By Dr. Kausar Fatima, New Age
As an insider and a
graduate from one of the prestigious female-only madrasas, this researcher
began her work with no unfounded assumption but rather with a strong feeling
that there were some serious flaws in the madrasa system. It was in fact the
personal predicament of the researcher that led her to take up this issue for
research. However, in my new role as a social scientist, I knew that mere
strong feelings or personal experiences were not enough ground to come to any
conclusion. Hence my personal feelings had to give way to empirical findings.
Hence onward I
started asking myself if my feelings about female-only madrasas in India are
really based on facts and if so what facts are they? As a researcher, trips to
girl’s madrasa campuses in Bijnore, Delhi, Azamgarh and Rampur where I
travelled as an activist, and in some cases to speak on some special occasions,
acquired new meanings for me. To me the madrasa girls are a potential research
subject and reading their minds held promise of cracking the nuts, or so to
say, peeping right into their minds; understanding their hopes and aspirations.
Even my participation in national seminars in Aligarh, Delhi and other places
where I took up the Muslim women’s issues during the informal discussions
thatusually follow such programs – went through a radical transformation.
Instead of talking to my female colleagues in Burqa in more general terms as to
what ails the Muslim woman, now I would have copies of a questionnaire handing
them out. My new role, as a researcher as compared to my previous studies as a
madrasa graduate, I felt, was more fulfilling and rewarding. Most of them
received the questionnaire with a smile on their faces eagerly promising to
help me in this venture. Although not more than fifty questionnaires have come
back to me out of five hundred or more that I have disseminated so far, some of
their comments have enriched my understanding and opened new avenues of future
researches. Each questionnaire, I feel, introduces me to a unique experience of
a unique madrasa girl. Although I spent my school days on a similar campus, I
never imagined that there were so many small worlds living side by side, each
girl student living on a different mental plane. I never knew that the female
mind was so rich in imagination and feelings and that the girl living next to me
had such big dreams.
Big dreams beget
bigger frustration and anger if they remain unfulfilled. This is a dangerous
aspect or fall out of the madrasa system so far gone unnoticed. Recently, some
of the respondents from Mumbai wrote to me about her shattered dreams that sum
up to a great extent the agony and disillusionment of women Maulanas:
They say that the world is now a global village, full of new dreams and
newer opportunities. The time is running fast and the people are faster than
time. A lot of windows are open for those people who want to do something great
both for themselves and for the nation. But it is also a wired fact that the
women madrasa graduates who spend formative years of their life in madrasas are
not aware of the side effects of this lame education system. True, they get
education and in their own opinion, they get the best education as it has a
religious value, a key to success in the life hereafter. In their own right
they become God’s missionary divinely ordained to set things right. Yet it is
not the whole truth. It is only one side of the picture and the other side of
the picture is not bright. When we madrasa graduates enter the practical,
mundane world we feel that our share in the new global village can only be on
the margins. Here, the rules of the game are different and we have not learned
them at our religious seminaries. In the job market our qualifications do not
carry any weight. We are completely at a loss. Where can we go and what can we
do? Probably, we cannot do much except begging. But that too is no easy task
especially for those who carry big dreams of changing the world as God’s female
soldiers and yet lacking even basic skills of Bhikshus to beg for sustenance.
Why the madrasa did not offer us a course in begging if it did not equip us
with courses relevant for the job market? .... I know, I am rather harsh on my
own alma mater but how else can I describe my deep pain and anguish?
۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔ Feelings of a female madrasa graduate, Mumbai,
February 18, 2013(translation mine)
Such painful stories are piling up as
my encounters with respondents are growing. Sometimes I feel like crying when
on the other end of the phone a respondent recounts her agony and misadventures
in the practical world. Things get out of hand and passions run high when the
respondents realize that what they got in the name of Islamic education was a
mere sectarian perception of Islam and in their zeal to become God’s missionary
they have ended up as exponents of certain sects. I have encountered many women
who started their education afresh, appearing for one examination after
another. And it has been an arduous journey. An analysis of their personal
narratives can brighten many lives.
As no significant
study is available on female-only madrasas except a few stray articles and a
full-scale book by a Dutch woman Mareike Winkelmann (From Behind the Curtain: A
Study of A Girls’ Madrasa in India), not to mention a
number of classic studies on madrasa system in general, the search for helpful
material in Arabic, Urdu, and English only reinforced my feeling that I was
doing something new and hence all care should be taken in collecting the
study will employ a combination of qualitative and quantitative research
methods. Primary data of the study is based on field work; questionnaires,
visits to relevant institutions, arranging the meetings with the women madrasa
graduates in the modern universities and institutions and also listening to their
personal stories, often charged with emotions and commotions. The questionnaire
is also given to those madrasa graduates who could not make their way to modern
institutions for further studies. The questionnaire is also made available in
Urdu for better outreach and response. The questionnaire intends to explore:
To examine the above mentioned research methodology, a survey pilot
study will be carried out first to examine the viability and effectiveness of
the questionnaire prepared and the responses received from the beneficiaries.
So far, what I have
gleaned from the respondent’s data can briefly be summarized as follows.
As long as they are in Islamic
seminaries, the Muslim women hold a stereotypical image of the outside world
which in their opinion is profane and evil. Joining a modern institution poses
a clear dilution to their Islamic identity.
The outside world, especially
modern universities too bear stereotypical image of burqa-clad madrasa
graduates. For them the madrasa women are closed minded, rigid and conservative
Within the madrasa an internal
debate, indeed rather a fierce ideological battle is under way. The Muslim
society in India is divided into two opposing camps. One group of elders wants
to modernize the syllabus while others believe that any change in the
curriculum will deprive the madrasa of its ideological content.
The debate that started long
back in early twentieth century about the nature of religious knowledge is also
a continuing discourse. Some believe that knowledge is indivisible. Its
classification as religious and mundane or Sharai
(in accordance with Islamic
jurisprudence or Shariat) and Ghair
Sharai (in violation of Shariat)
has no basis in Islam. But this discourse takes a different turn when it comes
to female madrasas as their founders are still not clear about the social role
of their graduates. Probably they never imagined in their wildest dreams that
the female Maulanas that they have been producing will someday aggressively
seek a social role or join the secular courses in the university system.
Within the traditional Muslim
conclaves, that mainly comprise the Muslim Ulema, the debate is waging whether
an Islamically oriented Muslim woman should seeks a social role for herself.
Should she be allowed to become a Qazi
or a mufti or be allowed to conduct
marriages and lead a congregation?
findings apart, the survey has also brought a new phenomenon to the notice of
the researcher. One knows for certain that some boys’ madrasas like the Jameat
ul-Hidaya of Jaipur was in the process of reinventing itself. For example,
Jameatul Hidaya has a proper computer education and also a polytechnic on
its campus. I was also aware of the Markaz Ma’arif of Mumbai and Darus
Suroor of Bangalore that Offer Bridge courses to male graduates of
madrasas. But this is mainly because there is no confusion about the social
roles of male Maulanas. But what surprised me during this survey was some good
news coming from girls’ madrasas as well. In recent years there have been some
shifts in emphasis on the core syllabus. For example, the Jameatus Salehat
of Rampur itself, from where I graduated, had introduced NCERT text books up to
VIII standard. Jameat ul Banat in Hyderabad also deserves being mentioned. It has
managed to prepare their candidates for school examination simultaneously. Here
school curriculum (NCERT) has been accommodated within the madrasa syllabus.
And the end result is that students appear for +2 examinations and also later
write BA examination from Osmania University. It offers the girls to choose
from a number of courses offered in Humanities and Social Sciences. This is a welcome
change and more such surprises are in the air.
It is not probably out of context to
mention here some of the pointers that have been guiding me during my research.
We must bear in
mind that the madrasa system stands for Ilm
e Sharei or Islamic education. This in itself is a flawed notion. For in
Islam, knowledge is indivisible. Wisdom is our common heritage and a submitter
to God should obtain it from wherever it is found, said the prophet Muhammed.
Hence religious seminaries need to correct their perception. Throughout the
Muslim history there has been a fusion of the two; secular and religious. It
was only after the fall of Muslim rule that some Ulema setup madrasas mainly to
preserve Islamic heritage. It was an ad hoc move that later paved the way for
pure religious education. Hence no sanctity should be attached to its syllabus
or method of teaching. Now, we are living in a different era and it demands
from us a different response.
In its own right
religion is very important and we should respect all religions. As a Muslimah
it is a good choice to get religious education. I think the madrasas fulfill
the desire of those who want to know about Islam and want to serve Islam. But
we cannot ignore the fact that most madrasas impart a sectarian view of Islam.
The Islam that is an open invitation and abode of solace for the entire
mankind, not Muslims alone, the Islam that speaks for all children of God,
irrespective of colour, caste, creed or religious affiliation, is no more a
part of the madrasa syllabus. It is a Muslim God that they teach to worship and
it is the Muslim’s Islam, nay, rather Sunni or Shiei or Wahhabi and Hanafi
Islam that they preach. The universal message of Islam is lost. Hence, a
rethinking of madrasa syllabus or reinventing the madrasa system requires a
rethinking of Islam itself.
After a lot of
complaint from madrasa graduates and persuasion by some elders some madrasas
like the Jameatus-Salehat, Rampur
included NCERT books at primary and secondary levels but this remains of little
use as it is not recognized by the government. The students face a lot of
problems when they go for further studies in modern institutions. After
spending many years in the madrasa the students feel that they have landed
The degrees of
madrasas are accepted only in a few modern universities/institutions. And there
too they are given admission only in a few subjects. After Alimiat (+2) the
candidates gets a chance to do B.A. honours in Arabic, Urdu, Persian, Theology
and Islamic Studies only and after Fazilat (graduation) they get admission to
M.A. but only in Arabic and Theology. This is where our graduates end up. It is
a very frustrating situation. They find themselves in a university yet the
doors of most of university departments locked on them. It is the peak of
intellectual and psychological helplessness. It is like sailing on an ocean but
not a drop to drink.
madrasa curriculum is the need of the hour. Change or perish, the Madrasa pass
out have no other option. And why not change when what we teach today is not
Islam per se but Islam as understood in a feudal India of the past. Our
respondents have unequivocally voiced their opposition to Ashraf Ali Thanvi’s
vision of Islam, the famous author of Bahishti
Zewar. Maulana Thanvi advises Muslim women to be meek and submissive
housewives, be obedient to their husbands no matter even if he indulges in
outright violation of Islamic norms. Thanvi’s ideal Muslim woman has no self,
no heart and no feelings. The Muslim community must be made aware if madrasas
intend to produce a whole new brand of such meek women, it has no place in
Islam nor there are many takers in the modern world. I think the Bahishti Zewar
kind of books that propagate a flawed vision of Islam and snatch from us our
God-given rights should be dropped from the bridal gift package.
New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African
Muslim News, Arab World
News, South Asia
Muslim News, World
Muslim News, Women in
Feminism, Arab Women, Women In
in America, Muslim
Women in West, Islam
Women and Feminism
fully agree that the female-only Madrasas established and being run by Sheikh
Abu Baker in Kerala provide girls with education of religious values as well as
professional and technical education.
some other female-only Madrasas too in India, I know, are running on the same
pattern; however more improvement should always be a case. But it is undeniable
fact that majority of Madrasas have not yet experienced the taste of
improvement, even after much debate has taken place over it.
This is a good read. Nonetheless, Ammar
Anwar, an Islamist, who is now dreaming of a pluralist Pakistan says, “Our seminaries are a big reason why most of Islamist
In almost every Islamic seminary, the students are generally taught that:
1. Anywhere in the world, if someone commits idolatry
(polytheism) or apostasy, it is punishable by death and it is our prime
responsibility to implement this punishment.
2. In this world, the non-Muslims cannot live freely and
must be oppressed. No one except the Muslims has the right to live with
complete sovereignty. No one else can govern a state.
3. All non-Muslims states are illicit and it is our
responsibility to eliminate them whenever we have the power to do so.
4. The concept of modern state formation is totally against
the teachings of Islam. All Muslims are like a single nation and they must have
one single state and government (caliphate)
These teachings are the main reason for the existence of extremist groups
Mr Yogender Sikand, a
prolific writer and an expert on
Islam and Muslim societies in the sub-continent, has also carried out a
research on the subject. In his article, “The Role of
Girls’ Madrasas in India” he wrote,
Recent years have witnessed the setting up of a small,
yet growing, number of specifically girls’ higher-level madrasas in different
parts of the country by different ulama groups. These madrasa are
engaged in training girls as alimas, specialists in Islamic studies like their
male ulama counterparts. The increasing awareness of the importance of girls’
education, and a feeling that government schools, with their ‘Hinduistic’
syllabus and their co-educational system, are not suitable for their children,
have combined to impress among growing numbers of Muslims the need for separate
girls’ madrasas. By combining Islamic education with modern subjects to varying
degrees, these schools are playing a major role in promoting literacy among
However, the rationale for special girls’ madrasas is
generally presented in conservative terms. Pious Muslim girls well-educated in the
Islamic tradition are depicted as symbols of Muslim community identity and as
guardians of the purity of the faith in a world that is seen as corrupt and
licentious. In fact, it is often stressed by managers of these schools that
separate girls’ madrasas are necessary in order to ‘protect’ Muslim women from
the growing temptation to defy male authority, which they present as integral
to their vision of Islam.
It is argued that in the absence of ‘proper’ Islamic
education, Muslim girls might be swayed by demands for women’s liberation,
consumerism and un-Islamic ways of life that would threaten the integrity of
the community itself.
The ideal Muslim woman is thus regarded as one who has a
deep knowledge of her faith and uses that knowledge to help raise a truly
Muslim family and fortify its commitment to the faith. In the writings of
‘ulama advocates of Muslim girls’ education, the sphere of the educated Muslim
woman is generally seen as restricted to her home. Only a very small minority
among the ‘ulama consider it permissible for Muslim women to work outside the
in Madarsas’ syllabus system, according to the modern necessities, is the need
of the time. There has been a long debate even in Madrasas on this issue but no
better result has yet come into effect.
Improvement in Madrasas is better late than never.