Book Review: Madrasah Life

Madrasah Life

Title: Madrasah Life: A Student’s Day at Nadwat al-Ulama
Author: Dr. Mohammad Akram Nadwi
Translator: Professor Abdul Rahim Qidawi
Forward: Professor James Piscatori
Publisher: Turath Publishing (2007)

We start with a short excerpt about the author from the back cover:

Dr. Mohammad Akram Nadwi studied and taught Hadith and Fiqh at the prestigious Nadwat al-Ulama (India). He was also educated at the University of Lucknow (attaining his doctorate) and he is the author and translator of over 25 books, written in Arabic, on Islamic sciences and the Arabic language. After teaching Islamic sciences at Nadwat al-Ulama for six years, he joined the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies in 1991 as a Research Fellow.

Nadwat al-Ulama (Association of Scholars) is currently an institute of Islamic higher learning located in Lucknow, India. Lucknow is the capital city of the state of Uttar Pradesh, located in the northern part of India. Deoband is also located in the same state, approximately 550km away from Lucknow. As you can tell, the state of Uttar Pradesh was a central location in regards to the teaching and preserving of the Islamic sciences, due to the abundance of scholars, scholarship and institutions.

Nadwat al-Ulama was originally established in 1893 as an annual session convening in different Indian cities to discuss and examine the state of Muslims in the colonial era. During these sessions, the scholars, who hailed from schools established by Shaykh al-Islam Shah Waliullah Dihlawi and his disciples, felt two groups were being created amongst the Muslims in India, namely a group that had strong inclinations to the western sciences and civilization, as brought forth by the British during their rule, and secondly a group of traditional scholars who held steadfastly to the way of thought, study and world-view prior to colonialism. This included the formulation of schools and syllabi that reflected and supported their firmly held beliefs. This resulted in each group entrenched in their opposing understanding of the best methods of Muslim self-preservation during colonial rule in India.

In 1898, it became clear that more direct steps were needed to attempt to consolidate these differences amongst the different groups of Muslims. Thus the scholars sought to create an institute of higher learning which would harmonize the differences between these two groups, and sought to teach both the classical and modern sciences in a balanced manner.

The author, Dr. Mohammad Akram Nadwi, takes us on a journey into his student days at Nadwat al-Ulama in an effort to give the reader a glimpse of what it was like to study at this institution. The book consists of 100 pages and covers a day’s of activities, conversations and reflections. The book was originally written in Urdu and was translated by Professor Abdul Rahim Qidawi of Aligarh Muslim University in India.

Dr. Mohammad Akram Nadwi starts with the description of Fajr (pre-dawn) Prayer:

When going for the fajr prayer one does not feel like talking. Passing by each other you can hear the words ‘al-salam alaykum (peace be upon you). It calls to mind the scene of the verse, ‘They shall not hear therein vain or sinful discourse, saying only [the word] peace, peace’. On reaching the mosque I saw students of hifz (memorization of the Qur’an) busy in their task of memorizing the Qur’an. It is an impressive and delightful sight to see so many young people reciting the Qur’an inside Nadwah mosque. I first offered two rak’ahs (units) of sunnah prayer and waited for the congregation. I cannot forget this amazing scene: we were waiting for prayer to start, and a spiritual light covered us and tranquility and peace blessed our hearts.

The book continues on to discuss the many teachers at the institution, their academic expertise and interests and interactions outside of the classroom. Much of it revolving around Arabic, Urdu and even Persian poetry, Islamic jurisprudence, philosophy, logic, Arabic grammar and Qur’anic sciences. Similarly the author presents his fellow classmates, their unique and diverse traits of personality and interests, he takes us into their conversations, debates over Arabic grammar, poetry and the study of Prophetic narrations. He discusses the classes he is taking, the books he is studying and the general impression of the Nadwah community and highlights the strength of communal studying, eating and praying.

The book is full of excerpts of Urdu poetry in its Urdu script and select translations and reflections are provided. These would be better appreciated by those conversant in the language and its poetry. An interesting excerpt was found on page 87:

Quoting the Urdu Poet, Iqbal:

How long be a slave to the mean world?
Practice asceticism or kingly rule!

This book is suitable for those interested in the Islamic history of India, the role of the Islamic institutions of learning, and anyone curious to know what goes on between their walls.

Additional Resources

Shaykh Bilal Ali Ansari also provides a book review:

Professor James Piscatori, who wrote the foreward, provides a short lecture on the book (Audio only):

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3 (Please look for a video entitled: Evening of knowledge 4- Professor James Piscotri speaks on Madrasah Life, as I was unable to post this specific portion of the talk without the entire playlist):

Dr Mahmood Chandia also lectures on Madrasah Life (audio only):

Part 1:

Part 2:


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