Madrasas of the Ottoman Empire

Ottoman Madrasas, were generally the continuation of traditional Islamic Madrasas, but they created their own curriculum and education tradition with the passing of centuries.

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Often regarded as backward, irrelevant and detached from reality, the Madrasa system has been considered by both the secular and much of the Muslim World as a bothersome remnant of a collapsed Ottoman Empire. Frantic modernisation of post-colonial Muslim lands has only assisted in the dismantling of this once dynamic and vibrant educational institution, one that prospered at the heart of the Muslim Nation.

The central role of the Madrasa in society, its scholastic output and ability to produce individuals who became the backbone of the longest and most diverse Empire in history has regrettably become a forgotten reality. This study of Ottoman Madrasas brings to light astounding facts on the comprehensiveness and dynamism of what has become a grossly misunderstood method of education.

The approach of the Ottoman state towards the Madrasa can be summed up by the views expressed by Ottoman administrators; in official document, they indicate the purpose of education in the first instance involved "the pursuit of science and wisdom (hikmet) followed by an explication of virtue, talent, religion and the serîat, as well as the development of human faculties and capacities. The Sultan (head of state) was held personally responsible for ensuring this was carried out.

The Madrasas provided for a common education, culture and shared world-view among the mosaic of Muslim peoples of diverse ethnic origins. They also functioned to ensure equality of opportunity in education for the individual, as well as providing for mobility among the various strata of society. Madrasas were an integral part of social life, resting on a common intellectual ground, and sharing a common world-view grounded in the religious establishment.

Although the educational activities of the Ottomans began just after the fourteenth century in the western part of Anatolia, they continued to develop as the Empire expanded. During their conquests of non-Muslim land, the Mosque and Madrasa were the first structures to be built.

Structurally, they were part of the wakf system, financially autonomous, their activities under the supervision of the state. Founded not only by sultans and members of his royal family, but also established by viziers, statesmen and scholars. They were organized in a hierarchical order with the Suleymaniye Dar al-Hadis Madrasa being the highest rank of them all. A picture of the Damad Ibrahim Pasha Dar al-Hadis can be seen at the top of this article.

The curriculum of the Ottoman Madrasas was different to previous Muslim states Madrasas curriculum. In comparison to one or two subjects studied in contemporary Madrasas, a student during the Ottoman period would be taught texts that included morphology (sarf) syntax (nahiv) and logic (mantik). These were followed by a study of Hadith and commentaries of the Qur'an (tefsîr). Studies in elocution (âdâb-i bahs), preaching (vaaz), rhetoric (belâgat), philosophical theology (kelâm), philosophy (hikmet), jurisprudence (fikih), inheritance (ferâiz), tenets of faith (akaid) legal theory and methodology (usûl-i fikih) were also pursued.

The charters of the Madrasas show a development in the requirements expected of teachers. From the period prior to Mehmed II by and large religious studies were emphasized. In contrast, the charter of later Madrasas, for the first time, include the requirement that teachers be both knowledgeable in religious studies and in the "rational" sciences, which included logic, philosophy and mathematics. The fact that Hospitals were established alongside certain Madrasas and sites for astronomical observation have been found next to others is an indication of the interest in medicine and astronomy at those particular Madrasas. For an Ottoman madrasas courtyard see picture in the middle of this article.

In essence, both the state and the Madrasas were an integral part of the Ottoman social foundation and the political powers that governed them. They were both essential to the strength of the nation and the state of society.

In conclusion, the Ottoman State, established by Osman Ghazi around 1300 in east Anatolia, began as a small municipality. After three decades of building state infrastructure, his son Orkhan Gâzî, constructed a new Madrasa in Iznik, one of the first cities to be conquered by the Ottomans. He and his successors also founded numerous Madrasas beside mosques upon capturing new cities in Asia and the Rumelia. Most Ottomans Madrasas were built on the Rumelian side in such cities as Istanbul, Edirne, Belgrade and Sofia. Ottoman Madrasas, were generally the continuation of traditional Islamic Madrasas, but they created their own curriculum and education tradition with the passing of centuries. Towards the end of the sixteenth century the performance of Madrasas began gradually to fall below earlier levels, this had an impact both on the teachers, the curriculum of study and on the students. The decline of the Madrasas has been attributed to a decline in interest in scholarly studies, to the appearance and rapid rise of the sons of senior members of the scholars (mevâlizâde) into positions to enter into scholarly careers via special connections, to the assignment of teachers and judges under the influence of bribes and to a poor differentiation being made between genuine scholars and ignorant men. Others attribute the decline to the elimination of the rational and mathematical sciences from the Madrasa curriculum.

During the nineteenth century (prior to 1869) there remained 166 active Madrasas in Istanbul with 5369 students. In 1924 the New Turkish Republic, after an educational revolution, put a final end to the Ottoman Madrasa.

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