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 We must not forget that before independence the same syllabus of madrasas was encouraged by many people and produced such luminaries that left indelible impression on the hearts and minds of the British rulers, but now the same syllabus is at the receiving end of criticism.

Abdur Rahman Qasmi

The writer is a Research Scholar with JNU New Delhi. 


I have just three wishes for the madrasas in India. The first is for their authorities to realize once and for all that the present syllabus cannot equip their students with the modern trend of the world. The second is for the students to realize that the authorities are no more interested to change their mentality and rude attitude towards teachers as well as students, while the third is for the intelligentsia of the world and the government to acknowledge that, simply seminars and symposiums cannot bring about any changes in madrasa curriculum in India, and unlike any other non-governmental Muslim organizations, government's beneficial proposals cannot attract the Muslim clergy to convince these madrasa authorities to come under any government's sponsored programme.

This is a conflict of ideas between two groups that, both are deeply convinced of their stand and this is why neither government's programme nor the Muslim intellectuals' diplomacy can resolve this sensitive issue.

The development of the last few years in the world towards Muslim religious institutions are extremely worrisome to me for reasons of being Muslim and a graduate of Darul Uloom Deoband, (one of the most famous Islamic seminaries of Indian subcontinent). While it is self evident that Muslims in India have the right to establish and run religious institutions of their own and Muslims cannot and should not tolerate attacks on their identity, but the self proclaimed Muslim clergy in India is playing politics with the sentiments of Muslims and emotionally is blackmailing small madrasa students by their heads, which have raised a few important questions in the common minds.

The first question is, if the Muslim intelligentsia has the right to hold these madrasas responsible for the backwardness of the Muslim society in India in general, and is the madrasa syllabus to be held responsible for the sins of terrorist groups active in India or elsewhere in the world? I personally, as a madrasa graduate know and feel even more acutely than others, that the murder of innocent civilians is inhuman and unacceptable.

The think-tank of the Muslim society today very weakly argue, that number of madrasas being so high, if they modernize their syllabus, they can play a dynamic role to elevate Muslim society in the field of education. The feebleness of this argument leads to my next question. According to “Flash Statistics: Elementary Education in India and Progress towards Universal Elementary Education 2006-07” released by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD), about 30% of Muslim children do not join schools at all. While the number rises to 56% at the upper primary level. So while talking of madrasas and issues connected with educating the child, Muslim community deals with two problems, (1) how to get the out-of-school 30% into the school (2) how to modernize madrasa syllabus that caters to only 3% of the school going children. 

The question that needs to be addressed, therefore, is not the modernization of madrasa syllabus but setting up of more primary, secondary and higher secondary government schools in areas of Muslim concentration. However, if it is modernized, will these madrasas have any perceptible impact on the overwhelming majority of Muslim children of school going age? Since, they do not go to any madrasa. To my mind the basic issue to ensure that education reaches those Muslim children who have been denied this right. Ironically, the issue of lack of access to education for the Muslim children is connected today with the issue of the Muslim children going to madrasas. Travel the length and breadth of this country, you will find the fact that wherever a government school has come up in the vicinity of a madrasa, more Muslim parents opt to send their children to government run schools.

If the aim is to bring these madrasas in line with the modern institutions by modernizing their syllabus, ignoring the identity and features of imparting religious education to safeguard Muslims identity, is this attainable? If not, then the whole attempt is not only thoroughly reprehensible, it is useless, if on the other hand is it really possible to bring them into main stream through inducing modern subjects in madrasa syllabus?

We must not forget that before independence the same syllabus was encouraged by many people and produced such luminaries that left indelible impression on the hearts and minds of the British rulers, but now the same syllabus is at the receiving end of criticism. The recent history of Muslim clergy leads me to believe that if ulama of Deoband did not pay their heed to the demands of the rapidly changing world, another group that would be more inadequate for the task it has to perform and meet the religious needs of the people would most certainly take their place.

Being a part of the mainstream aside, the entire Muslim community today is hungry enough to receive such ulama equipped with modern knowledge in order to address modern day concerns and questions and not simply parrot whatever past writers have written, as is the case with many madrasas and Islamic institutions in India.

The emotional blackmailing of madrasa students is becoming increasingly recognized as a major factor behind students' inadequacy and an important issue to be addressed.

The increasing anti-terrorism seminars and conferences have further complicated the life of innocent students. I had several chances to interact with groups of several madrasa students. However I was stunned when, came to know the students held unanimous views on the issue of victimization. No one so far either religious clergy or any Muslim non-governmental organization has raised the issue.

I have numerous instances to prove what I stand for. Nonetheless, here I would like to divert the reader's attention to the power struggle in Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, a 90 year old organization, between nephew and his uncle. I just want to make the readers, understand, as to how madrasa students are annoyed when they are used for self-aggrandizement, though it has a long history in India, nevertheless, the example of Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind would definitely strengthen my point.

Last year, a massive conference at Deoband sponsored by Darul Uloom ended with a strong condemnation of terrorism dubbing it un-Islamic, that gave a comprehensive message to the fellow citizens and played a vital role in removing the misconceptions of the common people and even the BJP rhetorically praised this clarion call of Deoband. Unfortunately soon after this congregation, the clash between two relatives came at an inopportune time that put especially madrasa in a vulnerable position.

It is ironic to see every one today talks about the modernization and reform of madrasa syllabus, but none of the well-wishers of these madrasas and organizations have realized whether the money donated in charity is used properly. If they do so, it would work wonders, by educating impoverished students and introducing some job oriented vocational programmes for economically deprived youth. 

According to an estimate more than one hundred madrasas and non- governmental organizations exist in Okhla, Zakirnagar and Abul Fazal itself, that have only one internal slogan “Eat drink and be merry, in the name of Muslim's cause”.

Because of lack of sufficient coordination, often madrasas and non-governmental Muslim organizations are set up in an unplanned manner in the name of religion, without looking at local needs and conditions. There is no overseeing authority that can check and regulate their finances and functioning, these being entirely in the hands of a single individual or a small group of a selected relatives. Among those are many that better deserve to be called religious shops, for their financial irregularities, emotional blackmailing of the students and betrayal of the Muslim community, which are serious and continue to increase.

With the exception of a few larger madrasas in general these have taken to methods of collecting donations from public in such a way as to make any self- respecting person crying with shame, which is distasteful, as it maligns the image of religious institutions and harms the pious relations between ulama and the Muslim community.

In the name of reforms ulama have gone a step forward to support the government's ”Central Madrasa Board Program” but have not decided to use the collection in proper and dignified manner. This is why there is urgent need for madrasas, functionaries and organisations to wake up to deeply introspect and to make their earnest efforts to address their weaknesses by themselves and safeguard their independent characters, with their missionary spirit and take considerable steps to familiarize their students with modern idiom, language and style of writings, and to teach them about other world views so that they can compare the Islamic system with these.

As a matter of fact, one main reason that functionaries of madrasas today do not want to change their mindset and present posture, is because they have more to do with the madrasa economy, and a considerable number of them have become multi-billion rupee enterprises, where Rectors play with the emotions of both students as well as poor teachers, while there is no forum to redress their grievances, where as most of the functionaries do not have any business but still majority of them are seen using aeroplane or fancy cars.

In the run up to the 2009 general elections the self proclaimed religious leaders, heads of the organizations and rectors of mainly small madrasas in the capital and outside have considerable number of the students basically drawn from the weaker sections of the society to run their shops, are widely seen on the door steps of the politicians to receive their blessings in return of their services to the candidates in their respective constituencies,

Now this is not the time to dream but rather this is the time to translate dreams into reality and introspect as to who is the responsible for the deteriorating situation of madrasas and sordid states of their students.

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