Mass Production of Alims and Alimaas and Teaching of Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi

There seems to be a rush for the mass production of “Aalims” and “Aalimas” which is in conflict with the teaching of Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi: Becoming a good human (ach-ha insaan) is more important than becoming a buzurg because a good human would be a source of benefit to the fellow people, whereas a buzurg would only be a source of benefit to himself!!!!” With a heavy heart, I must point out the issues emanating from the establishment of of assembly lines for the mass production of certified “Alims” and “Alimas”. Foremost among them is the contradiction of the intent to produce Aalims and Alimas with the intent of Maulana Asharf Ali Thanvi (1863–1943) [1] “to produce a good human and not a buzurg”, who is among the most revered religious scholars of the 20th century in sub-continent.

I think the “hikmat” in Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi’s teaching was to make sure that his disciples clearly understand that (i) being a good human comes before being a buzurg, (ii) to understand that “buzurgi” is a personal attribute, (iii) they need to protect themselves against “raya” and “superiority complex”, which can be seen in the works of his disciples when they use “ahqar” in place of first person “I” and their names written on their published works typically has the prefex “ahqar” attached. This is also in-line with his thrust of “Tareeq e Qalndari”[3] that he followed all his life.

Certfying that a person is an “Aalim” is problematic “literally” speaking, given the vastness of “ilm” and its dimensions for which several lifetimes are required. I don’t see Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi’s teaching would ever reconcile with his taking pride in calling himself “Aalim” and criticising others beneath him. One could not find any pretensions to superiority based on his “ilm”, erudition and knowledge.

My thesis is that the product coming out from factories of mass production of “Alims” and “Alimas” who often seem to be inheriting a sense of “superiority complex” in addition to the problems observed from the products of similar mass production assembly lines that have been setup by conventional schools and universities which are producing love for materialism and lack of respect and love for the fellow human beings. This seems contrary to what was practiced and preached by the Hakeem ul Ummat and is practiced by his true desciples.

Since such mass factories for Alim and Alima production (aka madrassahs) seem to have acquired the structural attributes (and hence the underlying assumptions) of modern schools and universities, they consequently suffer from the same problems that are present in these school and universities. These include:

  1. Studying to only pass the exams and obtain the degree (sanad) and ignoring that they are studying for tazkia [4] and for hasan in their life of dunya and akhirah [5], and making life of the people dependent upon them better [6]. 
  2.  Studying only the assigned outline selectively to pass the exam. 
  3. Assuming that the knowledge is only contained in the prescribed texts. 
  4. Assuming that the only teacher they have is the assigned teacher. They can not refer to other teachers and other material. 
  5. Ignoring that they are studying the relevant material to identify linkages with their own experience, and the experience available in existing knowledge, linkages and influences of other subjects and fields of knowledge, and across experiences of people in time and history. 

In their eagerness to imitate the structures of these mass production lines of schools and universities, madrassah’s mindlessly have jettisoned some of their distinctive advantages. However, these madrassahs still retain some of their original attributes such as humility (e.g. use of addressing oneself as Ahqar), but Islamic schools have even jettisoned those remaining traditional virtues also in their zeal for spiritual marketing. In this post we identify the issues arising from the adoption of school/university structural elements:

Relationship with Aalim/Shaikh:

Traditional madrassahs have been structured around the connection and relationship with the Aalim or shaikh. One used to go for learning with a particular Aalim, not with the brand name of the institution. Our schools were based on this association with the Aalim. A student was recognized by the shaikh or the teacher from which he received his all encompassing guidance. Recognizing the thirst and potential of the mureed (student), and given that he has acquired whatever the shaikh had to offer, the shaikh himself would recommend the student to another aalim or shaikh, often in a different city or country. The student established this close connection with the aalim or shaikh from whom he was associated. This companionship was responsible for the acquisition of not only knowledge of the scriptures, knoweldge of the world, but also spiritual knowledge and cleansing. The association was a complete package of knowledge, competence and character.

Strict Timeline for graduation.

A student may graduate (get khilafah) in a few days or in months, or in years. Some may not get that even in their entire lifetime spent in the “suhbat” of the Shaikh.

Holistic Learning

The shaikh with which a student would spend time would try to give to the student “ALL” that he knew. It was not only Hadith or Fiqh or some other subject being taught for a limited time duration every day or on stipulated hours during every week. This decomposition of time according to periods in which a teacher comes for limited duration and only considers his responsibility the stipulated outline is contrary to the holistic nature of “ilm” and education. Decomposition of knowledge into subjects has created much of the confusion. 

Focus on Real Life Problems

Class of Imam Abu Hanifa was based on real life problems. I think it is still the case during takhusus when the student is involved in researching real life problems (masail). However, divorcing the earlier curriculum from the real life has left us with ignoring the important linkages that span beyond the boundaries of the traditional boundaries of subjects. For example, “fiqh” can not be isolated from Hadith or Quran and from Sirah and Islamic History. It can also not be isolated from real life issues of sociology and pyschology. Similarly, “seerat” can not be isolated from “Hadith” which can not be isolated from “Quran” which can not  be isolated from study of “History” and the lessons derived from them. The idea of compartmentalizing knowledge into subjects and arranging them from simple to complex needs to be contrasted from the earliest school of Imam Malik or Imam Abu Hanifa and their methodology of instruction to students. 

Disclaimer and References:

[1] I dont’ profess to have read all the works of Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi. I remember going through the monthly “Al-Ibqa” published from Karachi for which we had the subscription till the 1990s. It serialized the teachings of Maulana Ashraf Ali Thavi. My mother used to be a voracious reader of Islamic works. She used to read it. Note the monthly would start repeating the series once the complete works were published. We maintained the complete file of these monthly issues starting from early 1950s till the 1990s. But then lost it due to wear, tear, humidity and pests.

[2] My mother had great respect of Maulan Ashraf Ali Thanvi. She also had great respect for his desciples and their chain such as Mufti Mohammad Shafi. She would often talk about Maulana Qasim Nanautvi, Maulana Ashraf Gangohi, Syed Ahmed Shaheed, Maulana Muhajir Makki and others would fondly read any article or books that she could lay her hands on. She took me specifically to meet Mr Ghulam Haider and Shah Mohammad Sulaiman (he was our distant relative) who were khalifa/desciples of Maulana Mohammad Shafi.

[3] Tareeq e Qalandari: I read reading this segment in the monthly “Ibqa” during the 1970s that serialized all of Maualan Ashraf Ali Thanvi.

See Also:

Education Issues:


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