Muslim educational decline & revival!

June 14 marks 105th death anniversary of Mirwaiz Rasul Shah, an occasion to review Muslim educational decline and revival. The late Mirwaiz is remembered as Sir Syed of Kashmir. The context in which he was so entitled has to be understood, in order to appreciate his work. We may also try to comprehend the motivation, the factors that provided the impetus for doing what he did and for which he is remembered.

In the overall context of Muslim education worldwide, the decline was painful and unfortunately of long duration. In wide parts of Muslim world, it still persists, in spite of strides made in some parts. The golden period of Muslim emancipation, relates to two regions mainly, though it reflected in all parts of Muslim world. The two regions were Baghdad [750-1258] and Muslim Spain [750-1492]. In Muslim Spain [Hispania/Andalusia or simply Andalus in Arabic-its various attributes] it was most marked in Cordova [Qurtubah in Arabic].

Baghdad with its ‘Nizamiyah’ a great seat of learning, its hospitals and hospices, its sojourn with artful enterprises and scientific learning fell victim to sectarian debates in its squares. The resultant weakness had Halaku Khan-grandson of Genghis Khan decimate it. The Tigris turned black with the ink of thousands of literary gems thrown in it, later the historical river turned red with blood of scores of Muslims killed by murderous hordes of brutish Halaku. There is a price to be paid for getting divided in sects and loosening the national fibre. Baghdad paid the price!

Muslim Spain in 1492 paid the price of political divisions exploited by the marital alliance two Christian monarchies of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabelle. The last Muslim fortress-Grenada [Garnata in Arabic] fell to this combine. American gold brought by Columbus from America coincidentally discovered in 1492 partly financed the Christian campaign. Columbus, some studies relate was awarded as a ‘Great Servant of Church’. With this the Muslim decline started, taking a downward course over centuries.

In the 19th century some Muslim scholars concerned over the decline stared the revival. Jamal-ud-Din Afghani travelled from country to country, city to city, village to village to stoke the revival. People like Syed Qutub helped the process. In India in the second half of 19th century Sir Syed with his Aligarh movement contributed a great deal to the awakening process. In Kashmir, the process was taken up by Mirwaiz Rasul Shah, as he laid the foundation of Islamia School in the downtown Srinagar in the year 1890.

Mirwaiz Rasul Shah assumed the office of Mirwaiz in 1308 [AH] corresponding to 1887 [AD]. The late Mirwaiz cast a spell on his audience while preaching-Jadou Biya’n is how Munshi Mohd-ud-Din Fouq describes him [Tarikh Aqwam-i-Kashmir, vol II, p: 434]. Fouq-a reputed historian, an associate of Allama Iqbal relates that Mirwaiz Rasul Shah did not confine his preaching to his premier pulpit-Jamia Masjid, but extended his preaching to other towns-Shopian, Sopore, Baramulla and other towns and villages. That makes out the genial approach. Instead of having the people come to the main city to listen him preach, he reached out to the people-People’s Mirwaiz!

In earlier times, his illustrious ancestors migrated from the native-Tral to Srinagar. How Tral became the abode of the family, which today constitutes the ‘House of Mirwaiz’ has an interesting shade. Fouq in his narrative of the family [Tarikh Aqwam-i-Kashmir, vol II, p: 430-440] relates that the family of noble religious literates accompanied Hazrat Mir Syed Ali Hamdani [RA] from Iran to Kashmir and settled in Tral. Fouq says that Mir Syed Ali Hamdani [RA] obtained Tral by paying ‘Teen Lal’ [Three Pearls] to the King of Kashmir. ‘Teen Lal’ eventually became ‘Tral’.
 Moulvi Sidiqullah, the earliest traced ancestor was called A’khund [teacher in religion] for his literary efforts. He developed an urban constituency of followers and supporters [Murid in Islamic lore] which prompted the growing ‘religious order’ to move to the capital city-Srinagar. The migration took place during the period of Afghan rule [1750-1819 A.D]. A’khund’ Abdul Salam son of ‘Moulvi Sidiqullah’ continued the good work started by the father.

Hafiz Abdul Rasool alias ‘A’khund’ Lassa Baba born in 1198 AH was eldest son of Abdul Salam. Well versed in Arabic and Persian, a few Persian couplets of Lassa Baba noted by Fouq capture the imagination.  His only son, Moulvi Mohammad Yahya was barely nine, when Lassa Baba died in 1261 A.H. Sheikh Ahmad Tarabali, a renowned scholar of Kashmir of yore acted as his guardian. For 48 years did he preach and he was the first designated ‘Mirwaiz’ by royal court, though people had already accepted the obvious. ‘Mirwaiz’ Mohammad Yahya is known to be an author of books in Kashmiri, Arabic and Persian. In 1307 AH, he performed ‘HAJ’ pilgrimage. He died immediately, after his return in 1308 AH.  

Moulvi Mohammad Yahya was succeeded by ‘Mirwaiz Moulvi Rasul Shah’ who had memorised Quran, when he was barely seven years old. He remained in office for nineteen years, however in short period; he did enough to leave a wide imprint. While whole hearted appreciation of all those who understand the implication of his work stands as a historical testimony, the role of his peers cannot be underestimated. The ‘House of Mirwaiz’ had taken up the cause of education from the earliest times. It was in fact in 18th century that ‘Moulvi Sidiqullah’ established a school for religious education, in addition to his ancestral practice of ‘publication and propagation of ‘Islamic rules and regulations’. His successors continued the practice of teaching, in addition to preaching. Mirwaiz Yahya Shah used to take classes in his ‘Dewan Khana’ [part of his living quarters].  Preaching could in fact be taken as a form of education. However the role played by Mirwaiz Rasul Shah prevails over others is in reading the call of the times. Hence while keeping religious education, a part of curriculum in Islamia School; he initiated secular education to enhance Muslim educational empowerment-a forerunner of political empowerment. As Islamia School was raised in status from primary to middle and ultimately to high school, Muslims in Kashmir started lining up for gainful employment, while in years of yore, there was none. To institutionalise educational reforms, an umbrella organisation ‘Anjumn Nusrat-ul-Islam’ was brought forth. Patronised by the ‘House of Mirwaiz’ it continues to perform. The Anjumn needs to do a lot more in years to come.

It is hoped and prayed that the organisation stands alive to the challenge.

Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi
[Reunion is subordinate to survival]

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