Mirwaiz Rasul Shah followed Sir Syed Ahmad Khan at a time when the educational deficit had started crippling Kashmiri Muslims, writes M J Aslam
Mirwaiz Ghulam Rasul Shah (Mirwaiz Molvi Rasul Shah) was born on September 2, 1855 (Dhul-Hijjah 20, 1271AH) in the famous Mirwaiz family of Srinagar’s Rajouri Kadal. It is said that the family are the descendants of Waiz Sidiqullah whose great grandfather had come to Kashmir with the illustrious son of Ameer i Kabir, Mir Syed Mohammad Hamdani and settled in Tral. He died at Tral in 1155 Hijri (1742-1743 AD).
It was Mirwaiz Abus Salam, son of Mirwaiz Sidiqullah who during the Afghan period first migrated from Tral to Pompore wherefrom he later shifted initially to Qalamdanpora in Srinagar, where he used to deliver religious sermons for some years. He died at Qalamdanpora.
It was his son, Mirwaiz Ghulam Rasool, alias Lassi Baba, who shifted from Qalamdanpora to the locality of Rajouri Kadal, Srinagar to which place the name of the Mirwaiz family is attached for centuries. Mirwaiz Rasul Shah and his son, Molvi Yehya Shah, after his death, continued with their religious preaching at Jamia Masjid Srinagar and elsewhere in Kashmir. The family was enormously famed and respected throughout Kashmir.
Mirwaiz Rasul Shah was the son of Kashmir’s Mirwaiz Awal, Molvi Yehya Shah, who was a Mohadith [specialist in Ahadeeth of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBHU). At the age of seven, Mirwaiz Molvi Rasul Shah had committed the Holy Quran to his memory. By the age of seventeen, he had completed the traditional education in Fiqh, Ahadeeth, Islamic theology and philosophy. He delivered his first religious sermon at well known Bazar Masjid Bohri Kadal, Srinagar.
Under the guidance of his father, Molvi Yehya Shah, he preached and sermonized throughout Kashmir from the pulpits of major shrines and masjids till the death of his father in 1890 AD when he was only 40 years old. After his father’s demise, Molvi Rasul Shah was publically and officially recognised as the next Mirwaiz of Kashmir in a turban ceremony held at Jamia Masjid, Srinagar. Thereafter, for the next twenty years, he contributed to the upliftment of Kashmiri Muslims on religious and educational fronts.
Since he had closely watched the miserable plight of Muslims of Kashmir under the early Dogra rule, especially the socio-educational front, Molvi Rasul Shah made a serious attempt to address this area. No doubt, there was the Madrassa system of education during the Muslim period but after its decline in 1819, nothing much was happening. It was the era when modern education had penetrated deep into the educational systems of the world.
Until 1880 not a single school on modern lines was opened in Srinagar. Then, the Christian Missionaries felt attracted to the region. First Missionary Boys School was opened in 1880 by Christian Missionary Society in a mud-hut in the premises of Missionary Hospital, Drugjan, Srinagar, which was subsequently shifted, for the paucity of space, to a private residence, at Fateh Kadal, Srinagar, in 1890.
Some female missionaries succeeded in setting up a girls school quite adjacent to the Boys School at Fateh Kadal, sometime between 1893 and 1895.
Following Sir Syed
Kashmiri Muslims were generally ignorant and more particularly, educationally backward. The position of their Indian counterparts was not much different. It was Sir Syed Ahmad Khan who set up the first college of modern education, Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College, at Aligarh in 1875, which was elevated to the present Aligarh Muslim University in 1926.
In Kashmir, it was none other than Molvi Ghulam Rasul Shah who followed the footsteps of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and understood the pressing need of the hour. He set up first modern Muslim school on Rabil Awal 12, 1317 Hijri (July 31, 1899 AD) Rajouri Kadal, Srinagar which was elevated to High School in 1905 with affiliation to Punjab University of Lahore. Mirwaiz set up a Society for the purpose of running this school, the Anjuman e Nusratul Islam.
The First College
The upgrade of the school coincided with the setting up of the first college in Kashmir in 1905 at Srinagar under the name of Sri Pratap Singh “Hindu College”, near Sathu Barbar Shah, Srinagar [very present site] and a large number of Kashmiri Pandit boys joined the college which was re-named as Sri Pratap College in 1911.
Credit goes to the strenuous efforts of Pandit Bala Kaul of the Sahib family, and Pandit Daya Kishen Koul son of Pandit Suraj Koul, the member of the State Regency Council, who had developed a correspondence with Annie Besant, then President of the Theosophical Society of India, persuaded her to open a college at Srinagar. The foundation of the college was laid by Annie Besant under the name of Hindu College, which was rechristened to Sri Pratap College, later. It has to be noted that the Dogra Ruler Pratap Singh was contributing considerable funds to the Hindu College of Banaras. Annie Besant was the chairperson of the Trustees of the Central Hindu College of Benaras who recommended the opening of Hindu College at Srinagar.
Muslims who constituted the overwhelming majority were given little encouragement by the Maharaja in the field of education “for the fear that they might become conscious of their political rights”. But against all odds, heavy opposition from local Muslims under the influence of fanatic Molvis, it was Mirwaiz Kashmir, Molvi Rasul Shah, who imbued with ideas of modern education, opened door to it by establishing the first primary school at Rajouri Kadal Srinagar in 1899.
Shah was encouraged in his efforts by many well educated non-local Punjabi Muslims who resided in Kashmir in connection with their trade and jobs. In them, especially, Munshi Ghulam Ahmad Khan, who was Revenue Advisor in the Maharaja’s administration, was well acquainted with the general ignorance, backwardness and illiteracy of Kashmiri Muslims. He helped Mirwaiz Rasul Shah in introducing modern education in Kashmir and got sanctioned a monthly grant of Rs 50 for the school by Maharaja’s government. When the school was elevated to High School, the monthly grant was increased to Rs 150. The school was elevated to the level of High School under the name of Islamia High School in 1905 under the auspices of Anjuman-i-Nusratul Islamia.
The school was the biggest contribution of Mirwaiz Rasul Shah to Kashmir’s Muslim community. It proved a milestone in the direction of the modern educational institutions of Kashmir.
But, Mirwaiz had to face criticism and taunts of co-religionists for opening Islamia School on the lines of modern education, though religious education was and continues to be imparted side by side with it. With the success of the school at Rajouri Kadal, Srinagar, Anjuman e Nusratul Islam, set up a chain of schools including Drugjan, Rainawari, Safa Kadal, Nowshera, Fateh Kadal, Ameera Kadal, in Srinagar and Anantnag.
A Chain Evolves
Within some years, Islamia School became a model of modern school for Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir and it was running successfully at par with the Christian Missionary Schools. Apart from theology and religion, these schools taught English, Persian, Arabic, Mathematics, and science.
Despite being a frontline educational institution, the Islamia School could not get the deserving patronage from the rulers and governments. This was in spite of the fact that some of the key decision-makers of Jammu and Kashmir in subsequent years had a school with the Islamia School. The list includes politicians Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq, Mufti Sayeed, physician Dr Ali Mohammad Jan, poet Ghulam Ahmad Mehjoor, academician Ghulam Ahmad Ashai, Abdul Aziz Fazili and M Yousuf Buch, the former advisor at the UN.
Presently, Nusratul Islam Trust Islamabad, Islamia High School Bijbehara, Islamia School Bota Kadal, Islamia School Safa Kadal, Islamia Higher Secondary School Rajouri Kadal are major educational centres run by the Anjuman.
The Social Work
Contributions in the education sector and preaching from the pulpits of Jamia Masjid and Aali Masjid, Mirwaiz Rasul Shah showed keen interest in the general welfare and charitable cause of Kashmir. He helped the financially needy, poor, widows, handicapped and those who could not marry their daughters for financial constraints. He never charged for any sermon. He would routinely accompany petitioners to the British Resident who held him in great esteem.
Mirwaiz Rasul Shah died at the age of 58 on July 29, 1909 (Rajab 12, 1327). Thirty thousand people joined his funeral. On August 6, more than a lakh people joined the Friday condolence gathering, Fateh Khawani. Even the Maharaja condoled the death and sent a pair of costly shawls for placing on the religious leader’s coffin. The Punjab Press termed Mirwaiz’s death in their headlines as the national loss of Kashmir.
(M J Aslam is the author of the 2-volume Law of Contract that was published by Thomson Reuters Publication in 2017. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Kashmir Life.)