Love is complex and complicates things. However, contrary to the old adage love is not blind. Who knows the beloved so well as the lover? To know the beloved’s true nature is to see and accept the whole gamut of their beauties and strengths as well as fallibilities and foibles. In which case, it could be argued that there is no genuine criticism without love. Telling criticism, the just point that cuts to the quick is most resonant when it comes from true love, the kind that can balance knowledge, the honesty of informed insight with a measured passionate intensity. However, it is just as possible for love to let the beloved off the hook.

The madrasa is seldom cast as beloved these days, although it is undoubtedly a centre of passionate controversy. As an institution it has acquired a menacing reputation in popular punditry. In the west it is perennially cited for blame as a causal factor in the rise of terrorism. Despite the frequency of its demonisation what madrasas actually do, what they teach, their history, and place in the intellectual and religious heritage of Muslim civilisation past and present, is much less known or understood. As a product of a traditional madrasa education and now a distinguished Islamic scholar at a leading American university Ebrahim Moosa is ideally placed to offer a detailed answer and telling critique of the basic question ‘what is a madrasa?’

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