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Islamic Society ( 13 May 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Change in Madrasa Curriculum is a Must, Whether Or Not the Ulema Support It




By Dr. Mohammad Ghitreef (Shahbaz Nadwi), New Age Islam

14 May 2013

There are tens of thousands of Islamic madrasas in the country, including some major historical and famous seminaries, like Darul Uloom Deoband, Mazahir Uloom Saharanpur and Nadwatul Ulema Lucknow. Every year hundreds of thousands of graduates pass out of these seminaries holding degrees of Aalim, Fazil and of Mufti in their hands. But alas, when these madrasa graduates come out of their madrasa boundaries and step into the real cruel world, they get bewildered, having no clue where to go.  Hence, besides a small section, who seeks higher studies in pet subjects such as Urdu, Arabic and Islamic studies, the majority has no option other than to resort to be Imams in mosques and teachers in the same or other madrasas. Those who aspire for a more luxurious life go and establish their own madrasas; their fiefdoms, in most cases with crooked ways. These madrasas by and large are being run with huge financial support from the community, as Muslims traditionally have been spending on madrasas and mosques with great enthusiasm and generosity. For, the zealots see them as the citadels of Islam simply because Muslim leaders, bearded and non-bearded alike, proudly boast of them and thus brainwash the poor and innocent community day in and day out.

As a matter of fact, madrasas have many merits too. For instance, they could be credited that they provide completely free education and shelter to the needy and poor community children, especially in rural areas, where secular educational system is yet to come. However, in the multicultural society like India, some observe and comment, our Ulema as human beings generally show good behaviour, rather a pious conduct in their individual life, but as community leaders they are very parochial in their views, mindset and outlook. There may be some exceptions, but at least we can safely say that their attitude towards the global issues is usually very different from that of a common man, more specifically when it comes to issues such as rights of women in Islam, freedom of expression, free thinking, relations between Muslims and non-Muslims, democracy and secularism etc.

 It seems that Ulema lack in common sense because they have no understanding of modern world around them, and yet ironically they claim and also are supposed to be the religious leaders of Muslim community and sole representatives of Islam. So, what is the reason behind all this pathetic state of affairs? Yes, to my view, there is a reason, and that is the curriculum of Arabic Islamic madrasa educational system .This curriculum is centuries old now, which was set by some Iranian scholars in Mughal period namely Mullah Nizamuddin Sahalwi, and hence it was called Dars e Nizami.

 As a matter of fact, we should say that it was very apt and relevant to the times when it was set up. But in today’s world, in rapidly changing religious-politico-social scenario, this curriculum is no more relevant. Generally, this curriculum is classified into two categories: (1) Uloom Auliya (higher sciences) that are said to be ends in themselves and (2) Uloom Auliya (arts as a means) which are not meant by themselves. The first category is meant originally and includes Quran, Hadith, Fiqh, Usuluddin (principles of religion), etc. As far as this category is concerned, I think there is no need to change it wholly. In fact, we need to change only the methodology of teaching these arts and sciences. The current teaching methodology is so parochial, biased and sectarian that it often instigates Ulema to attack others and condemn one another other as kafir (infidel) and with other similar derogatory names and abuses. This results into a fierce and endless sectarian fight.

With these gory conditions of Ulema, poor Muslim masses are bitterly divided on sectarian lines and are on the receiving end. This horrible situation demands a change of mind that can only be brought about by creating a milieu of comparative and academic traits and strong intellectual ethos in the madrasa students. 

As for teaching the fist kind of arts, that are Uloom Auliya, the present teaching method is so bizarre, lengthy, burdensome and boring that it is totally unfruitful and unable to develop good linguistic aptitude and capability in students. Since most of madrasa curriculum books are old-fashioned, ambiguous, unclear and written in the style wrought with the Greek logic and ancient philosophical terms, madrasa students are generally not able to successfully communicate their views to the public. Of course that trend was once prevalent in Islamic world in the decadent era, and might have been good and somehow useful in those circumstances but now in the changing times it is no longer apt or relevant. Isn’t it strange that a student in a seminary generally studies for a full 12 years or more and still he is not capable of correctly reading or writing a sentence of modern Arabic (with exception to Nadwa graduates, to a great extent), not to mention English or Hindi. One of the most important aspects is that madrasa curriculum is lacking in modern knowledge altogether. It is, therefore, much needed that at least social sciences, such as History, Geography, Economics , political science and comparative study of religions be taught in Aalim or Fazil stages of this curriculum, because knowledge of the contemporary world is not gained without having these sciences, and without that, I wonder, how can one lead his community and give them Sharia guidance in a good and understandable manner, so at least introductory knowledge of modern social sciences should be a must for every student of Islamic learning.

A full century has passed, since luminaries of the stature of Shibli Nomani and Abul Kalam Azad, voiced their concern over this matter and advocated bringing about favourable changes in madrasa curricula. Unfortunately, many Ulema have been vehemently opposing this noble move, considering it a conspiracy against Islam and Muslims. But the need of the hour is that this task be done with Ulema if they give in, and without them too if they oppose.

Dr.Mohammad Ghitreef is the director of Foundation for Islamic Studies, New Delhi, he can be contacted on: