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Similarities Between Medicine and the Darse-Nizami, Part I

June 4, 2006

As the kr Magical Mystery Tour comes to a sad end and once
again I return to the purgatory known as medical school, I’ve been reflecting
on my brief introduction—if one can even call it that—to higher studies in the
sacred sciences that I’ve had over the past nine months. One thing that I found
to be quite interesting is that in the system of classical Islamic education,
there are many divisions and specialties amongst the various branches of
knowledge. And perhaps this is true of all fields of higher education, whether
they are religious or secular, but since I come from a laughable background in
medicine as well, I began to notice the similarities between modern medical
education and the traditional curriculum of the sacred sciences, known as the Darse
Nizami
. The Darse Nizami is the model followed by most traditional
schools throughout the Muslim world, particularly in the subcontinent, to train
students to becoming functional scholars and equipping them with enough tools
to develop further mastery on their own. In a way then, it’s quite similar to
modern medical education, which educates one with enough tools and principles
to become a functional physician so that one can then specialize in a
particular field. Each course is rigorous, taught by experts, and demands a
high level of discipline from the student. And while there are notable
differences (such as medical school only being four years whereas the
traditional madrasa system tends to be seven to eight years), I think overall
there are many similarities in the curriculum. What follows is a personal
analysis of said similarities. This by no means is meant to be a completely
accurate comparison of these two fields of knowledge, but I thought this might be
an interesting read for anyone who might be interested.

The modern system of medical education can be essentially
broken down into two phases: the first two years, which consist primarily of
classroom instruction and lecture with small amounts of practical experience in
the hospital; and the second two years, which consists primarily of 6 core
rotations in the third year, followed by optional rotations during the fourth
year. Finally, a student graduates as a physician and then chooses to
specialize in a particular specialty of his/her choice.

  1. the
    first two years
    : The subjects of the first two years can essentially
    be broken down into seven main categories – Anatomy, Biochemistry,
    Behavioral Sciences, Microbiology/Immunology, Pathology, Pharmacology, and
    Physiology.
  2. the
    third year
    : There are 6 core rotations during the third year: Internal
    Medicine, Surgery, Family Practice, Pediatrics, Obstetrics/Gynecology
    (OB/GYN), and Psychiatry.
  3. the
    fourth year
    : this is basically a slack off year wherein one does all
    the rotations that one is interested in, applies to residency programs,
    plays a lot of video games, etc.
  4. residency:
    the newly-graduated physician then becomes a slave for 3-5 years as he/she
    struggles away at a specialty, working some 80 hours a week, and getting
    paid less than a garbage man (and has to pay off a boatload of loans that
    amount to a mortgage, basically, but I digress…)

The Darse Nizami curriculum is much longer (7-8
years) and consists of more books (80-100). The main areas of study aren’t that
many, but a student ends up reading several books in the same subject in
increasing levels of difficulty and detail. The main subjects are: Arabic
Syntax/Grammar (Sarf/Nahw), Arabic Rhetoric (Balaghah), Hadith,
Jurisprudence (Fiqh), Logic (Mantiq), Principles of Jurisprudence
(Usul al-Fiqh), Qur’anic Exegisis (Tafsir), and Theology (`Aqidah).
I’ve left out some others such as Tajweed and Sirah for the sake of brevity.

With the overview complete, what follows is a closer
personal analysis of the similarities between these disciplines.

  1. Anatomy
    = Arabic. This is because in both fields, a strong foundational mastery of
    these two branches of knowledge is essential to understanding everything
    else. No matter what field of medicine a doctor goes into, he must have a
    command over anatomy, otherwise he’ll look like a buffoon; the same thing
    goes for a scholar. Thus every physician has to start by reading texts
    like Essential Clinical Anatomy, Gray’s Anatomy, etc. while
    every prospective student of knowledge has to start with classical texts
    of Arabic verb conjugation and syntax, such as Wafiyah, the Ajrumiyyah,
    Sibawahy’s Kitab, etc. This initial study is then followed up
    by hands-on study: the medical student dissects cadavers, memorizes
    muscle/blood/nerve charts, and has to develop a sound mental picture of
    the human body. Similarly, one has to mindlessly memorize charts of verb
    conjugations, rules of grammatical contruction, and practice
    speaking/reading as well. And just as anatomy itself is composed of many
    branches, so too is Arabic:
    1. Gross
      Anatomy = Sarf/Nahw. The similarities in this were alluded to before, but
      another similarity is how study in each of these is a seemingly never
      ending task. In other words, one can do a few books in each of these
      branches and develop a working knowledge of how to “get by”: medical
      students may memorize High Yield or First Aid (yours truly
      is guilty of this) whereas their counterparts may just memorize Wafiyah.
      However, the depth of these branches is limitless: there are many more
      advanced anatomy texts for the medical student, while texts such as Sharh
      Mi’at `Amil, Hidayat al-Nahw,
      and Kafiyah of Ibn Hajib await the student of
      sacred knowledge. If one really wants to know what one is going to
      study in both of these fields, advanced study of these kinds of texts is
      necessary. It’s interesting that in modern medicine, gross anatomy is
      taught very quickly (we did it in like 6 months or something), whereas in
      modern madrasas, Arabic too is taught very quickly—both modern
      curriculums seek to develop a working knowledge instead of a true
      mastery. In the past, both medical schools and madrasas spent a
      considerable amount of time on anatomy and Arabic—something along the
      lines of 1.5 years and 3-4 years, respectively.
    2. Histology
      = Grammatical Analysis (Tarkib). Histology is the detailed and
      microscopic study of human tissue and cells. It’s often boring (and is
      taught terribly at UIC, if I might add…) and complicated and one sees no
      point to it. But it’s a necessary evil to understand since it helps to
      prepare one for pathology: studying normal tissue helps one to identify
      and understand what is diseased tissue. If it is taught well, histology
      becomes an art in and of itself.  Tarkib
      is grammatical analysis of Arabic sentences using a text like Sharh
      Mi’at `Amil
      to understand and account for every word in a sentence
      (and also to account for the omitted verbs/subjects of a sentence, as the
      Qur’an and Hadith have a tendency to omit such words and it’s up to the
      reader to deduce them). Thus, it’s often dry and complicated at times,
      but if you have a genius as a teacher, such as Mawlana Aziz, it becomes a
      sacred art in and of itself. A sound understanding of tarkib is
      necessary to understand higher sciences such as Tafsir and Hadith.
    3. Embryology
      = Arabic Vocab. Embryology is the study of the development of the child
      from the time of conception until delivery. While it really isn’t an
      absolutely vital branch of medicine, it’s a very beautiful branch of
      medicine, since almost everything one learns in this subject can be
      appreciated and is an iman-booster, especially when one considers the
      Islamic implications of such knowledge. Developing one’s Arabic
      vocabulary too isn’t vital (since you can always look words up in a
      dictionary), but it helps one to appreciate the beauty of the complexity
      of the Arabic language, especially when one sees how different words that
      contain the same letters in different order are related and give new
      layers of meanings. Hence books such as Qisas al-Nabiyyeen are used to develop the student’s Arabic vocabulary. Both of these disciplines, then, are also an art
      form, since being able to see such beauty requires the student to be
      interested in deeper understanding in these sciences.
    4. Neuroanatomy
      = Eloquence (Balaghah) Neuroanatomy takes gross anatomy one step
      further by focusing on the most complicated aspect of the human body, the
      human nervous system, especially the brain. It’s a fascinating field, and
      while it too isn’t vital to master, it helps one to appreciate other
      aspects of medicine and the human body as a whole. Most students (again,
      like me, regrettably) get around this class by browsing through First
      Aid, High Yield, or Neuroanatomy Made Ridiculously Simple
      . The true
      devotees, for example those who go into neurology or neurosurgery,
      develop a thorough mastery of this field and literally fall in love with
      the beauty of the human brain. Similarly, the madrasa curriculum includes
      studies in classical Arabic eloquence through books like the Diwan
      al-Mutanabbi
      , al-Balaghat al-Wadih, the Maqamat of Hariri,
      Saba` Mu`allaqat (the seven
      poems that were suspended on the walls of the Ka`bah during the days of
      Ignorance), etc. These are meant to help the prospective scholar better
      understand and appreciate the Qur’an and Hadith from an aesthetic
      perspective. Again, one can kind of breeze through this in modern times,
      but classically, mastery in this field was a must for any scholar,
      especially if he wished to write or speak. In classical Islamic
      communities, scholars were almost forced, out of necessity, to write
      eloquently and intricately…otherwise no one would take their work
      seriously. Hence linguistic geniuses like al-Hariri and Imam al-Ghazali
      were created. In modern times, this field has been explored and mastered
      only by a few geniuses who were devotees to this field, most notably the
      late great scholar, Mawlana Syed Abu’l Hasan Nadwi (rahimahullah).

 Part II to follow soon, Inshallah.

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28 Comments
  1. First to comment!
    Nice post my man. Maybe next time you can post tips on getting into med school or something.
    btw- what is your take on ppl(desi muslims) who go to third world boater countries to become doctors?

  2. i like the pics, haha. 

  3. Anonymous permalink

    Man, I’m getting sick of gross anatomy. I can’t wait to start Histology; the pieces of the puzzle will finally start to come together insha’Allah.

  4. Wow KR, just when you claimed to be running out of ideas for great posts, you come up with this.
    MashAllah, this was a really good analysis, I didn’t know… well, like any of this. Thanks

  5. Anonymous permalink

    “In modern times, this field has been explored and mastered only by a few geniuses who were devotees to this field, most notably the late great scholar, Mawlana Syed Abu’l Hasan Nadwi (rahimahullah).” …. very very true

  6. supar dupar

  7. KamKam, this was great…especially delicious…

  8. haha, KamKam, haha.well Kammikins, you’ve done it again BUT you forget an inherent difference between the two courses of study. We’d actually go to class and study everyday with the Dars Nizami. While we ditch class and cram the day before the exam in Medicine. May Allah  make both easier, iA.

  9. I remember when you brought this up at Farhan’s house for the grad party, you said “and Arabic is like the Anatomy of Islam,” and from across the room you hear Farhan go “SHUT UP,” hehehehe.

  10. MashAllah, this was very informative

  11. Ooops, forgot to finish my comment, I also wanted to say that just by reading how much work the scholars have to put in by reading so much and studying so much, it’s really sad that people either don’t take them seriously, or even worse, read a few books or attend some weekend program and think they’re scholars.

  12. you didn’t wait until 1 am to post this one in hopes of not getting featured content??? you’re slippin!!  haven’t read it yet, but i’m sure its good.

  13. There is this doctor in Karachi, Pakistan named Dr. Amjad. After becoming a medical doctor, he also did the whole Darse Nizami course. Today, he runs many institutions in Pakistan. He also runs an Alimah Institute in Karachi. The graduates of that school can speak Arabic fluently. The main reason is because Dr. Amjad is running it very professionally. It’s very nice to hear that you are currently studying the Darse Nizami as well. If every single doctor became an Alim as well, that would be so awesome. I hope Saud does it as well. The following link will take you to the 8 year course taught at Darul Uloom Deoband “The Mother of all Darul Ulooms”. It is very informative. http://darululoom-deoband.com/english/sys_of_edu/index.htm

  14. KR, what are your views on the statements “everyone should become a hafiz” or “everyone should become an alim” ? Would you agree with that or do you think it’s not necessary?
    -Mohd

  15. Anonymous permalink

    thats pretty cooooooll

  16. Anonymous permalink

    p.s: arent you scared that the person whose picture youve put up might come across your xanga and stuff like that….orrrr….even worse…what if its like someones long lost cousin or something….yikes…

  17. saud: the other difference is that we could care less how we did in med school, banking everything on boards… or wait, maybe that was just me =).mode: i dont think its necessary for everyone, perhaps not even possible, to become a scholar or a hafiz. it’s certainly necessary for a group of people from every community to pursue that, since the its a fard kifayah for the community. but at the end of the day, the amount of knowledge that a person needs for salvation is very little. and that’s what matters, right, getting into jannah? all this other stuff is great, but its superfluous and useless if it doesnt get one into jannah. and while it’s admirable for people to pursue sacred knowledge, i think the problem of our times is when people open their mouths after having attended a few halaqahs or some weekend program and all of a sudden are shaykhs of a given discipline. more on this later, in an upcoming post titled, based on the Rock’s famous quote, “Know Your Role and Shut Your Mouth”silvershine: perhaps he would be flattered that im giving him so much publicity =)? the guy is a telugu film star in india, so i doubt he’s someone’s long lost cousin… from amongst my readers anyway… or wait, you never know….

  18. I agree with you KR.(I was hoping your answer was something crazy because I don’t enjoy agreeing with you) Maybe you’ll screw up on the next question I ask you.
    -Mohd

  19. ok so i did like more than the pictures, seeing as how I didn’t know any of it.  (i just hadn’t read it then, pressure!  hehe)  nice job.  inshaAllah may you have more opportunities for kr Magical Mystery Tours.  and come up with such creative posts then too.

  20. 🙂 One question though: did going through the Darse Nizami give you an edge when studying medicine? If it did/not, why?p/s that’s why the pic looked vaguely familiar… (oops has just been outed as closet Telegu film fan.. er actually I probably saw his mug on one of the many magazines that decorate my fave grocery shop)

  21. Anonymous permalink

    howz Fahrenheit 451?

  22. lazidezi: ameen, i hope i can take another sabbatical soon… or better yet, just drop outta med schol =)
    kenakelayan: well, considering that i started the main parts of the DN after i finished half of med school, it remains to be seen how it will affect my medical education… inshallah it benefits it positively.
    zdave911: great book, it’s a must read for everyone. it’s quite short, and one can read it in a few days… it’s a hauntingly accurate description of the future made by bradbury (in the vein of brave new world and 1984) many years ago about our society today.

  23. Anonymous permalink

    Dude.. this was a really interesting post.

  24. Anonymous permalink

    thanks for the review

  25. No, but I’ve been looking to become one. Where do I apply?
    “Umm yeah…I’m here to uh apply for the position of “wali”…are the benefits any good?…umm yeah.” You have to say all of that with a nasalized white guy voice of course.

  26. The people not reading your blogs are missing out a lot of quality contents.cme meetings

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