By Nikhat Sattar
January 30, 2015
THE two emblems of Islam — the mosque and the madrasa — are frequently vilified, feared and even shunned by many non-Muslims.
In Pakistan, some are places to avoid, rather than to seek out. People often first determine which sect the mosque belongs to. The increasing number of madrasas has been worrisome: many are linked to sectarian hatred and religious extremism. Before these statements are refuted for reflecting the ‘un-Islamic’ attitude of ‘secularists’, it would be worth examining their validity.
The mosque is the translation of the Arabic ‘Masjid’, which is derived from ‘Sajda’, to prostrate. It is a place for worship, and since prostration is an essential element of Muslim worship, it is where the Muslims gather to pray. From the advent of Islam, the Masjid had been used as a community centre, where people would gather to discuss and resolve matters collectively. After Islam was formally established in its first state, Madina, mosques attained a pivotal role.
No Longer Are Madrasas The Centres Of Thought And Reflection.
Both men and women prayed in mosques daily, the Prophet (PBUH) gave sermons, and later on, religious scholars talked about religious and social issues. Strangers to the town were taken to the mosque to be looked after; the afflicted found solace and peace there; and community life thrived around the mosque. All Muslims were welcome, and non-Muslims were allowed, provided they adhered to the norms of respect and dignity. The wise, the thinkers and those who were known to take interest in public affairs were to be found in mosques. The followers of Islam worshipped where peace dominated.
The madrasa began with the basic Quranic injunction ‘Iqra’, (read), and when the Prophet said “it is incumbent upon all Muslims to gain knowledge” he was paraphrasing God’s guidance. Initially, there was the Maktab, associated with a mosque, where children were taught Arabic, basic mathematics and Islamic law. This then evolved into the madrasa, which had an extensive curriculum of religion, arts and the sciences.
These centres became the first nuclei of thought and reflection on the universe, where Muslim scientists and philosophers gained their insight and communicated it to the world. A minimum of 16 years was required to complete the curriculum, and students had full freedom to communicate, debate, write and teach. The madrasa was similar to a modern-day university. It became a centre of excellence for learning and knowledge and the most eminent scholars emerged from it.
Nowhere has the spirit of both the symbols changed as radically as in Pakistan. While the outward structure remains similar, many mosques have become bases of individuals who often preach division and hatred, in the name of their particular brand of Islam, which they believe is the only right religion. Women are barred from entry in most.
Using the most mundane differences between sects, preachers highlight the apparent ‘misdoings’ of other sects, instead of focusing on the multitudinous issues that prevail in society. As Jesus is quoted as having said, “They would strain out gnats, and swallow camels.” (Matthew, 23:24) They incite people to violence, persecution and killing of innocent fellow beings, when they should be playing a role to develop collective ethics, warning people against doing harm to others, and promoting strength of character.
The world has seen a gradually diminishing role of madrasas, as secular and religious education were separated, but where the state would not attend to educating its poor young — as in Pakistan — madrasas became the poor child’s school. He could be taken in, at as tender an age as four or five years, and his young mind tutored in whatever narrow vision of the world (and of Islam) his teachers had. The latter belonged to a particular sect, had read and interpreted the Quran without deep reflection of the internal coherence, context and timing of the verses, and made their decisions on what they wanted to follow.
Spurred on by desire of power, and the lost glory of Muslims, they inculcated venom in these young breasts, making them ready for what they saw as ‘jihad’. From being a centre of learning, the madrasa, more often than not, became one of ignorance and bigotry.
It is the control that people with distorted ideas about religion have over these emblems that is the problem. Ordinary Muslims need to restore the sanctity and peace of mosques and madrasas, by calling upon the state to take them under its control, remove any sectarian claims, allow admission into a madrasa only after the child has completed his compulsory 12 years of general education, and establish a strict code of ethics for preachers that must be monitored by committees that include local communities.
This is the only approach that would help reform these institutions in line with true Quranic guidance.
Nikhat Sattar is a freelance contributor with an interest in religion.