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Islamic Society ( 10 Jul 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Madrasas Need Reform, Not Committees


By Arshad Alam,  New Age Islam

10 July 2012

Recently the government has initiated the setting up of a panel which will look into mainstreaming madrasa education and suggests ways to modernize it. The intent is laudable as there is indeed an urgent need to modernize madrasa education in India. However, going by the previous examples, one should not expect much from this government initiative either. After all, there has been a Madrasa Modernization Program of the state going for several years now and it hasn’t yielded the desired results. Worse still, the government of the day still does not have a comprehensive evaluative survey which can tell us the impact of Madrasa Modernization Program. So rather than strengthening its decades old policy, why is the government hell bent on forming another committee? This looks like the age old trick of various governments: the setting up of committees gives the impression that something is happening while nothing much really happens on the ground.

Reports after reports have argued that Muslims lag behind in educational access and that strengthening the primary education is the key to overcome Muslim educational backwardness. It is important to understand in this context that madrasas are a parallel stream of education which runs alongside the state system of education. Thus, especially in North India, where the majority of madrasas are, a child going to madrasa would have no chance to go to a school. Even if a child starts accessing state school say after a few years of enrolment in a madrasa, then his foundation and understanding becomes so weak that he/she is unable to compete with other children. This system of education therefore is detrimental to the interest of the Muslim community. Without a solid foundation in primary education, a community cannot to expected to be represented in higher education and consequently in the job market.

More important question perhaps is the whole utility of madrasa education in this age and time. What madrasas teach today is completely irrelevant and out of tune of the times. Its curriculum is dated and contains almost nothing of what is called education for the contemporary times. In fact the curriculum is obsesses with religion as if there is nothing else for a Muslim to explore apart from his religion. This obsession with Islamic tenets has meant that Muslim children studying in madrasas have almost no knowledge of their own country, society and polity, neither of the marvellous pace at which the world is progressing. One can certainly say that far from serving the cause of Islam, madrasas today are doing a great disservice to this religion.

Every time there is some demand of modernizing madrasas, Muslim religious leaders start making a hue and cry about it. The cry of Islam in danger starts reeking from the pulpits and big seminaries and their representatives see to it that any effort of reform is blocked. Making madrasas an issue of Muslim identity can only hurt the Muslim community educationally. Realizing this, a section of Muslims themselves have started demanding changes in curriculum of the madrasa so that it can be made more in tune with the times. Alas, their efforts have bore no fruit as these reform minded Muslims are not considered a viable vote bank for successive governments who have pandered to the reactionary demands of the conservative Ulama. There is an educational hunger among Muslims now and given a choice, a Muslim parent would send his children to a school rather than a madrasa. But it is the religious leadership of the community which is blocking any development of the Muslims. Ironically enough, this leadership has the backing of the state which erroneously believes the Ulama are the representatives of the Muslim community.

The National Council of Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI), in a report submitted to the government argued that there was an urgent need to reform madrasa education in this country. It has also suggested ways to implement reform in a phased manner and as a first step has suggested the creation of an All India Madrasa Board to implement reforms. That report must be gathering dust in some office of the government of India. Rather than creating a new committee to look into madrasa modernization, the government of the day would do much better to look into the report submitted by one of its own departments (NCMEI).      

Arshad Alam is an author and writer, currently with Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi He writes an occasional column for New Age Islam.