30 November 2014

MODERNISATION OF INDIAN MADRASAS- Why this convergence of the Muslim Elites and the Mullahs?

By R. Upadhyay


The subject of this paper is to examine whether the proposed modernisation of the Madrasas in conformity with the national educational mainstream is an anti-thesis of Muslim politics? Will it de-radicalise the Muslims? Will it dispel the haze of medievalism from the minds of the common Muslims?

Madrasa education to be mainstreamed?

According to a media report, Talat Ahmad, Vice Chancellor of Jamia Milia is planning to get madrasa schooling into the national mainstream. The exercise is perhaps to bring madrasa students on par with the students in other general educational institutions of the country that would help create equal job opportunities for them.

There is nothing new in the exercise of the VC as the scheme of modernising the Madrasas was already initiated by the last UPA Government and is now being pursued by the present BJP Government. The scheme however, failed to see the light of the day due to strong resistance from the entrenched custodians of this medieval educational institution who had vested interest in continuing this medieval system of education!

What is a Madrasa? Why no job opportunities for the outgoing Students?

“Madrasa is the Arabic word for any type of educational institution, whether secular or religion” (Any religion -Wikipedia) but the Muslim religious elites in post-Mogul India used it as a political institution for restoration of lost Islamic rule in the sub-continent. As a result the Muslim community remained caged in the medieval era and failed to get the benefits of modern education.

One could justifiably argue that the basic philosophy and original intention behind this move was to radicalise the Muslim community and train them as Islamic warriors. In the absence of modern knowledge, the graduates produced by madrasas were neither able to improve their own material prosperity nor face the challenges of the modern world. Their job opportunities were restricted to mosques and madrasas only.

Even for higher Islamic studies the degrees awarded by madrasas are not recognised by Indian universities except in the theological department of Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia. But these degrees are not recognised for administrative jobs in the government either. Surprising that the vested interests have continued to do more to the students of the community more for perpetuation of their own hold on the system than for any benefit either to the religion or to the students themselves.

The Ulema’s Role:

By and large the Ulema (Islamic scholars) are averse to the idea of promoting the madrasa students for independent thinking conforming to the modern global environment. Maulana Samiul Haq, the headmaster of the Haqqania madrasa (A prominent Deobandi madrasa in Pakistan) in a statement said, “Young minds are not for thinking. We catch them for the madrasas when they are young, and by the time they are old enough to think, they know what to think” (http://www.abelard.org/news/fundi2.htm).

Historically, madrasas were initially established in India by the Muslim rulers as an institution to meet the religious and administrative needs of their kingdom. They also employed Islamic scholars for teaching and interpreting the Islamic scriptures for their personal interest. But after the end of Muslim rule when the religious elites lost their influence in the centre of power and were struggling for survival they became restive and for their survival cooked up a theological and philosophical base for its continuance.

No reference to “Madrasa” in the Holy Quran:

Interestingly, there is no reference to the term madrasa in Quran as an Islamic identity or a movement for political objective. Yet they adopted a strategy to link it with the religio-political identity of the Muslims, interpreted the term madrasa synonymous with the traditional seats of Islamic learning and then used it as an institution for teaching the supremacist view of Islam. They didn’t even leave any scope for rational reasoning in madrasa education.

Thus, we saw the growth of maqtab and madrasas in different parts of the country and misused these as the nucleus for sustaining a full-fledged movement in retaining a separate Muslim identity.

Introducing the conservative interpretation of Islamic scriptures in the curricula and consequent resistance to modern, scientific and technological education, they imparted the politico- religious fundamentals of the faith and produced more and more Ulema for spreading the political mission of the religion. Gradually, the madrasa education was transformed into an Islamic revival movement for producing religious warriors to restore the lost Muslim rule in the sub-continent. This exercise that originated in India was popularly known as Deoband Movement.

Post Partition Experience in India:

After partition of the sub-continent, it was expected that the custodians of Madrasas who stayed back in India would integrate them in the mainstream secular educational system of the country but ironically, there was no change in their curricula which were loaded with Islamic orthodoxy, religious conservatism and an unbelievable obsession to medieval identity.

Some of them even argued that ‘Science flourished in the Golden Age of Islam because there was within Islam strong rationalist tradition, carried out by a group of Muslim thinkers known as Mutazilites’(Parvez Hoodbhoy, quoted in The Secularist, issue no.191, September- October 2002.).

The question is - why did the Mullahs inflict this kind of education to the masses of the community? Were they not aware that a religious education does not have a bright future for all the students?

One view and perhaps rightly with the problem with these Mullahs was that they carried the mental burden of their dream for restoration of the Islamic rule in India. Therefore, they remained averse to the idea of changing the existing curricula or any intervention of the secular government in the madrasa management.

Taking advantage of the special rights to the minority as provided in constitution the Deobandi Ulema formed Jamat Ulema-e-Hind, a religio-political organisation of Islamic clerics to fight for the cause of Muslims. Since then, the Muslim priestly class emerged as an important ingredient of Muslim politics in the country. While carrying forward the legacy of Persio-Arabic educational thought they used Indian madrasa for steadily propagating the conservative outlook and attitude of the religion among Indian Muslims. Such idea is ‘choked in the vice-like grip of orthodoxy’ (Ibid.) so intensely that whenever there was a move to modernise the madrasa, they raised a hue and cry against it.

The Approach of the Present Government:

Meanwhile in view of a growing feeling in a section of Muslim intellectuals that their co-religionists have been left behind by other communities particularly in the field of education and consequent economic development, the successive governments of new millennium decided to modernise madrasa education in the country. Narendra Modi during his electoral campaign also promised that “I want to see you (Read Muslims) with a laptop in one hand, Quran in the other”. Accordingly, his Government took initiative for modernisation of madrasas and allocated Rs. 100 crores in its first annual (2014-15) budget for it.

But the sad part of his exercise is that it was not welcomed by the Islamist theologians as they had done earlier when the UPA government formulated some schemes for reforming the madrasa education.

The View of the Mullahs and the Muslim Elites:

For the Islamist theologians in this country, the objective behind education of their community in India is not just for better living conditions but mainly to restore Darul Islam. Since modernisation of madrasa does not conform to the core objective behind madrasa movement, they are adamant to resist the move of the government to reform it and make it in conformity of the other modern educational institutions.

Mufti Abdul Qasim Noamani, rector of Darul Uloom Deoband, a leading Islamic seminary said, "It is not clear what the government wants to do... It should come out with a detailed policy and tell which madrassas will be brought under its ambit". (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Deoband-may-block-Centres-madra...).

Similarly, Zafaryab Jilani, senior executive committee member of All India Muslim Personal Law Board said, "Managerial interference would not be tolerated." He also said, the community would like to see "the motive behind the move" (Hindustan Times).

Kamal Faruqui, former chairman, Delhi State Minorities commission in an online paper too suspected the intention of the government and felt that ““modernisation” is used as a ploy to introduce modern ideologies, concepts, policies and programmes at the cost of the religious teachings”.( http://www.qaumiawaz.in/2014/08/modernisation-of-madrasas-implications.html). What an irrational response? Can’t religion and modern education go together for progress further?

The former UPA Government (2004-09) drafted the Central Madrasa Board Bill for introduction in Parliament for modernisation of madrasa by laying down a uniform curriculum and syllabus (even for non-theological subjects), and conducting common examinations. But most of the prominent Islamic institutions and Muslim leaders in the country opposed the very concept of a Central Madrasa Board.

Former MP Syed Shahabuddin, a learned person in his own right in an article in online publication of Milli gazette Jan 01, 2013 observed: “The community knows that affiliation to a Government Board is an embrace of death which will not merely distort and devalue the system but ultimately it will kill it”. He also wrote, “Muslim India requests the government not to interfere in the Madrasa system but as well-wishers simply create a Madrasa Development Fund which may be drawn upon by some Madrasas at their option for their development. And no more”. What is the development he is talking about? No one knows.

Khalid Hamidi, professor of Arabic at Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi observed: “The hurry with which the government is trying to implement things, it appears that it wants to regulate madrasas.” “A madrasa means Islamic school. Universities like Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia recognize madrasa certificates. Then, what is the need for such modernization programmes’’ (http://www.livemint.com/Home-Page/NZg147aJQ8Oho55W9MrK9L/Government8217s...).

So much so, some Muslim intellectuals also want that government should leave the madrasa as it is and instead open some parallel government schools in the area. According to a report, Javed Akhtar, a noted lyricist has asked the Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptullah “to leave madrasas on their own fate, as they get enough local donations and instead concentrate on setting up primary schools in the Muslim localities. “My solution to Muslim backwardness is if government establishes primary schools just across a madrassa, people will prefer to send their children to schools rather in madrassas.” (http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-government-s-focus-on-madrassas-of-...).

This argument sounds good on paper but one should look around and see what is happening. The Muslim community, particularly the poorer sections are seen to be still sending their children to the madrassas though there are good primary government schools.

Therefore the root cause is not having more modern schools nearby and the reasons may lie somewhere else. It could be due to the deep-rooted medieval attitude in the minds of the Indian Muslim clergy who see “modernity” as their principal enemy. The Islamic institutions they head failed to transform the mind-set of their students who are thus caged so that they could think independently for developing a critical perspective and analysing the life in a more meaningful manner suited to contemporary global environment.

How does one explain otherwise as to why many persons from the community in India are still proud of sending their children to madrasa as it is supposed to give them social status? Aren’t these young minds having a fast consuming strength, becoming vulnerable and moulded as future Islamic warriors or Jihadis for restoring the lost political authority of Islam? The financial support given by the former ruling class to the endeavour of the Ulema which was in the political interest of the former was understandable then as it helped the madrasa movement to pick up momentum to suit the Ruler’s interests. But does it help either the government or the community now?

Meeting of Minds of the Mullahs and the Muslim Elites:

The government policy of mainstreaming the madrasa education may be intended to integrate the religious and non-religious job oriented subjects but it is surprising that even well-educated Muslim scholars like Shahabuddin, Faruqi, Hamidi are supporting the stand of the rector of Darul Uloom Deoband and are opposed to any intervention of the government in madrasa education.

These Muslim elites entered into the field of modern education and are well placed in government and other institutions but instead of inspiring the madrasa managers to accept the government proposals and help the poorer students of the community to go up the social scale like themselves. 

Instead it is appalling to see these very same elites support the subjugation of common Muslims under the fundamentalists who are still obsessed to conservative interpretation of Islamic education and believe that "the ultimate aim of Muslim education lies in the realisation of complete submission to Allah on the level of the individual, the community and humanity at large" (New Horizons in Muslim Education by S. A. Asraf, 1985, page 4).

Since the scheme of the government would adversely affect the self-seeking political interest of both the Islamic priestly class and the modern educated Muslim elites they are strongly opposed to it. They are also apprehensive that in the name of reform the government may alter the radical Islamist doctrine and the conservative interpretation of Islamic texts in the curricula of the madrasa and secularise it. The trust deficit between the opponents of the modernisation scheme and the government is so intense that the former even suspect the honest intention of the latter for the overall educational development of the Muslims as a bait to secularise the Muslims and destroy their Islamic cultural identity.

This convergence of views and action of both the elites and the Mullahs to keep the ordinary persons in the community under perpetual subordination and preventing them from joining not only the national but also the global mainstream should be accepted.

The custodians of madrasas may not believe in the two-nation theory which was behind the partition of the sub-continent. But their obsession with the concept of Muslim community as one nation that is Ummah is not and should not become a part of the inclusive Indian culture needs to be understood. What follows therefore is that the madrasa education has inevitably remained rooted to the post-Mogul Muslim politics in this region has given birth to almost all kinds of Muslim parties and organisations. For them the scheme for its modernisation is seemingly an anti-thesis of the political aspirations of the Islamists.

Why Ulema is hostile to Mainstreaming?

The Ulema who are hostile to the idea of mainstreaming the madrasas and are against any change in a positive direction to the society believe that Islamic education is a tool to resist the encroachment of modern ideas in Muslim society which is more effectively shaped in regressive direction set medievalist ideas. The original texts of Islamic scriptures are in Arabic language and its translation has a lot of scope for subjective interpretation.

Accordingly, the opponents of modernising the madrasa never bothered to incorporate any rational interpretation of Islamic texts in its curricula beyond the rut of religious orthodoxy which debar the students from developing independent thinking linked with national emotion and passion in the Indian context of a syncretic faith in a democratic environment.

The pioneers of madrasa education though failed to achieve their desired goal to restore Islamic rule in the region but their success in turning the madrasas into the nurseries of radical Islam gave birth to a wide range of religion-centric Islamist organisations like Jamat-Ulema-e-Hind, Tablique Jamaat and Jamaat-e-Islami, the terrorist outfits like Al- Qaida, Laskar-e-Toyba, Jaish-e-Mohamad, Indian Mujahideen and a large number of radicalised Muslim youths.

Separatist Policy to the Fore:

Unfortunately, after partition the custodians of madrasas who stayed back in India instead of converting them into the mainstream schools continued their separatist politics through this Islamic centre of education and used it for producing the youths with Jihadi mind-set. On the other hand, the ’secular’ political class that had a comfortable alliance with these vote influencing group encouraged them to continue their movement. In fact madrasas never had any scheme for job oriented education or the better living condition or for the overall development of the community members. Such negative attitude of the community leaders including the radical Ulema, madrasa managers, Muslim politicians and even a section of some modern educated intellectuals who were solely responsible for keeping away the Muslim students from the competitive job markets frustrated the genuine attempts of the government to modernise madrasa education.

Introducing Computers will not Change- but the Mind Set has to:

Under such a contradictory situation¸ simply bringing some computers in madrasas with an addition of a few secular subjects with the heavily loaded religion-centric curricula would neither be able to produce professionals like engineers, doctors, scientists, bankers, lawyers, business managers and government executives nor de-radicalise the Ulema who are still carrying out their mission in a closed and isolated environment. The computer will rather help the radicalised students to join the social media group to argue that the Quran is a perfect treatise for the entire system of education.

It is unfortunate that even Muslim intellectuals are mostly indifferent in their opposition to madrasa modernisation. Their silence over the incidents like the ‘Talibani’ dictate of Madrasa administration banning the entry of girl students in Madrasa Azizia in Nalanda in Bihar on the plea that Shariat does not permit co-education (9PM IBN 7 news channel dated October 14), or the role of madrasa in Burdwan blast in West Bengal (http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/burdwan-blast-accuse...) or hoisting of Pakistan flag at the top of a madrasa in Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh suggests that they are simply playing a safe game by throwing the ball in the court of the government without raising loud voice against the controllers of the Madrasas and the Mullhas the self-acclaimed representative of Muslim society.

Sheikh Al Ghazali (1917-1996), a Muslim scholar of Egypt who interpreted Islam in modern light perhaps rightly observed: “Muslims in modern age have become liability to Islam and an easy target for their enemies” (Quoted from ‘The decline of the Muslim Ummah’ by Iqbal S. Hussain, Page 14).

Similarly, an Islamic scholar Fazlur Rahman observed: "By organically relating all forms of knowledge and gearing these to dogmatic theology the very sources of intellectual fecundity were blighted and possibility of original thinking stifled" (Hindu dated May 21, 2003 by Mushirul Hasan, former Vice Chancellor of Jamia Milia Islamia). Even Maulana Wahiduddin Khan a reputed Islamic spiritual leader and author observed: "Today there are lakhs of Madrasas spread all over the country which however, could not enlighten Indian Muslims to develop a positive outlook and they simply remained an unemployment generating institutions." (Indian Muslims by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, page 88).

Options for the Present Government:

In this contemporary situation, how the Modi Government would resolve the irresolvable question of modernising the madrasa and bring their students into the educational mainstream without transforming the existing and unquestioned religious core subjects in the curricula by way of simply allotting some funds in the budget may be a tough question.

But, despite such odds if the government is serious, it has to find out a solution which lies only in strong political will to overhaul its curricula completely. For this, before allotting funds for dispelling the haze of medievalism from the mind-set of madrasa students, a well-meaning debate is to be initiated to formulate a model with integrated religious and non-religious job oriented subjects in the curricula. Even a significant section within the Muslim intellectuals who are in favour of the modernisation plan and are often raising their voice on the backwardness of their community could be roped in to assist the government in the debate with an open mind and help in taking positive steps in revolutionising the madrasa curricula. If they really want their community to join the race of modern world, they will have to assertively isolate the community leaders responsible for keeping away the Muslims from modernity.

Another option for the government could be to enact a uniform education code for the entire population of the country by amending the constitution and also bring the madrasa education into mainstream educational system which the Muslims need desperately.

- See more at: http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/node/1663#sthash.socT3ZTI.dpuf

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