Safarnamah: Shibli’s Assessment of State of Education in Egypt. مصر میں تعلیم کی حالت
Shibli stops over at Cairo after visiting Constantinople, Beirut, and Bait al Maqdis (Jerusalem), as part of his historic journey to Ottoman lands.
In earlier episodes, we discussed Shibli’s observations of the state of education in Constantinople, the premier institutions he visited there, and the numerous libraries and printing presses as well as the book shops in the city. Certain earlier episodes were dedicated to Shibli’s observations of the city of Constantinople, the manners and demeanour of the Turks and the exotic coffee shops which he was very fond of.
In this segment we portray Shibli’s assessment of the state of education in Cairo. We have skipped his mention of other aspects of his stay in Constantinople, to which we will return later. Shibli himself states that the primary purpose of his journey was to examine the state of education and explore the libraries in the places he visited.
Shibli bares his heart in explaining the experiences he encountered in the famous seminary of Al-Azhar in Cairo. He woefully writes, “Nothing on my entire journey made me more certain of the misfortune of the Muslims than the conditions at Azhar. An academy in which the Muslims of every part of the world are gathered… the number of whose students is in excess of twelve thousand; what hope could one not have had from the education and training there? But, unfortunately, instead of benefitting lakhs of Muslims, it has already ruined them, and goes on doing so. Because of the method of training and social life there…ambition, lofty aspiration, passion, courage, in short, all noble characteristics are destroyed.”
In one place he writes, “Because I resided at Azhar, I often kept company with the students. I would see them engaged in extremely ordinary, trivial discussions unworthy of attention and feel regret. The result of this absurd method of education is that Azhar has not produced any valuable scholar or author.”
What is most depressing is Shibli’s following observation about the students of Azhar: “The state of the baseness and low-spiritedness of the students is such that when they buy a paisa’s worth of vegetables in the market, they make the vegetable-seller swear, ‘Biras Sayyidna al-Husain’, meaning, ‘Upon the head of Imam Husain, tell the right price!’ Can it be hoped that people trained in this way will increase the glory and majesty of Islam?”
These observations are similar to his narration of classical education in Constantinople.
The complete series published this far, consisting of 24 episodes, can be viewed from this link: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PL293w0xtAnQlzathlB_XsAfyo8l0wS6oM