An Outline Of Educational System Developed In Muslim Bengal Under The Turko-Afghan Sultanate (1204-1576)

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The first verse of the Holy Qur’an indicates that education is an integral part of Islam. Since then, educational development has been a parallel to the development of Muslim society. From the beginning of the Muslim conquest of Bengal by the Turks
  International Journal of Islamic and Civilizational Studies Full Paper    UMRAN | 02 (2017) pp. 10-23 | www. |   © 2017 Penerbit UTM Press. All rights reserved An Outline Of Educational System Developed In Muslim Bengal Under The Turko-Afghan Sultanate (1204-1576) Md. Thowhidul Islam Center for University Requirement Courses (CENURC), International Islamic University Chittagong (IIUC) Corresponding Author: Article history Received:   2016-03-30   Received in revised form: 2016-11-14   Accepted: 2016-11-14   Abstract The first verse of the Holy Qur’an  indicates that education is an integral part of Islam. Since then, educational development has been a parallel to the development of Muslim society. From the beginning of the Muslim conquest of Bengal by the Turks in the early 13 th  century, the society had also witnessed the rapid development of a new educational system. Before Islam in Bengal, The Buddhist and Brahmanic religious centres mainly served as educational centres. Cultivation of knowledge was instructed through the Sanskrit language and limited only to the upper classes people. But the scenario got a change under the Muslims both- Turko-Afghan Sultanate (1204-1576 A.D.) and the  Mughals  (1576-1757 A.D.). The period witnessed a rapid advancement in the educational field, which changed the traditional system. The Rulers patronized the spread of education considering it as their religious obligation. Besides Sultans , the Sufis , Ulamas , Nobles, Chieftains-all contributed in this regard.  Masjids  and  Madrasahs  mainly served as centre of Muslim education. In the  Masjids , informal teaching was offered in all branches of Islamic studies, from elementary to the highest level. The  Imams  of the  Masjids  were acknowledged teachers of the community.  Madrasahs  were the most important institution, where formal education was instructed.  Maktabs  were used for primary education, which were organized either in the  Masjids  or private houses.  Majilises  were developed around individual scholars as higher educational centres such as the learning centre of Shaikh Jalaluddin Tabrizi  at  Deotala , Shaikh Sharfuddin Abu Tawama  at Sonargaon , Dhaka etc. There was co-education at primary level, but the higher education for women was limited only to the higher & high-middle class families. Different branches of Islamic Sciences such as Tafsir  ,  Hadith ,  fiqh -Jurisprudence, logic together with many diverse subjects such as natural sciences, mathematics, medicine, agriculture, astronomy, geography and Arabic & Persian languages and literature were taught in these institutions. To maintain these educational institutions, the rulers provided state patronage, granted rent-free lands as endowment. Thus, a very new and diversified educational system flourished in the society of Bengal under the Muslim rulers, which opened learning facilities for all the people, founding many educational institutions throughout the country. The paper is mainly aimed at discovering the nature and dimensions of educational system, which developed particularly during the Turko-Afghan Muslim Sultanate (1204-1576 A.D.) in Bengal and identify how the system can contribute to improve the present educational system of the country.  Keywords: Turko-Afghan Sultanate, Bengal, Educational development.   Md. Thowhidul Islam / UMRAN  –   International Journal of Islamic and Civilizational Studies. vol. 4, no. 2 (2017) 10  –   23 Page | 11 1.0 INTRODUCTION “  Recite in the name of your Lord who created   (Surat-al-Alaq, v.1) - the first verse of the Holy Qur’an. The Prophet Muhammad said: “ The seeking of knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim- male or  female ,” ( At-Tirmidhi, Hadith 74) “  Allah makes the way to Paradise easy for him who treads the path in search of knowledg e” (Nawawi, Hadith 1381).  Thus Islam gave importance to the acquiring, cultivating and imparting knowledge. Islam considered the cultivation of knowledge as a religious duty and so there is no separation of education from Islam. Educational development was a parallel to the development of Muslim society wherever and whenever it founded from the very early time of the Prophet Mohammad who founded Suffah Madrasah 1  at Medina   and instructed his followers to contribute in imparting knowledge. The era of Khulafa-al-Rashedin 2  (632-661 A.D.) and the Umayyad  period (661-750 A.D.) had also witnessed the development of education in Muslim society. The Abbasid period (750-1258 A.D.) was marked as the golden period of Muslim history for the development of different branches of education and science in the society centering Baghdad which left a remarkable contribution to world civilization. “ The general level of literacy was greater in the medieval Islamic lands than in Byzantium or Western Europe” (  Bloom & Blair, 2002) Armstrong writes, “Muslim scholars made more scientific discoveries during this time than in the whole of  previously recorded history” (  Armstrong, 2002).   Contemporarily, the Muslim rule in Spain (711-1492 A.D.) had set another great example of such development in Europe. Cordova turned into an excellent learning centre under the Muslims, while the rest of Europe was almost in dark. “ For nearly eight centuries, under the Mohamedan rule, Spain set all Europe a shining example of a civilized and enlightened state... Art, literature and science prospered as they then prospered nowhere else in  Europe. Mathematics, astronomy, botany, history, philosophy and jurisprudence were to be mastered in Spain, and Spain alone ” (Lane -Poole   , 1988). This development paved the way for European renaissance. Gaston Wiet comments, “People of the west should publicly express their gratitude to the scholars of the Abbasid period, who were known and appreciated in Europe during the middle ages ” (Wiet, 1971). From the very beginning of the establishment of Muslim rule in Bengal (comprising modern Bangladesh and West Bengal of India), in the early 13 th  century by the Turkish race led by  Ikhtiaruddin  Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji defeating the then Sena  king  Lakhman Sena (Chowdhury, n.d.), which ultimately emerged as an independent Sultanate in Eastern India, the society had been witnessed the development of a new educational system. Many formal and informal educational centres established in different parts of Bengal targeting at different aged groups and classes of people with diverse curricula. This development occurred under both the Sultanate period (1204-1576 A.D.) and the Mughal Empire (1576-1757 A.D.). As most of the contemporary writings mainly focused on  political and biographical issues, it is difficult to determine the exact educational system during the Muslim rule in Bengal. This paper aims at accumulating the information together with a view to discover the integrated system of education developed in Bengal under the Muslim rule particularly under the Turko-Afghan Sultanate (1204-1576 A.D.). It also attempts to identify some basic defectives of the present educational system of the country and how the past system can contribute in recovering these deficiencies. 2.0 EDUCATION IN PRE-MUSLIM BENGAL To understand the educational development under the Muslim rule,   it’s important to understand the educational condition before the advent of Islam in Bengal. It is indeed difficult to determine the system and nature of education that prevailed in pre-Islam Bengal due to the paucity of historical sources. The available materials give us only a generalized idea about the education in Bengal before Islam. ‘The 1  Suffah was an attached residential educational center with the mosque of the Prophet. The students were known as ahl-al- Suffa. Abu Huraira, Mua’z bin Zabl were among the famous students of this center. 2  Khulafa-al-Rashedin   (632-661), the time of four pious caliph of Islam- Hazrat Abu Bakr (632-634), Hazrat Omar (634-644), Hazrat Othman (644-656) and Hazrat Ali (656-661).   Md. Thowhidul Islam / UMRAN  –   International Journal of Islamic and Civilizational Studies. vol. 4, no. 2 (2017) 10  –   23 Page | 12 Buddhist and Brahmanic religious centres practically served as educational centres. Fa-Hien 3  stayed at Tamralipti 4  for two years to study and copy various Buddhist manuscripts. Brahmanic and Buddhist learning had developed appreciably and become widespread when  Hiuen-Tsang 5   (7 th  century) visited Kajangal , Pundravardhan , Kamarupa , Samatata , Tamralipti  and Karnasuvarna . He noticed more than 300 Buddhist shramanas  in 6/7 vihars  at Kajangala ; more than 3000 shramanas  in 20 viharas  in Pundravardhan ; more than 2000 shramanas  in 30 viharas  in Samatata  and more than 2000 shramanas  in the 10 viharas  both at Tamralipti  and Karnasuvarna ’ (Islam, 2003, v -3, pp.  –   444- 445). ‘  Hiuen-Tsang ’s guru  and vastly learned in all shastras and sutras, was the mahacharya (head teacher) at  Nalanda , where more than 10000 sramanas   resided to learn… All the Buddhist vihars  and sangharamas  in Bengal were centres for the cultivation of Buddhist learning. The curriculum also included various secular subjects such as grammar, philology, medicine, astronomy, music and arts, Chaturveda, Sankhya, Mahayana shastras, yoga shastra etc … Thus by the 6 th -7 th  century Aryan language and learning primarily based on Brahmanic-Jaina- Buddhist religions had reached Bengal’ (Islam, 2003, v-3, pp. 445). Immediate decades before the conquest by the Turkish Muslims, Bengal was passing with socio- political anarchy.  M.N. Roy   remarked that “  After the downfall of Buddhism, the country found itself in a worse state of economic ruin, political oppression, intellectual anarchy and spiritual chaos. Practically, the entire society was involved in that tragic process of decay and decomposition ” (Roy, 1981). Cultivation of knowledge was definitely limited to the upper classes people of the society (Islam, 2003, v-3, pp. 445) for example Brahmans, ministers, military officers, members of royal families etc. In course of time some socio-religious groups created under the strict caste system in Hindu society such as  Brahman 6 , Kshatriya 7 , Vaishya 8 , and Shudra . 9  There were about nearly hundred castes and sub-castes existed in the then Hindu society among which social interactions were  prohibited. The lower classes of Hindus had no social rights; even they had no permission to enter into the city (Majumdar, 1976). The caste system was strictly observed in educational system (Bari, 1972) and the lower classes of Hindus were extremely out of educational facilities. ‘Different religious shastras  were taught in the Hindu temples such as Veda, Agama, Niti, Mimangsa, Vedanta, Shruti, Smriti and Purana… It is difficult to know how these shastras  were taught. It may be assumed that  Brahman  Pundits used to establish Chatuspathis in their own houses or in and around the temples and take students as many as they could manage, under their care. Students used to study one or more subjects under one teacher (acharya) and then move to others for other subjects’ (Islam, 2003, v -3, p. 445). Recitation and listening were the methods of education and the  Brahman  himself was meant by the school (Ullah, 1969). The Vedic learning, Mythological stories of Hinduism, Mathematics and Astrological learning were among the main subjects of education (Hoque, 1976). The site of religious centre like temple, houses of  Brahmans , guest houses and even sometimes the shadowed space under a big tree used as a place of educational practice. Tol  was the educational centre only for the sons of 3  Fa-Hien (337-422), Chinese Buddhist monk, pilgrim traveler, and author of one of the earliest Chinese accounts of India.  Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms, being an account by the Chinese Monk Fa-hien of his travels in India and Ceylon;  translated and edited by James Legge, (Oxford, 1886); Travels of Fah-Hian and SungYun, Buddhist pilgrims from China to India, translated by S. Beal. (1869).   4  Tamralipti was an ancient settlement located on the eastern coast near the confluence of the Bay of Bengal and River Ganga. It was one of the most important trade centers of India which had multidirectional links with different geographical regions of South Asia, frequented by traders, travelers and pilgrims.   5  Hiuen-Tsang (603-664), 7 th  century Buddhist pilgrim who left behind an account about India and Bengal. He translated 657 Sanskrit Buddhist works. His most important work is the  Xiyu Ji (His-yu Chi) .   6  Brahman is the one supreme, universal Spirit that is the srcin and support of the phenomenal universe. Brahman is sometimes referred to as the Godhead in Hinduism. 7  Kshatriya means warrior. It traditionally constituted the military and ruling elite of the Vedic-Hindu social system.   8  Vaishya comprises merchants, cattle-herders and artisans. The Vaisyas eventually became land-owners, money-lenders and influential traders.   9  Shudras are the servants and laborers of Hindu society. They can be said to form about 75 to 80 percent of the population of Hindus.     Md. Thowhidul Islam / UMRAN  –   International Journal of Islamic and Civilizational Studies. vol. 4, no. 2 (2017) 10  –   23 Page | 13  Brahmans  and Pathshala  was for the Kshatriya  and Vaishya . No education for the Shudra . The medium of education was Sanskrit   language, which was not the language of common people. Summarizing the educational system in pre-Islam Bengal,  AM Chowdhury   writes “So it can be assumed with some amount of certainty that though we are not aware of institutionalized education there must have been a fairly large educated class who could produce those literatures. There must have been some predecessors of the Tols  and Pathshalas  of medieval age, where there were arrangements for education, if not for the common people, but definitely for the people belonging to the upper classes of the society. Gurugrhas ,  Axramas  and Buddhist Viharas  served as centres of education. That secular subjects were taught along with religious studies are clear from the books that have come down to us. But t hey do not, however, give us any indication about the system of education” (Islam, 2003, v-3, pp. 446). 3.0 EDUCATION IN THE MUSLIM PERIOD As the cultivation of knowledge has been considered as an obligatory duty for the Muslims in Islam, as the educational development has been given priority in every Muslim society wherever it got sound footing, Bengal was not an exception from this tradition. With the Muslim conquest, the Khalji  Turks also carried with them the traditional practice of education and the rich cultural heritage of their society to Bengal. ‘  Bakhtiyar Khalji  and his successor Khalji Maliks  established  Masjids ,  Madrasahs  and Khanqahs  (seats of religious divines) in the capital city  Lakhnawati  and other important administrative centres of their conquered territories’ (Siraj, 1881, p. 427). Gradually other parts of Bengal such as Gaur  , Pandua , Tabrizabad  , Ghoraghat  , Satgaon  and Sonargaon  developed as urban settlements together with several educational centres. Muslim Sultans  of Bengal encouraged impart of education from the very beginning, scholastic or elementary, to fulfil their religious obligations. All the elites in Muslim society- the Sufis , Ulamas , Nobles, Officials, Chieftains, Philanthropists and well-to-do  persons paid their ent husiastic contribution in spreading education. ‘  It is said to have been the practice of the Musalman land proprietors to entertain teachers at their own private cost for the benefit of the children of the poor in the neighbourhood, and it was a rare thing to find an opulent farmer or head of a village who had not a teacher in his employment for that purpose ’ (Long, 1868, p. 40). With the  patronization of the Muslim rulers and positive support from the surroundings, many centres developed in different places of Bengal where education was cultivated such as  Masjid  ,  Madrasah ,  Maktab , khanqah ,  Majilis  etc. To maintain these educational institutions, the rulers provided scholarships and granted tax-free lands as endowments. As the education was closely related with religious studies, the Hindus and the Muslims developed separate educational structure on the basis of their religious traditions. The curricula included many diverse courses together with religious education. In most of the Muslim educational institutions, education was provided freely with lodging-boarding facilities. Here we tried to sketch out a picture of educational system developed in Muslim Bengal under the Turko-Afghan Sultanate (1204-1576 A.D.). 4.0 EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS After the Muslim conquest of Bengal, gradually different types of centres developed in different places of Bengal. The earliest centre was  Masjid  , which was primarily a centre of prayer.  Maktab  was developed as primary educational centre. The formal educational institution was  Madrasah .  Majilis , Khanqah  were developed as centre of divinity around Sufi-saints, which in course of time turned into higher educational centres. 4.1   Masjid (Mosque) The educational system in Muslim Bengal developed following the tradition of central Islamic lands as most of the rulers and officials were immigrants from the then Muslim world. From the early days of Islam,  Masjid   has been considered as the nerve centre of civil life of the Muslim society. Besides  being a place of prayer,  Masjid   was also a learning centre, where teaching was offered in all branches   Md. Thowhidul Islam / UMRAN  –   International Journal of Islamic and Civilizational Studies. vol. 4, no. 2 (2017) 10  –   23 Page | 14 of Islamic studies, from elementary stage to the highest level to the different aged groups. The most learned personalities of the respective communities were selected as  Imams  of the  Masjids . With the expansion of Islamic territories,  Masjid   retained the function of education along with its srcinal  purpose as place of prayers. After the foundation of Muslim rule in Bengal,  Masjids  developed as the nerve centres of the society. In every administrative centre and other important places where there was a sizable Muslim  population, the Sultans  and their officers or wealthy persons constructed  Masjids . The  Imams  of the  Masjids  were acknowledged teachers who were considered able to teach inhabitants of the locality. They sometimes had to instruct the prayer-offering people how to perform prayers, or sometimes teach the children about the primary teachings of Islam or the correct recitation of the Holy Qura’n. The education practiced in the  Masjids  was mainly related to Islamic learning and instructed through informal ways. Thus,  Masjids  functioned as informal learning centres. There were hundreds of  Masjids   constructed throughout Bengal. ‘Of some 200 inscriptions so far   discovered more than 100 relate to the construction of mosques’ (Ali, 2003, pp. 627 -628). Of these the most remarkable one is  Adina    Masjid   of Pandua  of  Maldah  district of West Bengal, built by Sultan Sikandar Shah  in 1375 having a dimension of 507.5 feet north to south and 285.5 feet east to west with an enclosed open court (Ali, 2003, p. 888). Khan Jahan ’s  Masjid   at  Bagerhat   of Bangladesh is another notable example popularly known as Shatgumbad   (sixty tombs)  Masjid  , one of the most impressive Muslim monuments in Indian subcontinent, built by Khan al-Azam Ulugh Khan Jahan , who conquered the greater part of southern Bengal during Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah  (1435-59 A.D.) (Islam, 2003, v-9, p. 246). Among other notable  Masjids    Zafar Khan Ghazi ’s  Masjid   (1298), at Tribeni,    Hughli  district of West Bengal,  Baba Adam Masjid   (1483 A.D.) at  Rampal ,  Munshiganj , Gopalganj Masjid   in Dinajpur (1460 A.D.),  Darasbari Masjid   (1479 A.D.) in Gaur   built by Sultan Yusuf Shah ,  Masjidbari    Masjid   (1471-1472 A.D.) at  Mirzaganj  of Patuakhali , built by Khan Muazzam Aziyal Khan , Chota Sona Masjid   in Gaur built by Wali Muhammad  , a high official in the court of Sultan Alauddin Husain Shah  (1494-1519 A.D.),  Boro Sona Masjid (1526 A.D.) in Gaur built by  Nusrat Shah ,   Bagha  Masjid   (1523-24 A.D.) of Rajshahi, built by Sultan Nusrat Shah  (1519-32 A.D.), Kusumba Masjid   (1558-59 A.D.) of Rajshahi, Bangladesh etc. (Islam, 2003, v-7, pp. 81-90). Educational practice in the  Masjids  is also evident from its architectural features. In every  Masjid  , besides having a central prayer room, there were also other attached rooms which were mainly used for educational practice. There were also rooms for the scholars and learners together with ablution and other logistic facilities. Because of these facilities, many scholars used to establish their educational circles around the  Masjids . Thus, an educational practice and education friendly environment developed in and around the  Masjids  in Bengal during the Turko-Afghan Sultanate. 4.2    Maktab  or Primary Educational Centre Primary education was an immediate and important concern of the Muslim society as the Muslim children needed education to understand instructions of Islam and observe religious duties accordingly.  Maktabs  developed in the Muslim society of Bengal as the primary educational centres with a view to remove illiteracy by educating Muslim children. These were mainly concerned with the fundamentals of Islamic practices together with some basic education. The  Maktabs  were primarily srcinated with the  Masjids and sometimes organized either in a house attached to the  Masjid   (Rawlison, 1937), or in a private house of respective locality. These were established either by wealthy individuals of the respective locality, Sufi -  Alims , or by joint efforts of the inhabitants being supported by the state endowments as well as of individuals. The then historical evidences support the idea of widespread existence of  Maktabs  throughout the region and their effectiveness in promoting primary education in the society.  Mukundaram   states ‘  Maktabs  were also set up where Muslim children taught by  Makhdums   (teachers)’ (Mukundaram, 1914).   Education Commission of 1885 observed the spread up of  Maktabs   wherever the Muslims predominated in numbers (RBPCEC, 1886). ‘There were 1,00,000  primary schools (Maktabs) in Bengal and Bihar, the population of which was estimated at 40,000,000, so that there would be a village school (Maktab) for more than three hundred school going boys
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