al-Nānautawī: Why modern sciences were excluded from the syllabus of Dār al-‘Ulūm Deoband

By Sayyid Mahbūb Rizwī
Translated by Prof. Murtaz Ḥusayn F. Qurayshī

On seeing the syllabus of Dār al-Ulūm Deoband, the question arises: ‘Why were the modern sciences, which had already reached India at the time this syllabus was compiled, not included in it?’ The reason for this non-inclusion, according to Mawlānā Muḥammad Qāsim Nānautawī, was that these subjects were being taught in the government schools that had been established in the country at various places and everyone could take advantage of these. On the contrary, the old (sacred) sciences were in a state of abandonment and there was not even an inferior arrangement for teaching these. Moreover, in this syllabus itself attention had been paid to the creation of so much ability in the student that he might acquire knowledge of other sciences through self-study. This question had also cropped up at the inception of the Dār al-Ulūm itself; on the convocation of 1290 AH Mawlānā Nānautawī threw full light on this question. He said:

“For the education of all the rational and traditional sciences and to acquire competency therein, this madrasah and the madrasah at Saharanpur (Maẓāhir Ulūm) are, no doubt, an excellent provision; and if it please Allah, the alumni here, provided they complete the curriculum, can easily and quickly acquire the remaining ancient and modern sciences by dint of the power of their ability. The reason therefore is that in these madrasahs, the greatest objective, besides the religious education, is the attainment of the power of ability. We did not rest content with only the religious sciences but as per the old system, have also provided subjects that develop intelligence, an excellent result of which in the former times was that great savants and polymaths possessing prodigious abilities were produced in legions amongst the followers of Islam. Hence, we understand with certainty that though the students here may not have succeeded with some of the modern arts and sciences, the ability of theirs may prove sufficient like a perfect teacher for their education. In other schools, though, due to the teaching of some modern subjects, the students thereof may have acquired some new acquaintance of those subjects which the students here may be wanting in, the latter, in fact, in the eyes of the just, would be considered, by virtue of their ability, superior to the former in these subjects also.

“Notwithstanding all this, even if some loss is conceivable supposedly due to lack of practice in some of the modern subjects, then due to want of ability and absence of the knowledge of religious sciences the students of those schools ought to be considered inferior to the students of this madrasah.

“Now we also point out this thing so that it may be known why in respect of acquirement (of knowledge) this special method was proposed and why the modern subjects were not included. The main reason, inter alia, for this is that whether training be special or general that aspect should be borne in mind from which crack may have developed in their accomplishment. Accordingly, it is manifest upon men of intelligence that nowadays education in modern subjects is making rapid progress due to the outnumbering government-run-schools. Indeed the old sciences must never have declined so much as they did now. Under such circumstances the people looked upon the founding of schools for modern sciences as an exercise in futility. Hence, it was considered necessary to spend money for the traditional sciences, as also for those disciplines which certainly develop ability for the conventional (religious) as well as the modern sciences.

“Secondly, the acquisition of numerous sciences at one and the same time proves detrimental to ability in respect of all the sciences. Of course, after acquiring the knowledge of intelligence-developing subjects, which have been prescribed especially for the acquisition of ability, if the old and new arts (subjects) too are acquired, the span of time required for their acquirement will, of course, remain equal. The objective will be achieved well enough through its antecedence and subsequence, as the ability of each science and hence the reason-developing sciences were introduced, along with the traditional sciences, in the curriculum. Hereafter, if the students of this madrasah, joining government schools, acquire knowledge of the modern subjects, this thing would more shore up their accomplishment.” (Rūdād Dār al-Ulūm Deoband, 1290 AH, p. 15-6)

On another occasion, replying to the objection that modern sciences have not been included in the curriculum of Dār al-Ulūm, he says:

“There is no arrangement here at all for the teaching of the worldly sciences. The answer (to this objection) firstly is that there ought to be a treatment of the disease. To take medicine for a disease, which is not there, is useless. The crack in the wall should be filled in; it is necessary to fill the kiln. What is it but foolishness to be anxious about the brick that has not fallen down? Of what earthly use are the government schools? If the profane sciences are not taught there, what else is done?” (Rūdād Dār al-Ulūm Deoband, 1292 AH, p. 13)

Rizvi, Sayyid Mahboob (1981). History of the Dār al-Ulūm Deoband, Volume 2. Deoband: Idara-e Ihtemam. p. 211-3.

Related article(s):

Concerning the avoidance of “English Education” in 19th century Muslim India

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5 thoughts on “al-Nānautawī: Why modern sciences were excluded from the syllabus of Dār al-‘Ulūm Deoband

  1. I believe this whole quotation has bee misunderstood. If the original urdu texts are referred to it will be easily understood.
    Modern sciences were introduced to the syllabus and this is an accepted fact amongst the ulama of Deoband at this present time. Please check records of the early syllabus in the annual reports of darul uloom.
    Sciences included:
    Elements of physics
    Principles of logic
    This was taught in a book called naqsh fil hajar. This is what the above text is referring to when stating that this will not be enough but will give then the keys and ability to harness into further development. It is not a general statement. Furthermore, sir John strachs report on Deoband easily clarifys this matter that euclids fith postulate was being taught. Also Professor ridha al masri of al-azhar on his visit commended the book and said we need such sciences to combat such ilhaad and apostasy from modern academics.
    Please research further.(for reference ml.sajjad nomani DB s.o ml.manzoor nomani has well researched this issue.)

  2. Assalaamu ‘Alaykum

    Jazak Allah khayr for your input and comments on this topic.

    If you do have any references, quotes, books, or any other info on this please post here so that the original article can be edited and updated.


    • Walykumus salaam


      Rudaad mu’tamar al-ansaar muradabaad (1911)
      Al-qasim monthly journal,Deoband, special edition of Darul uloom. (1360 AH)
      Rudad darul uloom (1330 AH)
      Al-furqan monthly journal, Lucknow, pg.27, July 2007
      Al-furqan monthly journal pg 4-14, March 2014

      I forgot to mention above that my point is more towards an introductory syllabus to ‘secular’ sciences being introduced and not a detailed syllabus and it is this that hazrat RA may be referring to in the second qoute. Wallahu alam.

      The time when the Dar al-Ulum, Deoband was established only nine years had passed over the fight for freedom of A. D. 1857.

      Since the common Muslims and the elders at the Dar al-Ulum had taken up arms and ranked against the English in this fight for freedom, the English government was very much antagonistic to the Muslims, suspicious of and ill-disposed towards them.

      The Muslims activities and movements were being kept under strict surveillance.

      On this account a series of investigations, secret and open, in respect of the Dar al-Ulum continued for a long time. As such, in 1291 / 1875, the governor of Uttar Pradesh (formerly, the United Provinces), Sir John Strachey, sent a trusted man of his, John Palmer, to visit the Dar al-Ulum with the purpose of making secret investigations and report about the objective behind the establishment of the Dar al-Ulum and about the thought and activity the Muslims Ulamah [a term used for Scholars] were engaged in under the cover of this institution.

      The report that John Palmer prepared and the impressions that he gathered, he has described in detail in a letter that he wrote to a friend.

      The interesting and scholarly manner in which John Palmer has expressed his observations and impressions, comparing the educational condition of the Dar al-Ulum with the English universities, helps a good deal in understanding the educational position of the Dar al-Ulum. This incident occurred during the incipience of the existence of the Dar al-Ulum.

      It can be estimated from this as to what the educational standard of the Dar al-Ulum has been from the very beginning.

      While this letter consists of details of the Dar al-Ulum’s educational and some other particulars as well as review and criticism, it also brings forth an interesting album of the Dar al-Ulum’s features and its educational peculiarities, based on very profound impressions from the pen of a man,who had had an adverse view-point.

      Hence it seems apt that the whole text of the letter is reproduced here.

      In a tour with the Lt Governor of the western and northern provinces I happened to stay at Deoband on January 30, 1875. The Governor told me:
      “The Muslims here, at Deoband, have started a madrasah against the government. Go there incognito and find out what is taught there and what the Muslims are after”.

      Accordingly, on Sunday, 31st January, I reached the habitation. The village is quite clean, the inhabitants are courteous and pious but are poor and miserable.

      Making enquiries, I reached the madrasah. Having reached there, I saw a large room in which boys were sitting on a palm-mat with books open before them, and an older boy was sitting in their midst. I asked the boys who their teacher was? One boy pointed out and then I came to know that the fellow sitting in the middle was himself the teacher. [1]

      I wondered what kind of teacher he might be.

      I asked him, “What do your boys read?”

      “Persian is taught here”, he replied.

      When I proceeded from here, a man of medium height but very handsome was sitting at one place, with a row of older boys before him. Approaching near, I heard that the science of triangle was being discussed.

      It was my guess that considering me to be a stranger they would be startled, but no one paid any attention to me at all.

      I went near, sat down and began to hear the teacher’s lecture.

      My astonishment knew no bounds when I saw that such strange and difficult theorems of the science of triangles were being expounded that I had never heard even from Dr. Sprenger.

      Rising from there when I went to a courtyard. I saw that students, wearing ordinary clothes, were sitting before a Maulvi (Honorific Islamic religious title given to Sunni Muslim religious scholars or Ulamah). Here the variants of the second figure of the sixth article of Euclid were being stated and the Maulvi was speaking off-hand in such a way that it appeared as though Euclid’s soul had entered his body?. [2]

      I was agape with wonder.

      Meanwhile, the Maulvi sahib asked the students such a difficult question on the first grade of equation from Todd Hunter’s Algebra that I was in a sweat at my own knowledge of mathematics and I was astounded.

      Some students solved it correctly.

      From here I reached a third courtyard. One Maulvi [3] was teaching a thick tome of Hadith and was all smiles while lecturing.

      Climbing a staircase from here, I reached the 1st floor. There were elegant houses on its three sides and in the centre was a small courtyard in which two blind men were chattering.

      In order to hear what they were saying, I went near stealthily.

      I came to know that they were committing to memory some lesson from a book of astronomy. Meanwhile one blind man said to the other: “Brother! In yesterday’s lesson I could not understand the bridal figure properly. If you have understood it, please explain it to me”.

      The other fellow first stated the claim and then proceeded to prove it by drawing lines on his palm and when their mutual discussion was going on, I was wondering, bringing before my eyes the scene of Principal Breggar’s lecture.

      Getting up from there I went to a 5 doored room. Small children sitting very respectfully before the teacher were reading books of grammar. In Class III a traditional science was being taught.

      I came down by another stair-case. I was under the impression that the madrasah was only this much. By chance I met a man and sought confirmation of my impression from him. He said: “No. The Holy Quran is taught at another place”. When I asked him where?, he took me to the mosque.

      In the courtyard of the mosque, many small children were reading the Quran before a sightless Hafiz. [4]

      I said that “Last year I had seen in newspaper [5] that four students had been awarded ‘the turban of proficiency’. Is any one of them present here?”.

      “Yes”, he said, “there is one, come along with me and I will introduce you to him”. He took me to a house where a young man was sitting. A thick book was lying before him and ten to twelve students were sitting and reading. Two guns were also lying on one side. I saluted him and he responded with utmost courtesy. I asked him,

      “Was the turban of proficiency tied on your head last year”?

      “It is”, he replied, “my teachers favor”.

      “What’s this book”? I asked him.

      “It is”, he said. “a technical book in the Arabic language. The manager of a press has sent it for translation. Its remuneration has been settled at Rs. 1000/-, I have been translating it for three months and nearly three-fourth of it is finished. The remaining, if it please Allah, will be completed in a month”.

      “How are these guns here”? I asked.

      He said:

      “I am fond of hunting. From seven to ten I teach, from eleven to one I go on hunting and from two to five I translate”.

      I asked: “Why don’t you take up same service”?

      He said: “God gives me Rs 250/- per month while I sit at home. Why should I then serve?” [6]

      Rising up from here I came to the library. The librarian, welcoming me, showed me the catalogue of books.

      I was amazed. There was no subject on which a book was not there.

      He showed me another register. It was a muster-roll for the students and was written in a very neat hand. Out of the 210 students on the roll, 208 were present.

      I was about to get up when a young man with an incipient beard came and, having saluted, sat down. I asked him who he was.

      He said: “I am the vice-chancellor”. [7]

      Then he placed three large registers before me and said: “Please see it; this is the account of income and expenditure for the whole year”.

      I saw that the account was written date wise with extreme soundness. From the abstract I learnt that at the end of the last academic year some money had remained in balance after the expenses.

      I wished to have a look at the books but the time was short and evening was about to set in. I was obliged to return.

      The results of my investigations are that the people of this place are educated, well behaved and very gentle. There is no necessary subject which is not taught here. The work that is being done in big colleges at the expense of thousands of rupees is being clone here by a Maulvi for forty rupees. There cannot be a better teaching institution than this for the Muslims and I can even go to the extent of saying that it even if a non-Muslim takes education here, it will not be without benefit. I had heard about the existence of a school for the blind in England, but here I saw with mine own eyes two blind men prove mathematical figures on their palms in the way it should be!

      I regret that Sir William Muir is not present today otherwise he would have inspected this madrasah with great zest and eagerness and would have given prizes to the students”.


      1. He was Maulana Munfi’at Ali Deobandi, teacher of Persian who had been appointed the same year (A.H. 1291 / 1874) after the completion of his education. Initially he served as a Persian teacher and after some years was made Arabic teacher in which capacity he served the Dar al-Ulum till 1318 / 1900.

      2. He was Maulana Sayyid Ahmed Dehelvi who was appointed second teacher in A. H. 1285 / 1868 and was made Vice-Chancellor on Maulana Muhammad Yaqub Nanautavi’s demise in A. H. 1302 / 1884. He continued on this post till A. H. 1307 / 1889. He was a matchless scholar of the time in mathematical sciences. Maulana Muhammad Oasim Nanautavi remarks “The Beneficient Lord has endowed Maulavi Sayyid Ahmed with such ability in and affinity with the mathematical arts that the inventors of these sciences too perhaps had had this much only.” (Report for A. H. 1293 / 1876, p. 13).

      3. This is a reference probably to Maulana Muhammad Yaqub Nanautavi, the vice-chancellor. From the very inception he had been appointed to this post. – Sayyid Mahboob Rizvi.

      4. That is Hafiz Namdar Khan, a resident of Bassi, District Muzatfarnagar. In the second year of the establishment ot the Dar al-Ulum, when the Quran class was started in 1284 / 1867, he was appointed its teacher and for nearly 55 years i.e till 1339/1920, he taught this class and produced a vast circle of Huffaaz including several teachers of the Dar al-Ulum.

      5. This was the earliest stage of the life of the Dar at-Ulum but it seems from John Palmer’s sentence that the conditions and particulars of the Dar al-Ulum were published prominently in the newspapers, which means that even in those incipient days the Dar at-Ulum was deemed to have achieved a central and distinguished position.

      6. Most probably he was Shaikh al-Hind. He had completed his studies in 1290/1874 and had been appolnted as teacher without pay in A.H. 1291. Among those who graduated in A. H. 1290 / 1873, Shaikh al Hind alone was an inhabitant of Deoband. And he was very fond of hunting also. It is regrettable that the book under translation referred to by John Palmer could not be traced.

      Note: Shaykh al-Hind Maulana Mahmud Hasan [may Allah be pleased with him] is not to be confused with another great Islamic scholar, Mufti Mahmud al-Hasan popularly referred to with the title ‘Faqeeh ul Ummah’ meaning ‘Jurist of the Muslim community’ who is also a graduate of Deoband. – Blog author.

      7. That is Maulana Rafi al-Din, Vice Chancellor of the Dar al-Ulum from 1284 / 1867 to 1286 / 1869 and again from 1288 / 1871 to 1308 / 1888.

      This letter is a translation from the Urdu version of John Palmer’s letter. As a spy he might have known Urdu and Persian well. Unfortunately the compiler of this history. Maulana S. M. Rizwi died of heart failure on 25th March, 1979 otherwise he could have supplied the original English text, if there was any. – Murtaz Husain F. Quraishi, the translator of the book into English.

      [Source: Pg. 135, Volume 1, History of Dar al Ulum Deoband, by Sayyid Mahboob Rizvi and translated into English by Prof. Murtaz Husain F. Quraishi]

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