"Madrasa" and "Medrese" redirect here. For the village or grape variety in Azerbaijan, see Mədrəsə and Madrasa, respectively.
Sher-Dor Madrasa, Samarkand, Uzbekistan 2007
Ulugh Beg Madrasa, Samarkand, Uzbekistan circa 1912

Madrasah (Arabic: مدرسة‎, madrasah pl. مدارس, madāris) is the Arabic word (of Semitic origin; viz Hebrew midrash) for any type of educational institution, whether secular or religious (of any religion). It is variously transliterated as madrasah, madarasaa, medresa, madrassa, madraza, madarsa, medrese etc.

  • Madrasah ʿāmmah (Arabic: مدرسة عامة‎) translates as "public school".
  • Madrasah ḫāṣṣah (Arabic: مدرسة خاصة‎) translates as "private school".
  • Madrasah dīniyyah (Arabic: مدرسة دينية‎) translates as "religious school".
  • Madrasah ʾIslāmiyyah (Arabic: مدرسة إسلامية‎) translates as "Islamic school".
  • Madrasah ǧāmiʿah (Arabic: مدرسة جامعة‎) translates as "university".



File:Madrasai pupils in Mauritania.jpg
Young madrasah pupils in Mauritania. They learn parts of the Qur’ān from wooden tablets.

The word madrasah is derived from the triconsonantal Semitic root د-ر-س D-R-S 'to learn, study', through the wazn (form/stem) (مفعل(ة mafʿal(ah), meaning a place where X is done. Therefore, madrasah literally means "a place where learning and studying are done". The word is also present as a loanword with the same innocuous meaning in many Arabic-influenced languages, such as: Urdu, Bengali, Hindi, Persian, Turkish, Azeri, Kurdish, Indonesian, Malay and Bosnian.[1] In the Arabic language, the word مدرسة madrasah simply means the same as school does in the English language, whether that is private, public or parochial school, as well as for any primary or secondary school whether Muslim, non-Muslim, or secular. Unlike the understanding of the word school in British English, the word madrasah is like the term school in American English, in that it can refer to a university-level or post-graduate school as well. For example, in the Ottoman Empire during the Early Modern Period, madrasahs had lower schools and specialized schools where the students became known as danişmends.[2] The usual Arabic word for a university, however, is simply جامعة (ǧāmiʿah). The Hebrew cognate midrasha also connotes the meaning of a place of learning; the related term midrash literally refers to study or learning, but has acquired mystical and religious connotations.

However, in English, the term madrasah usually refers to the specifically Islamic institutions. A typical Islamic school usually offers two courses of study: a Qur'an (the person who commits the entire Qur'an to memory is called a curriculum includes courses in Arabic, tafsir (Qur'anic interpretation), šarīʿah (Islamic law), hadiths (recorded sayings and deeds of Prophet Muhammad), mantiq (logic), and Muslim history. In the Ottoman Empire, during the Early Modern Period, the study of hadiths was introduced by Süleyman I.[2] Depending on the educational demands, some madrasahs also offer additional advanced courses in Arabic literature, English and other foreign languages, as well as science and world history. Ottoman madrasahs along with religious teachings also taught "styles of writing, grammary, syntax, poetry, composition, natural sciences, political sciences, and etiquette."[2]

People of all ages attend, and many often move on to becoming imams. The certificate of an ‘ālim for example, requires approximately twelve years of study. A good number of the ḥuffāẓ (plural of ḥāfiẓ) are the product of the madrasahs. The madrasahs also resemble colleges, where people take evening classes and reside in dormitories. An important function of the madrasahs is to admit orphans and poor children in order to provide them with education and training. Madrasahs may enroll female students; however, they study separately from the men.

In South Africa, the madrasahs also play a social and cultural role in giving after-school religious instruction to Muslim children who attend government or private non-religious schools. However, increasing numbers of more affluent Muslim children attend full-fledged private Islamic schools, which combine secular and religious education. Among Muslims of Indian origin, madrasahs also used to provide instruction in Urdu, although this is far less common today than it used to be.

Early history of Madrasahs

Second ruler Delhi Sultanate, Alauddin Khilji's Madrasa, Qutb complex, Delhi, India, built ca 1316 CE
Madrassa Osman ef. Redžović in Visoko, Bosnia was rebuilt shortly after the Bosnian war.

Madrasahs did not exist in the early beginnings of Islam. Their formation can probably be traced to the early Islamic custom of meeting in mosques to discuss religious issues. At this early stage, people seeking religious knowledge tended to gather around certain more knowledgeable Muslims. These informal teachers later became known as shaykhs; and these shaykhs began to hold regular religious education sessions called maǧālis 'sessions'.

Established in 859, Ǧāmiʿat al-Qarawiyyīn (located in al-Qarawiyyīn Mosque) in the city of Fas, Morocco, is considered the oldest madrasah in the Muslim world. It was founded by Fāṭimah al-Fihrī, the daughter of a wealthy merchant named Muḥammad al-Fihrī. This was later followed by what is now al-Azhar University, established in 959 in Cairo, Egypt.

During the late ‘Abbāsid period, the Seljuk vizier Niẓām al-Mulk created one of the first major official academic institutions known in history as the Madrasah Niẓāmiyyah, based on the informal maǧālis (sessions of the shaykhs). Niẓām al-Mulk, who would later be murdered by the Assassins (Ḥaššāšīn), created a system of state madrasahs (in his time they were called the Niẓāmiyyahs, named after him) in various ‘Abbāsid cities at the end of the 11th century.

During the rule of the Fatimid[3] and Mamluk[4] dynasties and their successor states in the medieval Middle East, many of the ruling elite founded madrasahs through a religious endowment known as the waqf. Not only was the madrasah a potent symbol of status but it was an effective means of transmitting wealth and status to their descendants. Especially during the Mamlūk period, when only former slaves could assume power, the sons of the ruling Mamlūk elite were unable to inherit. Guaranteed positions within the new madrasahs thus allowed them to maintain status. Madrasahs built in this period include the Mosque-Madrasah of Sultan Ḥasan in Cairo.

Dimitri Gutas and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy consider the period between the 11th and 14th centuries to be the "Golden Age" of Arabic and Islamic philosophy, initiated by al-Ghazali's successful integration of logic into the madrasah curriculum and the subsequent rise of Avicennism.[5]

At the beginning of the Caliphate or Islamic Empire, the reliance on courts initially confined sponsorship and scholarly activities to major centers. Within several centuries, the development of Muslim educational institutions such as the madrasah and masjid eventually introduced such activities to provincial towns and dispersed them across the Islamic legal schools and Sufi orders. In addition to religious subjects, they also taught the "rational sciences," as varied as mathematics, astronomy, astrology, geography, alchemy, philosophy, magic, and occultism, depending on the curriculum of the specific institution in question.[6] The madrasahs, however, were not centers of advanced scientific study; scientific advances in Islam were usually carried out by scholars working under the patronage of royal courts.[7] During this time,[when?] the Caliphate experienced a growth in literacy, having the highest literacy rate of the Middle Ages, comparable to classical Athens' literacy in antiquity but on a much larger scale.[8] The emergence of the maktab and madrasah institutions played a fundamental role in the relatively high literacy rates of the medieval Islamic world.[9]

The following excerpt provides a brief synopsis of the historical origins and starting points for the teachings that took place in the Ottoman madrasahs in the Early Modern Period:

"Taşköprülüzâde's concept of knowledge and his division of the sciences provides a starting point for a study of learning and medrese education in the Ottoman Empire. Taşköprülüzâde recognizes four stages of knowledge—spiritual, intellectual, oral and written. Thus all the sciences fall into one of these seven categories: calligraphic sciences, oral sciences, intellectual sciences, spiritual sciences, theoretical rational sciences, practical rational sciences. The first Ottoman medrese was created in İznik in 1331, when a converted Church building was assigned as a medrese to a famous scholar, Dâvûd of Kayseri. Suleyman made an important change in the hierarchy of Ottoman medreses. He established four general medreses and two more for specialized studies, one devoted to the ḥadīṯ and the other to medicine. He gave the highest ranking to these and thus established the hierarchy of the medreses which was to continue until the end of the empire."[2]

Elementary education

In the medieval Islamic world, an elementary school was known as a maktab, which dates back to at least the 10th century. Like madrasahs (which referred to higher education), a maktab was often attached to an endowed mosque. In the 11th century, the famous Persian Islamic philosopher and teacher Ibn Sīnā (known as Avicenna in the West), in one of his books, wrote a chapter about the maktab entitled "The Role of the Teacher in the Training and Upbringing of Children", as a guide to teachers working at maktab schools. He wrote that children can learn better if taught in classes instead of individual tuition from private tutors, and he gave a number of reasons for why this is the case, citing the value of competition and emulation among pupils as well as the usefulness of group discussions and debates. Ibn Sīnā described the curriculum of a maktab school in some detail, describing the curricula for two stages of education in a maktab school.[10]

Primary education

Ibn Sīnā wrote that children should be sent to a maktab school from the age of 6 and be taught primary education until they reach the age of 14. During which time, he wrote that they should be taught the Qur'an, Islamic metaphysics, language, literature, Islamic ethics, and manual skills (which could refer to a variety of practical skills).[10]

Secondary education

Ibn Sīnā refers to the secondary education stage of maktab schooling as a period of specialization when pupils should begin to acquire manual skills, regardless of their social status. He writes that children after the age of 14 should be allowed to choose and specialize in subjects they have an interest in, whether it was reading, manual skills, literature, preaching, medicine, geometry, trade and commerce, craftsmanship, or any other subject or profession they would be interested in pursuing for a future career. He wrote that this was a transitional stage and that there needs to be flexibility regarding the age in which pupils graduate, as the student's emotional development and chosen subjects need to be taken into account.[11]

Higher education

During its formative period, the term "madrasah" referred to a higher education institution, whose curriculum initially included only the "religious sciences", whilst philosophy and the secular sciences were often excluded.[12] The curriculum slowly began to diversify, with many later madrasahs teaching both the religious and the "secular sciences",[13] such as logic, mathematics and philosophy. Some madrasahs further extended their curriculum to history, politics, ethics, music, metaphysics, medicine, astronomy and chemistry.[14] The curriculum of a madrasah was usually set by its founder, but most generally taught both the religious sciences and the physical sciences. Madrasahs were established throughout the Islamic world, the most famous being the 10th century al-Azhar University and the 11th century Niẓāmiyyah, as well as 75 madrasahs in Cairo, 51 in Damascus and up to 44 in Aleppo between 1155 and 1260. Many more were also established in the Andalusian cities of Córdoba, Seville, Toledo, Granada (Madrasah of Granada), Murcia, Almería, Valencia and Cádiz during the Caliphate of Córdoba.[15]

In the Ottoman Empire during the early modern period, "Madrasahs were divided into lower and specialized levels, which reveals that there was a sense of elevation in school. Students who studied in the specialized schools after completing courses in the lower levels became known as danişmends."[2]

While "madrasah" can now refer to any type of school, the term "madrasah" was originally used to refer more specifically to a medieval Islamic centre of learning, mainly teaching Islamic law and theology, usually affiliated with a mosque, and funded by an early charitable trust known as waqf.[16]

Law school

Madrasahs were largely centered on the study of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). The ʾiǧāzat at-tadrīs wa-l-ʾiftāʾ ("license to teach and issue legal opinions") in the medieval Islamic legal education system had its origins in the 9th century after the formation of the maḏāhib (schools of jurisprudence). George Makdisi considers the ʾiǧāzah to be the origin of the European doctorate.[17] However, in an earlier article, he considered the ʾiǧāzah to be of "fundamental difference" to the medieval doctorate, since the former was awarded by an individual teacher-scholar not obliged to follow any formal criteria, whereas the latter was conferred on the student by the collective authority of the faculty.[18] To obtain an ʾiǧāzah, a student "had to study in a guild school of law, usually four years for the basic undergraduate course" and ten or more years for a post-graduate course. The "doctorate was obtained after an oral examination to determine the originality of the candidate's theses", and to test the student's "ability to defend them against all objections, in disputations set up for the purpose." These were scholarly exercises practiced throughout the student's "career as a graduate student of law." After students completed their post-graduate education, they were awarded ijazas giving them the status of faqīh 'scholar of jurisprudence', muftī 'scholar competent in issuing fatwās', and mudarris 'teacher'.[17]

The Arabic term ʾiǧāzat at-tadrīs was awarded to Islamic scholars who were qualified to teach. According to Makdisi, the Latin title licentia docendi 'license to teach' in the European university may have been a translation of the Arabic,[17] but the underlying concept was very different.[18] A significant difference between the ʾiǧāzat at-tadrīs and the licentia docendi was that the former was awarded by the individual scholar-teacher, while the latter was awarded by the chief official of the university, who represented the collective faculty, rather than the individual scholar-teacher.[19]

Much of the study in the madrasah college centered on examining whether certain opinions of law were orthodox. This scholarly process of "determining orthodoxy began with a question which the Muslim layman, called in that capacity mustaftī, presented to a jurisconsult, called mufti, soliciting from him a response, called fatwa, a legal opinion (the religious law of Islam covers civil as well as religious matters). The mufti (professor of legal opinions) took this question, studied it, researched it intensively in the sacred scriptures, in order to find a solution to it. This process of scholarly research was called iǧtihād, literally, the exertion of one's efforts to the utmost limit."[17]

Medical school

Though Islamic medicine was most often taught at the bimaristan teaching hospitals, there were also several medical madrasahs dedicated to the teaching of medicine. For example, of the 155 madrasah colleges in 15th century Damascus, three of them were medical schools.[20] No medical degrees were granted to students, as there was no faculty that could issue them. Therefore no system of examination and certification ever developed in the Islamic tradition, in contrast with medieval Europe.[21]

In the Early Modern Period in the Ottoman Empire, "Suleyman I added new curriculums to the Ottoman medreses of which one was medicine, which alongside studying of the ḥadīṯ was given highest rank."[2]

Madrasah and university

Note: The word ǧāmiʿah (Arabic: جامعة‎) simply means 'university'. For more information, see Islamic university (disambiguation).

The commonly accepted view is that the Islamic mosque school was an institution distinct from the medieval university,[22][23][24] and that the university with all its facets, including the granting of academic degrees such as bachelor (Latin: baccalaureus), master (magister) and doctorate (licentia docendi), was a proper medieval European development unrelated to contemporaneous Islamic learning.[25][26][27][28] This view is indirectly supported by the entry on the "Madrasa" in the Encyclopaedia of Islam, which draws no parallels between Islamic and Christian medieval institutions of higher learning and does not refer to any transmission process either way.[29]

However, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, al-Qarawiyyīn University in Fez, Morocco is recognized by as the oldest degree-granting "university" in the world, having been founded in 859 by Fatima al-Fihri.[30] While the madrasah college could also issue degrees at all levels, the jāmi`ahs (such as al-Qarawiyyīn and al-Azhar University) differed in the sense that they were larger institutions, more universal in terms of their complete source of studies, had individual faculties for different subjects, and could house a number of mosques, madrasahs, and other institutions within them.[16] Such an institution has thus been described as an "Islamic university".[31]

Al-Azhar University, founded in Cairo, Egypt in 975 by the Isma‘īlī Shī‘ī Fatimid dynasty as a ǧāmiʿah, had individual faculties[32] for a theological seminary, Islamic law and jurisprudence, Arabic grammar, Islamic astronomy, early Islamic philosophy and logic in Islamic philosophy.[33] The postgraduate doctorate in law was only obtained after "an oral examination to determine the originality of the candidate's theses", and to test the student's "ability to defend them against all objections, in disputations set up for the purpose."[17] ‘Abd al-Laṭīf al-Baghdādī also delivered lectures on Islamic medicine at al-Azhar, while Maimonides delivered lectures on medicine and astronomy there during the time of Saladin.[34] Another early ǧāmiʿah was the Niẓāmīyah of Baghdād (founded 1091), which has been called the "largest university of the Medieval world".[35] Mustansiriya University, established by the ‘Abbāsid caliph al-Mustanṣir in 1233, in addition to teaching the religious subjects, offered courses dealing with philosophy, mathematics and the natural sciences.

However, the classification of madrasahs as "universities" is disputed on the question of understanding of each institution on its own terms. In madrasahs, the ijāzahs were only issued in one field, the Islamic religious law of šarīʿah, and in no other field of learning.[36] Other academic subjects, including the natural sciences, philosophy and literary studies, were only treated "ancillary" to the study of the Sharia.[37] For example, a natural science like astronomy was only studied (if at all) to supply religious needs, like the time for prayer.[38] This is why Ptolemaic astronomy was considered adequate, and is still taught in some modern day madrasahs.[38] The Islamic law undergraduate degree from al-Azhar, the most prestigious madrasa, was traditionally granted without final examinations, but on the basis of the students' attentive attendance to courses.[39] In contrast to the medieval doctorate which was granted by the collective authority of the faculty, the Islamic degree was not granted by the teacher to the pupil based on any formal criteria, but remained a "personal matter, the sole prerogative of the person bestowing it; no one could force him to give one".[40]

Medievalist specialists who define the university as a legally autonomous corporation disagree with the term "university" for the Islamic madrasahs and jāmi‘ahs because the medieval university (from Latin universitas) was structurally different, being a legally autonomous corporation rather than a waqf institution like the madrasah and ǧāmiʿah.[41] Despite the many similarities, medieval specialists have coined the term "Islamic college" for madrasah and ǧāmiʿah to differentiated them from the legally autonomous corporations that the medieval European universities were. In a sense, the madrasah resembles a university college in that it has most of the features of a university, but lacks the corporate element. Toby Huff summarizes the difference as follows:

From a structural and legal point of view, the madrasa and the university were contrasting types. Whereas the madrasa was a pious endowment under the law of religious and charitable foundations (waqf), the universities of Europe were legally autonomous corporate entities that had many legal rights and privileges. These included the capacity to make their own internal rules and regulations, the right to buy and sell property, to have legal representation in various forums, to make contracts, to sue and be sued."[42]

While the organizational form of Western centers of higher learning allowed them to develop and flourish, "the Muslim ones remained constricted by the doctrine of waqf alone, with their physical plant often deteriorating hopelessly and their curricula narrowed by the exclusion of the non-traditional religious sciences like philosophy and natural science," since these were considered potential toe-holds for kufr, those people who reject Allah.[43] The madrasah of al-Qarawiyyīn, one of the two surviving madrasahs that predate the founding of the earliest medieval universities and are thus claimed to be the "first universities" by some authors, has acquired official university status as late as 1947.[44] The other, al-Azhar, did acquire this status in name and essence only in the course of numerous reforms during the 19th and 20th century, notably the one of 1961 which introduced non-religious subjects to its curriculum, such as economics, engineering, medicine, and agriculture.[45] It should also be noted that many medieval universities were run for centuries as Christian cathedral schools or monastic schools prior to their formal establishment as universitas scholarium; evidence of these immediate forerunners of the university dates back to the 6th century AD,[46] thus well preceding the earliest madrasas. George Makdisi, who has published most extensively on the topic[47] concludes in his comparison between the two institutions:

Thus the university, as a form of social organization, was peculiar to medieval Europe. Later, it was exported to all parts of the world, including the Muslim East; and it has remained with us down to the present day. But back in the middle ages, outside of Europe, there was nothing anything quite like it anywhere.[48]

Nevertheless, Makdisi has asserted that the European university borrowed many of its features from the Islamic madrasah, including the concepts of a degree and doctorate.[17] Makdisi and Hugh Goddard have also highlighted other terms and concepts now used in modern universities which most likely have Islamic origins, including "the fact that we still talk of professors holding the 'Chair' of their subject" being based on the "traditional Islamic pattern of teaching where the professor sits on a chair and the students sit around him", the term 'academic circles' being derived from the way in which Islamic students "sat in a circle around their professor", and terms such as "having 'fellows', 'reading' a subject, and obtaining 'degrees', can all be traced back" to the Islamic concepts of ʾaṣḥāb ("companions, as of the prophet Muhammad"), qirāʾah ("reading aloud the Qur'an") and {{transl|ar|DIN|ʾiǧāzah ("license to teach") respectively. Makdisi has listed eighteen such parallels in terminology which can be traced back to their roots in Islamic education. Some of the practices now common in modern universities which Makdisi and Goddard trace back to an Islamic root include "practices such as delivering inaugural lectures, wearing academic robes, obtaining doctorates by defending a thesis, and even the idea of academic freedom are also modelled on Islamic custom."[49] The Islamic scholarly system of fatwā and ʾiǧmāʿ, meaning opinion and consensus respectively, formed the basis of the "scholarly system the West has practised in university scholarship from the Middle Ages down to the present day."[50] According to Makdisi and Goddard, "the idea of academic freedom" in universities was also "modelled on Islamic custom" as practiced in the medieval Madrasah system from the 9th century. Islamic influence was "certainly discernible in the foundation of the first delibrately planned university" in Europe, the University of Naples Federico II founded by Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor in 1224.[49]

However, all of these facets of medieval university life are considered by standard scholarship to be independent medieval European developments with no tracable Islamic influence.[51] Generally, some reviewers have pointed out the strong inclination of Makdisi of overstating his case by simply resting on "the accumulation of close parallels", but all the while failing to point to convincing channels of transmission between the Muslim and Christian world.[52] Norman Daniel points out that the Arab equivalent of the Latin disputation, the taliqa, was reserved for the ruler's court, not the madrasa, and that the actual differences between Islamic fiqh and medieval European civil law were profound.[52] The taliqa only reached Islamic Spain, the only likely point of transmission, after the establishment of the first medieval universities.[52] In fact, there is no Latin translation of the taliqa and, most importantly, no evidence of Latin scholars ever showing awareness of Arab influence on the Latin method of disputation, something they would have certainly found noteworthy.[52] Rather, it was the medieval reception of the Greek Organon which set the scholastic sic et non in motion.[24] Daniel concludes that resemblances in method had more to with the two religions having "common problems: to reconcile the conflicting statements of their own authorities, and to safeguard the data of revelation from the impact of Greek philosophy"; thus Christian scholasticism and similar Arab concepts should be viewed in terms of a parallel occurrence, not of the transmission of ideas from one to the other,[24] a view shared by Hugh Kennedy.[53]

Tony Huff, in a discussion of Makdisi's hypothesis, concludes:

It remains the case that no equivalent of the bachelor's degree, the licentia docendi, or higher degrees ever emerged in the medieval or early modern Islamic madrasas.[54]

Female education

From around 750, during the Abbasid Caliphate, women “became renowned for their brains as well as their beauty”.[55] In particular, many well known women of the time were trained from childhood in music, dancing and poetry. Mahbuba was one of these. Another feminine figure to be remembered for her achievements was Tawaddud “a slave girl who was said to have been bought at great cost by Harūn ar-Rašīd because she had passed her examinations by the most eminent scholars in astronomy, medicine, law, philosophy, music, history, Arabic grammar, literature, theology and chess”.[56] Moreover, among the most prominent feminine figures was Shuhda who was known as “the Scholar” or “the Pride of Women” during the 12th century in Baghdad. Despite the recognition of women’s aptitudes during the Abbasid dynasty, all these came to an end in Iraq with the sack of Baghdad in 1258.[57]

Women played an important role in the foundations of many Islamic educational institutions, such as Fatima al-Fihri's founding of the University of Al Karaouine in 859. This continued through to the Ayyubid dynasty in the 12th and 13th centuries, when 160 mosques and madrasahs were established in Damascus, 26 of which were funded by women through the Waqf (charitable trust) system. Half of all the royal patrons for these institutions were also women.[58]

According to the Sunni scholar Ibn ʿAsākir in the 12th century, there were opportunities for female education in the medieval Islamic world, writing that women could study, earn ijazahs (academic degrees), and qualify as scholars and teachers. This was especially the case for learned and scholarly families, who wanted to ensure the highest possible education for both their sons and daughters.[59] Ibn Asakir had himself studied under 80 different female teachers in his time. Female education in the Islamic world was inspired by Muhammad's wives, such as Khadijah, a successful businesswoman. According to a hadith attributed to Muhammad, he praised the women of Medina because of their desire for religious knowledge:[60]

"How splendid were the women of the ansar; shame did not prevent them from becoming learned in the faith."

While it was not common for women to enroll as students in formal classes, it was common for women to attend informal lectures and study sessions at mosques, madrasahs and other public places. While there were no legal restrictions on female education, some men did not approve of this practice, such as Muhammad ibn al-Hajj (d. 1336) who was appalled at the behaviour of some women who informally audited lectures in his time:[61]

"[Consider] what some women do when people gather with a shaykh to hear [the recitation of] books. At that point women come, too, to hear the readings; the men sit in one place, the women facing them. It even happens at such times that some of the women are carried away by the situation; one will stand up, and sit down, and shout in a loud voice. [Moreover,] her 'awra will appear; in her house, their exposure would be forbidden — how can it be allowed in a mosque, in the presence of men?"

The term ʿawrah is often translated as "that which is indecent", which usually meant the exposure of anything other than a woman's face and hands, although scholarly interpretations of the ʿawrah and ḥiǧāb have always tended to vary, with some more or less strict than others.[61]

While women accounted for no more than one percent of Islamic scholars prior to the 12th century, there was a large increase of female scholars after this. In the 15th century, Al-Sakhawi devotes an entire volume of his 12-volume biographical dictionary aḍ-Ḍawʾ al-lamiʿ to female scholars, giving information on 1,075 of them.[62] More recently, the scholar Mohammad Akram Nadwi, currently a researcher from the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, has written 40 volumes on the "muḥaddiṯāt" (the women scholars of ḥadīṯ), and found at least 8000 of them.[63]

Madrasahs by region

Madrasahs in the Ottoman Empire

"The first Ottoman Medrese was created in Iznik in 1331 and most Ottoman medreses followed the traditions of sunni Islam."[2] "When an Ottoman sultan established a new medrese, he would invite scholars from the Islamic world—for example, Murad II brought scholars from Persia, such as Ala al-Din and Fakhr al-Din who helped enhance the reputation of the Ottoman medrese".[2] This reveals that the Islamic world was interconnected in the early modern period as they traveled around to other Islamic states exchanging knowledge. This sense that the Ottoman Empire was becoming modernized through globalization is also recognized by Hamadeh who says: "Change in the eighteenth century as the beginning of a long and unilinear march toward westernization reflects the two centuries of reformation in sovereign identity."[64] Inalcik also mentions that while scholars from for example Persia, traveled to the Ottomans in order to share their knowledge, Ottomans traveled as well to receive education from scholars of these Islamic lands, such as Egypt, Persia and Turkestan.[2] Hence, this reveals that similar to today's modern world, individuals from the early modern society traveled abroad to receive education and share knowledge and that the world was more interconnected than it seems. Also, it reveals how the system of "schooling" was also similar to today's modern world where students travel abroad to different countries for studies. Examples of Ottoman madrasahs are the ones built by Mehmed the Conqueror. He built eight madrasahs that were built "on either side of the mosque where there were eight higher madrasahs for specialized studies and eight lower medreses, which prepared students for these."[2] The fact that they were built around, or near mosques reveals the religious impulses behind Madrasah building and it reveals the interconnectedness between institutions of learning and religion. The students who completed their education in the lower medreses became known as danismends[2] This reveals that similar to the education system today, the Ottomans had a similar kind of educational system in which there were different kinds of schools attached to different kinds of levels. For example, there were the lower madrasahs and then the specialized ones and for one to get into the specialized area meant that they had to complete the classes in the lower one in order to adequately prepare themselves for higher learning.[2]

This is the rank of Madrasahs in the Ottoman Empire from the highest ranking to the lowest: (From Inalcik, 167).[2]

  1. Semniye
  2. Darulhadis
  3. Madrasahs built by earlier sultans in Bursa.
  4. Madrasahs endowed by great men of state.

Although Ottoman Madrasahs had a number of different branches of study, such as calligraphic sciences, oral sciences, and intellectual sciences they primarily served the function of an Islamic center for spiritual learning. "The goal of all knowledge and in particular, of the spiritual sciences is knowledge of God."[2] Religion, for the most part, determines the significance and importance of each science. As Inalcik mentions: " Those which aid religion are good and sciences like astrology are bad."[2] However, even though mathematics, or studies in logic were part of the madrasah's curriculum, they were all centered around religion. Even mathematics had a religious impulse behind its teachings. "The Ulema of the Ottoman medreses held the view that hostility to logic and mathematics was futile since these accustomed the mind to correct thinking and thus helped to reveal divine truths"[2] – keyword being divine. Inalcik also mentions that even philosophy was only allowed to be studied so that it helped to confirm the doctrines of Islam."[2] Hence, madrasahs – schools were basically religious centers for religious teachings and learning in the Ottoman world. Although scholars such as Goffman have argued that the Ottomans were highly tolerant and lived in a pluralistic society, it seems that schools that were the main centers for learning were in fact heftily religious and were not religiously pluralistic, but centered around Islam. Similarly, in Europe "Jewish children learned the Hebrew letters and texts of basic prayers at home, and then attended a school organized by the synagogue to study the Torah."[65] Wiesner-Hanks also goes on to mention that Protestants also wanted to teach "proper religious values."[65] This goes on to show that in the early modern period, Ottomans and Europeans were similar in their ideas about how schools should be managed and what they should be primarily focused on. Thus, Ottoman madrasahs were very similar to present day schools in the sense that they offered a wide range of studies; however, the difference being that these studies, in its ultimate objective, aimed to further solidify and consolidate Islamic practices, and theories.


As is previously mentioned, religion dominated much of the knowledge and teachings that were endowed upon students. "Religious learning as the only true science, whose sole aim was the understanding of God's word."[2] Thus, it is important to keep this impulse in mind when going over the curriculum that was taught.

The following is taken from Inalcik.[2]

Social life and the Medrese

As with any other country during the Early Modern Period, such as Italy and Spain in Europe, the Ottoman social life was also interconnected with the medrese. Medreses were built in as part of a Mosque Complex where many programs, such as aid to the poor through soup kitchens were held under the infrastructure of a mosque, which reveals the interconnectedness of religion and social life during this period. "The mosques to which medreses were attached, dominated the social life in Ottoman cities."[66] Social life was not dominated by religion only in the Muslim world of the Ottoman Empire; however, was also quite similar to the social life of Europe during this period. As Goffman says: "Just as mosques dominated social life for the Ottomans, churches and synagogues dominated life for the Christians and Jews as well."[66] Hence, social life and the medrese were closely linked, since medreses as is previously mentioned taught many curriculums, such as religion, which highly governed social life in terms of establishing orthodoxy. "They tried moving their developing state toward Islamic orthodoxy."[66] Overall, the fact that mosques contained medreses comes to show the relevance of education to religion in the sense that education took place within the framework of religion and religion established social life by trying to create a common religious orthodoxy. Hence, medreses were simply part of the social life of society as students came to learn the fundamentals of their societal values and beliefs.

Madrasahs in South Asia


The madaris rose as colleges of learning in the Islamic world in the 11th century, though there were institutions of learning earlier. They catered not only to the religious establishment, though that was the dominant influence over them, but also the secular one. To the latter they supplied physicians, administrative officials, judges and teachers.


This is a madarasaa of the Jamia Masjid mosque in Srirangapatna, India. This mosque dates back to the 1700s and is where Tipu Sultan used to pray.

In India, there are around 30,000 operating madrasahs.[67] The majority of these schools follow the Hanafi school of thought. The religious establishment forms part of the mainly two large divisions within the country, namely the Deobandis, who dominate in numbers (of whom the Darul Uloom Deoband constitutes one of the biggest madrasas) and the Barelvis, who also make up a sizeable portion (sufi-orientated). Some notable establishments include: Jamia Ashrafia, Mubarakpur, Manzar Islam Bareilly, Jamia Nizamdina New Delhi, Jamia Nayeemia Muradabad which is one the largest learning centres for the Barelvis. The HR[clarification needed] ministry of Government of India has recently[when?] declared that a Central Madrasa Board would be set up. This will enhance the education system of madrasas in India. Though the madrasas impart Quranic education mainly, efforts are on to include Mathematics, Computers and science in the curriculum.


After the British occupation of India and the emergence of Darul Uloom Manazar-E-Islam Bareilly Shareef, Indian Muslim Scholars left India to establish madrasas in other regions of the world. Some of the most notable of these madrasas are Darul Uloom Holocombe, which produced scholars such as Sheik Ibrahim Memon Madani, or Darul Uloom Al-Madania. These offshoot schools symbolize an emotional drive based upon both religion and patriotism that is not evident elsewhere.[citation needed]

Madrasas and Arabic Colleges in Kerala

The Arabic and Islamic educational system has also become a channel for employment in the Middle East in modern times in Kerala.[68] Originating in 8th century madrasas for primary children, Arabic and Islamic schooling in Kerala was patronized and funded by the British colonial government.

Today, the system of Arabic and Islamic education has grown and further integrated with Kerala government administration. In 2005, an estimated 6,000 Muslim Arabic teachers taught in Kerala government schools, with over 500,000 Muslim students. State-appointed committees, not private mosques or religious scholars outside the government, determine the curriculum and accreditation of new schools and colleges. Primary education in Arabic and Islamic studies is available to Kerala Muslims almost entirely in after-school madrasa programs - sharply unlike full-time madrasas common in north India, which may replace formal schooling. Arabic colleges (over eleven of which exist within the state-run University of Calicut and the Kannur University) provide B.A. and Masters' level degrees. At all levels, instruction is co-educational, with many women instructors and professors.[69] Islamic education boards are independently run by the following organizations, accredited by the Kerala state government: Samastha Kerala Islamic Education Board, Kerala Nadvathul Mujahideen, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, and Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind.[70]

With Malayam rather than Urdu as the lingua franca of Kerala Muslims, these madrasas and colleges are relatively unknown and unlinked from Urdu-based madrasas in the rest of India, due to the linguistic barrier.[71]


In 2004, madrasahs were mainstreamed in 16 regions nationwide mainly in Muslim areas in Mindanao under the auspices and program of the Department of Education.[76] the Department of Education adopted DO 51 putting in place the teaching of Arabic Language and Islamic Values for (mainly) Muslim children in the public schools. The same order authorized the implementation of the Standard Madrasah Curriculum (SMC) in the private madaris (Arabic for schools, the singular form is Madrasah). While there has been recognized Islamic schools, i.e. Ibn Siena Integrated School (Marawi), Sarang Bangun LC (Zamboanga) and SMIE (Jolo), their Islamic studies varied. Since 2005, the AusAID-funded DepEd-project Basic Education Assistance for Mindanao (BEAM) has assisted a group of private madaris seeking government permit to operate (PTO) and implement the SMC. These private madrasahs are scattered throughout Regions XI, XII and the ARMM.


Al-Jamiatul Ahlia Darul Ulum Moinul Islam situated at Hathazari, Chittagong, Bangladesh.

Currently, there are three different systems of madrasah education in Bangladesh. They are the old darse nizami system, the revised and modified nizami system, and the alia nisab (higher syllabus). The first two categories are popularly called Qawmi or non-government madrasahs.[72] Amongst them the most notable are Al-Jamiatul Ahlia Darul Ulum Moinul Islam in Hathazari, Al-Jamiah Al-Islamiah Patiya, in Patiya and Jamia Tawakkulia Renga Madrasah in Sylhet.

As of 2006, there were 15,000 registered Qawmi madrasahs with the Befaqul Mudarressin of Bangladesh Qawmi Madrasah Education Board,[73] though the figure could be well over double that number if unregistered madrasahs were counted.[74]

Misuse of the word

Among Western countries post-9/11, the Madrasas are often perceived as a place of radical revivalism with a negative connotation of anti-Americanism and radical extremism, frequently associated in the Western press with Wahhabi attitudes toward non-Muslims. The word madrasah literally means "school" and does not imply a political or religious affiliation, radical or otherwise. They have a varied curriculum, and are not all religious. Some madrasahs in India, for example, have a secularized identity.[75] Although early Madrasahs were founded primarily to gain "knowledge of God" they also taught other subjects including mathematics and poetry. For example, in the Ottoman Empire, "Madrasahs had seven categories of sciences that were taught, such as: styles of writing, oral sciences like the Arabic language, grammar, rhetoric, and history and intellectual sciences, such as logic."[2] This is similar to the Western world, in which universities began as institutions of the Catholic church.

The Yale Center for the Study of Globalization examined bias in United States newspaper coverage of Pakistan since the September 11, 2001 attacks, and found the term has come to contain a loaded political meaning:[76]

"When articles mentioned 'madrassas,' readers were led to infer that all schools so-named are anti-American, anti-Western, pro-terrorist centers having less to do with teaching basic literacy and more to do with political indoctrination."

Various American public figures have, in recent times, used the word in a negative context, including Newt Gingrich,[76] Donald Rumsfeld,[77] and Colin Powell.[78] The New York Times published a correction for misusing the word "madrassa" in a way that assumed it meant a radical Islamic school. The correction stated, "An article... said Senator Barack Obama had attended an Islamic school or madrassa in Indonesia as a child referred imprecisely to madrassas. While some (madrassas) teach a radical version of Islam, most historically have not."[79]


Militant jihadists have used fund-raising for religious schools as a ruse to finance terrorist activities. For example, "officials with Lashkar-e-Taiba's charity wing, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, travelled to Saudi Arabia seeking donations for new schools at vastly inflated costs – then siphoned off the excess money to fund militant operations."[80]

See also


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  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t İnalcık, Halil. 1973. "Learning, the Medrese, and the Ulema." In The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age 1300–1600. New York: Praeger, pp. 165–178.
  3. ^ Jonathan Berkey, The Transmission of Knowledge in Medieval Cairo (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), passim
  4. ^ Ira Lapidus, Muslim Cities in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), passim
  5. ^ Tony Street (July 23, 2008). "Arabic and Islamic Philosophy of Language and Logic". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 2008-12-05. 
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  9. ^ Edmund Burke (June 2009), "Islam at the Center: Technological Complexes and the Roots of Modernity", Journal of World History (University of Hawaii Press) 20 (2): 165–186 [178–82], doi:10.1353/jwh.0.0045 
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  11. ^ M. S. Asimov, Clifford Edmund Bosworth (1999), The Age of Achievement: Vol 4, Motilal Banarsidass, pp. 34–5, ISBN 8120815963 
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  13. ^ M. S. Asimov, Clifford Edmund Bosworth (1999), The Age of Achievement: Vol 4, Motilal Banarsidass, p. 37, ISBN 8120815963 
  14. ^ Alatas, Syed Farid (2006), "From Jami`ah to University: Multiculturalism and Christian–Muslim Dialogue", Current Sociology 54 (1): 112–132 [122], doi:10.1177/0011392106058837, "The main subjects taught were Quranic exegesis, theology, jurisprudence and the principles of jurisprudence, grammar and syntax, the Traditions of the Prophet (ḥadīth), logic and, sometimes, philosophy and mathematics. In addition to the above, other subjects such as literary studies, history, politics, ethics, music, metaphysics, medicine, astronomy and chemistry were also taught." 
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  19. ^ Toby Huff, Rise of Early Modern Science 2nd. ed. p. 78-79; 136, 155.
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  28. ^ Toby Huff, Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China and the West, 2nd ed., Cambridge 2003, ISBN 0521529948, p. 133-139, 149-159, 179-189
  29. ^ Pedersen, J.; Rahman, Munibur; Hillenbrand, R. "Madrasa." Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Edited by: P. Bearman , Th. Bianquis , C.E. Bosworth , E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2010, retrieved 21/03/2010)
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  33. ^ Alatas, Syed Farid (2006), "From Jami‘ah to University: Multiculturalism and Christian–Muslim Dialogue", Current Sociology 54 (1): 112–132 [123], doi:10.1177/0011392106058837, "One such jami` was that of al-Azhar in Cairo. This was established during the last quarter of the 10th century by the Fatimids to teach the principles of jurisprudence, grammar, philosophy, logic and astronomy. [...] It is here that we may find the origins of the modern universitas." 
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  35. ^ A European Civil Project of a Documentation Center on Islam
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    There was no other doctorate in any other field, no license to teach a field, except that of the religious law. To obtain a doctorate, one had to study in a guild school of law.
  37. ^ Pedersen, J.; Rahman, Munibur; Hillenbrand, R. "Madrasa." Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Edited by: P. Bearman , Th. Bianquis , C.E. Bosworth , E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2010, retrieved 20/03/2010:
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  38. ^ a b Malešević, Siniša; Haugaard, Mark (2007), Ernest Gellner and contemporary social thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 196, ISBN 9780521709415 
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    There was no examination at the end of the course of study. Many of the students were well advanced in years. Those who left al-Azhar obtained an idjāza or licence to teach; this was a certificate given by the teacher under whom the student had followed courses, testifying to the student's diligence and proficiency.
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    Perhaps the most fundamental difference between the two systems is embodied in their systems of certification; namely, in medieval Europe, the licentia docendi, or license to teach; in medieval Islam, the ʾiǧāzah, or authorization. In Europe, the license to teach was a license to teach a certain field of knowledge. It was conferred by the licensed masters acting as a corporation, with the consent of a Church authority, in Paris, by the Chancellor of the Cathedral Chapter... Certification in the Muslim East remained a personal matter between the master and the student. The master conferred it on an individual for a particular work, or works. Qualification, in the strict sense of the word, was supposed to be a criterion, but it was at the full discretion of the master, since, if he chose, he could give an ijaza to children hardly able to read, or even to unborn children. This was surely an abuse of the system...but no official system was involved. The ijaza was a personal matter, the sole prerogative of the person bestowing it; no one could force him to give one.
  41. ^ Toby Huff, Rise of early modern science 2nd ed.(Cambridge University, 2003) p. 149.
  42. ^ Toby Huff, Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China and the West, 2nd ed., Cambridge, 2003, p. 133-139, 149-159, 179-189 (179)
  43. ^ C. E. Bosworth: Untitled review of "The Rise of Colleges. Institutions of Learning in Islam and the West by George Makdisi", Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, No. 2 (1983), pp. 304-305
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  47. ^ Extensive bibliography in: Pedersen, J.; Rahman, Munibur; Hillenbrand, R. "Madrasa." Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Edited by: P. Bearman , Th. Bianquis , C.E. Bosworth , E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2010, retrieved 20/03/2010
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  49. ^ a b Goddard, Hugh (2000), A History of Christian-Muslim Relations, Edinburgh University Press, p. 100, ISBN 074861009X, OCLC 237514956 
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  51. ^ Cf. Lexikon des Mittelalters, J.B. Metzler, Stuttgart 1999, individual entries on: Baccalarius; Collegium; Disputatio; Grade, universitäre; Magister universitatis, Professor; Rector; Studia humanitatis; Universität
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  53. ^ Hugh Kennedy: Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Third Series, Vol. 2, No. 2 (1992), pp. 272-273 (272):
    It is more likely that the undeniable similarities sprang from similar circumstances. Both cultural traditions had sacred writings which needed to be examined, both had systems of law that looked back to ancient precedent, neither culture knew printing (which meant that dictation and verbal communication were so important).
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Further reading

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • madrasah — (n.) Islamic college, 1620s, from Arabic madrasah, lit. a place of study, from locative prefix ma + stem of darasa he read repeatedly, he studied, which is related to Hebrew darash (Cf. midrash) …   Etymology dictionary

  • Madrasah — er arabisk for en højere skole …   Danske encyklopædi

  • madrasah — /meuh dras euh/, n. Islam. a school or college, esp. a school attached to a mosque where young men study theology. Also, madrasa. [ < Ar] * * * (Arabic: school ) Islamic theological seminary and law school attached to a mosque. The residential… …   Universalium

  • madrasah — noun see madrassa …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Madrasah — Médersa Ulugh Beg Madrasa, Samarkand, Ouzbekistan vers 1912 Médersa (arabe : مدرسة, madrasa pl. مدارس, madāris) est le terme arabe désignant une école, qu elle soit laïque ou religieuse, quelle que soit la …   Wikipédia en Français

  • madrasah — noun A school for any kind of teaching, at any grade level. It may have courses in Islamic theology and religious law, but it is not a requirement …   Wiktionary

  • Madrasah —    Madrasahs were in Turkey and elsewhere still are Muslim religious schools, especially for teaching the Shariah, or Islamic law, to the ulama, or Muslim scholars and jurists. They were famously closed down in Turkey by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in… …   Historical Dictionary of the Kurds

  • madrasah — n. Muslim college or school attached to mosque …   English contemporary dictionary

  • madrasah — ma·dra·sah …   English syllables

  • madrasah — /məˈdræsə/ (say muh drasuh) noun a Muslim school or college. Also, madrasa. {Arabic: a place of learning} …   Australian English dictionary