A few months ago, the trustees of Madrasa Azizia in Mumbai had suggested an alternative source of income for the charity-run institution: a factory that would fund it. But Maulana Mazhar Alam Qasmi who heads the 35-year-old madrasa, a branch of the famous seminary Darul Uloom Deoband in Uttar Pradesh, rejected the offer in no uncertain terms. Reason: "A madrasa must not be rich enough to become corrupt like other educational institutions."
Maulana Qasmi is among the swelling army of clerics who have resolved to stonewall the government's bid to modernise the madrasas. Last year, the Centre, under the aegis of the National Commission for Minority Institutions (NCMI), proposed the establishment of a central madrasa board to bring thousands of Islamic schools across the country into its fold. The heated debate generated then has again sprung to life with NCMI'S chairman, Justice MSA Siddiqui, undertaking an extensive tour of the country to advocate modernisation of the madrasas.
Last week, Justice Siddiqui was in Mumbai, where he met half a dozen ulema and Muslim NGOs. Stressing that there was no coercion ("We will not push the board down the throat of the community; we are merely asking clerics to read the proposed Central Madrasa Board act and give objections and suggest changes"), he said that the affiliation to the board would be optional. The board itself, once ratified by an act of Parliament, will get a corpus of Rs 500 crore from the government—good money which can put the perennially cash-starved madrasas into modernisation mode with computers, trained faculty for science, mathematics and English at al.
However, this "noble" effort is scaring the people in the essentially insular world of madrasas away. Already targeted by habitual Islam-bashers for allegedly grooming jehadis, many madrasas equate the government's modernising bid with the West's "civilising" missions. "Why is the government showing so much interest in improving the madrasas when the Sachar Committee report says that less than 4% of Muslim children study there? Even if the government assures our sovereignty, experience shows that government grants make madrasas lose their focus," says Maulana Arshad Madni who, till recently, headed Darul Uloom (Deoband)'s education section.
Maulana Madni cites examples from states like Bihar, West Bengal and MP where many madrasas joined the state madrasa boards. "Unqualified teachers who were more interested in drawing their salaries than teaching subjects like Islamic jurisprudence and Hadees (the Prophet's traditions) have bred a generation of ill-informed maulvis. Now the Centre wants to finish off the madrasas completely," says Maulana Madni who is leading a campaign against the modernisation of the madrasas.
The likes of Madni are in step with the code set by the founders of Darul Uloom Deoband in the 1920s. One of their six guidelines has to do with the spartan character of the madrasas: the charter clearly asks the management to keep madrasas dependent on the community's alms and reject government help. Financial security, the code stresses, will cut the madrasas off from poor Muslims for whom they were originally founded.
The pro-modernisation movement, however, dismiss this "love the poor" stance of the madrasas as a lame excuse. "Who likes to remain poor?" asks Pune-based educationist P A Inamdar. Inamdar has struck a blow to orthodox elements in the community with his progressive project bankrolling the education of around 200 imams' children in English-medium, secular schools. Almost all the imams, in Pune and elsewhere, are madrasa-educated but the Pune imams have quite happily sent their wards to convent schools, mostly run by non-Muslims. "When an imam takes his daughter to a Christian school, he is sending a strong message that the writing is on the wall. Change or perish," says Inamdar.
Even those maulvis who are prepared to ride the madrasa board bandwagon, however, have some reservations. At Justice Siddiqui's recent meeting in Mumbai, Maulana Athar Ali of Tanzeemul Madaris, an association of over two dozen madrasas in Maharashtra, wanted to know to what extent the government would guarantee their freedom. Replied Justice Siddiqui, "The Centre will not force you to drop any of the subjects that you teach. It will ask for accounts of only the funds that it provides. You will be free to generate funds from charity and spend them as you wish." Siddiqui also added that the board would issue certificates which would be equivalent to HSC and SSC and help madrasa students enter the mainstream job market.
Some are piqued at the government's sudden surge of empathy for the madrasas. "Politicians, including HRD minister Arjun Singh, are being misguided by a section of middle-class Muslims who don't understand the spirit behind the madrasas. Madrasas fulfil specific religious needs of the community, and should be handled carefully," says sociologist Imtiaz Ahmad who has extensively researched the educational status of the Muslim community.
But those in favour of modernising madrasas blame it on a mindset that poet Allama Iqbal attacked decades ago: "Aain-e-nau se darna, tarz-e-kohan pe adna/ Manzil yehi kathin hai qaomon ki zindagi mein (To fear a new constitution and adhering to the old order/These make a destination difficult in the life of communities).
Posted on 13 Jul 2008
Source: The Times of India, New Delhi