Maktab Education

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What is a Maktab and why is it important?

Maktabs (also known as Kuttabs) are institutes of daily Quranic and Islamic education for Muslim children. They are a lifeline to the preservation and protection of our faith.  They provide a deep rooted consciousness of distinguishing between right and wrong and between the permissible and forbidden. It gives them a sense of belonging to a wider brotherhood of the Ummah. It forges a distinct Muslim identity. It helps insulate our children from hypocrisy and disbelief.

Below is an abridged speech by the most senior sheikh of hadeeth in England Maulana Yusuf Motala (May Allah preserve him) on the origins of maktab education.

Almighty Allah says in the Holy Qur’an:

Read (O Muhammad)! In the name of your Lord,
Who has created (all that exists)
Has created man from a clot
(a piece of thick coagulated blood).
Read! And your Lord is the most Generous,
Who has taught (the writing) by the pen.
Has taught man that which he knew not.

(Surah Al ‘Alaq {Clot} 1-5)

Importance of Ilm (knowledge)

The above Qur’anic verses are the opening verses of Surah Alaq. These are the first verses revealed by Allah to His beloved Prophet . In these verses Allah says, “Read! (O Muhammad) in the name of your Lord, who has created.” Further, to emphasise, He says, “Has created Insaan (the human being).” In the verses that follow Allah mentions the word ‘iqra’ (read) repeatedly.

In the verses with which Allah commenced revelation, He mentions qir‘aat (recitation), taleem (learning), and ta‘allum (teaching). He ends the first revelation with “Has taught man that which he knew not”, thereby stressing yet again the importance of knowledge which is the primary goal of the maktab.

This mention of qir‘aat and ilm in the opening verses of revelation is a lesson to Muslims that the preservation of deen (religion), iman (faith) and haq (truth) in the unique manner the Prophet , brought us, i.e., through the medium of wahi and sunnah, can only be possible with ilm. In places where the acquisition of knowledge was neglected, then even if Islam and Muslims remained, they were in a pitiful state. (May Allah forbid) Wherever there is knowledge, this faith of ours will remain in its original purity.

Hence, the verse, “Read! in the name of your Lord who has created”, is the very first lesson for us. Who is the teacher? Allah, Glorified and Great! Yes! Allah is teaching His beloved Prophet ; and He in turn is shouldering the responsibilities of an educator. To whom does he teach? Khadijah tul’ Kubra . When the Noble Prophet , returned from the cave of Hiraa and informed our mother of his fear, he also recited to her the verses revealed to him.


First Converts To Islam

As you may be aware the first lady to embrace Islam was Hazrat Khadijah, and amongst men, Hazrat Abu Bakr and Hazrat Ali radiallahu anhuma. Muhadditheen (commentators of Ahadith) have written that they accepted Islam at the same time these verses were recited to them; Waraqa bin Nawfal also embraced the new faith. When the Prophet , related to him the event that had transpired, and recited that which had been revealed to him, Waraqa testified to it and promised to assist the Prophet , in his mission.


The Need for Makatib (Plural of Maktab)

This was the personal and discrete – manner in which the teaching of the Holy Qur’an began. Gradually, as more people embraced Islam the following verse was revealed, “Therefore, proclaim openly that which Allah has commanded, and turn away from the Mushrikoon.” The first concern of the Holy Prophet  thereafter was to arrange teaching facilities for the new converts. How could they be taught the Holy Qur’an? The circumstances at the time did not permit the dozen or so Muslims to gather in one place in order to perform Salaah and be taught the Holy Qur’an. For this reason the Holy Prophet , organised their taleem in various homes where they could secretly assemble and study the Holy Qur’an.


The First Maktab of Makkah Mukarramah

The home of Umar’s sister, Fatima binte Khattab radiallahu anhuma, was selected for this purpose. This was the first Maktab of Makkah Mukarramah. Muhadditheen write that the first teacher of this Maktab was Hazrat Khabbab ibn Aratt . Umar , once remarked, the Holy Prophet  had fixed upon my sister’s household the feeding of two persons on a daily basis; one was Sayyidina Khabbab , and the name of the other teacher I cannot recall. (Sayyidina Umar  , was relating this during the time of his khilafah, and could not remember the name of the other person.)

Umar’s Conversion to Islam

Most of you are aware of the incident that led to Hazrat Umar’s conversion to Islam. The story in brief is Hazrat Umar  set off with the intention of assassinating the Holy Prophet . On his way he met Hazrat Sa’aad , who tried to obstruct him from executing his vicious intention. During their conversation a quarrel broke out, and both of them unsheathed their swords. Just as the swords were about to meet, Hazrat Sa’aad  proclaimed, “Firstly, see to your own household, your own sister has embraced Islam.”

Umar  was shocked and diverted his attention immediately. He turned towards his sister’s house and knocked on the door. At the time the occupants were busy studying verses of the Holy Qur’an from their teacher Khabbab ibn Aratt . Upon hearing the voice of Umar, Hazrat Khabbab , hid himself. Sayyidina Umar, in his rage, launched himself upon his sister and brother-in-law (Saeed ibn Zayd ) until they began to bleed. In this condition the sister called out, “You can do what ever you like, we have already accepted the new faith.”

When Umar’s anger abated, and he saw the state his sister was in as a result of the attack, he asked to be shown the parches they were studying. Upon hearing this request Hazrat Khabbab , re-appeared and made Umar , perform ghusl (bath). Umar then read from the parches, on which were written some verses of Surah Taha. Thereafter, he went to the HoIy Prophet, and embraced Islam.

I was saying that this was the very first Maktab established in Makkah Mukarramah. It was in the house of Saeed ibn Zayd , the brother-in-law of Umar . The teachers here were Khabbab  and another Sahabi (may Allah be pleased with all of them).


The Second Maktab of Makkah Mukarramah

A second Maktab came to be established when the Muslims increased and the former premises became insufficient. It was set up at Dar-e-Arqam, which was near Mount Safa. Here, approximately forty Sahabah , would reside on a permanent basis. The Holy Prophet , would also stay here for many days. According to some traditions, once the Holy Prophet  spent an entire month here. During the whole month he would teach the Holy Qur’an and other religious instructions.


The Third Maktab of Makkah Mukarramah

A third Maktab was set up in the Sha‘be (glen) of Abu Talib where the Holy Prophet , and his family were exiled for three and a half years. During this period, the Prophet  would teach the Holy Qur’an to his family and to those who secretly came to visit him.

From the traditions of Makkah Mukarramah it is clear that these three locations were the main Maktabs in the early days of Islam. There may have been more.


Establishment of Makatib in Madina Munawwarah

Similarly, when the Noble Prophet , came to Madina, efforts to set up Maktabs were made from the outset. The sole purpose being that the teachings of the Holy Qur’an should also be made known to the people of Madina Munawwarah. In fact this happened before the Prophet’s migration to the holy city. He despatched Mus’ab bin Umair  and Abdullah ibn Umme Maktoom . The latter was also a maternal cousin of the Prophet , due to his marriage with Hazrat Khadijah .


Virtues of Abdullah ibn Umme Maktoom

The Holy Prophet , had great affection and love for Abdullah ibn Umme Maktoom , and he too was fida (ready to be sacrificed) for the Prophet’s sake. Although he was blind, he held a very lofty status in the sight of the Holy Prophet. Whenever the the Holy Prophet , had to be absent himself from Madina, he would appoint one person to oversee the affairs of the city, and lead Muslims in prayers in the Prophet’s Mosque. Abdullah ibn Umme Maktoom , was chosen for this purpose on a number of occasions.


The First Maktab of Madina Munawwarah

The Holy Prophet , selected these two companions and sent them to Madina with As’ad bin Zurarah . As’ad bin Zurarah , was the first person from the Ansar (helpers) to embrace Islam at the hands of the Prophet. He undertook the responsibility of taking Musaib bin Umair and Abdullah ibn Umme Makttom radiallahu anhuma, to Madina Munawwarah for the purpose of teaching the Holy Qur’an.


The SecondMaktab of Madina Munawwarah

The second Maktab of Madina was established by Rafe’ ibn Malik for the people of his tribe. This Maktab was located outside a large house. Here he started to teach the Holy Qur’an. This is the very place where later a Mosque named Masjid-e-Banu Zuraiq was erected. This place is located directly opposite Masjid Gamamah. Surah Yusuf was the first Surah to be taught at this Maktab.


The Third Maktab of Madina Munawwarah

A third place was Masjid Quba. Here the freed slave of Abu Huzaifah namely, Salim radiallahu anhuma was Imam as well as teacher of the Holy Qur’an. Some companions also memorised the Qur’an under him. This was the biggest Maktab in Madina, the reason being that it was directly on route from Makkah. Whoever from the Muslims did Hijrah (migrated) would reside here. This place was also known as Baitul Uzzab (house of the lonely ones) for the reason that the Sahabah , who made Hijrah arrived here alone for the sake of helping the Prophet , and left their wives and children in Makkah in the hands of Allah. At this place there was accommodation and food for all those people who would arrive. The responsibility of their taleem and the taleem of the local Ansar was upon Salim .


Facilities at the Maktab of As’ad bin Zurarah

From these three Maktabs, the best place of residence was at the house of Sayyidina As’ad bin Zurarah . The Sahabah narrate that his house was located in a very open surrounding. >From the very initial stage As’ad bin Zurarah , had selected this place because people could free themselves from all types of worries and anxieties, just as our Darul Uloom, Bury and Jamea tul Imam Muhammad Zakaria, Bradford are also located at similar sites. The site of As’ad bin Zurarah , was a vast open field called Naqeeul Khazamaat the reason for this name was that a special type of grass named Kuzaihma, which is still well known, would grow there. At this Maktab Musaib bin Umair and Ibn Umme Maktoom, radiallahu anhuma, would teach the Holy Qur’an.


The very First Jummah Salaah

The first Jummah Salaah was also established at this site by As’ad bin Zurarah , on the instructions of the Holy Prophet, before his arrival to Madina Munawwarah. This place (Naqeeul Khazamaat) is also known as Harre-bani-Bayada.


Other Makatib

Apart form these Makatib, during the Hijrah from Makkah to Madina, the Prophet  continued this work of establishing Maktabs. The Prophet  during his journey arrived at a place called Gumaim, there Buraidah Aslami came to meet him (he had not yet embraced Islam) and invited him to his home. The Prophet  accepted the invitation and proceeded to his house and invited him to Islam. On that journey of Gumaim eighty households embraced Islam. Now just imagine eighty households and in each household there would have been at least five to ten people; such a large number of people embraced Islam at once. The Prophet  commenced his taleem by teaching them the opening verses of Surah Maryam. Then, he appointed Buraidah Aslami  as their teacher and proceeded on his journey. Buraidah fulfilled his responsibility of taleem in such a manner that he did not even have the opportunity to visit the Prophet  in Madina. When the Prophet , finished from the important battles of Badr and Uhad, he arrived at Gumaim, and completed the teaching of Surah Maryam.


The Significance of Makatib

Manner of taleem is exactly the same as it was in the early days of Islam. The Sahabah  would learn the Holy Qur’an directly from the Holy Prophet  both Naazirah (reciting by looking inside the Qur’an) and Hifz (memorization of the Qur’an). This manner of teaching the Holy Qur’an is so significant and important, that the Holy Prophet himself initiated it. In other words the foundation of our whole deen is based upon this taleem. This is why the Prophet  formally established these Maktabs and sent his senior Sahabah  to teach at these places.

If you study and ponder over the history of Muslims who came after the Prophet , you will no doubt find numerous examples and incidents which will clearly testify that this method of taleem i.e. establishment of Maktabs, has remained the most vital and effective way of retaining and preserving our deen in its original pristine purity. This is also the reason why the children of those people who established Maktabs maintained their Islamic identity. A community which fails to do this, will retain its Islamic identity only with difficulty, if at all.