What Is Madrasah in Islam?

Lessons taught in madrasahs often come from the Quran.
... Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images

The Arabic word "madrasah" translates to mean school. In the Islamic religion, madrasahs are important centers for learning not only about Islam, but about secular subjects as well. The history of madrasahs is extensive, and madrasahs are utilized as centers of learning throughout the world.

1 History

One of the oldest madrasahs in the world was built in Baghdad in the 1200s. After its construction, word spread throughout the Islamic world about the success of the madrasah for education, and madrasahs quickly became a common place for religious study. Students of madrasahs were given a free education, meals and a place to live with the idea that once their learning was complete, they would become religious scholars. The popularity of madrasahs waned during Western colonialism, when secular subjects were preferred; however, in the 1970s madrasahs were reimplemented in Islamic societies. Today, madrasahs are found in primarily Islamic cultures as well as Western countries.

2 Curriculum

As a center for learning and higher education, the madrasah originally focused on learning about Islam, memorizing Islamic texts and preparation for a life devoted to religious scholarship. Today, madrasahs balance religious education with the study of secular subjects. However, the curriculum in madrasahs depends on the location of the school. For example, madrasahs in Western countries are more likely to promote math and other subjects than their non-Western counterparts.

3 Location

Madrasahs are located throughout the world in cities large and small. In Western countries, madrasahs serve as a place for Muslims to come together and bond. In non-Western countries, madrasahs are the cornerstone for education, and aid impoverished families seeking an education, food and housing for their children.

4 Debate

Since the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, madrasahs have been said to breed terrorists. Critics of the madrasah education system claim that students are indoctrinated with extremist views and are therefore trained from an early age to become terrorists. Proponents for madrasahs argue that the connection between terrorism and madrasahs is slight at best, and studying the educations of terrorist suspects will prove as much. The debate affects madrasahs in Islamic and Western cultures alike.

Natalie Chardonnet began writing in 2006, specializing in art, history, museums and travel. In 2010, she presented a paper on those subjects at the National Conference of Undergraduate Research. Chardonnet has a Bachelor of Arts in art history and a minor in Italian studies from Truman State University, in addition to a certificate in French from Ifalpes University in Chambery, France.