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Changing notions of Ulama regarding modern education: A historical perspective

By Yaqoob Murtaza

Sir Syed – the founder of Aligarh Muslim university- was a man of broad vision, selflessness and self-sacrifice. Of course, he devoted his entire life for the upliftment of Muslim community and tried his level best to improve social, educational and economic backwardness of Muslims. Though he was a man of foresight and has done to some extent great contribution for his community and nation as well but unfortunately he neither got recognition from his community nor from his contemporary Ulama. Muslim Ulama of his time have criticized his works and steps and finally issued the Fatwa of Kufr against him when he talked about modern education.

Now when the situation is so much threatening and Muslims are feeling insecure within the country, Muslim Ulama came to accept the ideas of Sir Syed and to follow him in order to fight with contemporary problems being faced by Muslim community.  As Maulana Arshad Madni – president Jamiat-e- Ulama-i- Hind while announcing the current year scholarship said that “ we now need such schools in which our children can receive modern education with their religious Identity”.

What Maulana has said today, the same solution has been given hundred years ago by Sir Syed  as he said “ The Holy Quran will be in our right hand, natural sciences will be in our left hand and the crown of Lailaha Illallah…..will be on our head”. This was the best education system ever presented for this community but the Ulama of that time vehemently apposed him because of their rigid mindset.

Maulana Madni also reflected current situation while focusing on why Muslims must provide higher education to their children at any cost” the kind of religious and ideological war that has now started in the whole country cannot be countered with any weapon or technology but the only way to win this war is to equip our generation with higher education. We should enable them to use their knowledge and consciousness to defeat their opponents in this ideological war and to reach the milestones of success and prosperity” he said.

There was a time when Ulama were against modern education and were always supporting religious education. This all could happen because of not having flexibility in thought, broad vision about the intent of Islamic teachings and finally because of not having open eyes on the needs of time and demands of society. They looked everything with authoritarian view and strictly interpreted each and  every provisions of it. They never took into consideration whether Muslim society were moving forward or stuck at a place or degenerated. Muslims were and are still having faith in Ulama and regarded them their leaders. Majority of Muslims blindly continued to follow the path where Ulama guided them but unfortunately the Ulama guided them in the wrong direction. And due to this Muslims throughout the history got irreparable social, economic and educational damage, their destiny disrupted, they lost their destination, and consequently they were pushed back centuries. Increasingly they have not been able to ascend their desired level till today.

It is fruitful to see some changes in Ulama and the scope of their thinking regarding modern education is also widening. It is call of time to get modern education. Only through religious education, any community can never progress. To progress in each and every spheres of life, a community needs education in all fields. For a society and its sustainable progress, it is important to have religious scholars, but at the same time, it also needs such lawyers who can fight for the rights of people, such judges who can uphold the supremacy of constitution, such doctors who can cure, such journalists who can fearlessly raise the issues of people and so on.

It should be kept in mind that Islam has not forbidden to get modern education. In its first revolutionary message, Islam has given a call to all to get education. It has put no restriction on what kind of education, a Muslim should get and who can get such education. And there are so many verses in the Holy Quran which talk about scientific phenomena.

If these Ulama look at history, they will find great scholars like Ibn Sina, Jabir bin Hayyan, Yaqoob Al-kindi, Al-khawarizmi and a number of such other great scholars who were not religious scholars but they were actually great exponents of various fields of study.

Therefore there should be no division of education or should not be made restriction on any kind of education. And most importantly the education should never be viewed from the perspective of religion. Then it will bring some positive changes in Muslim society and finally it will ascend to regain its lost glory in the field of modern education.

*The writer is a student of law at Aligarh Muslim University

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