The madrasa of Nadwat ul 'Ulama: Islamic learning and contemporary socioeconomic challenges in India's urban milieu
Christopher Taylor (Boston University)
Paper short abstract:
In contemporary India, however, religious knowledge is increasingly sidelined within politics and education. Yet the vibrancy of Lucknow's religious sphere adds nuance to the facile notion that ‘ulama must adopt “modern” syllabi or must succumb to the government's madrasa reforms to remain relevant.
Paper long abstract:
Lucknow is world-famous for Islamic intellectual production. The city produced the 'ulama of Firangi Mahal, the Sunni seminary Darul 'Uloom Nadwat ul 'Ulama, and the revival and consolidation of a distinctly Indian Shi'ism. In contemporary India, however, religious knowledge is increasingly sidelined within politics and education. Today's news media laments madrasa education's obscurantism, decrying its declining "usefulness" in the 21st century. Yet a view of madrasas as deliberately cloistered spaces, impervious to new trends in contemporary life, is misleading. This paper follows the lives of students and graduates of Nadwa, from their classrooms and hostels to pulpits and office-buildings, taking an analytical view of Nadwa as an integral part of the Lucknow urban milieu. I evaluate intellectual life at the madrasa, but I particularly highlight its place within the sociological landscape: its influence in Lucknowi social circles and ability to maintain prestige (and Saudi funding) amidst 21st century constraints. As clamor over "Muslim backwardness" and poverty becomes more shrill in recent years, this madrasa claims a key role in social mobility, on account of the free housing and education provided to thousands of students. This paper views the religious sphere in Lucknow as a marketplace for positions in scholarship and commnuity leadership as well as a site in the transnational economy of charity. The vibrancy of Lucknow's religious sphere adds nuance to the facile notion that 'ulama must adopt "modern" syllabi or must succumb to the government's madrasa reforms (Sikand 2005) in order to remain relevant.
Contemporary Lucknow: life with "too much history"