“By the will of the Almighty, by the order of the Sultan of his time, Abulgazi Muhammad Aminkhan ibn Allakulikhan (may his grave be illuminated), with the words that it may be a place of mercy, built this blessed madrasa in Khiva, date Hijra 1270 (1854)”.
During the reign of Aminkhan in Khiva, there were 64 active madrasas, the largest and most beautiful of which was the madrasa built by Muhammad Aminkhan (in the dialect Madaminkhan), which is well preserved to this day.
The madrasa is located in the western part of Ichan-Kala, on the right side at the entrance from the main gate Ata-Darvaza. This architectural structure is large and magnificent, in keeping with the particular methods of building of the time.
It is built of baked bricks and its walls are 1.5 m thick. The madrasa has two floors and consists of 130 rooms (hujras – a hujra describes a cell, a small living space for students, in a madrasa in Uzbekistan, for example. Rooms for travelling dervishes in a khanqah were also called this), in which 260 students were studying at the same time, according to historical sources. Historians tell the story of the construction of the madrasa and the minaret: “In the fourth year of the reign of Muhammad Aminkhan, the construction of the madrasa and the minaret was started in the direction of Qibla (towards the Kaaba, the southern direction in Khiva) opposite the Ark.
Bekniyaz Diwanbegi ordered the construction to be carried out. When Bekniyaz started the construction, Muhammad Karim of Diwan was assigned to supervise it. Muhammad Karim found famous masters of Choresm and started building it.
On the orders of the Khan in Yangiariq (village) at the foot of the desert, the construction of the country palace – Hovli and garden – was also started and Ismail Diwan ibn Adina Diwan was appointed as its director on the orders of Abdullah Kushbegi.
In 1851, the competition for the construction of the madrasa was called by Muhammad Aminkhan and the project drawn by the Supreme Master of Khiva (Ustabashi) Abdulla “Jin” was pleasing to the Khan. The madrasa was built in three years.
The pleased Khan ordered Bekniyaz Diwanbegi to prepare everything necessary for the great celebrations and feast. The khan’s brothers and close relatives who came to the feast were presented with gold-woven robes and racy racehorses. No one who attended the feast was left without a gift.
Contemporaries praised the construction of the madrasa in verses with a coded chronogram and were also presented with gifts by the Khan. Next to the madrasa, construction began on a minaret so majestic that poets glorified its unfinished construction with the words “Like a pillar supporting the dome of heaven”.
The portal of the madrasa was decorated with beautiful majolica tiles on which were written eulogies to the builders of the madrasa in the Nasta’liq script of Arabic calligraphy.
The madrasa has a similar architectural structure to other similar buildings. It is symmetrically built in two storeys, with a rectangular floor plan and a spacious courtyard in the same shape. There are guldasta corner towers in four corners of the madrasa.
The towers on either side of the central portal of the madrasa are particularly noteworthy. Behind the main façade are a five-domed minaret, a winter mosque, an auditorium and ancillary rooms.
The rooms on the first floor served as living quarters and utility rooms, while the living quarters on the second floor have vaulted loggias that open to one side, giving the building an attractive appearance.
The courtyard is adorned with four small portals, the front part of which is decorated with majolica with Khiva motifs, under which calligraphic inscriptions are woven in Arabic script in the Thuluth style.
The window openings of the madrasa have panjara-patterned grilles. A waterproofing layer of mountain stones was laid in the lower part of the walls in the basement of the madrasa (their height is 68 cm). The overall dimensions of the madrasa are 71.7 m x 60.0 m, and the inner courtyard of the madrasa is 38.0 m x 38.0 m in size. The winter mosque – 9.4 х 8.4 metres, the auditorium – 5.6 х 5.5 metres, the summer mosque – 5.6 х 5.6 metres, the height of the portal – 25 metres.
According to the description of traveller Hermann Vambery, who arrived in Khiva in 1863, the madrasa was built by Muhammad Aminkhan in the form of a caravanserai, the minaret, located near the madrasa, was left unfinished because of the tragic death of Khan.
The 130 rooms (hujshras) of the madrasa were meant for 260 students, for the madrasa the lands of Waqf (Waqf is an institute of Islamic law similar to the foundation) were allotted in certain sizes. The area of these lands was 32,525 tanaps and the harvest obtained from them was distributed among the students and employees of the madrasa.
The annual income from these waqf lands was 12000 khiva batman (batman – 20 kg) of wheat and 5000 tilla (gold coins) of money. There were 2 to 3 students in each hujra of the madrasa, the doors of all the hujrasas faced the courtyard of the madrasa and there was a fireplace in each hujra.
Religious and secular sciences were taught in the madrasa, and at the same time entertainment games were forbidden, as was singing. The duration of study in the madrasa was unlimited, some students studied in one course for 3 – 4 years, even 8 – 10 years.
Education in the madrasa was conducted in 3 stages:
Higher ‘a’lo’ groups.
In the primary stage, students were taught Arabic grammar, logic, Sharia, religious rites and literature in Arabic and Persian. During the remaining two phases, students diligently studied Tahsib (logic), Ilohiyot (theology), jurisprudence and other sciences.
Any son of a Muslim who reached the age of 15 was admitted to a madrasa, taking into account his literacy. The students were called mullah or talibul ilm. The students who graduated from the madrasas produced poets, historians, scribes, calligraphers, scholars and educated people.
The madrasa housed a large library and the seat of the Supreme Court of the Qādī (Qādī is, according to Islamic state doctrine, a jurist who performs primarily judicial functions on behalf of the caliph, following the system of norms of the Shari’a).