Past and present of Islamic education in Bangladesh (part-1)

Dr Md Kamruzzaman

19 February, 2021 12:00 AM printer

Past and present of Islamic education in Bangladesh (part-1)

The journey of education system in this subcontinent started with madrassa education. However, one can think it otherwise, but, none can deny religion. And none wants to abuse religion.

It is worth-mentioning that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at a meeting in Ganobhaban with Alem-Ulama on 4 October, 2018 dwelt on madrassa education. I quote her statement below: “Millions of boys and girls study in madrassa. Many poor orphans of the country find a place in madrassa. But they did not have any recognition. Today, I have done that by giving recognition to Qawmi Madrassa. I feel the people of the country have become happy with this recognition. It is my great satisfaction that I have been able to ensure the future of those who are studying in Qawmi Madrassa.”

The Prime Minister also stated that the education system in this subcontinent started with madrassa education. Her statement is very important and significant. Because, the matter is still unknown to many devout Bengalee Muslims. For inquisitive readers, I feel the need to give a brief history of the education system of ancient Bengal. Studying and analysing the subject, it is known that the education system in ancient Bengal was not very organised. It was Vedic age 3,000 years ago. According to historians, there was no form of education at that time. During the period, only temple-centered education was introduced for spiritual advancement and development. And the Brahmanical age started exactly 500 years after this age. The purpose of the teaching was to know the rules governing the soul, birth and death of the primitive people. But this education was not universal. Only the children of Brahmin families could receive this education. Apart from this, no lower caste tribe had the right to education.

After the end of this era, the era of Buddhist education began. This era began in the sixth century BC. This education system was also monastery-centric. So, it was not universal as it was monastic. Thus temple-centered, monastery-centered and group-centered education was the real picture of ancient Bengal. The prophet, Muhammad (SM), arrived in Arabia in 571 AD. The age is called the middle age. A great revolution took place in the Islamic education system brought by Prophet Muhammad (SM) at that age. The flowers of the Prophet (SM) spread to the different countries to spread and propagate education.

In 711, Muhammad bin Qasim arrived in India. In addition to the expansion of the state, he paid special attention to expansion of education. He introduced children’s education extensively through establishment of maktabs and mosques. In this maktab and mosque, besides Muslim children, the Hindu children also used to receive education. From this time, a trend of education system was created in this country. And the real well-organised form of this education system was formed during the Sultanate period (1210-1276). During this period, a maktab was established in front of every house of rich people. In these maktabs, Arabic and Persian were taught as well as handwriting and teaching. Hindu children also used to study in these maktabs. The rulers of Bengal attached great importance to primary education as well as secondary education. For spread of education, the rulers used to donate a large amount of tax-free land. The land allotted for madrasa established by Mohisontosh Tokiuddin Arabi Naogaon is a prime example. The area of land donated for this organisation was 2700 acres. The area of land donated for madrasa at Bagha in Rajshahi district was 42 villages. In these madrassas students used to study at free of cost. The madrassa established in Sonargaon by Sharfuddin Abu Tawama in 1278 was the largest madrassa in Bengal. At that time, the syllabus of madrassa included Arabic, Nahu, Saraf, Balagat, Mantik, Kalam, Tasawwuf, literature, fiqh and philosophy etc.

During Mughal period (1526-1857), various branches of science were attached to the syllabus. These branches of knowledge like biology, zoology, astronomy, sociology, accounting, mathematics, geography, agriculture, public administration and fine arts etc. are connected with madrassa education. Thus began the journey of the golden chapter of education in the subcontinent through madrassa education in ancient times.

But, during British period (1757-1947), after the defeat of Nawab Sirajuddaula in the desert of Plassi, the path of madrassa education narrowed down. The British rule began. At this time, British rulers began to confiscate the land allotted in the name of the madrassa. During their nearly 200 years of rule, 78,000 out of 80,000 madrassas were closed. Thus the pace of education in the subcontinent began to slow down. But the devout Muslims of Bengal continued the trend of madrasa education by building maktabs and mosques at their homes and neighborhoods. The conspiracy of the British rulers was not 100% successful due to diligent efforts of  devout Muslims and scholars of the country. British rulers, on the other hand, established the Calcutta Alia Madrassa in 1780 to train some Muslim law officers. The famous Qawmi Madrassa of Deoband (in India) was established in 1866 at the initiatives of Alem-Ulama. These two streams of madrassas ran parallel to the success of the subcontinent. Outside these two streams, the idea of another education system was floated in 1914. This year, the idea of two types of madrassa education system called New Scheme and Old Scheme was established in Bangladesh by Mohammedan Education Advisory Committee. Through this method the journey of specialised schools and colleges for Muslims of Bangladesh began. Arabic education, Islamic education and English education were compulsory in these schools and colleges.

The University of Dhaka was established in 1921 with dedicated efforts of prominent Muslim leaders of Bangladesh. The university started its journey with three faculties and twelve departments. Among these 12 departments, the Department of Islamic Studies and the Department of Arabic were two separate departments. With the establishment of this university, the level of education in Bengal changed dramatically. Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Haque, the then Education Minister established many educational institutions, including Calcutta Islamia College and Chakhar College in Barisal in the interest of protecting the independence of Muslim students. And Islamic education was compulsory in these institutions. Basically, Muslim leaders introduced Islamic education outside the mosques and madrassas in order to preserve the continuity of the golden history of Muslim religious education and to satisfy the thirst for knowledge. This has created a huge opportunity for Islamic education. Through this, employments of Islamic educated scholars and ulama were ensured. In 1947, the Calcutta Alia Madrassa was shifted to Dhaka. On 11 March, 1958, the Chief Minister of Bengal, Ataur Rahman Khan, laid the foundation stone of a four-storey building and dormitory at Bakshibazar in Dhaka for this madrassa. The role of this madrassa in spread of Islamic education during earstwhile Pakistan period was noteworthy. Among the famous students of this madrassa were Nawab Abdul Latif and Syed Amir Ali. Recommendations were adopted by the Islamic Arabic University Committee in 1963 and the Madrasa Education Reform and Development in 1973.

In 1975, during the tenure of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, national curriculum and multi-faceted curriculum were introduced in madrassas under his able guidance. Under his guidance, the Islamic Foundation Bangladesh was established for advanced research, writing, reading and study of the Qur’an and Hadith. In order to bridge the gap between madrassa and school-college education, Dakhil has been recognised as SSC since 1985 and Alim as higher secondary from 1987. In the face of the demands of devout people of Bangladesh, the then government decided in 2006 to give a degree to Fazil and a master’s degree to Kamil to improve the overall quality of madrassa education. Under the Islamic University Kushtia, Fazil was declared a degree and Kamil a master’s degree.

The PM in a meeting with Alem-Ulama of Qawmi Madrassa held at Ganobhaban on April 4, 2017 declared  Hadith as the standard of Masters in Daora of Qawmi Madrassa. She said, “I am announcing that the certificate of Hadith in the Daoray of Qawmi Madrasa has been given the standard of Masters in Islamic Studies and Arabic.”


The author is a Professor at Islamic University, Kushtia. Email: [email protected]