A place of education for Muslim religious leaders and scholars. Islamic education began in the prophet muhammad’s time, but centers of learning did not begin until after the first and second centuries of islam. The most prominent of the earliest madrasas is egypt’s al-azhar, which was opened under the Fatimids in 970 c.e. The opening in baghdad of the Nizamiyya College in 1066 marked the beginning of the madrasa system.
Many Nizamiyyas were opened afterward; the point of these madrasas and systems of madrasas in other regions was to create uniform opinion regarding Islamic law and theology. Compared to Jewish Yeshiva schools and Christian scriptural schools, madrasas concentrated on rote memorization of the Quran, knowledge of correct ritual practice, and the deduction of legal points from the scriptures (fiqh), and, in fact, they eventually produced bodies of law. philosophy, astronomy, and mathematics were also taught in medieval Iranian madrasas, but opposition grew in arab lands during this time against the study of philosophy, and, after the 14th century, Arab madrasas instead emphasized grammar and rhetoric as well as religious law. Fischer argues that after the 11th century, madrasas in the Arab world displayed little innovation, and intellectual freedom, instead focusing on repetition and commentary. Typically, a lecturer would dictate long quotations to his students, and then he would comment on meaning, content, and style. At times friction between religion and government arose as scholarly opinions emanating from madrasas began to bear legal weight, because this legal aspect competed with other forms of authority such as the court or the state. In 16th-century iran, the madrasa system maintained a much greater degree of independence from the state than in the Ottoman Empire, although Iranian rulers built madrasas and granted them endowments. Yet they were also privately supported, and were not absorbed into the state. The ottoman dynasty, on the other hand, found it beneficial to control the madrasa system. Modernizing forces in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries brought about a new struggle, in which Europeans tried to free education from the church, and to reform education to be more relevant in the Industrial Age. A similar debate arose in the Middle East. In Iran during the 19th century, this resulted in the opening of secular profession schools, and, by the 20th century, Iranian madrasa students became an isolated yet still influential minority. The Ottomans reformed their institutions of higher learning before reforming the madrasa system for elementary students. In 1924 Ataturk’s government in Turkey eliminated the madrasa system in favor of secular education; however, Islamic education was reinstated in the late 1940s. In the second half of the 19th century in Egypt, Muslim Egyptians began to attend secular schools, and a movement arose in the late 19th to the early 20th century to modernize al-Azhar.
Madrasa education, although replaced to a great degree by the rise of systems of modern education, still exists all over the Muslim world. Fazlur Rahman notes that in contemporary Pakistan, madrasas teaching traditional interpretations of Islam flourish mainly in the countryside. He also argues that the more any given region in the Muslim world was affected by Western colonialism, the stronger the hold is in that region of traditional madrasa-style learning by the religious elite.Tags: al-Azhar, Islamic education, Nizamiyyas