It is possible to provide a basic (though only partial) outline of what was taught at Ottoman madrasas. Students would study from the books of (sarf), syntax (nahiv) and logic (mantik) and then hadith and commentary on the Qur'an (tefsîr). Other subjects studied included mathematical sciences and philosophy (hikmet) and jurisprudence (fikih).
From the start of their education to the very end a student at an Ottoman madrasa would be required to read a large number of books in a number of different fields of study. There are differences with regard to the subjects a student would study at the various madrasas from century to century, up until the founding of the Dârü'l-hilâfeti'l-aliyye Madrasas during the Second Constitutional period. It is possible to follow these changes by examining the education of Tasköprizâde Ahmed b. Isâmeddin who lived in the sixteenth century and the classes he later gave as a teacher as well as by examining the education of Kâtib Chelebi in the seventeenth century. In addition, one is able to obtain detailed information about the subject from a little-known source about madrasa education titled Kevâkib-i Seb'a (Seven Planets) written in the eighteenth century (1742) at the request of the French ambassador to Istanbul, Marquis de Villanueva. It is also possible to learn something about madrasa education and methods of instruction for that century from a book by the Italian Abbot Toderini titled De La Littérature des Turcs. For the nineteenth century it is possible to get quite a clear picture and conduct a detailed examination of the nature of madrasa education from the autobiography of Ahmed Cevdet Pasha.
It appears that the textbooks used for instruction at madrasas were, in the first instance, prepared so as to provide every Muslim individual with the knowledge required for religious and worldly matters. Clearly, the most fundamental goal of madrasa education was to ensure that Muslims be brought up as knowledgeable and morally correct individuals.
The legal code (kanûnnâme) pertaining to education prepared during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent indicates that it is necessary to understand the mystery of creation, to establish a state which operates in an orderly fashion and to reveal the realities of the world in order to ensure the perpetuity of order in the world and the well-being of humanity, and that in order for all of these things to be realized it is essential that one must comprehend the universe created by God as well as learning the teachings of the prophets. To the extent that it can be clearly determined from the code written in the dense style used for official documents during that period, the views of Ottoman administrators with regard to education indicate that the purpose of education in the first instance involves the pursu