology, music, and the teaching of “adab”, or polite culture.  Leading scholars recognized that the secular sciences would ensure the dynamic development of society. These teachings would later be challenged in medieval times, subjected to strict Islamic theological traditions. However, during this period, madrasas in Samarkand and Herat were highly-esteemed cultural centers for science, mathematics, astronomy, and medicine.  An example is Samarkand’s renowned 15th century Ulugh Beg madrasa in the Registan square for scholars such as Ghiyath al-Din Jamshid and Qadizada Rumi.  Furthermore, madrasas were established for the specialization of medicine in Herat.  Madrasas such as these were not only centers for education and culture, but they also housed the poor, especially “mustahiqqs” (students), who received room and board during their studies, eventually sharing their knowledge and expertise with future generations.  Over time, madrasas that first appeared along the Silk Roads in Bagdad continued to flourish, spreading throughout the current eastern Chinese regions and beyond.

Importance Of Madrasa According To Islam

Muslim scholars believe madrasa education anchors on the Quranic verse where prophet Muhammad PBUH says that “God, give me knowledge” and in other verses where he said “whoever leaves home to search for knowledge walks with God,” and “seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave". Furthermore, the timeless Arab saying “the ink of the scholars is more precious than the blood of the martyrs,” shows how important education was to early Muslims. Believing that prophet Muhammad PBUH taught and spread mercy, madrasas teach the hadiths of the prophet for people to be better human beings and serve for the betterment of humanity. From these texts, it is clear how and why madrasa education was and still remains important to Islam.

Madrasa And Humanitarian Assistance

In a world where the western education system is spreading fast, Muslim majority countries are also embracing the system. As the elite and middle-class in these nations continue to migrate to western education curriculum, madrasas are left to act as a humanitarian system for poor students. Poor parents enrol children into madrasas which do not need much money to run and where they receive free education alongside meals plus in some cases, a place to stay. Often, teachers also serve on a voluntary basis or for low salaries.


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Madrasa: About
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