Munazarah Literature in Urdu: An Extra-Curricular Educational Input in Pakistan's Religious Education

By Rahman, Tariq | Islamic Studies, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview
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Munazarah Literature in Urdu: An Extra-Curricular Educational Input in Pakistan's Religious Education

Rahman, Tariq, Islamic Studies


This article looks at the institution of debate, the munazarah, in the religious education sector of Pakistan. It argues that the munazarah occupies an important position in madrasah education and the 'ulama' create their identity around a core of differences from other sects, sub-sects and heretical or alien beliefs which are brought out in the open in munazarahs. Moreover, certain books and pamphlets embodying the form of argumentation and other features of the munazarah are part of the informal, extra-curricular reading material both of madrasah students and teachers as well as religious people outside it. This kind of literature emphasizes differences and, therefore, presumably predisposes those who are exposed to it to intolerance of the 'other'. However, the solution of this problem is not to ban such literature but to reduce Muslim anger and change government policies in the direction of avoiding violence.


Munazarah is defined in The Encyclopedia of Islam as follows: "The scientific, in particular the theological-juridical, dispute on the one hand, the literary genre of the struggle for precedence on the other."1 Among South Asian Muslims, however, it is associated with theological disputes almost to the exclusion of the other meanings given above. Traditionally, the munazarah was held before an audience and often in the presence of a powerful personage who sometimes acted as an arbitrator. It "was not only important for oral theological dispute" but also entered "theological literature."2 There were rules for carrying out the debate (adab al-jadal) and treatises such as those laid down in al-Risalah al- Samarqandiyyah fi Adab al-Bahth of Shams al-Din Muhammad b. Ashraf al- Samarqandi (d. ca. 690/1291), on the subject. In South Asian Islamic educational institutions (madrasahs) al-Sharifiyyah of 'Ali b. Muhammad Mir al-Sharif al-Jurjani (d. 816/1413) and the Rashidiyyah of 'Abd al-Rashid b. Mustafa Jaunpuri (d. 1083/1672) are taught. Muhammad Turab 'Ali also wrote a manual in Urdu entitled Mabadi-yi Munazarah (1874) to teach the art and etiquette of disputation to those who had taken to arguing with each other on religious subjects in Urdu.3 However, it is not from the written text in Arabic, which has to be mastered with considerable difficulty, that the art of disputation is learned. The most useful way of learning it is by the example provided by the teachers and the prayer leaders who deliver the Friday sermon in mosques and Urdu books refuting ideological opponents which are the focus of this article. Indeed, the art of the munazarah is at the heart of the teaching methodology in the madrasahs as lectures on subjects such as 'aqa'id (beliefs); fiqh (the law) as the selection, emphases and exposition of the ahadith illustrate.

Since certain features of the oral munazarah to be described later enter into the literature about religious controversy in circulation in Pakistan, this literature is called the munazarah literature in this article irrespective of whether it was ever presented orally or not. As its purpose is refutation (radd) of the arguments of another sect, sub-sect (the distinctive beliefs of which are called maslak), heresy or an alien philosophy, it has also been referred to as radd-literature (or radd-texts) in my previous publications.4

Objective and Methodology

The objective of this article is to examine some of the munazarah texts in the Urdu language which are in circulation among religious readers, both within and outside the madrasahs, with a view to understanding their major themes and how they are likely to influence the formation of ideological identity and its 'other' in Pakistan. While a number of controversies are touched upon, one major text - an account of an actual munazarah between two Sunni subsects - will be presented in more detail so as to provide a deeper understanding of the munazarah tradition as a heuristic device.

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Munazarah Literature in Urdu: An Extra-Curricular Educational Input in Pakistan's Religious Education


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