Setting a Subject Benchmark for dar al-‘ulums in Britain?
A Day Consultation: 18th October 2017

Dar al-‘ulums have been successful in producing ‘uluma who have contributed immensely to the development of the Muslim community in Britain. However, the changing socio-political climate in the country has meant that the roles and responsibilities of dar al-‘ulum graduates in the wider society have become subject to increasing scrutiny. Today, the expectations and demands of the religious leadership are increasingly being put under pressure.

Over the years, dar al-‘ulum in Britain largely based their teaching curriculum on dars-i nizami. However, with some amendments and innovative experiments, some of the madrasas in Britain have been able to set standards relating to learning outcomes, assessment objectives and essential skills, etc. Nonetheless, those standards were/are applied exclusively to their own madrasa/dar al-‘ulum, and it seems that there is very little evidence of a coherent standard expected from a graduate.

A large number of madrasa measure their success and failure relating to teaching and its outcomes on the basis of how much they have been able to impart ‘useful’ knowledge. ‘Useful’ means knowledge that leads to piety, spirituality and direction, set against ‘harmful’ knowledge, which means knowledge that leads to irreligious and immoral behaviour. It is difficult to set a ‘benchmark’ of such ‘knowledge’. However, some of the madrasas have started their own evaluation tests and have set certain levels of standards to measure students’ academic development, but these are few and far between. Questions that arise therefore are:

1. Is there a need to set up a subject benchmark statement that clearly describes the nature of study and academic standards expected of madrasa graduates? [In order to provide a picture of what graduates of a madrasa might reasonably be expected to know, do and understand at the end of their studies].

2. Who should be involved in designing such a benchmark statement?

3. Who should manage the standard of benchmark, and how?

With these questions in mind, Markfield Institute of Higher Education (MIHE) decided to hold a one-day consultation. It is important to clarify our position here: MIHE does not run any dar al-‘ulum nor does it have any interest to impose a ‘body’ on any institution. Over the years, MIHE has received a continuous stream of male and female madrasa/dar al-‘ulum graduates and on average there are forty dar al-‘ulum graduates enrolled on various courses. Perhaps this is the only place in a Muslim institution where one can find Deobandis, Barelwis, Ahl-i Hadith and occasionally Shia students studying together. All such students seem to have huge gaps in their abilities and understanding relating to Islamic Sciences. There are variations even among those who have gone through the dars-i nizami curriculum.

This consultation wanted to bring together a few people who have already gone through the dars-i nizami system and are either now studying or have undertaken a university education. In other words, those who are ‘bi-lingual’ or

who are aware of two education systems were invited to participate. We were aware of the fact that the participants should have received the blessing of their own institutions but were free to participate in their own capacity. The consultation concluded on a positive note that they will take the general outcome of the discussion to the management team of their own institutions

Dr Ataullah Siddiqui