Jamadi Thani 1424 H
Volume 16-08 No : 200
Camps \ Workshops
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Waris Mazhari is the editor of the Urdu monthly Tarjuman al-Qur'an, the official organ of the Delhi-based Tanzim-i Abna ul-Qadim Dar ul-'Ulum Deoband (Deoband Madrasa Old Boys' Association). A graduate of the Deoband madrasa, he has also studied at the Nadwat ul-'Ulama, Lucknow, and the Jami'a Millia Islamiya, New Delhi. Here he speaks to Yoginder Sikand on the reforms in the Madrasa curriculum and various relevant issues.
What are the objectives and activities of the Dar ul-‘Ulum Deoband Old Boys’ Association?
As the name of our organisation suggests, we are a group of graduates of the Dar ul-‘Ulum at Deoband, which is the largest madrasa in South Asia. Our members live all over India and some are abroad, and they work in different capacities. Membership is open to all graduates of the Deoband madrasa. We are an apolitical organisation, with our headquarters in Delhi. Our basic work is to help spread the teachings of the Qur’an among Muslims and counter what we see as un-Islamic beliefs and practices. We also help promote the vision that the Deoband school of thought represents.
Is your organisation officially part of the Deoband madrasa?
No, we are an independent body, but we do enjoy the support of many ulama and elders at Deoband.
As someone who has studied at a traditional madrasa and then at a regular university, how do you look at the question of the reform of the madrasa curriculum?
The syllabus generally employed in the Indian madrasas is several centuries old. In many respects it is irrelevant, and is not able to meet the challenges of modern life. Hence, I feel there is an urgent need to reform the syllabus as well as the whole system of madrasa education. For this, we need both to introduce new subjects as well as new books for teaching traditional disciplines. Take, for instance, the case of the Shara-i Aqa’id, a treatise on theology (kalam) written some six hundred years ago, which continues to be taught in many Indian madrasas. It is written in an archaic style and is full of references to antiquated Greek philosophy which students today can hardly comprehend.
What do you have to say about reform in the teaching of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) in the madrasas? Is this also required?
Yes, most certainly. Fiqh must always evolve with time, for as conditions change and new issues emerge, new fiqhi responses must be articulated. This calls for the need to exercise ijtihad to examine matters afresh and to take into account new developments. Unfortunately, this is strongly discouraged in the Indian madrasas.
When you say that madrasas need to modernise, what exactly do you mean?
I believe, as do many other ulama, particularly among the younger generation, that madrasas must introduce modern subjects in their curriculum. Some modern subjects are necessary not only for their own sake but even to understand the Qur’an. For instance, history. Now, in many madrasas history is just not taught, not even the biography of the Prophet (sirat), so how can students properly understand the Qur’an? Besides history, we should familiarize our students with the basics of all other modern subjects, including the natural as well as social sciences, as well as Hindi and English. This is really necessary so that madrasa graduates do not feel lost or alien or suffer from an inferiority complex when they have to face the modern world.
What about technical education and the problem of employment of madrasa graduates?
Yes, this is important as well. Madrasas must, if they have the funds, provide some sort of technical education so that their graduates can earn a decent livelihood by setting up small businesses of their own in case they do not become professional ulama. Some madrasas do have facilities for training their students in such skills as calligraphy, watch-repairing and book-binding. Now, I don’t mean to denigrate these trades, but, clearly, these are dying out now, and what we need is new skills or trades to be taught, such as computer applications, journalism and so on
Muslim girls continue to be one of the most educationally deprived sections of Indian society. What role do you think the ulama could play in promoting girls’ education?
An interesting development in recent years in India has been the setting up of numerous madrasas for girls, many of these having been established by young madrasa graduates. Although these are still relatively few in number, they are now playing a significant role in promoting literacy, Islamic knowledge and general education among Muslim girls. Many ulama now realize the importance of girls’ education, provided it is conducted in an appropriate Islamic environ-ment.
How do you think the propaganda campaign against the madrasas can be effectively combated?
I think we need to closely interact with the media to present a proper, balanced picture of the madrasas so that we can clear the deep-rooted misunderstandings that many people have about them and about Islam in general. Some larger madrasas have taken steps in this direction, such as by setting up media cells, inviting journalists to visit and report on them, publishing leaflets, issuing press statements and so on. All this is, of course, very good and needs to be encouraged. At the same time, we do face certain major difficulties. Often, if we issue a statement refuting the unfair propaganda against us, non-Muslim newspapers simply refuse to carry it. It appears that some of them have a vested interest in denying the truth, in order to reinforce and perpetuate anti-Muslim prejudices. Then, again, much of the propaganda against the madrasas or Islam in general is conducted in Hindi and English, which few of our ‘ulama know well enough, so they are unable to counter it. On the other hand, our ‘ulama generally write in Urdu, and so their statements countering anti-Muslim or anti-madrasa propaganda rarely reaches non-Muslim readers, who do not have any knowledge of Urdu. I think one of our most urgent tasks is to prepare well-researched literature on Islam and on the madrasas in English and Hindi and other Indian languages so that we can effectively reach out to our non-Muslim brothers and sisters.
What role, if any, should madrasas play in promoting inter-faith dialogue?
As religious guides, the ulama of the madrasas must play a leading role in promoting inter-communal amity, although, unfortunately, they do not seem to be doing much in this regard today. However, I think that inter-faith dialogue is not a task simply for the ‘ulama alone. We, Muslims and non-Muslims, must explore ways to live together in harmony and jointly work for the progress of the country. I think there is a lot we can learn from the example of the true Sufis of the past, who never attacked followers of other religions, but, instead, worked to bring all people together in a spirit of love and service.