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Debating Islam ( 25 Feb 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Restructuring Madrasa Education: Looking through the prism of Darul Huda Experiences

By Dr. Faisal Hudawi


Nobody can dispute the fact that the Madrasas play major role in the socio-cultural life of Muslims in India. As centres of free education, they have played vital roles in spreading literacy, and as centres of learning they have been decisive in setting the moods, attitudes and aspirations of the people towards  different aspects of social life. Nevertheless, a close look at the contemporary madrasa system in the country shows how dysfunctional they have become today to a level that many critics hold them responsible for the backwardness and regressive tendencies of the Muslim community in India. Time and again, at different occasions, there have been calls from different corners of the country and different sections of the community for bringing positive changes in these traditional educational systems. However, barring few exceptions, there is no evidence to suggest that these calls were taken in their spirits and stimulated any proactive initiative. Among the exceptions are the successful and continuing experiments taking place in the Islamic education system in Kerala. One of the best experiments is Jamia Darul Huda al-Islamia (Darul Huda Islamic University -DHIU), which is celebrating its silver jubilee this year.

While one gives serious consideration to the process for bringing change or restructuring madrasa education in India, the question that arises is, how? Therefore my attempt here would be to deal with this question by looking at the experiences that Darul Huda had during its past 25 years. In this attempt I would be trying to integrate between an insider's view (as I have been there for about 14 years as a student for 12 years and teacher for two years) and an outsider’s view as of my sociological trainings.

Idea of ‘Darul Huda’

Established in 1986, Darul Huda was a new step towards a major transformation in the field of Muslim education in Kerala. This transformation contained four major changes.

1.A change in the orientation of curriculum.

2.A change in the role of teachers

3.A change in the role of students

4.A change in the way madrasas are run, from the single-handedness to a more responsible and accountable administration.

1. Change in the orientation of curriculum

The relative success of Darul Huda lies in the fact that its founders were convinced of the need for restructuring the religious educational system according to the needs of the community and the requirements of the time. This realization contained a critical evaluation of then-existing models in religious education and the new developments that have been taking place in the field of education in general. The quest ended in a new model that tried to balance between the two educational orientations - one past-centric and the other future-centric. The balancing act is very important as some philosphers suggested confronting the future with a past-orientation is much like driving using only the rear view mirror-the focus is on where one has been and not on where one is going. An occasional rear view focus is essential so that one may know what is coming up from behind. But for the most part the focus must be on what lies ahead. 

It is to be noted here that most of the problems related to restructuring madrasas are related to the past-centric attitude of the teachers as well as the administrators. If any would suggest any change the attitude has mostly been 'we-have-always-done-it-this-way.' Similarly, a major problematic aspect of the call for modernisation is that they are too much future-centric that it seems to contain a complete detachment from the past.  Therefore it is here suggested that any positive change in the system possible only when these two classes of people with distinctive orientations come together to share their ideas and try to see other's perspective.

The balancing in orientation is well informed by the Islamic philosophy of education. From an Islamic point of view, knowledge is integral or holistic – there is no compartmentalization of knowledge into religious and secular. The distinctions that some of the Islamic scholars like al-Gazzali made are either on the basis of the degree of obligation or the certainty of the sources. In this sense there are two categories of knowledge. Fard 'ayn and Fard Kifayah. Fard ‘ayn knowledge is finite, certain, and obligatory for every individual Muslim to acquire. It includes the knowledge about the pillars of the religion and the articles of faith. On the other hand, fard kifayah knowledge is obligatory upon the community. Each community should ensure that there are some people who are knowledgeable in the acquired or intellectual knowledges essential for the survival of the society, such as medicine, mathematics, natural and applied sciences, and social sciences. Hence, the new curriculum set by Darul Huda has given adequate importance to different branches of social science and natural without degrading or overlooking the significance of the subjects in the Islamic studies.

2. Change in the Role of Teachers

Another major change brought by Darul Huda was in redefining the role of teachers. This redefinition meant that the role of a teacher should not be confined in the reproduction of knowledge where the focus is given more in preserving the past without paying any attention to whether they are useful or not. Such an attitude had been treating even rational/acquired knowledge (ilm-ul aqliyyat) as revealed knowledge (ilm-ul-naqliyyat) . Instead, it stressed the productive role of the teachers, stimulating reflexive thought, engaging the opportunities of today and equipping the students for the challenges of the future.

This new vision envisaged that the religious institution should be literally a madrasa, a centre for learning – learning in all sense: learning to be, learning to know, learning to do and learning to live together. The redefinition is completely in harmony with the Islamic view of education that sees the primary goal of education is to produce a good human being. That is, by attaining knowledge, wisdom, creativity, life skills and social sensitivity, one should ensure him to be the servant (`abd) and the vice-regent (khalifah) of Allah who has undertaken the amanah (trust) of maintaining prosperity on earth. At the same time this vision was well informed by the changing role of teachers in the field of education in general. Thus, the teachers are to encourage both and active and interactive learning. The teaching method also includes issue based presentations or debates at least once in a week. These debates and discussions enable the students to respond to various issues of religious issues in a more logical way and approach the socio-cultural problems from a more informed perspective. This change is very important as it makes the teaching a more purposeful and goal oriented effort.

3. Change in the Role of Students

With new orientation in curriculum and more productive role of the teachers, the students have been able to develop proactive attitudes in the entire learning process. This meant that the students are no longer passive subjects listening to the teachers and learning to recite and memorise texts and passages, rather they are to understand what they are taught and use them according to the demands of the contexts. Such an approach also provided for the role of the students in defining the characteristics of the curriculum. Thus, the students are given freedom to formulate papers and subjects according to their needs and interests. For instance, in our time, we demanded a regular journalism-in-service course, which was answered by the authority in positive and we were able to bring in noted journalists and scholars in the field to teach us journalism and mass communication. Even non-Muslim scholars are invited to give special lectures or offer time-bound courses according to the demands of the students. No doubt, this new approach towards the role of the students has proved to be crucial in building up confidence and self-respect among them.

4.Change in the Functioning of administration

Perhaps, the most important aspects of the changes that Darul Huda could initiate, is the way the committees or the organization which run the institutions worked. Without eyeing at the income or resources that any religious institution used to fetch, the DH authority/administration tried to show itself accountable to the community which has been funding it. Remarkably, about 1400 students are now pursuing their 12-course in the main campus free of cost. Inspired by piety and a sense of accountability and responsibility, the administration always tries to share its concerns to the teachers and students in the form questions, like: where are we going? What are we becoming? Why do we function? What are the expectations of the community? How can we reach the target?

Learning from the past, looking forward and identifying what are the impediments in the present and how to avoid them in order to achieve the goals, the administration has been able to convince those who were eagerly watching the experiments at Darul Huda about its vision and mission. It is obvious from the continuous support that the community shows towards whatever endevours it initiates.  It is this continuous retrospection or self-assessment that made Darul Huda to adopt changes and consequently to develop into an Islamic University, which is now a member of International confederation of Islamic Universities.

It is to be highlighted here that if any institution is to be successful and productive the first and foremost important element is its administration with proper understanding of where society is headed, how the world of work is changing, and how the new developments in the field of education, science and technology are affecting the socio-cultural life. In the absence of which, the institution becomes an end in itself. That is the case of many Madrasas.

Impact of Darul Huda

What follows from the foregoing analysis is that a bold step taken by the founders of Darul Huda towards restructuring the religious education system in Kerala, was characterized by a clear vision that enabled them to balance between continuity and change and integrate the religious and secular education. This left major impacts on the Muslim education in Kerala, which could be perceived in terms of the changes happened in the attitude of the people towards education, both religious and secular. The community welcomed the initiative wholeheartedly, which was evident from the enthusiasm showed by different sections of the community in seeking admission to this institution. Remarkably, in contrast to the traditional educational institutions, those who sought admission to Darul Huda also included the rich and economically sound people. However, without looking into the economic status of the candidate, the institution always focuses on one’s ability to learn and follow an entirely different curriculum extending 12-years containing more than 15 subjects in Islamics and contemporary studies.

The high demand for the education given by Darul Huda inspired several people to start similar institutions or to restructure the ones under their control to follow the same curriculum and method of instruction. Thus, Darul Huda started receiving requests for affiliations from different corners of the state resulting in 19-affiliated colleges in Kerala. A major consequence of this turn towards DH-model of education was that it stimulated other organizations and committees towards reorganizing the educational institutions, they were running. This trend also put pressure on most of other traditional institutions like pallidars to make some provisions for the students to seek ‘secular’ education.

Another major impact that Darul Huda made is the change in the general perception about the religious scholar in terms of his roles and status. Attaining both alamiat and a university degree certificate and gaining efficiency in four major languages – English, Arabic, Urdu and Malayalam, the graduates of Darul Huda explore their potentials in different fields – in teaching, higher education, media, corporate sector, etc. Thus they are working as journalists including some of the leading Malayalam dailies, Arabic media such as Al-Jazeera, language expert in different ministries in Gulf countries, lectures, teachers and research scholars in different universities, trainers and counselors with different organizations. As players in diverse field, they are able to ensure their participation in the endevours of community and nation building and as religious scholars they are able to take the opportunities to explain and communicate with others the teachings of Islam in an informed and logical manner. This has been helpful in dealing with the stigmatization and the stereotypification of religious scholar.

The significance that Darul Huda gave to the teachings of languages, namely English, Arabic, Urdu and Malayalam has raised concerns for and new approach towards teaching languages. Consequently, there emerged a new interest in language and new approach towards teaching different languages. The new concern for languages has far reaching effects, the most important among them can be cited as as the decreasing distance between the South and the North India. Darul Huda puts its products in a continuous and effective communication with the fellow Muslim in the rest of the country, which resulted in the emergence of a National Institute which follows Darul Huda curriculum in Urdu medium. The Urdu medium Darul Huda has been attracting people from different parts of the country. The success of the National Institute was so inspiring and motivating that before the first batch came out, there were calls to open similar institution in other states. The administrator took the opportunities to set up DH model institution in Andra Pradesh and Maharastra. It is now considering the calls from Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, etc.

Implications of Darul Huda Experiences

By way of conclusion, I may look at implications of the DH experiences for restructuring madrasas in India. Certain things that emerge from the above discussion can be noted here as follows:

1.The field of religious education is not immune to change since its institutional structures are patterned according to very specific goals of Islamic education and the goals fitting the social, economic, political and intellectual needs at a specific point in time. However, the change in the system can and would be fruitful if the attempt in that regard is rightly guided by the Islamic philosophy of education. The basic structure of most of the madrasas especially in the North were formulated long back when they facilitated or trained the ulama for their multiple roles as scholars, judges and jurists in society till the mid 19th century. Things have changed a lot and dissatisfaction with the system has been growing because of its inability to meet the requirements of contemporary society. Therefore, the first action in the direction of effecting change is developing a perspective - a vision and a sense of direction. That is, where the system is? and where is it going?

2.Once the system stops to be functional, the structure becomes an end itself. In such a situation, instead of imposing change we need to stimulate change through new possible effective models. Because any attempt for change without setting an inner urge within the system by examining the basic structure or paradigm from which the attitude and behaviours stem from, can do very little good in the long run.

3. We should always be aware of the fact that there are and will continue two types of people, those who resist change and those who welcome changes. The former group is either obsessed with the past experiences or are the beneficiaries of the present system. The people who are open to changes are aware of the world in which they live and are convinced of the inefficiency of the system and are not benefiting from the way things are presently structured. The change should be initiated by those who are convinced of the need for it. 

4.Any experience that comes in the way of the new initiative can be taken in two ways: either as challenge and opportunity, or as problem and danger. The first approach leads to a proactive action while the other attitude may result in the reactive responses. Painfully, the dominant attitude has been the later – the reactive one, which always has been trying to find an answer for ‘whom to blame? The answer may be media, secularists, government agencies or conspirators, etc. However, the proactive style that Darul Huda has been following anticipates change by critically analyzing the trends and tries to cope with the situation by taking cues from the past. Thus, instead of looking for ‘who is to blame’ the approach has been and should be to look ‘What is to learn?’