By Mohammed Wajihuddin
Apr 10, 2010
Maulana Rezaul Islam is fascinated with his five-year-old son Farhan's "amazing" proficiency in English. The child, a senior kindergarten student, has memorized a few nursery rhymes which he keeps parroting , often in the presence of his befuddled father. "I don't understand a word, but I like my son to sing lines in English," says Islam proudly as if his son had won an Olympic medal.
Islam is one of nearly 200 imams in Pune who have felt similar satisfaction after admitting their children to English-medium schools via a project of the Maharashtra Cosmopolitan Education Society (MCES). Paid a pittance of Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000 a month by trusts that run the mosques they preach at, these imams or religious leaders have never been able to afford convent education for their kids, consigning them to the same moribund madrassas they once went to. And it isn't just the money: orthodox Islam views English-medium schools with suspicion, and many clerics keep their kids away from these founts of firangi tehzeeb or "polluting" Western culture. The imams in Pune, by opting for English-medium schools, mostly run by non-Muslims, for their wards, are thus truly scripting a new history.
"A few years from now, many imams' children will not join the army of unemployed or unemployable clerics who are always dependent on the community's charity. They will be part of the mainstream job market, running BPOs, multinationals and other sectors as engineers, doctors and management graduates," prophesies educationist P A Inamdar, head of the MCES. The project of giving imams' children a more secular education and thus initiating change within the community was Inamdar's brainchild, and was launched in 2005.
Back then, the project hit a roadblock before it could even take off. Many of Inamdar's close friends dubbed the attempt "a waste of time and money" . They said clerics, especially imams who lead prayers in mosques, deliver Friday sermons and preach to the Muslim masses to follow the path to paradise, would not compromise their own children's religious education. Undeterred, Inamdar toured various mosques and held a series of meetings with imams and their employers. "I carefully heard their Friday sermons. Invariably every imam spoke of real and imaginary injustices done to Muslims globally. The root of most of their anger and despair was their own deprivation," explains Inamdar whom many of the imams today understandably see as a messiah. Imams needed to be purged of this sense of persecution, he felt, and one way was to give them hope of a better future for their children.
The project paid off. Today, even the ambience of the homes of the Pune imams, including the lives of their better halves, has changed remarkably. Unlettered Gulzar Bano is happy that her nine-year-old daughter Kareema dreams of becoming a doctor one day. Burqa-clad Tahmina Khanum, mother of eight-year-old Sadiya, who would confine her visits to close relatives or the nearby sabzi market, now not only visits her daughter's school regularly but also attends parents' meets where she interacts with non-Muslim parents and has made friends outside her community. "At madrassas, students are exposed exclusively to Islamic culture. Now a Gopal visits a Rahman's house while John calls on Junaid on Id and Zafar knows something about Diwali and Christmas too," says Inamdar.
Most of the imams in Pune are originally from north India, products of monolithic madrassas like Darul Uloom, Deoband and Nadwatul Ulema, Lucknow. Coming from a deprived background, they themselves are first-generation learners. Fortunately, they know the handicap of a purely religious education. "Every time I saw someone else's child becoming an engineer or a doctor, I wished the same for my own son too. It would have always remained a daydream but for this project. Now my nine-year-old Ahmed Raza wants to be a pilot," says Maulana Farooque, an imam originally from Bahraich in Uttar Pradesh. Hafiz Mohammed Jameel, whose three children are among the beneficiaries of the scheme, says he had his doubts initially. "But then I realised that I would be doing injustice to my kids if I didn't grab this opportunity since it came absolutely free. And Islam doesn't forbid modern knowledge," he says.
But though Pune's imams lowered their guard and are benefiting from the project, it is yet to be replicated elsewhere in the country. The Centre wants to modernise madrassas through the Central Madrassa Board, but no one has paid attention to educating the children of imams who can be agents of change. A few years ago, a government scheme to pay a certain honorarium to the imams was talked about, but never got off the ground. "The ministries of HRD and minority affairs should take up the funding of English education of imams' children as part of an affirmative action scheme," suggests S M Khan, Inamdar's associate on the Azam Campus. "Don't help us on this project. But at least emulate it in other cities and kasbas."
Source: The Times of India