By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam
Anyone aware of the achievements of Indian Islamic madrasas through history can only howl in pain at the shocking and shameful state of affairs today. Instead of zealous ulema who used to run madrasas at one time by way of service to the Muslim community and as an attempt to please God, it is petty property dealers and rapacious businessmen who are ruling the roost today. This is true of all types of madrasas, the ones run on Arab petrodollars, or contributions from the community or government largesse.
But let us have a look at the glorious background first to better appreciate the shocking state of chaos today. The existence of Indian madrasas dates back to the era of Muslim rulers. A large number of madrasas had been established in major Indian states notably Delhi, Ahmadabad, Gujarat, etc. These madrasas were not restricted to teaching merely religious philosophy and spiritual subjects; they would also impart modern sciences and different branches of education. They beautifully combined modern and religious curriculum, produce a considerable number of enlightened ulema who held aloft the torch of Islam and spread its teachings throughout the Indian sub-continent.
After Independence, India witnessed the revival of madrasas on a larger scale. Within a short span of time, several leading Islamic seminaries came into existence and many madrasas emerged with rapid growth as a result of Herculean efforts made by visionary Ulema and sagacious Islamic scholars. It is by sheer grace of Allah Almighty that despite insufficient means and limited resources, the number of Indian madrasas has increased to 27,000 which are located mainly in U.P, Uttaranchal, Bihar, Bengal, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Assam.
We may feel thrilled to read the above, but the other side of the picture is terrible, indeed horrific and deplorable. There is no denying that madrasas have always been harbingers of Prophetic teachings and there are still some madrasas that are making a mark. But today majority of madrasas have fallen prey to the greed of rapacious and self-centred administrators who have not the faintest idea about the aim and objectives of religious institutions. They get such lofty positions and start making money out of the booming madrasa business, mushrooming under the false colours of donation and charity given by wealthy Muslims to the financially weaker section of students.
Since the time such marauders established their monopoly on the majority of Indian madrasas, they have led them far away from their ultimate purpose that our Ulema had designed at the beginning. A mere glance at the state of affairs in these madrasas will assure you that the entire endeavour of these looters is aimed at self-aggrandisement rather than promoting even religious, Islamic education of Muslim children, not to speak of preparing them for the coming struggle in the world that educational institutions should be meant for.
Most of these “owners” of madrasas are themselves very poor in both modern and Islamic education. They operate at a very poor intellectual level. They have a very conservative approach to every issue under the sun. For them, imparting education is not the goal’; they rather set great score upon owning towering buildings and big tombs and minarets.
On the other hand, not only students but even teachers and Ulema seem deprived of essential hostel facilities and basic teaching equipments. Despite abundance of donations collected every year, both teachers and students suffer acute problems on the account of unfulfilled basic needs like water, electricity, library, study materials etc. It has a devastating impact on their intellectual growth endangering their all-round development. This being the plight of madrasas, how can we expect today’s madrasas to produce as immensely talented and highly qualified scientists and scholars of Islam as did the madrasas in the past?
Going back to just a hundred years in the past, we witness many notable instances of founders of madrasas who exhibited infinite sincerity and great zeal to serve the Muslim community. They ran madrasas and upheld the cause of Islamic education with the sole purpose of pleasing their lord, the Almighty. But now the scenario has drastically changed and the situation of madrasas is worsening by the day.
This is mainly because of the administrators and custodians who range from the uneducated rich, ignorant businessmen, local politicians to low-profile miserly maulvis and selfish maulanas who fix their eyes on the huge profit coming out of their investment in building madrasas. Just by publicising their madrasas through posters and stories about the “help” they are providing to underprivileged Muslim children and poor students, they receive huge amounts of donation and abundant charity from wealthy Muslims, not to speak of Arab petrodollars and in some cases government largesse, but when it comes to spending, they seem reluctant to spend even the proverbial penny on their students, or even teachers.
If you pass by some madrasas in India, you will come across many instances of how Muslim kids are being victimized by their greedy custodians. They exert tremendous pressure on them not by giving them huge study assignment and home work but by putting on them severe unreasonable restrictions and stern impositions. Thus, instead of focusing on their all-round educational, cultural, ethical, spiritual and intellectual development, much futile emphasis is laid upon strict supervision and surveillance of their personal activities which ultimately leads to their rebellion and disobedience. As a result, students are expelled or punished for trivial reasons.
Almost similar treatment is meted out to the teachers and ulema who hold such high pedagogical positions such as Shaikhul Hadith (Master of Hadith) or Shaikhul Tafseer (Master of Quranic Sciences) Shaikhul Ifta (Master of Islamic jurisprudence). Such eminences too are deprived of their dignity, good salary and the lofty status an Islamic scholar undoubtedly deserves. They face turbulent circumstances and baffling challenges apart from acute accommodation problems.
Let alone the minimum required facility of a good library, they do not even get easy access to essential Islamic books, national or international contemporary religious magazines, authentic Arabic dictionaries etc., even though these are indispensible necessities for an alim to teach Deen or issue any Islamic ruling. If this is the situation then how and why should one expect today’s ulema to guide the ummah on religious, social and cultural issues? Coming from such terribly disturbed educational backgrounds as they do, how is it possible for them to become scholars of Islam or leader of the ummah? Keeping their plight in view, it seems paradoxical to say that today’s madrasas are houses of the Prophet S.A.W or the present-day ulema are successors of anbiya (Prophets) العلماء ورثۃ الأنبیاء)). Far from it!!!
Soul searching and fact-finding article! The history of the traditional madrasas
goes back to the Seljuki period. One of the Islamic administrators in the
Seljuk state, Nizam-al-Mulk was an accomplished writer and scholar whose book
on statecraft, Siyasat Nama, is a valuable source for the political thought of
the time. Nizam-al-Mulk was the devout Muslim who established the system of
madrasas or theological seminaries (called nizamiyah, named after the first
element of his name) to provide students with free education in the religious
sciences of Islam, as well as in the most advanced scientific and philosophical
thoughts of the time. The famous theologian al-Ghazali’ s greatest work, the
Revival of the Sciences of Religion, was a triumph of Sunni theology taught at
the Nizamiya madrasas at Baghdad and Nishapur. But the deteriorating state of
affairs in the present-day madrasas is very deplorable. However, we expect that
Madrasa graduates like you who are also trained and educated in modern and
secular institutes will keep our hopes high!
Shuaib Syed. Dear Brother, you have simply assumed that we have joined ranks to criticize the madrassas. We are deeply concerned about the curriculum of madrassas which does not conduce to produce graduates who can compete in the local and international job markets.
We also do not see any justice in depriving the madrassa students of the same level of universal knowledge as the students of civil schools. Don't tell me that universal sciences and art forms are the creation of Shaitan and what they teach in madrassas - predominantly Islamic theology is true Islam. I have done a comprehensive article on the subject and will invite you to read it, as mentioned in my last comment posted just two comments below.
· @ Yunus sahab, absolutely erudite comment! It is pretty self explanatory that madrasa institutions are in dire need of a "major paradigm shift" Focus on Qur’anic sciences (علوم القرآن) is urgently required in madrasas to prevent Muslim students from falling prey to fruitless dialectical and contentious arguments.
But as for hadith, there must not be least negligence towards this second most authentic source of Islam, as most of the Qur’anic verses are best understood and interpreted in the light of Ahadith. "However, since this is a very technical field, it should be reserved for enlightened specialists who have attained sufficient maturity, knowledge, and training to distinguish between weak and reliable Hadith, and not to confuse them with the Word of God.”
· A candid exposition of the corruption and weaknesses gripping the madrasa institution in India. However, there is one fundamental problem not touched that needs urgent attention.
The madrasa curriculum today is almost entirely dominated by the Hadith sciences. Classical Islamic Law, Sira and tafsir are also taught at higher levels, with or without other theological domains – asbab al nuzul, aqida, for example. But practically all these domains are cantered round the Hadith, which is conflated with the Sunnah of the prophet. This puts hundreds of thousands of its graduates at a serious competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis those graduating from civil education system that teach sciences and subjects that have a bearing in the job market. Besides, as noted in the concluding paragraph of the Enclosure to my jointly authored book (Essential Message of Islam),
“since the literary style, setting, paradigms, and dialectical constructions of the Hadith literature date back to the early medieval era, their continued teaching and propagation, such as in traditional religious schools (madrasas), can adversely impact the mental development of the students, shackling their power of reasoning and virtually freezing their intellect into the early medieval era.”
Accordingly, and for other compelling reasons expounded in the book, the following recommendations appear in its concluding pages (p. 363):
“There is a pressing need to substitute the predominantly theological content of the curriculum of traditional religious schools (madrassas) with a focused study of the Qur’an and a comprehensive study of the ever expanding fields of universal sciences and diverse faculties of knowledge that are nothing but the manifestations of the Words (kalimat) of God (18:109, 31:27), that cannot be divided between Islamic and non-Islamic domains. As for the theological discourses, notably the Hadith literature, Muslims must not accept them blindly, and cite them freely, without knowing their background and the classification. The Hadith remains a critical part of Islamic religion; in so much as it preserves the legacy of the Prophet, no less his companions. However, since this is a very technical field, it should be reserved for enlightened specialists who have attained sufficient maturity, knowledge, and training to distinguish between weak and reliable Hadith, and not to confuse them with the Word of God.”
The book is approved by al-Azhar al-Sharif (Cairo) and recommended by Shaykh Khaled Abou El Fadl as an authenticated text for universal readership and therefore carries authority.
With this, may I request you to read my article on this site “Evolution of Hadith Sciences and Need for Major Paradigm Shift in Role of Hadith Corpus and Scope of Madrasa Education” which concludes as follows: