Muslims Must Seize Every Opportunity to Reform Their Madrasas

Yogi Adityanath may be doing this for political reasons, but why should we blindly oppose the introduction of a superior quality of textbooks in our madrasas?

Photo credit: Indian Express

Recently, the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh announced that henceforth madrasa students would study NCERT textbooks instead of their regular run of the mill curriculum. Also, sometime back, one of its ministers stated that madrasas should impact the study of science and mathematics instead of teaching them subjects which are irrelevant in the present age and time.

How should we look at these announcements which ostensibly could lead madrasas on the path of modernization? Yogi’s government, through its actions and polemics, has not been very kind to the Muslims. In fact, he comes from a party which refused to give even a single ticket to Muslim candidates in Assembly elections. The needless controversy over the Taj Mahal created by BJP and left unresolved by the chief minister is still fresh. Understandably then, Muslims will have suspicion about the Uttar Pradesh government’s intention behind introducing NCERT textbooks in madrasas. It is entirely possible that the motive behind such a move is to generate fresh controversy. But can we also see this as an opportunity to discuss and debate what is rotting within our madrasa system?

It is common knowledge that the present state of madrasas leaves much to be desired. The education imparted in these seminaries is outmoded and medieval; there are books of logic (Mantiq) on which students spend hours but hardly get anything out of it. Of course, there was a time when madrasas were able to produce not just master theologians but also some of the finest philosophers, mathematicians and even architects. But after 1857, madrasas transformed themselves into exclusive centres of religious learning. The new Dars e Nizami syllabus initiated by Deoband and subsequently followed by all madrasas in South Asia, concentrated solely on the study of Quran and Hadis.

Post-independence, some states organized madrasas through various state madrasa Boards and tried to rectify the situation by introducing modern subjects. But there were others, what are called azad madrasas, whose numbers are much more as compared to the state controlled madrasas, but who still continue to teach a moribund and irrelevant curriculum to this day. While the state Board madrasas struggle with lack of qualified teachers, the azad madrasas perhaps need to overhaul their whole syllabus to make it relevant to the needs of the present times.

The Sachar Committee report and even before that the Gopal Singh Commission Report of 1986, have reminded us time and again that Muslims are an educational backward minority. The current educational data suggests that the problem of Muslim educational deficit starts at the primary stage itself where schools are unable to retain Muslim students due to high drop-out rate. This has some linkage with madrasas. In states like Uttar Pradesh for example, madrasas run parallel to the school system. Thus a child going to a madrasa will never be able to simultaneously experience the joys of schooling. Wouldn’t it be better if madrasa timings were adjusted in such a way that a Muslim child is able to simultaneously access both? This simple step will help improve the retention levels of Muslim children in schools.

The curriculum needs to change to reflect the changing needs of society. After all, what is the use of such an Alim, who does not know anything about modern history, politics or even geography? Even if the Alim wants to preach about Islam, he has to do it in this world and must have at least some knowledge of how the world operates today. Otherwise, we can only expect the likes of Ulema who masquerade as knowledgeable people only in television studios. Muslim community must realise that today’s madrasa system is doing a great disservice to their aspirations. There is a need to modernize these madrasas and introduce the study of modern subjects in them. We cannot have a situation where a Muslim religious leader is not aware of what is happening in the wider world. After all, if he is to provide service to religion, then it has to be done in this world itself. Therefore, understanding the world in all its complexities should be the primary concern of all education, including Islamic education.

It is also equally important to realise that lakhs of children are studying in these madrasas and the present state of affairs does not equip them to even understand the location of different countries on the world map. In the name of protecting of our tradition, are we not sacrificing the future of these Muslim children? Yogi Adityanath may be doing this for political reasons, but why should we blindly oppose the introduction of a superior quality of textbooks in our madrasas?

The rot within the madrasa system runs deep. Merely introducing modern textbooks is not going to stem the rot. After all, what are the madrasas going to do with these textbooks when there are hardly any teachers to teach them? A survey conducted by Hamdard Education Society found out that there were hardly any trained teachers in madrasas. What was pitiable was that in scores of madrasas, teachers who were teaching science and mathematics were not even qualified to teach these subjects. Moreover, only very few madrasas have availed the benefits of modernization of madrasa scheme and even their subjects have been added haphazardly to the curriculum.

 The average madrasa student is already overburdened by the religious syllabus. Just going on adding modern subjects will only increase such a burden. Thus there needs to be a design as how we need to introduce these subjects and if possible how can we reduce the content of the religious curriculum. Without such open discussion about madrasas, nothing is going to become better. Muslim leaders must understand that neither the Congress, nor the Left or the BJP has done much for them. It is up to the Muslims therefore that they should seize all opportunity which has the potential for betterment of Muslim society. 

Arshad Alam is a columnist with

Republished with permission of New Age Islam.



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