By Sunil Raman
December 29 2015
After the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, the then Prime Minister, PV Narasimha Rao, began an effort to reach out to an angry Muslim population by announcing several government initiatives including a programme to modernise madrasas or Islamic seminaries across the country.
The express idea was to upgrade their physical infrastructure and link their education curriculum to modern learning of mathematics and sciences. It was hoped that the move would up-skill Muslim youths with a ‘broader mindset’ and help them get jobs.
Over two decades later and after crores of rupees being spent, the Union government seems to be tackling more or less similar issues that existed in the 1990s.
The latest move is by the Modi government, which has announced a tie-up with four madrasas in Bihar to give skills training to 1,200 students.
Can anyone have problems with the goal of up-skilling young Muslims? Certainly not. But, the issue that needs to be discussed is: do governments, including the current one, know how they want to address the issue of madrasas in general, and madrasa modernisation in particular?
Unfortunately, from what one has seen over the past two decades, the government seems clueless.
While a section of the government believes that all madrasas are ‘breeding grounds’ for radicalisation of Muslim youth, there are others who think that computerisation and the introduction of maths and geography will one day provide desirable results.
Efforts to stay ‘politically correct’ have contributed to an absence of structured debate and discussion on how best to make modern education accessible to millions of poor Muslim youths so that they get jobs.
There is no serious discussion on how best to check the growth of ultra-conservative ideas imported from countries like Saudi Arabia.
The government’s understanding and strategy on dealing with madrasas need to evolve and transform from a black-and-white perception to a more wholesome one.
Madrasas, by definition, are not schools for secular teaching. These are centres where enrolled students learn the Quran by rote and go on to study Islamic jurisprudence. These are centres for people interested in a livelihood as imams or clerics.
According to estimates, there are over 40,000 madrasas spread across the country. Some are state-funded while others are run independently by Deobandis or Barelvis, or others.
In recent years, scores of independent or traditional madrasas have mushroomed in many states including in border areas around Nepal and Bangladesh. Wahaabi and Salafi mosques have also come up in recent years. So much so that the influence of local cultures (South Asia, Indian, etc) on Muslims is regarded as ‘anti-Islamic’.
According to Dr Waris Mazhari of Hyderabad-based Maulana Azad University, traditional madrasas follow what is called ‘Dars-e-Nizami’ curriculum that dates back to the 18th century.
Many non-traditional madrasas that get state funding have included modern curriculum as well. In such centres students study the Quran along with subjects like maths.
Some have allowed the entry of Muslim girls and ones like Moin-ul-Islam near Agra started admitting Hindu students in 2005 and have even introduced Sanskrit as a subject.
Some parents send their children to a madrasa because they believe that they must have a deep understanding of the religion. Many others send them because they have no option.
Since the time of Narasimha Rao, the focus of the government has been on providing computers and books based on an assumption that widespread illiteracy and lack of access to modern education can be addressed through such programmes.
The fact that a committee set up by the UPA government in 2013 under the chairmanship of Professor Amitabh Kundu, in its report submitted to the Modi government last year, concluded that in “the coming decades focus must strongly shift to” providing Muslims access to quality education, higher education, acquisition of technical skills and English education that has shown tardy progress through the years.
While the post-9/11 global narrative that all madrasas are centres of radicalisation is baseless, there is no reason why the Government of India and state governments should remain blind to ultra-conservative ideas being preached across many centres that receive huge funding from the Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia.
The unhindered growth of madrasas after the Babri Masjid demolition and the 2002 Gujarat riots requires stringent steps from the government.
Over the years, Wahaabi and Salafi conservatism has rapidly spread unchecked in the country. The BJP government will be accused of being anti-Muslim if it begins to attack madrasas as propagators of radicalisation. Therefore, it needs to do two things: one, the government must order a detailed study of educational infrastructure in areas where poor Muslims have access to no school that offers non-religious curriculum. Madrasas cannot be an alternative to schools with non-religious curriculum.
It must seek the support of the private sector for building more schools in areas where quality education can be provided at low or no cost to poor Muslim families. Poor or low income Muslim families should have a choice to admit their children to such schools, and not be dependent on a local maulvi for basic education.
Two, the government must extend the FCRA online registration requirement to non-state-funded madrasas, to ensure that funding from countries like Saudi Arabia get checked and tracked.
State governments have to be sensitised and co-opted and attempts must be made against allowing the discussion to get reduced to ‘secular versus non-secular’ and ‘pro-Hindu versus anti-Muslim’ debates.
Sunil Raman is a former BBC journalist
Source: Mail Today