The Mind behind the Dars-i-Niẓāmī
Mawlana Haamid Siraaj Attari Madani
Graduate of Jamia tul Madina,
Department of the Biography of the Prophet, Madina tul Ilmiyyah (Islamic Research Centre), Karachi
Dars-i-Niẓāmī is a popular term in the discourse of religious education and Muslim academia in South Asia. The term refers to a curriculum that has endured for centuries as the rubric to train Muslim scholars in the subcontinent. As a rigorous scheme of education for Arabic and advanced Islamic studies, the Dars-i-Niẓāmī has produced thousands of scholars over 350 years. Although it has undergone several minor iterations, the core curriculum and syllabus have stood the test of time and are still taught today across South Asia’s thousands of seminaries. During these 350 years, many great scholars, who became mountains of knowledge in various fields, were initially developed through this curriculum. In simple terms, Dars-i-Niẓāmī is a special course in which students are taught various books in different sciences that serve as an introduction and build a foundation in those sciences. Many of the books were written by the students of the founder of Dars-i-Niẓāmī either under his supervision or after him.
It is a speciality of this curriculum that students who successfully complete it are able to access the breadth of literature in major fields of Islamic academia including Arabic, rhetoric, jurisprudence, logic, and legal theory.
Although the erudite scholar and Imam, Niẓām al-Dīn Muhammad Sihālwī Farangī Maḥallī رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه is often credited as the eponymous founder of Dars-i-Niẓāmī, it was his father, Mulla Quṭb al-Dīn Shahīd, who laid its foundations. Mulla Quṭb al-Dīn pioneered a unique but effective pedagogy which included teaching one comprehensive textbook for each subject that would not only serve as an introduction but gradually develop students’ expertise in those fields. His son, Mulla Niẓām al-Dīn, added a second book for every subject. Thus, he taught two books for every science, although he continued to teach only one in each science to gifted students. Today, Dars-i-Niẓāmī refers to the books and sciences selected by Mulla Niẓām al-Dīn. Mulla Niẓām al-Dīn would teach whilst seated in Farangi Mahal and students would complete his course in five or six years. Thus, an average student would graduate at the age of 16-18.
Introduction to the Founder of Dars-i-Niẓ āmī
Mulla Niẓām al-Dīn was a senior scholar of his time and the third son of Mulla Quṭb al-Dīn Sihālwī رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه. Mulla Quṭb al-Dīn’s scholarship, erudition, and service to Islam impressed the king of India, Aurangzeb Alamgir.
Mulla Quṭb al-Dīn was in his native town Sahali, imparting sacred knowledge to his students. He was brutally attacked and martyred by miscreants and his house was set on fire. After this incident, his family left Sahali.
Arriving at Farangi Mahal
The king gifted the former house of a French businessman to the family of Mulla Quṭb al-Dīn. It was located near Lucknow and known as the Haveli Farangi. It is also known as the Farangi Mahal. This was the place where preachers of Islam and propagators of the Sunna were trained and prepared en masse. Mulla Niẓām al-Dīn was 14 years old when he arrived at Haveli Farangi.
Education of Formal and Spiritual Sciences
He acquired his initial Islamic education from his father. When he reached Haveli, he further studied with the greatest and talented scholars of the time. After completing the study of the rational and transmitted sciences, he pledged spiritual allegiance to the Qadiri Shaykh, Sayyid ʿAbd al-Razzāq Banswī رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه, traversed the spiritual path under his guidance, and was later honoured with caliphate in the spiritual order.
Madrassa Farangi Mahal
After Mulla Niẓām al-Dīn رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه completed his education, he spent the rest of his life at Farangi Mahal, teaching, writing, preaching, and guiding the community. This is where he pioneered his curriculum. His course was widely accepted, such that his students began to spread all over India. Through his efforts and the work of his countless students, the blessings of Farangi Mahal reached most areas of South Asia. He made Farangi Mahal a focal point of knowledge and thousands of teachers, scholars, researchers and preachers were produced as a result. Today, the greatest scholars and teachers of Pakistan and India consider it to be an honour to be students in the chain of Mulla Niẓām al-Dīn’s students and grand-students.
Initial Contents of Dars-i-Niẓ āmī
Mulla Niẓām al-Dīn رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه included books relating to about eleven sciences. Since the Quran and hadith are the foundations of Islam, learning Arabic is mandatory. Persian was the official language at the time and Ḥanafī jurisprudence was the prevailing law, and therefore these subjects were also taught. Sciences such as philosophy, arithmetic, logic, and dialectics were also part of the curriculum. It was a comprehensive approach that addressed the religious and societal needs of the time. 43 books were included to cover the 11 subjects. There were 20 books covering the rational sciences; 8 books in logic, 3 in philosophy, 4 in dialectics, and 5 in mathematics and Euclidean geometry. 14 books covered linguistics; 7 books in morphology, 5 in syntax, and 2 in rhetoric. There were 9 books covering purely religious sciences; 2 in jurisprudence, 4 in legal theory, 2 in tafsir, and 1 in hadith.
Throughout the ages and across various areas and institutes, the exact books taught in this course have differed. Some institutes added books in one particular science and others added books in another. The books of these sciences, with some changes, also make up the syllabus in the Jamiaat ul Madina of Dawat e Islami.
He passed away on 9th Jumadal Ula, 1161AH, corresponding to 8th May, 1748.
May Allah Almighty raise the ranks of the scholars who laid the foundations for Dars-i-Niẓāmī and carried it forward. May Allah accept their noble efforts.
اٰمِیْن بِجَاہِ النَّبِیِّ الْاَمِیْن صَلَّی اللہ تَعَالٰی عَلَیْہِ وَاٰلہٖ وَسَلَّم
 Bani Dars-e-Nizami, p. 259
 Bani Dars-e-Nizami, p. 262
 Bani Dars-e-Nizami, p. 79
 Mumtaz Ulama Faranghi Mahal, p. 51
 Bani Dars-e-Nizami, p. 50
 Bani Dars-e-Nizami, p. 56
 Bani Dars-e-Nizami, p. 61
 Ta’reefat-e-‘Uloom Darsiya, p. 235
 Ta’reefat-e-‘Uloom Darsiya, p. 237, Bani Dars-e-Nizami, pp. 72,73
 Al-Qalam, June 2012, p. 271
 Bani Dars-e-Nizami, p. 203