Long ago, secular studies were as much a part of the madrassa curriculum. But things changed with the decline of Muslim power in the subcontinent. The decay gave rise to feelings of uncertainty and the notion that the downfall was due to the abandonment of faith by the Muslims. As a result, new stringency took over madrassa curricula and by the early 18th century most institutions provided grounding only in religious matters.
Hassanally Akhund, born in 1830 in Hyderabad, went to such a school to learn the Quran and Persian and Arabic languages. But this man, who was later accorded the title of Effendi by Sultan Abdul Hameed, the last Ottoman ruler, possessed exceptional talent. He taught himself English and rose quickly through a number of government jobs to become a lawyer and Public Prosecutor of the Sindh High Court.
Much like Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in the north, Effendi realized that the Muslims’ disdain for European education was their stumbling block to a higher social station and sought to redress the situation. Opportunity presented itself with the establishment of the Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh in 1875. Effendi’s interaction with Khan also proved most helpful.
As a mentor, Khan advised Effendi to think not just of a school but to “aim at a college to expand into a university.” With the beacon of Aligarh lighting his way and financed by donations, Effendi began classes in a rented building near Boulton Market on the first day of September 1885 to offer education to Sindhi and Baloch youngsters as would any English school. The Sindh Madrassatul Islam was in business.
Over the next two years, Effendi raised Rs 200,000 – half of it from the government, the remainder from the local aristocracy – acquired land near the Karachi city railway station and built the school, through the corridors of which a youngster named Muhamedali Jinnahbhoy also happened to pass. Construction began in 1887 and the school formally shifted to the new premises after two years.
Since the medium of education was English, the school was designed to look like any public school in Britain. Four wings, dominated by a tower arranged around an open quadrangle, made up the main building. It is immediately clear that the design could have come from no other drawing board but that of James Strachan, who had already gifted Karachi with a number of Indian-Gothic landmarks.
Interestingly, as strong was his partiality to the Indian-Gothic, Strachan also valued the feature of the central courtyard, an essential part of Indus Valley housing since prehistoric times. As he had designed the Empress Market around an open courtyard, so too did Strachan employ the device for the Sindh Madrassa, turning the whole into a fine specimen of a blend of two different traditions.
The buildings of the school that were once visible from the railway station across what was then McLeod Road (now I. I. Chundrigar Road), are now smothered by high rise towers all around. But the school has risen in status since the first handful of pupils came on its rolls back in 1885. Today, it is a university – Sindh Madrassatul Islam – just as Khan had advised Effendi.
Note: This story first appeared in Stones of Empire - Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL) book of days 2013
Labels: Book of Days 2013, Karachi, Sindh, Stones of Empire
posted by Salman Rashid @ 3:17 PM,
At February 24, 2013 at 9:31 PM,
Kausar Bilal said...
A very informative and touching post. Am sad to read the first para, but it captivated me right in the beginning. Thanks for sharing it.
At February 24, 2013 at 11:12 PM,
Sajini Chandrasekera said...
A very informative post and loved reading this beautifully written article...Thank you for sharing.