Madrasah is referred to institution specially designed for Islamic education and culture. Madrasah education commenced from the time of Hazrat Muhammad (Sm). He set up Darul Arqam at the foot of Makkah's Safa hill, Suffa Residential Madrasah and Darul Qurrah Madrasah on the north-eastern side of Masjid-e-Nababi after performing Hizrat (emigration to Medina). Besides, the Masjid-e-Nababi (622 AD) and 9 other mosques of Medina were also used as education centres. Among the Caliphs, Hazrat Omar (R) and Hazrat Ali (R) set up two large madrasahs at Basra and Kufa. During the Umayyad rule, large mosques were used as Madrasahs. The Abbasid rulers used to patronise Madrasah education. Apart from constructing Mosque-based madrasahs, they also built separate madrasahs. Primary education at mosques for children was compulsory at that time.

Madrasah education was introduced in Bengal during the Sultani era (1210-1576). Many madrasahs were set up in Bengal during that period. Among these, the Madrasah of Moulana Takiuddin Arabi at Mohisantosh is the oldest. In 1248, Sultan Nasiruddin, Badaruddin Ishaque, Minhazuddin, Nizamuddin Damiski and Shamsuddin Khawarizmi prepared a curriculum for madrasah education, which remained effective for one century.

Moulana Abu Tawama set up a madrash at Sonargaon in 1278, and it was the biggest madrasah in the then Bengal. Sultan alauddin husain shah (1494-1519) established many madrasahs in Gaur and Maldaha. The madrasah curriculum during the Sultani era included Arabic, Nahu, Saraf, Balagat, Manatik, Kalam, Tasauf, literature, Fiqah and Philosophy.

The scope of madrasah education was expanded during the Mughal era by including various branches of knowledge and science. At that time, Astronomy, Mathematics, Geography, Accounting, Agriculture, Public Administration, Biology, Zoology, Fine Arts etc were incorporated into madrasah education in phases.

At present, there are three systems of madrasah education in Bangladesh. Besides the traditional maktabs, mosque-based madrasah education system, the aliya madrasah system was introduced in Bengal after the establishment of Kolkata' Aliya Madrasah in 1780 and the Quaumi Madrasah system was introduced after the establishment of Chittagong Darul Ulum Moyeenul Islam Madrasah in 1899.

Aliya Madrasah is basically an institute for higher education run according to the curriculum and syllabus framed by an education commission constituted by the government. There are five stages in Aliya Madrasah, namely, Ibtedayi (primary, 5 year long), Dakhil (secondary, 5 year long), Alim (higher secondary, 2 years), Fazil (undergraduate, 2 years) and Kamil (post-graduate, 2 years). Total length of Madrasah education is therefore 16 years. At the Kamil (post-graduate) level, degree is awarded after 2 years of education in Tafsir, Hadith, Fiqah, Arabic literature and Mujabbid branches. There are two types of Aliya Madrasah in Bangladesh. The Madrasahs run by the government are known as Government Aliya Madrasah, while those approved by and receiving grants from the government are called Private Aliya Madrasah.

The Aliya Madrasahs of Bangladesh have been established in conformity with the Kolkata Aliya Madrasah. After the establishment of Kolkata Aliya Madrasah, the government formed committees at different junctures for reforming the Aliya Madrasah. The board of directors of the madrasah introduced its educational curriculum and syllabus in 1791, ten years after its inception. This syllabus was implemented in all Madrasahs affiliated to Kolkata Aliya Madrasah in Bengal (including Assam), Bihar and Orissa. The committee brought some amendments to Kolkata Aliya Madrasah in 1869. The committee headed by Justice Norman brought some changes to Madrasah education in Bengal in 1871. The Dhaka Madrasah (presently government kobi nazrul college), Chittagong Darul Ulum Mohsinia Madrasah (at present Government mohsin college) and Rajshahi Madrasah (presently Rajshahi Government Madrasah) were established in 1873 with funding from the mohsin fund.

The Hunter Committee report of 1882 was implemented in 1884. In 1907, the Kolkata Aliya Madrasah was given permission to open 3-year Title (equivalent) classes. The Mohammedan Education Advisory Committee headed by A H Hurley recommended some measures in 1910 to bring about some reforms in Madrasah education system.

The curriculum prepared by the Mohammedan Education Advisory Committee headed by Principal Shamsul Ulama Abu Nasar Wahid recommended the use of old scheme and new scheme system in 1914 and this was implemented in 1915. Two types of new scheme madrasahs styled junior and senior were introduced with the goal of making the Muslims interested in receiving English education. The Junior Madrasahs taught up to class five while the Senior Madrasahs taught up to class ten. The Senior Madrasahs were brought under the purview of government assistance and English was made compulsory for them. The Muslim students became especially interested to receive education at new scheme Madrasahs in order to get government jobs.

In 1927, the Shamsul Huda Committee recommended to conduct the central examinations of old scheme Senior Madrasahs in Bengal and Assam under the Madrasah Education Board like Alim, Fazil and Fakhrul Muhaddisin examinations. The syllabus for Kamil formulated by the committee recommended inclusion of subjects like Siah Sitta (Bukhari, Muslim, Nasau, Tirmizi, Ibne Maza, Abu Daud), commentaries on Asulul Hadith, Tafsirul Baizabi, Tafsirul Kashshaf, Tafsirul Kabir and Tafsirul Mazmuul, Fiqah, Mantik, History of Islam etc.

A Madrasah Education Board styled Board of Central Madrasah Examinations, Bengal was constituted in 1927 with the Assistant Director of Mohammedan Education as its chairman and the principal of Kolkata Aliya Madrasah as the Registrar. The Madrasah Education Board was linked to the madrasah-e-aliya as a government organisation from 1927 to 1979.

The Momen Committee or the Muslim Education Advisory Committee of 1931 and the Mawla Bakhsh Committee of 1938-40 made recommendations for reforming the education system of Aliya Madrasah. The recommendations put forward by the Syed Moazzamuddin Hossain Committee of 1946 for reforms and improvements in Madrasah education were implemented from 1 July 1947. The following topics were included in the Hadith section of Kamil class in those recommendations: Siah Sitta, Nukhbatul Fiqr, Tafsirul Baizabi, Tafsirul Kashshaf, Al-Itkan, History of Islam, and History of Hadith Discipline. The following topics were included in the Fiqah section of Kamil class: Fiqah, Asule Fiqah, Hadith, Kalam, History of Islam and History of Fiqah Discipline. The following sections were included in the Adal section of Kamil class: Ancient and Modern Prose, Poetry, History of Islam, History of Arabic Literature, Literary Criticism etc.

Many madrasahs including government approved Aliya Madrasahs and those receiving grants from the board sprang up in East Bengal, including the Madrasah-e-Aliya Dhaka, Sylhet Government Aliya Madrasah and Bogra Government Aliya Madrasah, In accordance with the 1947 curriculum of Aliya Madrasah. When the Madrasah-i-Aliya was shifted to Dhaka after the partition of India in 1947, the Madrasah Board examinations were conducted by Dhaka University in 1948. The East Bengal Education System Reconstruction Committee' headed by Akram Khan (1949-51), The Ashrafuddin Chowdhury Committee of 1956, Ataur Rahman Education Reform Commission of 1957, M M Sharif National Education Commission of 1958, Islamic Arabic University Committee of Dr S M Hossain (1963), Madrasah Review Committee headed by Imamuddin Chowdhury (1969), Bangladesh National Education Commission of 1972-73 and the Madrasah Education Reform Committee of 1973 made various recommendations for the improvement of Madrasah education.

National curricula and multidimensional syllabus were introduced in government controlled Aliya Madrasahs in 1975 in the light of the recommendations made by the Qudrat-e-Khuda Committee. This syllabus was made effective in the Alim examination held in 1978 and the Fazil examination held in 1980. Apart from the text-books selected for madrasahs in those two classes, all courses of SSC and HSC were included at Alim and Fazil levels, thereby giving them status equivalent to SSC and HSC respectively. This committee introduced science education in Madrasahs.

A Senior Madrasah Education System Committee was formed in 1978 headed by Professor Mustafa Bin Quasem. The Madrasah Education Board was converted into an autonomous body on 4 June 1979. The Director of public instruction Baqui Billah Khan was appointed its first Director.

In the light of the recommendations made by the committee of Mustafa Bin Quasem, the following adjustments were made between various levels of general madrasah education in 1984: Ibtedayi (primary 5 years), Dakhil (secondary 5 years), Alim (higher secondary 2 years), Fazil (undergraduate 2 years), and Kamil (postgraduate 2 years); total 16 years. The syllabus formulated by this committee was made effective in 1985. Dakhil was given the equivalence status of SSC and Kamil of HSC by including all courses of SSC and HSC levels in addition to those prescribed for Madrasah education. As madrasah education has been linked to general education, the students can now seek admission to colleges or universities after finishing madrasah education. But as Fazil (undergraduate) and Kamil (postgraduate) degrees were not linked to general education degrees, the students could obtain equivalence for getting jobs in schools or madrasahs, but not in other areas.

The number of Aliya Madrasahs has continued to rise because of reforms in Madrasah education. During 1907-08, there were 2,444 Madrasahs from Ibtedayi to Kamil levels. The number of Aliya Madrasahs (from Dakhil to Kamil) including 3 government-run ones was 378 in 1947. The total number of Dakhil, Alim, Fazil and Kamil Madrasahs in 1971 was 5,075. The total number of Madrasahs in 2007 stood at 9,493. Of them, 6,700 were Alim, 1,400 were Fazil and 198 Kamil Madrasahs.

Up to 2006, the Madrasah Education Board used to control all levels of examinations in Madrasah education. At present, 3-year long Fazil course and 2-year long Kamil course (total 5 years) have been introduced by combining with general education through the Islamic University (Amendment Act) 2006. It was then decided that henceforth the Madrasah Board would conduct only Dakhil and Alim examinations from 2006. According to this Act, 1,086 Fazil Madrasahs and 198 Kamil Madrasahs are now affiliated with the Islamic University. As a consequence, the disparity that existed for a long time between general education and Madrasah education has now been removed.

Quaumi Madrasah The word 'Quaumi' has its origin in the Arabic word Quaumun means 'national'. Therefore, the appropriate meaning of Quaumi Madrasah is national madrasah or national educational institute. There are four currents flowing in the Quaumi Madrasah education system: (a) Kitab or Darsiat; (b) Maktab; (c) Sahih Quran Education or Quirat; and (d) Hifzul Quran. Quaumi Madrasahs are free from government assistance or influence and are run with the help of financial assistance from pious Muslims. These are also called Darse Nizami Madrasahs, as education is imparted here on the basis of Darse Nizami curriculum.

Islamic scholars like Haji Imdadullah Muhajire Makki (R), Moulana Rashid Ahmed Ganguhi (R) and Moulana Kashem Nanutubi (R) established the Darul Ulum Deoband Madrasah for the first time in Uttar Pradesh, India in 1866 and Mazahire Ulum Madrasah at Sharanpur in 1867 with the assistance of local people. These Deoband Madrasahs are the origins of Quaumi Madrasahs in Bangladesh. Quaumi Madrasahs originated and flourished in Bangladesh with the establishment of Chittagong Darul Ulum Moyeenul Islam Madrasah in 1899 in conformity with the Deoband Madrasahs. This particular Madrasah is therefore called the 'Ummul Madaris' or the mother of all madrasahs. Although Mollah Kutubuddin Shaheed (died 1711 AD) was the innovator of Darse Nizamia introduced in the subcontinent, this education system flourished during the time of his son Mollah Nizamuddin (died 1748 AD) and it became known as Darse Nizamia.

The present system of Quaumi Madrasah in Bangladesh is divided into two stages: primary and secondary education, and higher education. There are 6 levels and 16 classes in the two stages. There are five classes in the first level or Marhalatul Ibtidayia, namely Awal, Chhani, Chhalechh, Rabey and Khamechh. In the second level or Al-Marhatul Mutawassita, there are three classes: Awal, Chhani and Chhaleh. In the third level or Al-Marhalatuchh Chhanubiah Al-Ammah, there are two classes, namely As Sanatul Ula and As Sanatuchh-Chhania. There are 3 levels and 6 classes in the second stage. These include two classes in Al-Marhala Sanubiah Ulia or first level, namely Assanatul-Ula and Assanatuchh-Chhania; two classes in Marhatul-Fazilat (graduate) or second level, namely, Assanatul-Ula and Assanatuchh-Chhania; and there are another two classes in Marhalatut-Taqmil (post-graduate) or third level, namely, Assanatul-Ula or Dawa-e-Hadith, and Assanatuchh-Chhania or Taqmil Fit-Takhaschhuchh. But this course is completed in one year at Dawa-e-Hadith level in almost all Quaumi Madrasahs in Bangladesh. The second year course is fully optional.

A private Quaumi Madrasah Board called Rifaqul Madaris was constituted for the first time in 1978 to run the Darse Nizami Madrasahs. Besides, there are another 11 separate Quaumi Madrasah Boards constituted on regional basis, including Ittehadul Madaris centred around Patiya of Chittagong, Azad Deeni Edarayi Talim Bangladesh of Sylhet, Tanzimul Madaris centred around Jamil Madrasah of Bogra, and Rifaqul Madaris centred around Gawhardanga Madrasahs of Faridpur.

Up to 1998, 2,043 Madrasahs were registered with the Quaumi Madrasah Education Board under Rifaqul Madaris throughout the country. Over 10 thousand Quaumi Madrasahs have been established in Bangladesh up to 2008. There are around 250 Madrasahs of Taqmil or Dawa-e-Hadith level and about 50 Madrasahs for females only.

Maktab The primary level institution where Quran Sharif, 'Deeniat' and Arabic are taught to children in Iran and the Indian subcontinent are called maktab, Noorani or Furqania Madrasah. Religious education is usually imparted in the initial stage at local mosques. The Imam or Muazzin of the mosque usually acts as the instructor. There were around 70 thousand Furqania and mosque-based Maktabs in Bangladesh till 2008. Madrasahs have also been set up for teaching Quran and Quirat education correctly. Besides, many Hafezia Madrasahs have also sprung up for learning the Al-Quran. This kind of Madrasahs numbered more than 4 thousand in 2008.

Independent Madrasahs Five basic educational trends are observed among the Madrasahs which are controlled by individuals or institutions in Bangladesh and run according to independent curricula and syllabus. These are: (1) Kindergarten Madrasahs and Cadet Madrasahs; (2) Short Course Madrasahs; (3) Independent and Special Nature Madrasahs; (4) Madrasahs for Higher Islamic Education, Research and Special Courses (Takhachchhus); and (5) Ahle Hadith Madrasahs. Among these five categories of madrasahs, there is no specific syllabus for the first four types. There are around 40 madrasahs run by the Ahle Hadith, which follow their own syllabuses. Most of these are located in greater Rajshahi district. The largest Madrasahs of this category in Bangladesh are Jamia Muhammadia Arabia located at North Jatrabari of Dhaka and Al Markazul Islami As-Salafi of Nawdapara, Rajshahi. Built in line with the Quaumi Madrasahs, these are fully controlled by the Ahle Hadith organisation. These are run through financial assistance from the people as well as grants from various countries of the Arab world. [ABM Saiful Islam Siddiqi]