Why there is a rising need to regularise madrasa system in India

Madrasas play an influential role in the thought process of a community, whether political or scientific and the revival cannot take place either by shutting down madrasas or by seeing government as an adversary

Zahack Tanvir September 13, 2022 06:41:21 IST
Why there is a rising need to regularise madrasa system in India

Students learning in a madrasa. PTI

The Yogi administration in Uttar Pradesh has announced plans to identify all the unrecognised madrasas, or Islamic schools in the state in an attempt to regularise and modernise the whole system that produces thousands of religious preachers, clerics, scholars, and sermoners every year.

In fact, the administration has given time to all the survey teams to carry out the Unrecognised Madrasa Survey till 5 October to gather the data and hand it over to the authorities.

In 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “The Government of India is leaving no stone unturned in empowering the Muslim youth. We want them to have the Quran in one hand and a computer in the other.”

The government’s decision has received mixed reactions. Some of the reactions are bundled with sheer propaganda to discredit the efforts and to create confusion due to which the regularisation efforts are sometimes handled with confrontation and repulsiveness.

It’s significant to understand the modernisation efforts as well as to recognise the role of madrasas in the country. Both need to go in tandem as any misadventure can damage the societal fabric.

Purpose, role and history of madrasas

The first madrasa called “Suffah” was formed for the purpose of religious learning—by the companions of Prophet Mohammed in Madina. When everyone was going forth for armed services back then, a Quranic verse from (9:122) stipulates that a group of people should stay back and become specialists in religious studies so that they can guide others when they return.

The first Mufti and teacher of Islam was a woman. After the Prophet’s demise, his wife Ayesha established the first madrasa for women in her home. Even men from distant places would visit her to learn the critical issues of religion.

She made a prominent influence on Madrasas as she was well-known for her expertise in the Quran, inheritance laws, legal and illegal issues, poetry, Arabic literature, Arab history, genealogy, and general medicine.

Carrying the legacy forward, various religious schools and seminaries were established in the Musim world from Egypt’s Al-Azhar University to Saudi Arabia’s Islamic University of Madina.

The matter of fact is that there are various sciences that can’t be taught in modern and secular schools. For instance, Quran memorization, Hadith sciences, the knowledge of jurisprudence, etc. Anyone who chooses to specialise in the Islamic sciences to lead and guide people goes for the madrasas while those who want to go for the contemporary professions, pursue the modern schooling system. Hence, madrasas play a vital role in Muslim society to learn, teach, preserve and inherit religious injunctions.

In fact, verdicts issued by the madrasas are deemed as an inerasable decree whether it’s about christening a child or choosing a political leader.

Never miss the fact that madrasas have also played a major role in political upheavals as well. For instance, in 1731, the plan for India’s freedom struggle against the British was prepared by madrasa graduates like Shah Waliullah Muhaddis Dehalwi and Shah Abdul Aziz.

During the Soviet-Afghan war (1979-1989), the US financed and backed the Islamist madrasas in Afghanistan, against the USSR.

It’s fair enough to infer the role of madrasas in society due to the fact that a large chunk of people have always rallied behind the decisions adopted by them, and it’s inevitable to cut off this relationship.

Over time, the political Islamists gained a good grip over madrasas and exploited the prestigious platform for sinister agenda. However, this can’t be generalised.

Madrasas in India

Talking about its presence in India, researchers from Observer Research Foundation (ORF) Mumbai—Aijaz Wani and Rasheed Kidwai said, “Madrasas are an integral component of the education system in India. A primary reason is that historically, the country’s Muslim population have been disproportionately disadvantaged in education. Even as they comprise nearly 13 per cent of India’s population, their enrolment rate at the primary school level (Class 1-5) was a meagre 9.39 per cent of total enrolment figures for 2006. More than 90 per cent of madrasa students in India belong to poor families.”

According to the Ministry of Minority Affairs, India has 24,010 madrasas, of which 4,878 were unrecognised, in 2018-19. Unofficial sources claim that Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind alone runs over 20,000 Deobandi madrasas in north India while other madrasas are run by private religious sects.

It’s a common misconception that only poor families send their children for madrasa education. Children from opulent families can be spotted in the classrooms of Jamia Islamia Sanabil Delhi and Jamia Salafiya Banaras.

Currently, the Indian government faces a challenge in streamlining all the unrecognised madrasas and including modern studies in their curriculum so that the graduates could fit into the progressive environment.

Madrasas under scrutiny

Madrasas first came under scrutiny after the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States in 2001. Many Taliban leaders and Al Qaeda members had been radicalised in these Islamist-led madrasas. Donald H Rumsfeld, who was then the secretary of defence, stated that madrasas “teach people to be suicide killers and extremists, violent extremists”.

Analysis has revealed that 11 per cent of the 79 terrorists involved in the five deadly attacks on Western democracies were educated in madrasas.

In India too, madrasas received a similar backlash for deviating from the nationalist temperament and barring the students from learning science and modern studies, which keeps them secluded from the nation’s progress and economic development.

According to the ORF researchers, “There is a lack of scientific and secular subjects in the curriculum, and graduates find it difficult to find employment”.

When a graduate cannot find employment, he would either choose to become a private home-based tutor, or he would open another Madrasa for survival. Moreover, when he witnesses the progress and growth among the youth of his age, he develops psychological disturbance and repulsive behaviour. This eventually becomes a troubling factor.

Funding sources

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) released a report last week which claims that the funding for madrasas in the nation has increased significantly.

The report claims that madrasas in the nation receive funding of close to Rs 10,000 crore annually, but 50 per cent of this sum originates from “secret sources”.

NCPCR chief Priyank Kanoongo, said, “Our report says that gradually there has been an increase in the income of madrassas. But there has been a 50 per cent decrease in expenditure in children’s food. It is clear that the students’ condition is pathetic. Our report also notes that their syllabus is from Aurangzeb’s time. It is clear that in the name of madrasas, a lot of funds are coming in, but they aren’t being utilized to provide for the children.”

According to the report, despite the multiple funding sources, madrasa students are not able to avail benefits, and they are still stuck up with the medieval syllabus.

But on the other hand, ORF researchers observed that “Unlike in the Christian missionary educational institutions, community funding by Muslims for madrasa education is both erratic and meagre.”

They also stated that, “Funding for madrasas mostly come from the religious orders. There are also Waqf boards that offer some financial support. At present, there is no institutional mechanism whereby charity funds such as zakat and sadqa are channelled to madrasas.”

With the two contrasting narratives, the government is obliged to step in, legalise and regularise the funding system of madrasas, in order to block the intervention of unknown donors.

Quality of education and teachers

A lecturer with a Masters degree in Physics, and a Master of Education degree, won’t be teaching in a madrasa for Rs 5,000-7,000 salary.

Moreover, the madrasas that receive financial aid from the government also struggle with the problem of a lack of textbooks. For instance, the state of Uttar Pradesh reported in 2018 that funding of Rs 47 crore was not released resulting in the shutdown of the madrasas’ programme due to irregular and insufficient funds.

Due to the inadequate and erratic funding system, most of the teachers in madrasas are underpaid, which obviously leads to poor quality of education.

A well-functioning education system needs a regularized and contemporary methodology, which can’t work without the government’s hand-holding.

Madrasa-Government collaboration and improvements

The Imams and scholars who run Madrasas need to collaborate with the government to institutionalise a committee or board that oversees all the irregularities and challenges.

The committee should inspire all the madrasas in the country to evolve into institutes that impart rationality and scientific temperament—while maintaining the “Indian” and “Muslim” identities side by side.

The government should not intervene in Islamic studies—on how to teach and what to teach, as it would become a tool for the political counterparts to disturb the collaboration. Meanwhile, the committee should set up a central system to introduce subjects like economics, history, political science, and even foreign policy.

In Singapore, madrasas use the latest technological devices like tabs and Macs. The Indian madrasas can teach the same to their learners that technology is not “Satan’s tool” to control them but to ease their daily lives. This way, madrasas need to adopt trendy and latest methods instead of sticking to medieval conspiracy theories.

The quality of teachers needs to be improved. The committee should fix a standard and appealing salary, that motivates the recruitment of quality teachers.

Madrasas need to collaborate with the government to understand the upcoming economic demands of the country—and help the nation in producing industry-relevant professionals, who are also eligible to lead Friday prayers and sermons. The graduates should not feel marginalised. They should be capable of integrating into the nation’s hierarchy.

After all, madrasas play an influential role in the thought process of a community, whether political or scientific. The revival cannot take place either by shutting down madrasas or by seeing government as an adversary. Collaboration has to take place for a stronger nation.

The author is a Saudi-based Indian national. He is Director of Milli Chronicle Media London. He holds a PG-Diploma in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI-ML) from IIIT. He did a certificate program in Counterterrorism from the University of Leiden, Netherlands. He tweets under @ZahackTanvir. Views expressed are personal.

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