This is translated from an oral lecture in Urdu given in 1994 by Mufti Taqi Usmani in Dar ul-Uloom Karachi, Pakistan. Today Karachi is the global center of Islamic scholarship of the Hanafi madhab (and with an advantage on all the other madhabs) for sheer number of Ulema, students, graduates awarded degrees, institutions, and books published. Much like how Baghdad or other cities were centers of Islamic scholarship in their respective eras (though they were the centers of ALL learning back then).
Most of his lectures in the Islahi Khutbat series are of a personal reformative nature, this is one of the few political pieces.
"He meant by this witty remark to say that whenever some vice arises anywhere in the world, the people try to attribute it to the Molvis. They try to find one fault or another with whatever the Molvi does. If the poor Molvi, sitting in seclusion is rehearsing Allah's name or is imparting lessons to his disciples from the Qur'an and the Hadith, the people raise objections to him saying that he is ignorant of what is happening in the world and what turns its affairs are taking. He has no time to get out of the closed dome of 'Bismillah'. On the other hand, if a Molvi comes out of his secluded corner for the sake of some reformatory or social work, they object to the Molvi's action by saying that the best occupation for a Molvi is to rehearse the name of Allah sitting within four walls of the Madrassah, but today he is involving himself in politics and government affairs. If there is a Molvi hard pressed for financial resources and has fallen a victim to poverty and starvation, the people blame him saying that he has made no arrangements for financial resources for his students by way of making them financially independent of others, when they leave the school the next day. How shall such students earn their living when they leave the school? If a Molvi by chance happens to be a rich man, possessing sufficient money, they taunt him with affluence and richness."
He is using Molvi as the condescending, almost derogatory, term for Ulema (who might even be Maulanas or Muftis). Not just your local Molvi who teaches kids how to recite Qur'an and leads prayers.
The Ulema contain Islam. Islam (Fiqh), Iman (Aqeedah), Ihsan (Sufism/Tasawuf)... these are all specialized in and propagated by the Ulema. Thus, "This class of Molvis is a shield for Islam". Rooting out the Madrassahs where they teach, or trying to eradicate their influence altogether will pretty much annihilate Islam from that area good and proper. Uprooting religious schools from Muslim lands will do more damage to Islam than if they had bombed that place off the face of the Earth. The next best strategy is to transform them into puppet Madrassahs espousing a form of Islam that is government-approved. For obvious reasons, this totally negates the entire purpose altogether. Especially since the governments have no connection to Islam.
"I have had the opportunity of visiting Baghdad. This is the city which has been the capital of the Islamic world for centuries. The world has seen there the spledour and grandeur of the Abbasid Caliphate. All sorts of arts and sciences developed and flourished there.
When I arrived there, I enquired from someone the address of some religious schools or the centre of religious knowledge and learning. I wanted to visit some of them. I was told that there was no trace of such religious institutions: all these have given way to modern schools and colleges. Now it is only the University faculties where religious education may be acquired. By looking at the dress, etc. of the professors, it is difficult even to acknowledge that they are Muslims, let alone their being Alims of the Islamic Shariah and Fiqh. These institutes follow the co-ed system as well. Islam has become only a theory which is taught as a historical philosophy. This system of education has no effect on the lives of its students. Their study of Islam in these Universities is like that of the orientalists. Today Islam is being taught in Universities in America, Canada and in other European counties and the courses of study include Hadith, Fiqh and Tafsir. If you read their articles and research papers on Islam, you will come to know the names of books about which our naive Molvis are quite in the dark. Apparently great reseach work is being done there on Islam. What is the good of a system of teaching Islam which fails to equip men with the wealth of Iman? All this research and intensive study day and night remain fruitless and the students' thirst for understanding Islam in its true perspective remains unquenched. No doubt there are faculties of Shariah and the principles of Deen in these Universities of the West, but the studies in these Western Universities have no impact on the lives of their students. This is because the essence of these sciences and courses of study has been totally annihilated.
Then I asked the people the names and addresses of some scholars having the older pattern of teaching and learning. I was told that there was a Maktab (religious school of the classical type) attached to a mosque near the tomb of Hazrat Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani (ra), where a teacher of the old pattern of teaching lived and who had received education in the older system. I called upon that Ustad and found that he was really trained and educated on the older system and curricula. My contact with him made me feel that I had really met a righteous God-fearing saint. He had received education in the lowly old-type schools, sitting on mats and leading a hard life of want and scarcity. I could observe on his face the light of the sciences of the Islamic Shariah. From this interview I recieved spiritual inspiration and satisfaction."
"After formal introduction that saint asked me about my country and I told him that I had gone there from Pakistan. Thereafter he put to me a few questions about my Dar ul-Uloom and its curriculum. After I had given him some details about the Dar ul-Uloom he inquired of me about some of the books taught in the Dar ul-Uloom. When I told him the names of some of the books, he felt deeply impressed to hear the names of those books and expressed grief for having been deprived of the blessings contained in them. He said that those are the books that produce godly men and sincere Muslims. He asked me to convey a message from him to the scholars of Pakistan exhorting them never to abolish in any circumstances these schools."
This lecture was delivered in the early '90s so his visit must have been before Gulf War 1, when Iraq was well off. Look at its fate today.
"It is well known about the late poet of the east, Dr. Muhammad Iqbal that he used to make sarcastic remarks about the typical Mullah, except that from time to time he also said things disclosing the truth to the people. Referring to the attitude of the English and the enemies of Islam, he has written at one place in a couplet about Afghanis:
'If you want to eliminate the religious fervour of the Afghanis, then expel the Mullah from the hilly country that is Afghanistan. As long as the Mullah is there the love and fervour of the Afghanis for their Deen cannot be effaced from their hearts.'"
"A violent propaganda campaign has been launched against the religious schools, that their origin dates back to 1400 years ago. The administrators and the teaching staff are outmoded and old-fashioned. They are retrogressive, unaware of modern trends and developments of the world. They do not know how to live in this world according to the modern demands of life, nor have they equipped themselves with the modern scientific technology. These retrogrades want to shift the Muslim Ummah into the reverse gear. Such slogans have been raised from time to time. Their echo is again being heard in our country in full volume.
New force has been added to these slogans by alleging that these religious Madaris have turned into terrorist shelters and they are averse to progress. They are being defined variously with titles like fundamentalists, narrow-mindedness, retrogrades and many other blames are showered on this poor Molvi. The Molvi however, is firm and adamant in his stern attitude and stand."
"My respected father used to say that the Molvi is a die-hard. He is ready to tolerate all taunts, however severe they may be. He is able to put up with all types of adverse situations. This is because one who enters the field of religious life and Islamic activities, he girds up his loins to bear all hardships and taunts from all quarters. He, therefore, enters this thorny field of Deen, prepared to welcome with a good grace all pleasant and unpleasant situations that confront him in the path of Deen.
The idea contained in this line of Urdu poetry is that the path of Allah is difficult and only that person will walk on it who has the courage to face difficulties and give up ease and comforts of life.
A man gifted with an eye capable of seeing realities will readily recognize that these adverse remarks and taunts are in the nature of an ornament for one who preaches the way of Truth. These are taunts that were directed to the Prophets of Allah (as) and their successors and followers. These taunts will not stop, but will continue till the Day of Judgement."
"Voices are being raised today in our society that these religious schools should be closed. There are men who lend support to this demand, not out of opposition and enmity, but out of sympathy and by way of reform.
Sometimes people suggest that these Molvis should be trained for some jobs for earning their livelihood. Therefore, people come forward with proposals including the establishment of workshops for the benefit of the Molvi. My respected father (ra) used to advise that anxiety about the livelihood of these Molvis should be given up, because the Molvis shall themselves solve the problem of their livelihood. You can, he said, cite no case in which a Molvi ever took his own life on account of starvation. My father said: I can give examples of many people with doctorates and masters degrees who have committed suicide on account of financial difficulties. There are also many who hold these degrees, yet they are not finding employment. This cannot be asserted about a Molvi that he is facing unemployment. Almighty Allah the Creator and Sustainer by His infinite mercy, looks after the livelihood of His creatures much better than others."
He relates the story of Sahool Usmani (ra), a reknowned professor of the original Dar ul-Uloom in Deoband, India. He was very well-versed in the field of literature and he thought he might get another job to make money and work in the path of Deen for free. He obtained permission from his superiors to get a job teaching at a government school since that only required 2 to 3 hours of work a week giving lectures with not much preparatory work involved (as opposed to in the Dar ul-Uloom where each day 5 hours of teaching required 10 hours of preparation beforehand). After he spent some time doing this, he reported back to his elders and lamented that he had wound up accomplishing much less in this new lifestyle. That is to say that the environment of a religious school, both physically and spiritually, is blessed and is much more conducive to doing work in the path of Deen. Much more is usually accomplished there in a smaller amount of time and many books are written and published out of these places.
He also mentions how the Dar ul-Ulooms and other Madrassahs (the proper graduate school level) are gigantic institutions running on no income or budget. Yet they are always able to make ends meet, despite expenses that run into the thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars. In fact, there are Dar ul-Ulooms being opened in America and the UK doing the same thing. In the UK, 80% of the new clerics graduating from religious schools there are from Deobandi-associated Dar ul-Uloom-type institutions. Unfortunately those 20% get put on TV instead. He says the people claim no credit for this, it is Allah who runs these institutions by his Mercy and by virtue of the prayers of the righteous saints and God-fearing ulema.
If the thought of foreign donors (Saudi Wahabbis) injecting money into these Madrassahs by way of donations comes to mind, it doesn't apply for Dar ul-Uloom at least. They are strictly Sunni and follow the Hanafi madhab. They are quite critical of Ahl-e-Hadith (Wahabis, Salafis, etc.) and they (Saudis) in turn would rather fund their own Madrassahs (which have lost influence in recent times to the traditional kind... another miracle since there's no such thing as a marketing department in these things). They also rarely, if ever, ask for donations. It goes against their principles of avoiding begging. A few Deobandi Muftis who ran ShariahBoard in the US had gone so far as to close their operation rather than ask for donations (in Western communities, you usually need to ask via fancy fundraisers) so some of the community interceded and raised funds for them.
They are run on the principle that if they ever feel external pressure and feel that they are being forced to violate the Shariah or disgrace the Deen, they'll simply immediately shut it down rather than continue.
A nice anecdote:
"Hazrat Abu Hurayrah (ra) tells of his own hunger that he used to remain in the company of the Holy Prophet (saw) and often would fall down at the door of the Masjid Nabawi worn down from sheer hunger. People would think that he was having an epileptic fit and would pass over his neck because it was believed in those times that anyone suffering from epilepsy would recover if someone passed over his neck placing his foot there. He adds, 'By Allah! Neither had I epileptic fits nor did I suffer from convulsions or unconsciousness. It was hunger, very severe, that made me very weak and unable to rise.' This is how Hazrat Abu Hurayrah (ra) lived and went on to collect and transmit to us five thousand three hundred and sixty-four Ahadith, the highest by any person."
Abu Hurayrah (ra) was part of Ahl-us-Suffah, the first group of 'students' in Islam who made it their business to spend all their time studying every facet of the Prophet Muhammad (saw)'s behaviour, sayings, and teachings. They were so named because they sat on a platform in the Masjid Nabi called 'suffah' which one can still see there today. That suffah was the first Madrassah in the history of Islam.
^(all of the above quotes translated from oral lecture in Urdu)