There have been questions from some brothers interested in studying at Darul Ulooms in South Africa asking which would be the best place to study through the medium of Arabic and not Urdu. The answers have been mixed and have not always been accurate. I have, by the grace of Allah, compiled an explanation which is based on insider knowledge from some of the Alims who studied at Zakariyya and Azaadville before transferring to Darul Uloom Newcastle. I hope that the explanation provides an objective analysis of Darul Uloom education in South Africa through the medium of Arabic:
Assalam alaykum Brothers,
The oldest Darul Uloom in the English speaking world (i.e. outside of the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent) is the Darul Uloom Newcastle which, as I understand, was established in the early 70s. The second oldest is Darul Uloom Bury in England.
The main mediums of instruction at Darul Uloom Newcastle remain Arabic and English since its establishment. The rector and founder of the Darul Uloom Newcastle Shaykhul Hadith Muhammad Cassim Sema (see a newspaper article about him here in the Times: http://www.timeslive.co.za/sundaytimes/article76127.ece ) resisted pressure to introduce Urdu as a medium of instruction. Muhaddith al-Asr Hazrat Mawlana Yusuf Binnori (RA) who was one of the teachers and mentors of Mawlana Cassim Sema (the founder of Darul Uloom Newcastle) strongly advised him against ever introducing Urdu to his South African students and instructed him to teach only through Arabic and English. In fact, it was Allamah Yusuf Binnori who prepared the Arabic syllabus still in use today at Darul Uloom Newcastle. It is not a syllabus you would expect to find in a Darul Uloom. For example, it includes the compulsory study and completion of the famous literary text Kalila wa Dimna translated from Farsi by the famous Abbasid philosopher Abdullah Ibn Muqaffa’a (who died in 139 AH /756–757 CE). The Kalila wa Dimna has historically been considered “the first masterpiece of Arabic literary prose” (see: http://www.londontheatreblog.co.uk/k...r-for-princes/). Other classical Arabic books included was the ancient textbook the Maqamat al-Hariri (see: http://www.omifacsimiles.com/brochures/maq.html) also compiled during the Abbasid period of great literary achievement. Both Maqamat of al-Hariri and the Kalila wa Dimna is today taught to students of classical Arabic at universities in the West such as Harvard University, Oxford, Cambridge, etc. It is reported that 3rd year students at Darul Uloom Newcastle once complained to Mawlana Cassim Sema that the Kalila wa Dimna book which they were being asked to study was not easy to understand and they wanted it replaced with another book. Mawlana Cassim Sema refused and famously said: “If you ask me to remove a book of hadith I will do so but I will never remove Kalila wa Dimna!” This is because he strongly believed that no student or Alim will be able to have a deeper understanding of hadith or Qur’an without first having a deeper understanding of classical Arabic literature. This is the founding philosophy of Darul Uloom Newcastle which was inspired by Allama Yusuf Binori;s advice to Mawlana Sema.
In the first 2 years students are taught Arabic kitabs (books) through the medium of English. In fact the final exam in the first year is set in Arabic and all students are expected to answer in Arabic. If you answer in English during the final exam of the 1st year you get fewer marks. Those who answer in Arabic get more marks. And also, if a student fails the first year Arabic language & grammar (Nahw and Sarf) exams he cannot progress to the 2nd year even if he manage to get distinction in other subjects such as Fiqh, Hadith, etc. After the first year at Darul Uloom Newcastle most students can speak Arabic with ease. This is because students are strongly encouraged to use Arabic at all times even when outside of classes. In some cases senior students can be reprimanded for using any other language other than Arabic in and outside of the class.
From the 3rd year onwards the language of instruction/teaching at Darul Uloom Newcastle shifts to Arabic (fus-ha or classical Arabic). This depends mostly on the Alim teaching the subject. All Darul Uloom Newcastle lecturers are fluent in spoken classical Arabic and can teach through it. In fact, it is a condition before a lecturer is employed that he should be known to have competence in classical Arabic. This is why most graduates of Darul Uloom Newcastle are very good at Arabic language and very confident in speaking it with ease. Even graduates from other Darul Ulooms in South Africa acknowledge and accept that Darul Uloom Newcastle students have an added advantage with the language. There is almost no debate in South Africa among ‘Ulama and students of Darul Ulooms that Newcastle has a superior programme and higher standard of teaching classical Arabic. The debate is on which Darul Uloom in South Africa produces the best students with an overall good training in all subjects. I know of a well known Alim who was at Darul Uloom Azaadville but because he did not want to study Urdu the Principal of Darul Uloom Azaadville (May Allah preserve him) told the ‘alim in question to go to Newcastle. I quote what he was told: “Newcastle is the best place to study through Arabic and I think you will benefit there more than you will benefit here.”
It is difficult to answer the question: which of the Darul Uloom has a better and higher standard of education? The answer depends on your cultural background and what you think a higher standard of education should be like. Students at other Darul Ulooms in South Africa study in a cultural environment which frowns upon independent critical thinking, asking questions, or challenging your teachers’ opinions on matters relating to the subject you are studying. At Newcastle students are strongly encouraged to think for themselves, to think critically, and to ask questions when they disagree with the position of their teachers. For some people, such an approach to Darul Uloom education reflects “a lack of adab” and is a sign that Darul Uloom Newcastle does not have “awliya” (pious scholars). Many people would disagree and argue that the Darul Uloom Newcastle philosophy of education is precisely what is needed in today’s world as it can produce ‘Ulama who are fast on their feet and can defend Islam in a world which is grown hostile to Islam.
I have spoken to a number of graduates from other Darul Ulooms in South Africa who secretly feel that if they had had their way they would have joined Newcastle but they did not want to go against the wishes of their parents. Other Darul Ulooms in South Africa, those in Johannesburg, are wealthier; they have more money than what Darul Uloom Newcastle can dream of. If by “main Darul Ulooms in South Africa” we mean those with more money and larger land then Azaadville and Zakariyya are the main ones. But if we use different criteria such as the standard of education and the quality of graduates (their ability to work and function in today’s world) then Newcastle is way ahead. Most wealthy parents prefer to send their children to study at Azaadville and Zakariyya. Newcastle is very multiracial and multicultural; you study with students from different backgrounds and races, different parts of the world (including many from Arabic speaking countries), some are very wealthy and many are not wealthy (materially). But they all eat, play, sleep, and study together as a family.
For people living in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc, studying at Azaadville and Zakariyya will be a best option. But if you come from a country which does not speak Urdu and you are interested not only in studying the Kitaabs passively but analysing them with your teachers and challenging each other then Newcastle is the best place for you. I think the best way to judge which Darul Uloom is best for you is to look at what its graduates are doing. See if that is what you would want to do after you have completed your studies. All the Darul Ulooms in South Africa are great and in my opinion are the best in the world. But you have to choose the one that suits your personality and what you want to do in Islam. We cannot all do Tabligh Jamaat and we cannot all work as Imaams in the masjids, Islam expects some of us to do things differently.