Madrassah Education in Pre-colonial and Colonial South Asia

Ali Riaz:

This paper traces the history of madrassahs (Islamic seminaries) in South Asia from their inception in the 12th century until the end of colonial rule in 1947.The paper argues that many of the pre-colonial rulers of South Asia, including the Mughals (1526–1857), played key roles in promoting education and providing patronage of various educational institutions, including madrassahs. The policies of British colonial rule (1757–1947), however, made the most indelible marks on madrassah education, not only directly, wherein their policies have impacted on the structure, functions and curriculum of madrassahs, but also indirectly, through the prompting of responses from the ulama and the Muslim community that determined the contours and the content of madrassah education.The paper examines the roles of various strands of madrassah education, and the interplay of politics and curriculum of various major madrassahs. The paper demonstrates that madrassah as a concept and as an institution has come a long way, that its contents and contours have undergone changes, and that as an institution it has largely remained embedded within the society.