Inside Kashmir’s Seminary Network

Kashmir’s formal education system owes its evolution to medieval Khanqah education and Maktab teaching. Kashmir still has an impressive seminary network and Dr Nisar Ahmad Trali, a physician, worked overtime for many years to offer a first detailed idea about the system’s evolution, significance and spread, reports Khalid Bashir Gura

A front view of a Ikhlas Trust that Dr Niusar A Bhat runs in Tral (South Kashmir).

In 2010, Dr Nisar Ahmad Bhat Trali, 63, a physician, penned down, Aaina Tral,  the only major history of Tral town. A year later, he started a backbreaking project that involved traversing untrodden paths for researching and documenting Muslim seminaries across Jammu and Kashmir.

As one story led to another, Trali remained preoccupied with the research and finally, it led to the making of Aaena-e-Madaaris, Madrasa Education in Jammu and Kashmir, which was published in 2015. It is the first major exercise detailing the evolution of the seminary education in Jammu and Kashmir.

A qualified practitioner of Tibb-e-Nabvi (Prophetic Medicine), Trali, is the founder of Tral-based Ikhalas Trust, a voluntary social and health sector organization. The Trust, runs a Madrasa and holds medical camps and provides free medical aid to the needy.  Besides, it is actively involved in the training of Haj pilgrims.

“Before travelling, I began reviewing the literature. Keeping weather vagaries, and geographical and topographical variations across Jammu and Kashmir in consideration, I planned my itinerary,” said Trali as soon he saw himself trekking mountains, rushing through cool brooks, and battling the simmering and sweltering heat of Jammu plains.  “While on this dream project laced with a spiritual purpose, I was working from Fajr prayers till 11:30 pm in the night. I spent almost sixty nights in different Madaris.” On average, he said he travelled about 22000 km across Jammu and Kashmir to document 499 seminaries.

Why This Research?

The twin towers tragedy in the United States of America triggered a serious wave of Islamophobia across the world. It led to the denigration of  Islamic seminaries and their portrayal as regressive institutions. It disturbed Trali, who felt his religious identity is in crisis. This was where the idea of profiling the seminary network was born.

Dr Nisar A Bhat Trali’s book on Seminaries in Kashmir was published in 2022

“Sometimes leaders of these institutions were accused of producing unskilled human resources with no career prospects in life. These institutions were even alleged of financial bungling and immoral acts,” Trali regretted.

In order to move ahead, Trali prepared a basic document on the basis of a sample study of Madrasa Islamia Arabia Anwar-Uloom, Dandipora, Kashmir’s oldest seminary. With a clear idea on paper, he started moving around to collect details.

But the study was not a cakewalk. “The management of 49 Madaris did not cooperate unlike 450 others,” Trali said. His travels, sometimes harsh and painful, continued his multiple disc ailments and jaundice that attacked him at the end of the journey.

The Evolution

The seminary institution building in Kashmir, Trali believes started immediately after the advent of Islam. The sultans established seminaries almost in every village. People who embraced Islam received basic religious education in these seminaries. During 247 years of Sultanate (Shahmeeri and Chak era from 1339 to 1586 AD), education was accessible. Then, the Madrassa curriculum was global. Whatever was being taught in Hindustan, Turkistan or  Iran was in vogue in Kashmir too. “As a rule, a child was admitted in Madrassa at the age of five years where he got acquainted with the Arabic language followed by Tawheed, Tafseer, Hadith, and Fiqah, Islamic Jurisprudence, Trali said, “Besides indigenous medical knowledge, archery, swordsmanship and horse riding was also being taught.”

Shahabuddin (1354-1373), for instance, established, on the insistence of Shah-e-Hamadan, the Mudrasatul Quran. “Abu al-Mashayak Sheikh Sulaiman was had embraced Islam received education in the Madrassa and distinguished himself as an exponent of the Quran and was given the title of Imam-ul-Quran, Imam of Qaris,” Trali said.

Sultan Qutbuddin built a college at Qutbddinpora, his seat of power, and is seen as a pioneer in residential schooling in Kashmir. This institution was in operation till the rise of Khalisa sarkar in Kashmir and a number of reputed and distinguished professors and scholars were on its rolls. Located in Srinagar’s Langerhatta – where a community kitchen also operated, this school was shut for lack of government funding. Syed Jamaluddin Mohdis accompanied Shah Hamdan to Kashmir and settled in Srinagar on the insistence of Syed Qutubudeen.

Budshah’s period, later, set up a residential university at Nowshera. The villages of Soibug (Budgam), Khoihama (Sopore) and one more village were endowed by the king for this Madrassa. The ruins of Syed Jamaludeen’s Madrassa, Urwat-al-Wuska still exist in Fateh Kadal’s Ashai Street.  It remained in operation till the middle of the seventeenth century. Similar Madrassa, he established at Seer, South Kashmir. He even gifted six lakhs rupees to the Darul -ul-uloom at Sialkot and his queen offered her necklace.

Trali said he has enough historical pieces of evidence to suggest that Kashmir kings endowed land for the development of education and motivated the invited scholars of other countries to settle in Kashmir and disseminate knowledge.

Sultan Sikander (1389-1413 AD), opened many schools and laid the foundation of a College and boarding house (hostel) adjacent to Jamia Masjid. “Then, subjects like history, medicine, biology, chemistry, and all other fields of knowledge were taught in Madaris at that time,” Trali asserts in his book.

Dr Nisar Ahmad Bhat Trali, is a physician whose research on Jammu and Kashmir’s seminary network is the first of its kind.

Despite being preoccupied with administering Kashmir, Sikander would attend Hazrat Meer Muhammad Hamdani’s classes. In that era, Central Asia was going through a tumultuous period, a result of which, many scholars fled and took refuge in Kashmir. The kings made them comfortable by rehabilitating them and encouraging them to establish Madaris.

Similarly, another king of the Shahmir dynasty, Sultan Zain-ul-Abideen, established a Madrassa Another Shahmiri king, Sultan Hassan Shah established Daral-al-Shafa at Pakhreebal on the bank of Dal Lake, which was administered by  Baba Ismail Kibravee, the Sheikh-ul-Islam of that period. It would get its income from the orchards of Malla Khah (graveyard) and Beehama (Ganderbal). While the king’s mother, Gull Khatoon, had established a grand Madrasa, the queen, Hayat Khatoon, had repaired all those buildings where knowledge was being imparted. His wazier, Malik Ahmad Yatoo, and his wife and son also established seminaries.

Chak Era

Sultan Hussain Shah Chak, endowed Zainapora Jagir with a Madrassa, which is now known as Khanqah Naqshbandi (Khawaja Bazar). Initially, it operated as Khankah Kubravee at the base of Kohi Maran, adjacent to which, the king established a library and kitchen.  King bestowed the incomes from Wandahama, Harwan, Dara, Burzhama, Doultabad (Rainawari) and Bagh-e-Angoori (presently a graveyard) to the college where Mulla Akhund Darwaish was teaching and Hazrat Sheikh Hamza Makdhoomi was a student.

Before the arrival of the Mughals, the author, also credits, Sultan Yousuf Shah Chak for establishing and encouraging Madaris education in Srinagar city. However, from the beginning of Mughal rule to the end of the Dogra dynasty in Jammu and Kashmir, the author has not documented the state and status of seminaries under different rulers. The vast era is an information black hole on the Madrasa education in Kashmir.

The Work

Dr Nisar’s Aaeena Madaris offers and has documented more than 450 of the 500 Madaris operating in Jammu and Kashmir. It offers a brief sketch of these basic level institutions including names, location, background, students’ enrolment, staff, curriculum, admission, academic calendar, medium of instruction, examination and evaluation system, sources of revenue and other basics. Of the 450 Madaris, 186 are located in Jammu province and 264 in Kashmir. As many as 340 of these are affiliated with Darul Uloom Deoband, six with the University of Kashmir, 76 with other schools of thought, six with Nadvatul Ulema Lucknow, and ten with Jamiat-i-Ahl-e-Hadees. The book contains a brief biography of the founders of 369 institutions that currently have 4646 teachers and 1126 supporting staff,

Seminary students at Ikhalas Trust, Tral

Unlike the perception that these institutions have the least facilities of modern education available to them, Dr Nisar’s book suggests that these institutions have nearly half a million books in their libraries. In 94 of these Madrassas have evolved into a sort of modern school. As many as 64 of these schools are associated with the Rabita Madaris chain that has 188 strong network. Most of these institutions, mostly in Kashmir, have access to computers for students and at least two have CCTV surveillance.

Almost 1,35,000 students have completed their studies at these institutions. Of them, these institutions have produced 19000 hufaaz (who have memorised the Qur’an), besides 2500 scholars and Sheikhs. The book reveals that 210 Sheikhs are published authors.

These institutions supervise around 14788 Maktaba’s (small seminaries). The book has documented Madaris in all districts of Jammu and Kashmir including the one at Thiksey (Ladakh). The book offers brief sketches about great Kashmir preachers like Sheikh Yaqoob Sarfi, Khawaja Habibullah Nowshehri, Allama Anwar Shah Kashmiri, Mirwaiz Maulana Yusuf Shah and Sayyid Mirak Shah Kashani and, other 35 Mohsideen (scholars have expertise in the life and sayings of the prophet). Even though the book highlights the role Kashmir scholars played in Arabic knowledge and literature, it offers nothing much about the contributions of the knowledge that the institutions of Khanqah have made.

Seminaries In Plains

In the plains, Jammu has 19 Madrasas with Madrasa Arabia Ashraf-ul-Uloom as the biggest and operating since 1983.

With Muslims making up merely 10 per cent of the population in Kathua, Rameshwar Chandyal has Islamia Arabia, Markaz-al-Huda on two kanals of purchased land since 2009.

The district has six Madrasas with Darul Quran Asraria as the oldest one and operating since 1999. In neighbouring Samba, there are three Madrassa’s including  Jamia Dar Uloom, Teeli Bastee that is operational since 1997. Udhampur has 10 Madrasas with Madrassa Jamia Arabia Taleem-ul-Quran as the major one. It has access to computers.

The Chenab Valley

There are 16 Madrasa’s in Kishtwar including the Madrassa Qasim-ul-Uloom (established 1994). There are 28 Madrasas in Doda with Madrasa Arabia Israr-al-Uloom operating since 1980.

Madrassa Islamia Arabia Akhyar-al-Uloom (established in 1989) is another major seminary in the district.

Management of this seminary is adding a new block to its existing building, which will add huge space for the inmates.

Ramban has 29 Madrasas with Madrasa Islamia Arabia Ashraf-a-Uloom, operating since 1985, and is the oldest one. Reasi has eight Madrasas with Madrasa Ishat-al-Uloom upgraded from Maktab in 2003, as the major one.

Pir Panchal Valley has 33 Madrasas with Jamia Islamia Zia-ul-Uloom (established 1974) as a major name. This seminary has around 1390 residential and 100 non-residential students and its campus is spread over 40 kanals of land and is manned by 108 teachers.

Neighbouring Rajouri has 32 Madrasas with Jamia Islamia Arabia Riaz-al-Uloom as the major address. Established in 1960, it operated as a Maktab till 1979.

In Kashmir Plains

Unlike Jammu, the seminary set up in Kashmir is resourceful and sophisticated. The first post-partition seminary started in 1947 as a Maktab and was upgraded to Madrasa in 1973. Though starting with six students, the seminary now has 255 students (145 as residential students) on rolls and its curriculum is in conformity with Rabita Madaris Islamia Arabia of Darul-Ul-Uloom Deoband.  It is managed by a  45-member Majlis Shoura, the advisory council.

Spread over 16 kanals of land in Dandipora, it is properly fenced and owns a Masjid with Hamam, a two-storied hostel building, a guest house, a kitchen, dining hall and a teaching block. Apart from nine Maktab’s, it runs a primary school with more than 100 students. Respected, the seminary has been visited by almost every Chief Minister and political leader.

The book offers details about six madrasas, which are registered with Kashmir University. These include Jamia Madinat-ul-Uloom, Madrassa Islamia Oriental College, Rajouri Kadal, Srinagar and Jamiat-al-Banat.

Jamia Madinat-ul-Uloom has an interesting story. It was established on July 25, 1948, in the lawns of Dargah Hazratbal, primarily to offer an address to the students who could not attend their Jamia operating on the other side of the Line of Control. Its library is dedicated to Sher e Kashmir.

However, Islamic Oriental College is the oldest such institution. It was started as a Maktab by Maulana Rasool Shah in 1920. Later Mirwaiz Mohammad Yousuf Shah after completing his education returned from Deoband and started teaching there.

Srinagar is also home to Darul-ul-Uloom Illahia that operates since 1992 in a house that was donated by a resident. Now a modern seminary located at Shah Faisal Colony Soura, it has a rich library, ten computer systems, one LCD, one projector and one Educom system.

Amidst the proliferation of seminaries, however, there was a realization that girls do not have such an address and it led to the setting up of Jamiat-ul-Banat in July 1999. It admits candidates post-matriculation. There are nearly 475 girls enrolled on a residential basis in the seminary. Since then, it has produced 1375 Hifaz and Ulema.

Sopore aerial view
Sopore: An aerial view. It is the bridge that connects the two parts of Sopore. Image: Junaid Bhat

In Sopore, Madrasa Islamia Arabia Jamia Darul Uloom operates from 30 kanals of land since 1977. It has four hostels, and a guest house as 360 residential students and 125 non-residential students are enrolled. From this institution alone, more than 300 Hufaz and 200 Ulema have come out, the book suggests.

The book offers details about eleven Madrasas in Budgam. It includes Darul-ul-Uloom Gousia, Chrar-e-Shareef and Jamia-al-Uloom, an institution run by Al Falah Trust, that is functioning as a high School for the last 20 years. It is a residential school.

Darul Uloom Rahimiya in Bandipora (established September 1979) as Maktab is perhaps the major seminary of Kashmir. It was built on a 48-Kanal land that an elderly widow donated before her death.

Distinguished Personalities

Apart from offering historical accounts, the book also highlights the contributions that various Islamic scholars have made in the evolution of the seminary structure. Names highlighted include Sheikh Yaqoob Sarafi, Sheikh Habibullah Hubi Nowshari, Abdul Rashid Shopinia and Allama Anwar Shah Kashmiri. The book is the first of its kind on Madrassas and is literally a directory.

After visiting most of the existing seminaries across Jammu and Kashmir, the author has suggested all these institutions must get registered. Their landed possession should be recorded in revenue records to avoid encroachment and all of them must continue meticulously maintaining the details of their income and expenditure. He has also suggested that these institutions must have media cells so that society stays updated about their actions and activities. The author believes that the spread of the Madrasas network can play a big role in natural disasters and impart education. He also wants their curriculum to be at par with the formal system of education and extra-curricular activities should be included.

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