The biggest concern of all well-meaning persons in the community is the poor education levels of Muslims, little or no emphasis on women’s education, higher school, and college dropout rates, increasing segregation and isolation from the main society, and last but not least, the nonchalant indifference of our Ulema and Imams, and the political leaders to the fast unfolding polarisation in recent times and its impact on the community. The consequences of this indifference to the issues of the community, which are rather crucial to the coming generations of Muslims in the country, are chilling. The only solution to all the foreseeable challenges that the Muslim children will face in the coming decades is to adapt to moderate and true values of Islam and make education their only mission. The mass movement for formal education of the entire community should start now.
But, for any mass movement to start, two things are essential. Firstly there has to be a central point from where a call is given to the masses. Secondly, a leadership that has access to the masses to give a call. The only readily available centers for such a call are the Masjids. The only person empowered indisputably to give a call is the Imam of the Masjid, to whom we religiously listen to every Friday without any complaint. Just think of the current functions of Masjids and the Imams. Over 300,000 Masjids in the country have only two functions: the prayer call five times, and limited men visit (except for the Jumma congregation) for prayers. The second one is teaching the Quran in the mornings and evenings. The Masjids are primarily meant for these two acts, no doubt, but did we ever realize that the vast space created in Masjids and the rooms constructed for Madrasas remain unutilized for the rest of the time? Did we ever think that the Masjids could also become the centers for spreading formal education, a place for motivational talks and lectures by scholars of Science, History, and Social sciences? It is a place for spreading social awakening, propagating the schemes and benefits given to the poor and minorities by the government, arranging coaching classes for competitive exams for both boys and girls, and a host of community activities to educate parents on their responsibilities. All these activities indeed form a part of worship/Ibadah that pleases Allah as much as it pleases through our Salah and Zakath.
One of the most straightforward beginnings that any Masjid could do is establish a kindergarten or preprimary school attached to every mosque where the poor children of the Mohalla between 3-6 years study. The rooms constructed for Madrasa can be used for half a day. Preprimary education prevents future school dropouts, particularly first-generation learners. It is between 3-6 years that the seed to future personality is sowed. The child develops skills, logic, analysis, neuromuscular coordination, learns to share and socialize. His character is molded here. The reason is 90% of brain growth happens at this age. The community is so obsessed with building Masjids that we spend crores constructing dozens of Masjids every 200to 300 meters but will not think to build a school or a clinic. Muslims need to be reminded that the world’s first university, The University of Al Qarawiynn, was constructed in Morocco by a woman princes Fatima al-Fihri in a Masjid in Morocco. Christians who constitute 10% of Minorities in India have 75% of educational Institutions, and Muslims, who make 75% of Minorities, have only just 15% of educational institutions. It is very easy to collect donations for the construction of Masjid and Madrasa and extremely hard to collect community funding to support Education and Educational Institutions. I have repeatedly written in my previous five articles that many young girls and boys discontinue at X and XII grades for financial reasons.
The Ulema and Masjid committees should not delay any more the opening of Masjids to women for prayers. They should also realize that the socializing and interpersonal relationship is a part of Islam. Developing cordial relations with non-Muslims is more crucial in India than anywhere else. Like in the USA and UK, why can’t we open our mosques for non-Muslims to visit and watch on Fridays seated on chairs on the backside. Do the Ulema realize that majority of even educated non-Muslims are curious about what is inside Masjids. Curiosities lead to paranoia and an easy trap to hate protagonists. Opening Masjids once in a way for non muslims to visit and watch the Muslim prayers opens up a new chapter of trust and interpersonal relations.
Isn’t it high time the Masjids, the Ulema, and political leaders and the Masjid managements wake up, open up the Masjids for effective use of the Masjids for the progress of the community? Should not the inactive managements who hold the positions in Masjid committees for prestige, rehabilitation in old age, or even for some covert gains make way for younger and educated members in the community? Every Masjid in the west and even some Islamic countries have women think tank groups who are a great strength to take forward the social mission to doorsteps.
The women of our community should realize that education should be their top priority. Unfortunately, millions of parents and grandparents in this country discourage women from going for higher and professional education. Any community can claim its full share of gains in future India if it is educated and enlightened and their womenfolk are educated. Communities where women are educated, have created enlightened societies. Every Muslim girl should aspire to be a professional, Doctor, Engineer, Scientist, Lawyer, Accountant, Banker, Executive, IAS, IPS, IFS, etc., and even enter Police and Army. Our prophet never told us that only men should go to China to acquire knowledge. Quran referred to Skies and Universe to be discovered, never said only men should do it. A Muslim woman can be an astronaut, an athlete, or a CEO and still be a good practicing Muslim.
The time has come when the community sees a revolution in creating a society of moderate, good character and highly educated Muslim men and women. Those who find equal space in society and earn fame and honor shoulder to shoulder with the majority community through their virtues with pride do not live in despair.