Madrasat-ul-Banat – Illuminating the fairer sex with the Light of Ilm.
“I have always maintained that no nation can ever be worthy of its existence that cannot take its women along with the men. No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men. There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a great competition and rivalry between the two. There is a third power stronger than both, that of the women.”
Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Speech at Islamia College for women March 25, 1940.
At the turn of the 20th century, Muslims of India were starting to lag behind the Hindus in every field due to British patronage. The Hindus, who had once been subjects of the Muslims during the Muslim rule, embraced this opportunity and began growing in strength. Muslims in their naïveté, on the other hand, called the new system satanic and boycotted it, further damaging their own interests. The British, over several decades, had dismantled nearly all vestiges of Muslim rule in India, including their traditional education system. Under their rule, Muslims had to go through missionary schools, which were set up under Crown patronage, to primarily spread Christianity in India. Progressive Muslims seeking a better future for their children had no choice but to submit to this system. But they were too few to matter. Muslims were slowly on their way to becoming the uneducated underclass of India. But, there was hope, yet, in the form of a few visionaries like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan.
Education for women has always been a contentious issue for orthodox Muslims across the world. Very few scholars at that time realized the importance of women’s education and the role they play in the early development and education of children. Without educated women aware of their rights, position and importance in Islam, the chances of a Muslim renaissance in India were very bleak.
Realizing this tragic truth, Maulana Abdul-Haq Abbas (affectionately called “Aqaji”), who was a single self-taught poet, writer, translator, preacher and educator from the outskirts of Jalandhar, set about on a mission to safeguard the future of Muslims by setting up a school to educate women in Islamic studies. He felt that the best way to preserve Muslim culture and identity from the growing onslaught of the Hindus and the British influences would be by educating young Muslim girls about the basic tenets of Islam, and by teaching them Arabic to help them read and understand the Holy Qura’an and other Islamic literature. With this philosophy in mind he set up Madrasat-ul-Banat in 1907, in his house, with his wife, mother in law and some other older ladies of the family as his first pupils.
In the beginning, girls and women from Basti Danishmandan and the nearby Bastis attended the young Madrasa, but gradually, girls from other nearby localities also started attending the Dars-e-Qura’an held at the Madrasah. Slowly, the number of pupils grew and he rented nearby buildings to accommodate them as he won more and more subscribers to his philosophy in the adjoining areas after tireless canvassing and preaching. The orthodox mentality espoused by most Muslim was a major impediment in his mission, but his determination and gentle demeanour won hearts and minds.
In November 1926, feeling that his message needed a greater audience, Aqa ji moved Madrasat-ul-Banat, along with his family, to Siraj Gunj area of Jalandhar city, away from his ancestral Basti Danishmandan, in a rented building. At that time the population of Jalandhar was eight hundred and two thousand (802, 000), with only 4% literacy, which mostly comprised of Hindus. Seeing this sad disparity, Aqa Ji also began admitting young boys to the school to help improve the sorry state of Muslims in the city. Still, the number of pupils grew and grew until a new purpose built 26-acre campus was built in 1939 on Kapurthala Road in the suburbs of Jalandhar. The new school had a double story building and was inaugurated by Sir Sikander Hayat Khan, the Chief Minister of Punjab. A hostel was later added to house the students from other cities and villages. Here not only were the girls taught in the ways of Islam, but were also given opportunities to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities.
The vicious Pre-Partition politics took a back seat when Madrasat-ul-Banat was concerned, as the school offered a cause, which was close to all Muslim hearts. Several key Independence Movement leaders, including Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, Mian Abdul Bari, a steadfast believer in the cause, Bahadur Yar Jang, Sir Abdul Qadir, Ghulam Muhammad Baig, Dr. Zakir Hussain, Ama Bi (mother of Mohammad Ali Johar), Sikander Mirza, Feroze Khan Noon, and Molvi Fazl-e-Haq were frequent visitors to the school, doing their utmost to further the cause. Sir Ross Masood, the grandson of Sir Syed and an eminent pre-partition educationist, and Syed Sulaiman Nadvi, the legendary Islamic scholar also visited the Madrasat-ul-Banat in those days. Sir Sikander Hayat Khan, the Chief Minister of Punjab and the leader of Pro-Congress, Unionist Party, and Sir Mian Abdul Haye, the Punjab Education Minister also visited the school on several occasions as well.
Maulana Abul-Kalam Azad, the famous Congress leader and independent India’s first Education Minister had this to say about the school, “I can vouch for, with certainty, the principles this school (Madrasat-ul-Banat) is founded on and I invite my fellow Muslims to participate in making it a success. It would be a great loss for the Muslims (of India) if such an institution were never to be completed simly due to lack of funds. Madrasat-ul-Banat is a great service to our age.”
On hearing about Madrasat-ul-Banat, Quaid-e-Azam Mihammad Ali Jinnah paid a visit to the school in 1942, and compared Aqa ji to Sir Syed Ahmed Khan for his efforts. Deeply impressed, Quaid-e-Azam expressed his desire to see the fledgling school become a women’s university in the near future. But, fate had other plans.
In the summer of 1947, the winds of freedom changed the map of the world and Aqa ji too had to abide by decisions made by those in power. He abandoned his properties like many others, including his beloved school in Jalandhar, and moved to Lahore with his family. The tumult of the Partition though heartrending, did not dim his desire to continue his work. He soon procured an abandoned building of R.B. Sohan Lal Training College on Lake Road, and the school was resurrected.
In Lahore Madrasat-ul-Banat witnessed a renaissance and found patronage among the leaders who made Pakistan possible. Leading them was Fatima Jinnah. She was so fond of the Madrasah that at the height of her struggle with Field Marshal Ayub Khan, she defied his orders to the contrary to attend the school’s events, much to the embarrassment of the Ayub administration.
Among the other notables who came to Madrasat-ul-Banat Lahore include Chaudary Mohammad Ali, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Maulvi Fazal-ul-Haq, the then Education Minister of Pakistan, H.E. Mohammed el-Fasi, the Education Minister of Morocco, H.H. Empress Farah Diba Pehlavi of Iran and many dignitaries, diplomats and educationists from across the Muslim world.
After the sad demise of Aqa Ji Madrasat-ul-Banat continued to flourish, largely due to utmost devotion of his son Maulana Obaid-ul-Haq Nadvi, his daughters Apa Humaira and Zeenat, and his daughter-in-law, Khalida Khanum, who took the initiative of upgrading and modernising the syllabi of the school, while retaining the core teachings of Islam. It was at that time Junior Cambridge Section was established.
In 1956, Kuliat-ul-Banat Intermediate College was established on the same premises. In 1962 it was upgraded to a degree college, with plans of introducing Masters classes in Arabic and Islamic Studies by the early 1970’s. Madrasat-ul-Banat was truly on course to fulfilling Quaid’s vision, but destiny again was to test the resolve of those bearing along Aqa ji’s vision.
As a consequence of the political stalemate between Pakistan People’s Party and the Awami League, following the 1970 general elections, India attacked Pakistan in 1971. East Pakistan became Bangladesh. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto became the Civilian Chief Martial Law Administrator and then the Prime Minister of Pakistan. PPP had swept the polls in West Pakistan with the socialist slogan of “Rotti, Kaprra aur Makaan!” (Food, clothing and housing), and it was time for Bhutto to deliver on his promise. In 1972, a mass nationalization drive was started to “give the worker his due share” in private organizations. Several privately owned industries were nationalized. Educational trusts like Anjuman-e-Himayat-e-Islam and All Pakistan Women’s Association (APWA) were stripped overnight of their schools and colleges. Madrasat-ul-Banat, by then itself a trust organization, was stripped of the Urdu Medium Section and Kuliat-ul-Banat Degree College and put under Government control. What followed was further trauma with constant threat of nationalization of the rest of Madrasat-ul-Banat, hooliganism by the newly appointed staff of the nationalized parts of the school and near destruction of six decades of hard work put in by two generation of Aqa Ji’s family. Even through this turmoil, Madrasat-ul-Banat endured.
With the ouster of Bhutto regime by General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, there was hope for the victims of Nationalization of regaining their assets. Protracted litigation dominated most of the 1980’s, and yet, what was taken was never returned to the rightful owners. Yet espite all odds, Madrasat-ul-Banat managed to grow.
Over the past century, Madrasat-ul-Banat managed to maintain its focus on not only imparting quality education to all its pupils, it inculcated in them a spirit of unity and moral fibre which is drilled in them through co-curricular and extra curricular activities.
At the moment Anjuman-e-Madrasat-ul-Banat Educational Institutions manages twelve different entities, which are devoted to the cause of education. These include:
- Cambridge Madrasat-ul-Banat Higher Secondary School – 15 Lake Road, Lahore
- Madrasat-ul-Banat Higher Secondary School (Khalid Campus) – Manthar Road, Sadiqabad (Est. 1972)
- Madrasat-ul-Banat High School (Humaira Campus) – R-428, Model Town, Lahore (Est. 1988)
- Madrasat-ul-Banat High School (Country School, Majeed Campus) – Chak 150/P, Sadiqabad, Rahim Yar Khan
- Abbas Computer Center – 13-B Lake Road, Lahore (Est. 1995)
- AIMS (Abbas Institute of Modern Studies) Virtual University Campus – 13-B Lake Road (Est. 2003)
- ASHEFA (Abbas School of Home Economics and Fine Arts) – 13-B Lake Road, Lahore (Est. 2004)
- Abbas Commerce College for Women – 15 Lake Road, Lahore (Est. 2006)
- Teachers Training Center – 15 Lake Road (Est. 1980)
- English Learning Laboratory – 13-B Lake Road, Lahore (Est. 1990)
- Children’s Animal Farm – 13-B Lake Road, Lahore (Est. 1950)
- Danashmandan Botanical Garden – 13-B Lake Road, Lahore (Est. 1950)
- ELC Multan – Opposite Sports Ground, LMQ Road, Multan (Est. 2008)
- Ubaid Campus, Rahimyar Khan, for Inter, Graduate and Post Graduate Studies.