HARKING BACK: CV of a Punjabi ‘maulvi’ who taught in the Walled City

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn May 14, 2017

Last year I met a brilliant LUMS student, who lived in the university hostel and was from a village 18 miles from Sahiwal city, who for purely economic reasons was in search of a job to pay his university expenses. I wanted to find appropriate work which would help him one day attain his PhD.

My creative juices set about thinking what would be appropriate for him. He was among the better students and possessed that special ‘rural intuitive sense’ that, in my estimation, makes them far superior to urban people. Sadly in feudal Punjab jobs are matched with class background. I once tried to get a gypsy beggar, as sharp a ‘changar’ as you can find, a domestic job. These people are the original inhabitants of our land and yet least respected, if abhorred and hated is not a better description. After failing to convince my friends and relatives I got this gypsy a job in a factory. This was five years ago and today he is their smartest QC supervisor with the eyes of an eagle. Amazingly, against popular perception about gypsies, he is also their most honest employee.

So for the LUMS student I rang a distinguished school owner and she trusted my instinct. I am ever grateful to her, for today that young man is among her finest teachers, sharp and highly aware. My admiration for ‘rural intuitive sense’ can best be illustrated in the case of the former Punjab Labour Secretary, the late Chaudhry Mahmood, who was from a Gujranwala village and in the 1930s joined Government College after beating the best athletes in trials running in his ‘dhoti’. He went on to win the college union elections, beating the late Mazhar Ali Khan, besides topping in the university examinations and being best debater, both in English and Urdu. He once told me: “The tragedy of rural students is that though they are far sharper and intuitive compared to urban softies, urban-based rulers hold them in false contempt”. I could not agree more.

This brings me to my central concern in this piece. “Why are not traditional schoolteachers from ‘madrassahs’ and poor rural schools provided with the best teachers?” The answer is that economic and social discrimination, propelled by feudal mindsets, prevent the framing of such policies. But then this was never the case in the past. Let me explain thanks to a CV of a Punjabi maulvi teaching in the 1880s in a school in Lahore’s walled city, reproduced in Dr. G.W. Leitner’s seminal work ‘History of Indigenous Education in the Punjab’ produced in 1882. The quality of the typical Punjabi maulvi stood out and he advocated the better ‘madrassahs’ and ‘Sanskrit’ schools be brought under British educational authorities so that the rest of India could benefit. Today that might sound as heresy.


The CV of the Punjabi Maulvi, in his own words, goes like this: “Up to the age of 20 I studied grammar, logic, literature, arithmetic and jurisprudence initially in my home town of Batala, then mostly in Lahore and in Hoshiarpur. Our textbooks had commentaries on Mulla Hasan, on Sullum, Mirzahid, Maibuzi, Mukhtasar Maani, Mutawwal, Hamasi, Kanucha, Khulasa-tul-Hisab, Kheyali, Sharah Aqayat and Sharah Waqaya.

“The Muslim natives of Punjab lay great stress on the study of Arabic grammar and I learnt commentaries on the Kafya, Sharah Mulla, Sharya and Mutawal. While travelling to other ‘madrassahs’ with specialist teachers I learnt Khulasa-tul-Hisab and logarithms. Mastering mathematics was critical for Arabic and Sanskrit students. Then as I moved towards Delhi I attended schools in Ludhiana, Malerkotla, Panipat and Karnal. All the schools were well-conducted Arabic schools.

“At Delhi I studied Hamdulla, Kazi, Tafsir-e-Jalalain, Tauzih, Talvih, Hidaya, and six books of Hadiths (Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Daud, Nisai and Ibn Maja) with Mishkat and Mawatta.

“I then went to Aligarh to read Sadra, Sharah Hedayat-ul-Hikmat in philosophy and Sadidi, Nafisi and the Kanun of Bu-Ali Sena (Avicenna) in medicine. They also emphasised learning teaching skills.

“Next I went to Kandla in Muzaffarnagar where I studied advanced books in philosophy and theological philosophy as well as two books of Euclid in Arabic.

“Then I set off for Benaras which was famous all over India for mathematics. There the classes were full of the best scholars who had come to study advanced astronomical and mathematics books such as Sharah Chaghmini, Bist-bab-Asturlab (20 chapters on the astrolabe), Almajesta and Euclid.

“From Delhi I went to Calcutta to study advance books of Arabic literature such as Diwan-e-Hamasah, Diwan Mutanabbi, Saba Muallaqa and Hariri. On my way to Lahore I stopped at Lakhnau (Lucknow) to study under the great Maulvi Na’maitulla advanced mathematics and philosophy. I studied also under Maulvi Abdul Hai and Maulvi Abul Haleem. After completing my courses I came back to the Punjab and fixed my residence at Lahore. I also managed several journeys to Arabia so as to practice spoken Arabic.

“I can say without hesitation that the indigenous schools, whether Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit or Mahajani, have suffered very much by improper competition and indirect repression of the Educational Departments in India, yet they are able to send out specialists in Persian, Arabic, mathematics, logic and other branches of learning far better than graduates of the department”.

So said the CV of the Punjabi maulvi in 1880. In this monumental work Dr Leitner mentions in detail the Sanskrit schools and laments the fact that only the Brahmin caste are allowed. He quotes Sir Thomas Arnold, whose statue stands still outside the Punjab University’s old campus, as saying: “We may be quite certain that a student attending a Shastri school will hardly be persuaded to undergo any other kind of instruction. He would strongly object to learn the Persian character”.

So it was that the Oriental College of Lahore was set up, which was to bring together numerous schools of thought, and emphasise on learning the languages and with mathematics and logic lay the basis for acquiring knowledge. It was a monumental achievement, quite far removed from the dicey examination halls of today’s Pakistan, where politicians and bureaucrats make money out of cheating.

But when talented and highly-educated teachers head for our schools, the end result will be positive just as the feedback that I am receiving about my LUMS prodigy. It was a unique moment of happiness when just last week he rang up to inform that he was trying to get admission to a top US university for his PhD. What better route can our scholars take in life if they pass through our schools as teachers first? Teaching is the best way of learning. The process then never ends. Does our LUMS scholar have the money for going to his new university? Worry not, he will manage to find a way out.


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