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Islamic Society ( 23 Sept 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Madrasas: How They Survive and Why These Institutions are Proliferating?

By M. A. Haque

Freedom First June 2009



Isolation is a two way process. People, who are not associated with the Madrasas, never visit these institutions to understand the aims and objectives and the kind of education that is imparted there. On the other hand people who run or manage the Madrasas do not make their activities public on account of mistrust (also hatred). For example, the annual passing out ceremony is held in most Madrasas. It is called ‘Dastaar-bandi’ (meaning: to tie the turban). Successful students who pass out are presented with new turbans. It is just like a convocation ceremony in any other institution. The name is not English. So, generally people think that it has something to do with the religion (Islam). But it is as good (or bad) as a convocation held in any other institution. I understand that turbans are given in Sikh institutions too, as a mark of respect. As far as the people managing the affairs of Madrasas are concerned, on such occasions they invite only those whom they consider to be of their ‘type’. As a result, anyone who is not of their type is excluded. That includes members of other communities and also majority of Muslims who are not of their type. A strong reason behind this kind of seclusion, (self) imposed, is that they are not well conversant with the developments in the fields of science, politics, economics etc. They cannot enter into conversation on    these subjects. So, they find it more comfortable to keep themselves away from the outside world. An argument that they generally give in favour of their isolationist attitude is that they are too occupied with religious issues. But the fact is that Islam never instructed its followers to give up the world. In fact, Islam instructs its followers to excel in worldly affairs as well as in religious affairs. The life of Prophet Mohammad (S) was itself an example. He took interest in everything   including science, politics, medicine etc. He had deep understanding of various contemporary issues. Not only his followers but others too used to visit him to discuss complicated issues. The issues used to be religious, social, administrative and also related to health and well being. For example, he developed a complete system of treatment using natural ingredients. The system is still in vogue. It is called ‘Tibb-e-Nabavi’ (Prophet’s method of treatment).


Self-imposed Seclusion

The self-imposed seclusion by the Madrasas helps in putting a kind of veil around these institutions spread all over the country. This leads to suspicion and mistrust. One more reason for this behaviour is that people who manage the institutions fear that outsiders may interfere in their affairs. Questions may be raised regarding the management and utilization of funds received by the Madrasas. For example, leaving aside a few of these institutions, it is common practice that the managers and teachers do not share food with students in the Madrasas. Reason is that the students are served inferior quality food. Also, in large numbers of these Madrasas entire families of the managers and/or teachers stay in the Madrasas. Also, their expenses are borne by the Madrasa fund. A third reason is that almost all Madrasas impart only religious education. So, they do not appoint any one as teacher who is educated in colleges, university During the past few years Madrasas (the seminaries where education related to Islam is imparted) have been in focus. One obvious reason is that the number of Madrasas is growing all over the country. But a more important reason is that the Madrasas are almost totally isolated from India’s mainstream society. Etc.


A class in session at a Madrasa

10 Freedom First June 2009

The result is that all the teachers are of just one ‘type’, those who passed out from some other Madrasa. Their look, attire etc. are generally the same. The outsiders get the impression that persons associated with Madrasas are people of some ‘specific’ kind. As a result, outsiders do not take the initiative to establish contact with the Madrasa persons, except, for instance, when they need some ‘taaweez’ (charm). In our country there is a common belief among every section of the society that the taaweez can be helpful in solving problems. In fact, many Madrasa people earn extra income by performing this service.


Who are the Muhajirs?

Now let us look into why the number of Madrasas is increasing in the country.   Whether we accept it or not, historically in India Muslims have been looked at with distrust by the majority population. There has been a general misconception that Muslims of India were responsible for the formation of Pakistan. But it is hardly realized that Muslims of India too suffered very badly during the communal violence which engulfed most parts of the country after independence. Thousands perished and millions had to migrate from their homes. Those who reached Pakistan are still called “Muhajirs” (the migrants) and are not treated equally as the original inhabitants of the country. A large number of the so-called Muhajirs are still languishing in camps in Bangladesh. Even after over sixty years of independence this Pakistan-related hatred has not vanished. During the seventies and eighties the situation had started showing signs of improvement. But the Babri mosque controversy and its consequent demolition resulted in reinforcing the hatred. In fact the gulf between the majority community and the Muslims has widened. The Gujarat riots added fuel to the fire and further reinforced the hatred. The combined effect of all these developments is that India’s Muslims have faced different types of problems and lagged behind in all fields, especially education and employment. Also, during communal disturbances, Muslims always suffered more, physically as well as financially. Reports on different communal riots have established this fact. The net result has been that Muslims have been continuously pushed behind. Even if they tried to establish themselves financially at certain places, the efforts were nullified in no time. A small conflagration brought them down to the ground. The Sachar Committee adequately highlighted various issues in its report. It may be expected that the situation may improve with the initiatives started by the government at various levels. But the present scenario is quite gloomy for the Muslim community.


Denial of Educational Opportunities…

Modern education in the country has become a market commodity. Only those who can afford its high cost can get it. For others it is almost impossible. A very small percentage of Muslim families have the ability to afford ‘Public School’ and ‘Private University’ costs. The government-run system, especially at school level, is degenerating fast. Very few coming out of the government system, are able to make a mark in society. Kendriya Vidyalyas do churn out good stuff from to time. But entry to these institutions is just not possible for common people. Only those who are in government jobs, defence services, public sector enterprises have the opportunity to get their wards admitted. The number of Muslims in all these sectors is extremely limited. So, for Muslims at large, schools with sub-standard education remain the only option. Then there is a general mind set in the country that education should result in some job. As the employment situation is already very tight, it is difficult for anyone without right connections or money to get a job. As far as the private sector is concerned, they take only the cream. As a result very few Muslims are able to enter the private sector. For the rest of the Muslim boys and girls there is almost zero probability to get any job after completing high school or college level education. Average Muslim families keep their children away from mainstream education. Generally, children are pushed into some kind of profession at an early stage. Even a casual observer can easily make it out. Another alternative is the Madrasa education.


…Hence Madrasas

An advantage with Madrasas is that most of them provide free education and a very large number of them take care of food and other bare necessities too. This is quite attractive for an average poor Muslim family. Those passing out from the Madrasas do get a place in some mosque as ‘Imaam’ (the person who leads the prayer). In return the community using the mosque provides for their sustenance and also some cash. In few states even the Waqf Boards appoint Imams for the mosques under its control. No doubt, the salary is paltry. But something is better than nothing. So, there is no dearth of children joining Madrasas. Also, those passing out from these institutions take up tuitions. Every Muslim wants to recite the Quran. It is essential for namaaz as well. For that they must learn Arabic. People are always in search of some teacher who can help in the process. Those who pass out from Madrasas are the ideal teachers. If they can find four-five such tuitions, especially in cities and towns, they are able to make a living. There is one more side to these Madrasas. As more people coming out of Madrasas need sustenance, they start new Madrasas so that they can get a place to make their living. For starting new Madrasas nothing is needed, except a few students. The rest is taken care of by the Freedom First June 2009 11 community. As far as space is concerned, the local mosque proves to be the ideal choice. This is the reason that one finds many Madrasas with hardly five to ten children. In a single locality there may be several such Madrasas. In most of the cases the same person plays a dual role as Imam of the mosque and teacher in the Madrasa. Thus the community has to bear the expenses of only one person or one family.

Islam’s Basic Tenets

The important question is how do all these Madrasas get financial support and how do they survive without any government patronage? To understand this one has to look at the five basic tenets of Islam. The first one is to accept that there is only one Allah (God) and Prophet Mohammad (S) was his last prophet. The second one is to perform namaaz (prayers). The third one is to observe rozaa (fasting) during Ramazaan. The fourth one is to pay zakaat. The fifth is Hajj i.e. pilgrimage to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, at least once in one’s lifetime.


Where the Funds Come From

Here we are concerned with the zakaat. Every Muslim who is an adult and who has assets of a certain valuation at the end of the year is expected to pay 2.5% of the asset as zakaat. In present day circumstances the financial limit works out to around Rs. One lakh. All adults having assets worth about Rs. One lakh, have to pay Rs. Two thousand five hundred annually. Zakaat is meant for the poor and the needy. The money can also be used for supporting religious education, especially for poor students. So, a major share of it goes to the Madrasas. Generally, during Ramazaan more zakaat is paid, for two reasons: Generally, people calculate their year taking Ramazaan as the standard. But more important reason is that if any good deed is done during Ramazaan, it attracts more ‘sawaab’ (return from God) compared to other times. This is the reason that it is common to find the teachers/ volunteers/managers from different Madrasas moving around and collecting money during Ramazaan. They generally issue receipts to the donors. If a visit is paid to any mosque during Ramazaan at prayer time, it is certain that one or more such fund collectors will be there. During the Friday prayers in Ramazaan, several such fund collectors can be seen working at all prominent mosques. This is how most of the funds are raised by the Madrasas. There is one other source of fund raising. It comes in the form of ‘Fitra’. Every Muslim pays this amount before the namaaz of Eid (celebrated immediately after Ramazaan). This is the reason that this particular Eid is called Eidul-Fitr (commonly called “Meethi Eid”). The value of Fitra for one person is about 1.5 kg of wheat, barley or flour or its cost. At current prices it works out to around Rs 20. Instruction is that the material must be the same as used by the person concerned. So, people who use costly wheat or flour pay more. This money is also to be spent like zakaat. In a single mosque if about 500 people gather for Eid prayer, the collection on this count will be Rs.500x 20 = Rs.10000 (or more). Most of this money also goes to the Madrasas and donors expect double return (sawaab), one for supporting the poor students and another for supporting religious education. One may ask a question: Do all Muslims pay zakaat and Fitra? As far as Fitra is concerned almost everyone pays it as it is a small amount (Rs. 20 or a little more). In the case of zakaat, certainly there are defaulters. Still if 50% pay, the total amount will run into crores of rupees (being 2.5% of the surplus asset that Muslims own). For example, if a person owns two houses, the person has to pay zakaat for the second house which is an extra asset. If the value of the house is 10 lakh, the zakaat will be 25000. Similarly for bank deposits, gold and silver jewellery and other assets which are additional to what is needed for normal living, zakaat is to be paid. No doubt, Muslims are poor as compared to other communities in the country. Still, a large number of them fall under the purview of zakaat. Technically, they are called “Ahle-Nisaab”. A good percentage of them do pay. Another important issue is that people who pay zakaat do so quietly. It has been instructed in Islam that if zakaat or any other help is given to an individual or an institution, it pleases God more if it is given without making it public. There is a purpose behind it. People who receive it should not feel embarrassed in accepting the amount. Also, the instruction is that the giver should not expect anything in return for the amount paid. What the person is paying is his/her duty to God and God will give the return on the day of judgement.

As the economy of the country is moving ahead a small share of the benefit is going to the Muslim community too. The result is that the amount of zakaat is also growing. Also, there are large numbers of Indians living in Europe, USA, Gulf etc. Among them there are also Muslims. They too have to pay zakaat and Fitra. But as they have little or no opportunity to pay locally as there are no such institutions or individuals who are needy and who can accept zakaat or Fitra they generally send the money to India for deserving individuals and other institutions including the Madrasas. The total money flowing into India is substantial. $100 received in India is about Rs.5,000. There is one more source of income to the Madrasas. On the eve of Eidul-Azhaa (commonly called Bqra-eid), Muslims who are financially capable perform sacrifice (qurbaani). Goat or lamb is the common animal 12 Freedom First June 2009 sacrificed. When the animal is sacrificed, the meat is divided into three parts. One part is for the poor and needy, one part for friends and relatives and one part for the household. The hide of the animal is not used by the person who performs the sacrifice. It is meant for the poor and needy. In general, it is donated to various Madrasas. So, each year a Madrasa may receive substantial number of hides, depending on the population and financial status of the Muslims in the area. Nowadays the hides fetch a good price. So, the Madrasas get substantial income at this time. Additionally, various individuals give money or other donations from time to time as “Sadqaa” and “Imdaad” to the Madrasas and similar institutions like orphanages. There is no limit for these and these are given just to get the pleasure of God. Such donations are also given if someone gets cured of an ailment or there is a happy occasion in the family like marriage, birth of a child, or success in an examination. A few Madrasas do get some funds from the Waqf Boards. But their number is very small. As far as foreign funds are concerned, these are received by a few selected institutions which are internationally known. Also, it is practically impossible for any foreign funding agency to provide funds to Madrasas spread in thousands of villages, towns and cities of India. As far as the buildings are concerned, very few Madrasas have their own buildings. Most of them, as already mentioned, are run in the mosques. Regarding those Madrasas which have their own buildings there are lists or stone tablets indicating names of the persons who contributed funds. Invariably the lists include names of people living outside India as well. For example the construction of the large mosque in Bhopal was started by the rulers of Bhopal. The rulers were unable to complete the mosque. It was completed through contributions from large numbers of individuals. Their names are mentioned in different sections of the buildings. These include a substantial number of people from outside India. So is the case with most other mosques. Here a clarification is essential: Mosques cannot utilize the zakaat or Fitra funds. So whatever is contributed by the donors is over and above the zakaat and Fitra. The Madrasas have an advantage. They can use the zakaat and Fitra money. Because zakaat and Fitra are mandatory, it is always easy for aMadrasa to obtain funds as compared to a mosque. I expect this account provides, to some extent, information on why Madrasas are proliferating and how they are able to meet their expenses. More importantly, a lot needs to be done to provide opportunities to Muslim children and their guardians to choose between Madrasas and mainstream education. For children, Madrasa education should be by choice and not by compulsion. By just sermonizing that the Madrasas are pushing the Muslim community towards backwardness or that these institutions are growing on account of foreign funds is not going to help in any way.

DR. M. A. HAQUE is a Government of India officer based in Delhi.


The views expressed in the article are exclusively those of the author.

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