Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Traditional Institutions or Centers of Learning: Madressah & Khanqah

The Traditional Institutions of Learning in Islam

The Maktab & The Madrassah
The Observatories
The Hospitals &
The Khanqah [Sufi Centers]

The Prophet himself – although unlettered from the standpoint of human knowledge –  was at the same time the channel of the revelation of the Book which is considered by all Muslims to be the quintessential sum of all knowledge, both human and divine. 

Moreover he [the Prophet] reaffirmed the teachings of the Quran by stressing that the acquisition of knowledge to the limits of one’s abilities is incumbent upon every believer, as part of his religious duties.” Whatever arguments arose as to the definition of that knowledge..there is no doubt that the Quranic verses and Prophetic sayings…made learning inseparable from religion. 

Out of [the] early [mosque] instruction in language and religion there grew the popular elementary school (maktab) and the advanced centers of learning [the Madressah] which were to develop into the first universities of the Middle Ages, and to serve as models for the early European Universities during the eleventh and twelfth centuries.  The main institution of learning [until the 4th/10th century] aside from the maktab was the circle or “gathering” (majlis) which was presided over by a professor (often called sheikh, hakim or ustadh) and in which various sciences both religious and philosophic were discussed.

The construction of observatories as distinct scientific institutions and also as centers for teaching astronomy & allied subjects owes its origin to Islam. The observatory at Istanbul must be regarded as the link of transmission of this institution to the Western world.

While the theoretical aspect of medicine continued to be dealt with in both mosque & madrasah the practical side was usually taught in the hospitals, many of which had libraries and schools specially designed for that purpose.

After undergoing theoretical and practical training and writing a treatise – like the modern thesis – and upon its acceptance received a permit or diploma from their professor giving them permission to practice medicine.

Students who were not satisfied with formal learning alone, but had searched after the light of certainty and sought a direct vision of the truth, left the talk and discussion (qil and qal) of the schools to discover the ecstasies of contemplation (hal) under the direction of a spiritual master. In this manner the Sufi centers [Khanqah or Zawiyah] served as a center of learning. They served as centers in which the qualified could realize the highest form of knowledge (gnosis). The Sufi center thus played its role as one of the major institutions responsible for the cultivation and propagation of the sciences in Islam.

The institutions of higher learning have continued to flourish from the early medieval period to the present, some have preserved a continuous tradition of learning over the centuries. The Qarawiyin of Fez in Morocco is eleven centuries old and is very likely the oldest university in the world. (Seyyed Hossein Nasr, SCIENCE & CIVILIZATION IN ISLAM, Suheyl Academy, Lahore, Pakistan, 1999)

The history of Islam shows that the Sufis have been the most zealous custodians of social welfare, social justice, equality, human rights and service to mankind even at the risk of their lives. It is true that most of them did not take part in such activities as trade, commerce, industry etc.

It was the Khanqahi Nizam (spiritual training centres) which produced the gems and pearls like Imam Ghazali, Junaid, Bistami, Rumi, Abdul Qadir Jilani, Mueenuddin Chishti, Baba Shaikh Farid and thousands of other Auliya Allah (friends of God) who converted millions to Islam. By virtue of constant Zikr, Muraqba, night vigils, fasts and exercises of self-negation, self-purification and self-sacrifices spread over years strictly and squarely in accordance with the Prophet’s methods of constant prayers, Zikr, meditations fasts and vigils etc. (Hazrat Wahid Bakhsh Siyal, Bahawalpur
The subsequent eleven Khanqah's established all stood in a serene, loving atmosphere, with a cool and refreshing breeze blowing, which aptly symbolized the order of Khwaja Muin ud din Chishti (Rahmatullah alai), the order of love, of the prince of love, which was to blow amidst the oppression and injustice. The Khanqah's comprised of a Masjid, Madrasah, cemetery, orphanage, rehabilitation center, medical center, houses, courtyard, garden, fountains, wells and open kitchen. 
(Chishtia Khanqah South Africa


The saints and seers of the caliber and stature of Ali Ibn Uthman Al-Hujiwiri Al-Jullabi (d.107 CE) who founded a tariqa (sufi order), discharged ta’lim (teaching), initiated murid (disciples or novices), performed dhikr (remembrance of God), profered spiritual healing, conducted islah (reformation) and above all had spirituality reigning most high in his being would not be born ever so often. Al-Hujwiri left the common legacy of his tantalizing and memorable Kashf Al-Mahjub, the oldest text book par excellence on mystical dimension of Islam in Persian language. He has these days the traditional fivefold role of the khanqah (convent or lodge), ziyarat (shrine), masjid (mosque) madrassah (school) and the guest house all adumbrated and imbued in his seminary in Lahore.
(Hazrat Data Ganj Bakhsh, Lahore


With regard to the Sufi path, Hazrat Nizamuddin Awlia taught the following: "For a dervish, three things are necessary. They all begin with an 'ain' (an Arabic letter), i.e., Ishq (love), Aql (intelligence) and Ilm (knowledge). 

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