By Janice McMurray
Islamic history has seen many philanthropic conventions and traditions over time. Although some of these customs are no longer existent or have been significantly altered from their original structure, there continues to be many philanthropic practices that prevail in current Islamic culture.
One such tradition that has been closely connected to Islamic philanthropy for many centuries is the construction and support of madrasas (Blanchard, 2007). A historic Islamic madrasa can be defined as an institution in which male Muslim students go to receive higher education chiefly on the topic of religion among many other subject areas (Hefner & Qasim Zaman, 2007). Madrasas were typically founded and supported by Islamic elites who offered funding through religious endowments to sustain services offered to students by the institution (Blanchard, 2007). This paper will specifically examine Nizamiyah; one of the earliest madrasas established in Islamic history.
Nazamiyah was founded by Seljuq vizier, Nizam al-Mulk, in Baghdad, Iraq during the middle of the eleventh century (Blanchard, 2007). The institution was made up specifically of male students who practiced Muslim faith (Makdisi, 1970). Attendees of Nizamiyah were not required to provide any payment to the founder or the institution itself (Makdisi, 1970). During their time receiving higher education at Nizamiyah, students had access to educational services, learning facilities, dormitories, dining halls, libraries, and medical services (Blanchard, 2007). They were also granted with scholarships and supplementary allowances to compensate for any further living costs they encountered (Makdisi, 1970). Much of what was taught at Nizamiyah was based on Muslim faith and focused on religious sciences, architecture, and literature (Hefner & Qasim Zaman, 2007).
Madrasas were constructed from the wakf of an elite family, which typically consisted of a building, piece of property, or funds that were donated specifically for the charitable purpose of helping others in need (Lapidus, 1984). Although madrasas possessed many benefits for students, founders of these institutions also received reward for their generosity on a social and spiritual level. During the eleventh century, when Nizamiyah was an operational madrasa in Iraq, funding and supporting these institutions enhanced the familial status of the founder and was thought to bring them close to their higher power (Lapidus, 1984).
Political in nature, the overall goal of Nizamiyah was to produce educated men who were capable of contributing to the bureaucratic class in Islamic culture (Blanchard, 2007). Although Nizamiyah had many immediate philanthropic notions, such as providing food and medical care, it also aimed to promote social mobility for Muslim men (Hefner & Qasim Zaman, 2007). Essentially, Nizamiyah has played an instrumental role shaping and perpetuating modern forms of education and philanthropy in modern Islamic society.
Blanchard, C. (2007). Islamic religious schools, madrasas: Background.
Hefner, R. & Qasim Zaman, M. (2007). Schooling Islam: The culture and politics of modern Muslim education. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Lapidus, I. (1984). Muslim cities in the later middle ages. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Makdisi, G. (1970). Madrasa and university in the middle ages. Studia Islamica, 32, 255-264. Retrieved from http://www.studiaislamica.com