Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
in spotlight again. Not because there are wild allegations of these
institutions harbouring terrorists but through a PIL filed in Delhi High Court
to regulate the contents of madrasas and Maktabs. One must also add that the
same PIL also asks for similar regulation in Gurukuls but given the fact that
there are very few of them, the potential impact of the outcome of this PIL is
to be felt by madrasas. The important point for us therefore is how Muslims
should respond to such a PIL. There are already murmurs that this is influenced
by the BJP government in power and that they, being “enemies of Islam,” will
try to alter the teaching within these madrasas which have remained unchanged
for hundreds of years.
jumping to such conclusions, we must understand that the effort to regulate
madrasas did not start with BJP. All governments have tried to do so from time
to time. Thus during the Congress led UPA II, there were serious attempts to
bring all madrasas under one single platform called All India Madrasa Board.
The attempt backfired because the Barelwis and the Deobandis did not want to be
governed by a single Board. There were fundamental problems within their
pedagogy. After all, if the Barelwis teach their students that Deobandis are
nearly Kafirs, then how could they agree to a joint curriculum? Similar was the
problem with the Deobandis who have historically regarded the Barelwis as
lesser Muslims and more Hindus. However, the problem was not just limited to
fundamentally different approaches to Islam but also about the perception that
the government was interfering in the personal institutions of Muslims and that
was equally unacceptable to all the Muslim Maslaks. Thus there is nothing new
in what the BJP government is trying to do (if we accept that the PIL is
somehow related to or influenced by the government). Rather, we should
understand that earlier governments have also tried to do the same. Perhaps it
is in the nature of governments to regulate institutions and if the present
government is trying to do it, then why should we have such a huge problem?
After all, Muslims also accept the suzerainty of the government, so what is the
need for such exceptionalism?
Let us now
come to the PIL itself and what it is demanding from the courts. The litigation
argues that madrasas need to be modernised and brought on par with government
schools. Thus essentially it is saying that the curriculum should reflect the
educational requirements of the modern world. It states that madrasas ‘teach
only Quran, Hadith and religious matters’ which ‘severely impacts the job
prospects of students studying in these madrasas’. It is difficult not to agree
with such a description of contemporary madrasas. They are still stuck in the
19th century syllabus drawn up by Mulla Nizamuddin which later on came to be
known as the Dars e Nizami. Before the PIL, scores of reformist Muslims
themselves have argued for overhauling the system of education within these
madrasas. A committee to propose changes within madrasas, constituted by the
NCMEI (National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions), drew up a
plan to implement reforms but was quickly shelved due to the opposition of the
mullahs. So there is nothing new in what the current PIL is demanding. This
demand is old and has even been raised by many Muslims from time to time.
However, no sooner such a demand for reforming madrasas is made, mullahs start
crying that Islam is in danger. This time additionally they are saying that it
is the BJP government which wants to destroy their age old tradition.
It must be
underlined that Islam has always been in danger for these mullahs whenever
things are not to their liking. Islam was in danger when Supreme Court
delivered the Shah Bano judgment; it was in danger when the Babri mosque was
demolished and it is in danger now when one is talking of reforming madrasas.
Muslims should call their bluff now. It is not Islam which is in danger rather
it is the perks and the privileges of the mullahs which come in danger every
time someone calls for reforms in their institutions.
also is that they have a ready audience with those Muslims who think that
mullahs are the representatives of Muslims and that they have been mandated to
guide and lead us by the Prophet himself. This is sheer nonsense and has been
concocted by the mullahs themselves. It is unfathomable how a semi-literate
madrasa graduate having no knowledge of how the present world works, can lead a
community in the 21st century. It is equally unfathomable how modern educated
Muslims can think that mullahs are their true representatives and that they are
duty bound to follow their command.
equally problematic is that the cry of Islam in danger gets a sympathetic ear
from the fellow secularists who in their blind adherence to minority rights
legitimise whatever these mullahs say about Muslims. One of the arguments often
heard within the mullah-secular complex is that madrasas are age old institutions
of Muslims within which no change is possible. They link madrasas with Muslim
culture and argue that protection of this culture is alienable part of minority
is that secularists are downright ignorant about Muslim culture and religious
traditions as a result of which they believe whatever they are fed by the
mullahs. The truth remains that madrasas have changed throughout history and
the present arrangement of knowledge within the madrasa system is a product of
colonial period. Pre-colonial madrasas taught everything: from religious
studies to the available sciences of the day. It is only with the establishment
of Deoband in 1867 that the teaching of science and philosophy was discontinued
from madrasas. In doing so, Deoband was not following the traditions of Muslims
scholarship but rather inventing a new one. Questions must be asked from this
institution as to why it did this but those asking the question must first know
have always insisted that they do not stop anyone from acquiring modern
education. Muslims can certainly do so by going to schools if they desire.
However, they are resolutely opposed to introducing these modern subjects in
their own institutions.
say this is a very modern and valid argument. However, it might be a modern
argument to make but it is definitely not a valid argument. One needs to ask
the question what right do they have to jeopardise the future of Lakhs of
Muslim children by teaching them things which do not equip them to negotiate
the structures of modern life? Just because these students are poor and low
caste, is it alright to consign their educational futures to an outmoded and
Muslims who fund these madrasas must ask themselves this question: are they
willing to send their own children in these institutions? If not, then is it
the responsibility of poor Muslims alone to bear the burden of Islamic piety on
their already tired shoulders?
again we hear that the most important asset which the Muslim community needs to
develop is education. And yet we have developed an educational system which is
producing misfits by the horde. The Prophet wanted us to even go as far as
China to acquire knowledge. Today, we have developed an educational system
whose students struggle to locate China on a world map.
Alam is a NewAgeIslam.com columnist
of Indian Madrasas and Islamic Seminaries, Dars-e-Nizami: Full of Polemics and
Shorn of Spiritual Beauty of Islam
New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism
This article also reaffirms the reflections of many recent madrasa graduates including this commentator. After a rigorous analysis of the madrasa curriculum"Dars-e-Nizami", I contend that Indian Madrasas in general and those in Uttar Pradesh particularly need radical overhaul in various areas. Even the best reforms of madrasa education in India hardly meet the minimal standards of what is required in terms of 'reformation'.
First and foremost, all textbooks and references that peddle the ideological extremism, exclusivism and Islamist supremacism must be removed from the large corpus of the madrasa literature. They need to be replaced by the universal and essential messages of Islamic scriptures, which call for the unity of existence, religious pluralism and brotherhood of mankind.
of Indian Madrasas and Islamic Seminaries, Dars-e-Nizami: Full of Poleics and
Shorn of Spiritual Beauty of Islam