Home Articles Kashmir’s Largest Madrasa: Dar ul-Uloom Raheemiyyah

Kashmir’s Largest Madrasa: Dar ul-Uloom Raheemiyyah

By Yoginder Sikand

Established in 1979, the Dar ul-Uloom Raheemiyyah, located in the town of Bandipora, is the largest madrasa in Jammu and Kashmir. Founded by a graduate of the Deoband madrasa, Maulana Muhammad Rahmatullah, it currently has more than a thousand students on its rolls. Patterned on the Deoband model, it is one of the few madrasas in the state that provide Islamic education till the takhasus or specialization level.

The Trust that runs the madrasa also runs several other institutions, spread over three separate campuses. These include the Faiz-e Aam school for girls (till the fifth grade) and a similar school for boys (till the tenth grade). Both these institutions follow the curriculum prescribed by the Jammu and Kashmir State Board for Education, besides providing students with religious education. The madrasa is located on a separate plot of land, donated by a pious elderly woman, the late Aziz un-Nisa, who is said to have taught the Quran to hundreds of boys and girls in and around Bandipora. Adjacent to the madrasa is a four-storey technical institute which is scheduled to be opened this year, offering courses in computers, tailoring, painting and book-binding to students of the madrasa and others. Work on a mosque that can accommodate some six thousand worshippers is almost complete. A new library is coming up, whose collection includes numerous handwritten manuscripts in Persian and Arabic, some several centuries old. In addition, the Dar ul-Uloom runs some sixty part-time maktabs in and around Bandipora, most of whose teachers are senior students of the madrasa.

Mufti Nazeer Ahmed, aged 40, one of the elders at the madrasa, is known as a specialist in Islamic jurisprudence. His principal task is to dispense fatwas and hear disputes in the dar ul-qaza or ‘house of justice’ that is attached to the madrasa. Till date, the madrasa has received several thousand requests for fatwas.

When I enter his cell to meet the Mufti, I find him sitting in a corner on a carpet, surrounded by men and women who have come to him for advice. He asks an old woman, who cannot speak, to explain her problem. It relates, like many other cases that he daily hears, to marital and inheritance squabbles. He then hears out the others who are party to the dispute and eventually gives an opinion in the woman’s favour.

As the crowd shuffles out of the room, he beckons me to sit next to him. I ask him if his madrasa’s acceptance of modern education, as represented in the two schools that it runs, in addition to the madrasa itself, is unusual for the Kashmiri ulema community.

‘Not at all’, he replies. ‘Many of our ulema believe that we need to have both modern as well as Islamic education, including even for girls’. ‘Students with knowledge of both’, he adds, ‘can effectively communicate Islam, by their words and deeds, in a whole range of spheres, and not simply as religious specialists. A pious Muslim engineer or doctor is best suited for preaching Islam to engineers or doctors’.

Mufti Nazir offers added justification for this approach to education. ‘If ulema acquire law degrees, they will be in a better position to offer fatwas. Or, if you want to establish an economic institution or system run on Islamic lines, a degree in economics can be useful. Or, if a madrasa graduate studies journalism, he can use his skills to present a proper understanding of Islam to others and to counter anti-Muslim media propaganda. And for this, madrasa graduates must also study English and other languages, so that they can communicate with people who do not know Urdu’.

The Mufti also refers to the need for technical training for madrasa students. ‘This is important for those students who will not take up careers as ulema’, he explains.

I ask the mufti about the Kashmir dispute, but he brushes aside my question politely. ‘We have nothing to do with politics’, he says. He stresses, however, that allegations about madrasas in Kashmir being allegedly involved in promoting ‘terrorism’ are false. ‘We are completely transparent, an open book, and have nothing to hide. Anyone can come and visit us and sit in our classrooms’, he replies. ‘Not a single madrasa in Kashmir has been identified by intelligence sources as engaged in that sort of activity’. To brand the madrasas as a whole as ‘factories of terror’ on the basis of the activities of a few stray students is unfair, he stresses.

We talk about inter-community relations and what Islam has to say about them. It is wrong, the Mufti tells me, to equate all non-Muslims as ‘enemies of Islam’, as some fringe elements believe. ‘You cannot generalize like this about any community. There are good people in other communities, just as there are bad people among Muslims. Our duty as Muslims is to approach others with kind words and a good heart and tell them about Islam and impress them with our good example’. For that, the Mufti says, peace is a must, so that others would be willing to listen to what Muslims say about their faith. Moreover, he adds, ‘we must learn about each other’s religions, not to condemn and denounce others, but to understand them’.

He tells me about a Hindu whom he met some days ago who had read about Islam and the stress it lays on ethical values. ‘He told me that he appreciated Islam because of these values that it stands for, and not because of Muslims’ behaviour. So, Islam must not be judged on the basis of the wrong actions of some Muslims’, he says.

The call for the evening prayer comes floating in. As I get up to leave, the Mufti hands me a bunch of booklets that the madrasa has published, including its monthly magazine, Al-Noor, which is published in both Urdu and English. He asks me to spend the night if I want as it is getting late and I might miss the last bus to Srinagar. I would certainly have loved to—his cheerfulness, simplicity and hospitality have been so endearing, but I really must leave. I promise him that I’ll try to return soon and spend a few days with him, to get a better understanding of madrasas from within, something that few writers on this much talked-about subject have actually attempted.

For more details, contact:
The Manager,
Dar ul-Uloom Raheemiyyah,
Jammu and Kashmir, 193502.