Shaikh Dr Thaika Shuaib began his educational endeavours under the auspices of his revered father focusing on Arabic and other traditional Islamic sciences. He attended the family-run, historic Arusiyya Seminary in Kilakarai—alma mater of many celebrated saints and savants of South India. After completing the curriculum there, he sat with the scholars of Al-Baqiyat As-Salihat Seminary and Jamalia Arabic College in the South, Darul Uloom Deoband and Jamia Millia Islamia in the North.
He also attended courses at Al-Azhar University and Madinah University. He completed “Maulavi Fadil” specialising in Qur’ānic exegesis, and capped it with the “Afdal al-Ulama” qualification. There was a two pronged approach to his religious educational endeavours. First was to operationalise the statement: “Seek knowledge even as far as China”. The second was to meet and discuss first hand with scholars who subscribed to deviant methodologies in order to understand their position.
He was enrolled at the Hameedia High School at Kilakarai in Form VIII and stayed till he completed the S.S.L.C. It is worth mentioning that during the four years at Hameedia, he maintained a 100% attendance record. His name was enshrined in the school’s Roll of Honour and Roll of Merit. In addition, he was the Student Leader of Hameedia and the General Secretary of the Student’s Federation of the town.
In seeking to equip himself with the necessary tools for effective inter-faith and propagation work in the future, he judiciously studied the Tamil language and epics. He took the Advanced Tamil examination conducted by the Thiruvaduthurai Atheenam in Tamil Nadu and came first in it.
To better acquaint himself with the country of Sri Lanka, with which his forefathers had established inexplicable links, he did his undergraduate studies at the University of Ceylon (Peradeniya), Sri Lanka where he read B. A. (Hons) in Arabic and Persian.
His unique research of the Arwi region earned him a M.A. and then a Ph.D. from the Columbia Pacific University, USA. His natural flair for language acquisition has seen him becoming proficient in Arabic, English, Malayalam, Persian, Tamil and Urdu.
Religious vs Secular
To the casual reader, a cursory glance of the above will reveal that unlike many from his generation, Shaikh Dr Thaika Shuaib did not face an emotional tug-of-war between the religious and secular, worldly and otherworldly. This was a major issue of contention in India before and after independence.
He was a harsh critic of both (a) English-educated Tamil Muslims, who called for abolishment of the traditional madrasas, and (b) the ultra-conservative Tamil Muslims, who did not see a place for English-medium schools. His pragmatic approach to education endeared him to many, and made him an adversary of some.