Yasmin M Khan
debate over the modernisation of madrasas, a question that refuses to go away
is whether these institutions are relevant at all in the 21st century. Can
madrasas be reformed by tinkering with a few courses or installing a few
computers? Do they have the materials and intellectual resources – and, most
important, cultural temperament – to prepare their students for the demands of
a highly competitive modern world?
is complicated, according to Muslim scholars and observers of madrasas; they
dismiss attempts at such a binary approach to addressing the question. Moin
Qazi, an academic and noted writer on Islam, believes that madrasas are
unfairly portrayed. The majority of these institutions, according to him,
“actually present an opportunity, not a threat”.
“For a poor
Muslim child in a village, it may be his only path to literacy. For many
orphans and the rural poor, madrasas provide essential social services:
education and lodging for children who otherwise could well find themselves the
victims of forced labour, sex trafficking, or other abuse… For parents mired in
poverty and forced to work long hours, madrasas serve a vital role in ensuring
their children are supervised, fed, and taught to read and write,” he wrote in
a widely published article.
critics of madrasas caution against taking extreme positions and favour a more
nuanced approach. Sunil Raman, a former BBC correspondent, and a frequent
contributor to this website, who has studied the issue in some depth, is no fan
of madrasas. But he is even more critical about the successive governments'
confused response to how to drag them into the modern world. And he is right.
The process of modernisation, as he reminds us, started not under Manmohan
Singh but way back in 1992 under PV Narasimha Rao as a gesture towards the
Muslims to placate them after the demolition of Babri Masjid.
decades later and crores of rupees being spent, the government appears to be
tackling more or less same issues that existed in the 1990s,” he wrote recently.
He is not
the only one who is extremely sceptical about the modernisation process.
Critics don't have a quarrel with introducing modern subjects and
computerisation but with the idea that this is an answer to the problem of
Muslim education. Primarily, madrasas are seminaries meant to impart religious
education and that's what they are best at doing. Their primary function is to
produce Islamic scholars and imams, not doctors and engineers.
should be on reforming their religious curriculum and helping madrasas with
extra resources so that they can hire better teachers and improve their
infrastructure. That will be a better way of increasing their relevance,” said
Sami Ullah, who studied at a madrasa and is now enrolled in an Islamic Studies course
at Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi.
he said, he wants to go abroad for higher Islamic studies. “My dream is to be
able to study at Al Azhar University [in Cairo] but let's see,” he said. About
his madrasa experience, Ullah was clear as to the purpose it served: clarify
the tenets of Sharia. "For me it was okay because my need was very basic
but their curriculum for advanced courses is extremely limited and offers very
few career opportunities. So, there’s a problem there,” he said. He was, however,
of the opinion that madrasas aren’t “an oddity”. “We certainly need madrasas,
otherwise where will people like me go? Around the world, there are some great
madrasas and there is no reason why we can’t have world-class madrasas,” he
question remains: what does madrasa education offers to its graduates in terms
of job prospects? What do they do for a living after they pass out of a
madrasa? Gagandeep Kaur, a Delhi-based journalist and researcher, has found
that their curriculum is so limited that most universities don’t recognise
madrasa education, which means that entry into higher education is barred for
students of these institutions – in Uttar Pradesh, they are required to pass a
special examination conducted by the state to qualify for a place in a regular
college or university. She has written about this at length on Contributoria.
As for job
opportunities, a madrasa graduate can aspire to be either a “Maulana” (a
teacher) or an imam at a mosque. Neither job pays enough for a decent living.
“Most of the madrasas are not equipped to teach students how to live in modern
society,” Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, Islamic scholar and adviser with Jamia Hazrat
Nizamuddin Aulia Madrasa, has told Kaur.
This is a
view echoed by S Irfan Habib, historian and Islamic scholar. In his interview
to Kaur, Habib has said: “When you talk of madrassas...the way they are run is
not relevant for the mainstream employment opportunities as the scope and
curriculum is very limited.”
reports that there are some progressive madrasas. Madrasa Taleem-ul-Quran, run
by an independent Islamic educational charity, the Haji Langa Trust in RK
Puram, south Delhi, is one such. It has attempted to make its curriculum more
relevant by combining traditional teaching with market-friendly courses. Rather
than having stand-alone courses in modern education, these madrasas have
integrated them with the existing syllabus, which means students who already
learn Arabic and Urdu are now required to learn English as well.
This, it is
claimed, has improved students’ chances of landing a job in the Middle East or
in Indian companies that do business with Arab countries which need people who
can communicate with their Arabic-speaking clients or business partners. I met
Mushtaq Ansari who has become a freelance Arabic-English interpreter. He works
for several companies and earns more money in a month than the average
university graduate. He has had no formal schooling and learned both Arabic and
English at a madrasa on the strength of which he obtained a modest job in an
Arab mission. That, he said, gave him an “opportunity” to improve his Arabic
and learned to speak it. “A colleague recommended me to a company which was
looking for a part-time interpreter. While working for them I found other part-time
assignments, and I am happy doing what I am doing,” he said. Ansari’s case is
relevant to the debate on the usefulness and relevance of madrasas. But success
stories like these are few and far between. For the overwhelming majority,
madrasa education remains a dead-end and irrelevant.
“Madrasa Education is a
Clear Violation of the Human Rights of Children”: Sultan Shahin asks UNHRC to
make Muslim Countries Stick to their Pious Declarations
of Hadith Sciences and Need for Major Paradigm Shift in Role of Hadith Corpus
and Scope of Madrasa Education
MADRASA EDUCATION: Muslim Opponents of India’s 'Right of Children to Free and
Compulsory Education Act' are Enemies of Indian Muslims