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May 2006
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Call for Induction of Modern Values in Muslim Education
Islamic Educators Conference at Kolkata
Report compiled by Maqbool Ahmed Siraj

The US Embassy in Delhi and the US Consulate in Kolkata organised a two-day conference on ‘Perspectives on Islamic Education in 21st century.’

Even as the United States forces are active in Afghanistan and Iraq and Iran is being threatened with strike against its nuclear establishment, there is an effort by the State Department to reach out to Muslims and engage them in a dialogue. As part of this programme, the United States has been inviting Muslim ulema, madrassa heads, intellectuals, media persons and NGO workers in order to study the multi-cultural society of the United States and interact with the leaders of the public. The stated aim is to open channels of communication and expose the leaders of Muslim community to values the United States claims it upholds. As part of the effort, several delegations of Muslims have visited the US during the last five years. Such interactions also provide them opportunities to understand intra-Islam struggles and gauge the scope for moulding public opinion in the Muslim world.

Taking the dialogue further, the US Embassy in Delhi and the US Consulate in Kolkata organised a two-day conference on ‘Perspectives on Islamic Education in 21st century’ on April 4 and 5, 2006, at Raichak, two hours of driving distance from Kolkata.The programme began with the recital of the Quran by Maulana Noorus Sabah of the Babul Uloom madrassah in Kolkata. We report the principal speakers at the conference.

Henry V. Jardine
Principal Officer, US Consulate

Islam is the fastest growing religion in the United States, a multi-cultural society. All religions enjoy full freedom in the country and all of them also have the freedom to establish educational institutions of their choice. State Department has hired several Muslim officers in recent years. Education is the key factor in economic progress and development of understanding with other people. It is why perhaps Quran has more than 800 references to ilm (knowledge).

Jon P. Dorschner
First secretary, US Embassy

Universal humanity is the bedrock of the Islamic credo. In 60s and 70s, few in the US knew anything about Muslims. But now there are so many Muslims in the US. However, in the West, their image suffers due to stereotypes. Most people would characterise them as drab, dreary and humourless people. But I have served in several Muslim countries and know from experience how lively are the Muslim people. I have shared the indescribable joy of breaking fast with Muslims in Pakistan. Islam would not have taken so deep roots among people on so wide swathes of lands without personal power. I know how dictator General Irshad ruling Bangladesh had set up Muslim rowdies to attack Hindus during the build up to Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya. But Muslim people defended their neighbours. When Talibans blasted away Buddhas in Bamiyan, Pakistan Government deputed special forces to protect Buddhist and Dravidian artifacts in the museum of Taxila. I know from personal experience how some fundamentalists used the terms ‘Christians’ and ‘sweepers’ interchangeably in Pakistan in order to berate Christians. There is a need to revive the spirit of humanity among all of us and develop respect for various religions and cultures.

Prof. Zahid Bukhari

Fellow, Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University, Washington D.C.

America is a country of great contrasts and is constantly under change. Though America is rooted in religion, rationalism guides the civilization. Family and Church have been basic providers of education in the US. The first university was established by the Church which later turned into liberal arts college. Later secularization of educational institutions took place. But the Supreme Court in 1963 said that denial of religious instruction was violative of the Constitution. Since then, secular universities started setting up department of religious studies. Today the Catholic church runs nearly 200 universities and Jews run about 50 universities. But all these are universities imparting secular education. Besides this, they also run theological schools. Influence of religion in public policy has witnessed marked increase after the second World War. As for the Islamic Studies departments are concerned, they were first set up by the Christian missionaries who wanted to train the Jesuits for preaching Christianity in the Muslim world. It is why their orientation as educational institutions was negative. Later orientalists started the Islamic studies departments. Along with it came Area Studies centres. The Government chose to fund them as per its own interest. The 1973 oil shock, Iranian revolution and September 11 incidents added to the interest in Islam in the US. Now a lot of books are published on and about Islam, both positive and negative. Nearly 300 universities offer courses on Islam. We surveyed nearly 105 such universities and found that 35 of them are State Universities. They recommend nearly 200 books authored by nearly 150 writers for the curriculum. There is no standard primer. Average strength of the class is 35 students. A suit was filed against a book titled ‘Approaching Islam’ by Michael Sales. The court rejected it and declared it objective. Now Council of Islamic Education has been formed by the American Muslims which scans and scrutinizes the syllabi for anti-Islam stuff. But there are fewer books on contemporary issues and people want to know about the question of Interest and apostasy.

Maqbool Ahmed Siraj

Muslim women’s identity is always described in terms of her role complementary to the male folk. Women related to the holy Prophet (Pbuh) are idealised in their roles as mothers, sisters and wives, not as autonomous persons. No worth mentioning names are found among women exegetes of the Quran or muhaddith. Quranic verses regarding women are interpreted in terms of morality and modesty and restriction on attire alone. But Islam and the Prophet were targeting at transformation of society from a tribal to the lineage based one. It’s why the Quran hinted at reverencing the womb. The hudood for suspecting the character of women were intended to ensure social justice as people were making false charges to deny lineage of children and thereby depriving them of their share in property and financial responsibility within the family. The restrictions on women’s mobility also hindered their higher education and kept them away from their role of vicegerent of Allah. A curriculum for higher education of Muslim women would necessitate discussion from this angle.

Adnan Siddiqi
Cultural Affairs Officer, US Embassy
New Delhi

The United States has initiated a lot of measures to bring the Muslims closer to the US. We are providing English instructions to Urdu teachers through ‘Access’ programme. Recently, the US Embassy magazine Span has launched its Urdu edition too. Several Muslim intellectuals from the US have made lecture tours in the sub-continent. We send 100 to 150 students from India to the US under Fulbright Scholarship Programme. But the proportion of Muslims is only five per cent.

Zafar Mahmood

Member, PM’s High Power Committee on educational, socio-economic conditions of Muslims.

There are 27,607 madrassas in India. This does not include all madrassas, but only those who opted to get enlisted. There is no central coordination body of these Islamic learning centres. No madrassa has been found engaged in any activity prejudicial to the security of the country. In the latest Central budget, the government has introduced a scheme for payment of two teachers salary to the tune of Rs. 3000 in these madrassas.

The proportion of school-going age population among Muslims is 24 per cent. But only 2.3 per cent attend any school. In college and universities, Muslims represent only 0.5 per cent. In West Bengal, the Government recognised Urdu as second language in districts of Calcutta, Asansol and Dinajpur way back in 1981. This order has not been implemented.

Qaiyum Akhtar
Chairman, Madrassa Education Board

The religious schools or madrassas are spread all over India, but teach the orthodox syllabus. The syllabus needs to incorporate Indian Constitution, law, sociology, Indian languages, English, study of various religions. The students need to be told about democracy, respect of dissent, multi-culturalism, tolerance of other religions, human rights, women and minority rights etc. They need to introduce transparency in their accounts and ensure accountability. The madrassa curriculum should be such that at some stage the students could enter the university education and gain credible degrees.

Others who spoke at the seminar included Abdul Ghafoor Parekh from Nagpur; Anjum Ahmed. Director, MARS, Orissa; Uzma Nahid of Iqra Education Foundation, Mumbai; Dr. S.S. Ameen, Chennai; Dr. Liquat Ali, Orissa Urdu Academy; Ashraf Abdul Aziz from Kerala University; Saiqa Hossain, research scholar, Calcutta University; Dr. G. S. M. P. Khadri, Murtazviya Educational Foundation, Chennai; J. P. Das, Cultural affairs specialist, US Embassy, Delhi; Ravi S. Candadai, Public Affairs counselor, US consulate, Chennai; Ratna Mukherjee, program advisor, US Consulate Chennai; Syed Saud Akhtar, PRO, Ranchi University; Anis Chishty, scholar, Pune; Dr. Sufia M. Uddin, lecturer Islamic Studies, Vermont University, US; Ruksana N. Lari, Member, All India Muslim Personal Law Board, Lucknow; Dr. Mushtaque Ali, Bhubaneswar; Dr. Rafique Anwar, US Consulate, Chennai; Mr. Anjum Naim, editor, Urdu Span, New Delhi.