How can Darul Ulooms cope with modern challenges?

Story by  ATV | Posted by  Aasha Khosa • 3 Months ago
Students at a madrasa in Kashmir
Students at a madrasa in Kashmir


Amir Suhail Wani

Darul Ulooms – the centers of Islamic learning - have lately earned criticism from both insiders and outsiders for various reasons. On the one hand, these institutions are being blamed for regression, parochialism, and anti-progress outlook, and on the other hand, they are held responsible for fostering extremism, misosophy, and causing conflicts.

With each passing day, these institutions seem on the decline and are associated with all forms of backwardness and intellectual decay. Darul Uloom once signified civility and academic excellence today represents morass and escapism from the realities of the world. However, their role in the preservation of religious sciences can’t be ignored. They have produced stalwarts like Rumi, Razi, Ghazali, Qurtubi, etc. who are celebrated by the entire world.

However, at the same time, we need to accept that our institutions of Madrasas and Darul Ulooms have failed to respond to the challenge of modernity. The absolute disconnect between Darul Ulooms/Madrasas from contemporary sciences has made them irrelevant in resolving the problems of the common Muslims in modern times and brought them under scrutiny. Muslim youth who trained in secular sciences and educated from colleges and universities find a total disconnect with the institutions of religious learning and the knowledge gap separating the two is only widening with time. This disconnect has had disastrous consequences for society as it has paved the way for movements like apostasy, atheism, agnosticism, etc. With the true message and essential teachings of religion failing to reach the masses, the phenomenon has left the Muslims and particularly the youth confused.

The main aim of seminaries and Darul Ulooms is to train their students in religious sciences and to impart knowledge that may help them manage their lives as per religious teachings and also empower them to guide their communities. For this they must be well-versed in religious sciences and at the same time be aware of the contemporary world. However, the religious sciences taught in seminaries are based on a curricular structure popularly known as Darsi Nizami which is no less than four centuries old. These institutions show no interest in modern sciences which has a bearing on the lives of people. Darsi Nizami evolved at a time when knowledge was relatively simple and the modern-day disciplines of sociology, psychology, political theory, and others had not been documented. By then, it was sufficient for a student of Islamic studies to be content with Uloom Ul Quran, ilm I Hadees, Tassawuf, and Mantiq (Classical Logic). However, the world has changed in the past few centuries and this change is directly reflected in the academics.

So these changes have thrown up fresh challenges and therefore it is unfortunate that these changes are nowhere reflected in the curriculum being taught by Islamic institutions. These continue to exist in the past. In addition to the stagnation in the core curriculum, an attitude of total indifference has been adopted towards sciences.

Their ignorance has made religious scholars a laughing stock and led to a total disconnect between the younger generation and the religious sciences. One of the stark aspects of the failure of Darul Ulooms to meet the challenge of modernity is seen in the confusion of Fatwas (religious rulings) issued by the seminaries. Common masses are day in and day out facing issues in which they seek religious guidance, but the ignorance on the part of religious scholars to modern-day issues leaves us confused.

With the distance between religious and modern education growing the relevance of their scholarship being questioned, seminaries and the people involved have a dual role to play. They must equip themselves with the modern forms of knowledge to equip themselves as preachers, legislators, and interpreters of the divine commandments. They must simultaneously strive to present the teachings of Islam in the modern-day idiom, the parlance to which youth can relate and address issues that have relevance to society. Our religious scholars have done a commendable job in the past and despite living in abject poverty, they continued to interpret the word of God for the people of the world.

They are indeed masters in their subjects, but they need to update their knowledge. By acquainting themselves with modern sciences, they can not only solve the everyday issues faced by Muslims but can also guide the younger generation to the light of Islam. An important step in this direction is learning the English language. While Arabic, Persian, or Urdu continues to be languages of our heart, English has to be our language of mind. We can’t ignore that English is undoubtedly the lingua franca of our times and not knowing it will cost us heavily.

The quality literature that has been generated in English in the past few decades is invaluable to any scholar of Islam. Anybody intending to understand Islam in modern times and then guide others in contemporary idiom will fail if he doesn’t know the language. Several scholarly works on Islam and associated themes have been written in English, but, I wonder how many of Darul Uloom pass-outs can these books read. This is not meant to demean or dishonour the religious scholars or pass-outs but to ring an alarm bell and wake them to the challenges. To this end an active, there is a dire need to start a positive exchange of ideas between Madrasas and modern-day universities. Student exchange programs, wherever possible between Seminaries and Universities are a good idea. Maybe ach a professor from the University can be invited to lecture students at the seminary.

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I must make it clear that it is not the mandate of Darul Ulooms to produce scientists and inventors, as some people often complain. We only expect Darul Ulooms to be true to their cause, and to produce quality scholars. We are only reminding Darul Ulooms of their essential duty and waking them up to their golden past. The only expectation from these institutions is that they must impart to their students knowledge that has contemporary relevance alongside religious classics. Only a blend of tradition and modernity will appeal to youth and make Islam a living and vital energy.