ISSN 2330-717X

On The Need To Reform Madrasa Education – OpEd

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared, “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.”

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Pakistan plans to take control of a network of over 30,000 madrasas (Islamic schools) as part of a drive to modernizing madrasa education in the Islamic schools by bringing the madrasas under state control. The Pakistani government under pressure from the international community, has been making efforts to regulate madrasas and bring them under the government’s control.  Some of the madrasas   are accused of promoting radical ideologies and having links with terrorist networks. “The government of Pakistan … has decided that these madrasas will be mainstreamed…We want to end violent extremism in Pakistan and that will only happen when our children have the same education and opportunities.”- Gen Asif Ghafoor. But if the same step when taken in India there is lot of hue and cry on both sides by the Muslim community and the India hate bashing brigade that India is enforcing the Hindutva ideology on its minorities.

Independent researchers and madrasa bodies in Pakistan however regularly raise questions over the government’s intentions behind the centuries-old institution, raising doubts about whether the motive is to assuage Western fears and misconceptions about Islamic knowledge being regressive and fuel for violent armed groups. 

Strange but true Deobandi Islam emerged in India in 1867.The first madrasa was set up in Uttar Pradesh toward the end of the 19th century. The aim was to indoctrinate Muslim youth designed to revitalize Islam. The Deobandi brand of Islam adheres to orthodox Islamism insisting that the adherence to Sunni Islamic law, or sharia, is the path of salvation and is opposed to any non-Islamic ideas. Most madrasas have been established with the help of hawala money remitted from Muslim countries, especially Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. All of them are controlled by extremist Maulanas who hypnotize the children by administering the ultra-radical dope of Sharia and shape them into ready-made recruits for jihadi outfits and extremist organizations. Declaring the followers of other religions as contemptible ‘infidels’ is a normal practice in most of the Islamic seminaries. The syllabus teaches the students to hate all non-Muslims, especially the Hindus.

Historically madrasas have been a source of religious preaching and education for Muslim children.  Ever since the oil-price boom of the 1970s there has been a phenomenal growth in these religious schools all over India along the border states. In the year 1950, there were only 88 madrasas in India. Their number has risen to over lakhs now. 

Afghan Talibs, the offsprings of Afghan refugees, were brought up in the madrasas and camps in Pakistan with the aim of fighting the Americans and foreign invaders. They studied at Deobandi madrasas, where they were taught a very narrow and distorted version of Islam. The treatment of women in the hands of the Taliban was nothing unusual for them as it was part of the Deobandi-Salafi traditions.

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Madrasas are an integral component of the Muslim education system in India and Pakistan.  More than 90 percent of madrasa students in India belong to poor families. Madrasa students are deprived as it currently exists of other branches of learning like Physical, Social, and Environmental sciences, English, Regional language, Mathematics, Computer learning. This lack of all-round and basic education is a huge handicap for the Madrasa student and invariably places the student at a major disadvantage for competitive exams and jobs. Madrasa education limitations have been devastating for decades and for the future of the youth the earlier the Muslim community and their clerics understand the better it will be. Revamping of Madrasas education towards the overall welfare of the youth in both the countries is well understood by the governments in power but the Mullahs and the Muslim religious lobby of fundamentalists oppose these steps as they will lose their hold once they get educated and aware of the opportunities.

The Indian government recognises the need to “modernise” India’s madrasas. But a section of conservative Muslim clergy has been opposing the introduction of scientific and modern education every time the central government had attempted to amend the curriculum and improve teaching methods. India’s madrasas projected financial outlays for the next two years are likely to be  Rs 250 crore in 2021-22 and Rs280 crore in 2022-23.By 2023, the scheme will be providing assistance to 9,000 madrasas, paying salaries to 27,000 teachers in modern subjects. 

Even the prime minister of Pakistan Imran Khan believes that the enforcement of a uniform curriculum will end existing divisions in Pakistan’s education system. There can be no two views that the country’s decaying education system needs reform. It is also important to bridge the widening gap between various systems of education in the country. He also remarked that people had also adopted the English culture, which for him has been a major reason for Pakistan’s decline a most shocking comment that the English medium system led to “mental slavery”. The fact is that Pakistan lags far behind even the developing nations in science, mathematics, and technology. The country has one of the lowest literacy rates.

In India the ‘Right to Education’ Act 2009, also known as the RTE Act 2009, was enacted by the Parliament of India on 4 August 2009. It describes modalities of the importance of free and compulsory education for children aged between 6-14 years in India under Article 21 (A) of the Constitution of India. This act came into effect on 1 April 2010 and made India one of the 135 countries to have made education a fundamental right for every child. In Pakistan Article 25-A of Constitution of Pakistan obligates the state to provide free and compulsory quality education to children of the age group 5 to 16 years. “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such a manner as may be determined by law”.

When free and compulsory education for children is to be provided by both the countries then why the madrasas continue to mushroom? It appears it is an agenda of the Mullahs and the Muslim clergy on both sides of the border.

“If India doesn’t control Mullahs, Mosques and the Madrasas, peace and communal harmony in India will remain a pipe dream” writes Khalid Umar, originally from Pakistan and is now a Barrister in the UK.

One should believe in the exchange of ideas and cultures. We should adopt the latest trends and practices if they benefit a change, like the education system, secularism, liberalism, and democratic values, but that does not mean we should ape the West to appear forward looking, modern and forgetting our own values. The government of Prime Minister Modi has declared its commitment to the introduction of rational and scientific education in madrasas.

Patial RC

Patial RC is a retired Infantry officer of the Indian Army and possesses unique experience of serving in active CI Ops across the country and in Sri Lanka. Patial RC is a regular writer on military and travel matters in military professional journals. The veteran is a keen mountaineer and a trekker.

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