Need to Modernize Madrassas

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The first budget of the Modi Government has allocated Rs. 100 crore for the modernization of madrassas. It should not be opposed, says Indira Satyanarayan
The Sachar Committee had reported ‘deficiency and deprivation’ of Muslims in almost all aspects of development. The overall representation of Muslims in Civil Services was just about 2.5% whereas Muslim constitute 14% of the population. Enlightened sections of Muslims feel that the socio-economic status of the Muslims can be improved only when a considerable section of the Muslims acquire education that is productive, relevant to the modern economy and skills that are relevant in the market.
But sadly, the Madrassas which impart education to a large number of students, impart only theological education and its curriculum comprises Tafsir (interpretation of the Quran), Sharia (the Islamic law), Arabic and Hadith (recorded sayings of the Prophet Muhammad). Very few madrassas impart lessons in English and other Indian languages which are relevant for market and administration. There is no room for extra-curricular activity and exposure to the world around. Most madrassas train their students for Hafiz (those who memorise the Quran) and Alim (Islamic scholar). Salahuddin Shoaib Choudhury, who has done extensive research on the Madrassas, observes that Muslims consider madrassas the basic place for producing clergy, but their curriculum only alienates them from the realities of the complex world. While the affluent and the well- connected ones can afford to send their children to English medium schools and later put them into universities abroad, the poor and the underprivileged enroll their children in madrassas which cannot hire good, trained and experienced teachers due to paucity of funds. Understandably, this education does not equip them for any jobs available in the market, let alone enabling them to aspire for jobs in Civil Services of the country. Thus the investment on theological education does not produce the kind of community leaders that are expected to lead the community in a world as complex as 21st century’s and a society as diverse as India’s.
During the last few decades, some liberals have emerged from within the community who would like to make a difference. They have a profound understanding of the needs of the modern society and are aware of the need to bring the community into the mainstream. Maulana Shamsudeen Qasimi runs an IAS Academy from the premises of Makkah Masjid in Chennai. Central Haj Committee in Mumbai has reserved three of its floors to coach and train civil services aspirants at its premises.
While the liberal sections would like to move ahead, the radicals are insistent upon pulling down the community and deter its advancement. The conflict has been going on since the days of modernist and reformer Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, the founder of the Muslim Anglo Oriental College, the precursor of Aligarh Muslim University about 140 years ago. Soon after the Independence, when first education minister Maulana Abul Kalam Azad wanted to set up an All India Madrassa Board to impart homogeneity and set up certain yardsticks for standard to madrassa education with an Examination Board and a modernized syllabus, he was opposed by Maulana Mufti Ateequr Rahman Usmani, Maulana Hafeezur Rahman Seohari, and Maulana Shibli Nomani. They were all close associates of Maulana Azad. Similar resistance is seen when the Central Government has announced Rs. 100 crore for the modernization of Madrassas in the latest budget. The Darul Uloom at Deoband has raised apprehensions over the budget allocation of the Central Government and has asked the Central Government to clarify the roadmap prior to embarking on the venture. Says Advocate of the Bombay High Court: ´If Mr. Modi’s Government does not allocate anything, he is accused as communal. And when he allocates funds to upgrade the Madrassas, the clergy suspect his intentions. This is representative of the insecurity that is eating away the Muslim minds.”
Khalid Rashid Firangimehli, a member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board says: “We welcome the Government’s decision to earmark funds for modernization of the Madrassas but there is no question of bringing any change in the syllabus of the theological education.”
Change being an inevitable part of life, the orthodox clergy must be willing to move ahead according to the time and agree to the modernization of madrassas. The reluctance to change could cost the community in terms of development for which they themselves have to be blamed.