Zil-Hijjah / Muharram 1423 H
Volume 16-03 No : 195
Camps \ Workshops
Zafar-ul Islam Khan is a noted Indian Muslim intellectual.
What do you feel about the propaganda campaign against madrasas that we are witnessing in India today?
As I see it, there are some people who will not spare any opportunity to attack Muslims, using any excuse, and for them the issue of madrasas comes in as very handy. Then there are others who are misguided, who have been wrongly led to believe that the madrasas in India are similar to those madrasas in Pakistan which have been involved in militant activity. They do not know that there are some very basic differences between madrasas in India and in Pakistan. In Pakistan, in contrast to India, many madrasas have gradually become politicised, with several of their ulama joining politics, becoming members of parliament and even ministers.
But what about the allegations that have been levelled against some madrasas
in India of being involved in militant activities?
These allegations are utterly, totally fictitious. There is no evidence to suggest any such campaign on the part of a single madrasa. A maulvi here or a madrasa student there might have been arrested on some charges, but how can you blame the madrasa to which he belongs, or the madrasas as a whole, for that matter? Until now the authorities have not been able to identify a single madrasa in the country providing any sort of military training. The newspapers or the authorities sometimes ambiguously claim, ‘Some madrasas are spreading terror’, but why don’t they clearly name these madrasas if they have the evidence?
There have been some allegations about madrasas on India’s international borders being engaged in what is called ‘anti-national’ activity. What is your opinion?
There is today much talk of the Indo-Nepal border being ‘infested’ with madrasas where the Pakistani secret services agency, the ISI, is alleged to be active. Recently, Mr. Banatwala, Member of Parliament questioned this thesis and demanded to know exactly which madrasas these were. The Home Minister cryptically replied that these madrasas were located on the other side of the border, on the Nepalese side! We sent a team of reporters from Milli Gazette to the Indo-Nepal border to investigate, and they found no truth in the allegations about the madrasas in the region.
How do you account for the increase in the number of madrasas in India today?
One reason is, of course, the natural population increase, because of which the number of madrasas has also increased. There are said to be some 35,000 madrasas in India now, big as well as small. These must be seen as efforts by Muslims to educate themselves, and these madrasas are often the only means through which poor Muslim boys and girls can get education, because teaching, and often boarding and lodging, is provided free there. Interestingly, in recent years there has been a growth in the number of girls’ madrasas in various parts of the country.
The government says that it is keen that madrasas should be ‘modernised’ and that it is willing to help out. What do you feel about this?
Murli Manohar Joshi’s talk of ‘modernising’ the madrasas sounds extremely dubious to me. I believe that the state does have the responsibility and the right to intervene and see that certain subjects are taught in the madrasas. The state should make it compulsory for madrasas to also teach modern subjects, and Muslims must obey this, for there is nothing in Islam which says that Muslims should not study these disciplines.
What do you feel about government proposals to fund madrasas to employ teachers of modern subjects?
In principle that sounds fine, but in practice it is very difficult to get funds from the state. Funds will only be given to a madrasa if it receives a prior security clearance from the state government, but you know how difficult this is. Even to get a simple birth certificate one has often to pay a bribe. So, these hurdles often make it impossible for many madrasas to access funds from the state.
What do you feel about the standard of teaching in the madrasas? How could this be improved?
The entire madrasa system in the country is badly in need of a total reappraisal, of a revolutionary change in methods and scope. So, at most madrasa graduates can aspire to become teachers in madrasas, imams in mosques or else open another madrasa of their own. I think the syllabus of the madrasas needs a radical overhaul. I think we can gain a great deal from the experiments in modern Islamic education being conducted in other countries. For instance, in Egypt, Al-Azhar, the great centre of Islamic learning, now teaches Islamic as well as modern subjects, and there is no reason why the Indian madrasas should not do so.
But some Indian madrasas are already doing that, is it not?
That’s true. Some madrasas have introduced new books, and are also teaching modern subjects. Most madrasas now teach basic English and Hindi as well. Some larger madrasas also have facilities for teaching computer applications. But the pace and scope of change and reform is not as impressive as it should be. An ideal madrasa should teach all the regular modern subjects plus the standard Islamic disciplines.