April 2002 News

Modernise Madrassas

11 April 2002
The Times of India
Syed Zafar Mahmood

New Delhi: IT is universally believed that the panacea for the multi-faceted problems of any community lies in the removal of illiteracy. That is one reason why Islam`s last messenger, the Prophet Mohammad, laid emphasis on education. It is very clear that he did not prescribe exclusively scriptural literacy. One must read and understand the holy books. Such an exercise strengthens the umbilical cord between humanity and the Creator. It is well known that the Prophet called for acquiring knowledge even if for that purpose one had to go China (then infrastructure-wise the farthest point). We are also aware of his decision to release those prisoners of war who had the capability to teach children. The Koran is full of injunctions for gaining all types of knowledge that is useful to humanity. Thus, Islam attaches great importance to what we can call modern scientific education. The Central government and Parliament have done well to imphasise the education of children in the age group of six to 14 years. They will do their best to expand the Indian educational base. But, about 20,000 new schools will have to be opened in order to give effect to that resolve. Thus, society will have to contribute substantially its mite. There are innumerable empty buildings all over the country which belong to absentee landlords. Many are falling apart due to lack of resources for maintenance. People often pass their lifetime without putting the property to any good use. Similarly, many people construct properties simply as an insurance for old age without actually residing in them. It`s not difficult to convert this brick and mortar into a real investment which is guaranteed to stand in good stead in the future. The owners should allow their property to be used as schools for a consideration. Another vast field which requires the educated Indian Muslim`s benevolent attention is the countrywide network of madrassas (the very mention of which has unfortunately started, of late, setting off alarm bells thanks to the tarnishing of the madrassa image across the border). The term madrassa is the Urdu equivalent of school. The Prophet`s mosque in Medina was originally not just a place for daily prayers five times a day. It was much more an educational facility for the community. Expanding that concept, maktabs (small schools) were opened in mosques and, wherever warranted, bigger schools, independent of the mosques, were opened. These generally came to be known as madrassas. Delhi`s Anglo-Arabic School is really a 300-year-old madrassa. It is true that madrassas were established in India and elsewhere basically to impart scriptural education. But, what is a convent? Chambers Dictionary says that it is an association of persons secluded from the world and devoted to religious life. There are hundreds of convent schools in India and many more across the world. Even in India, we take pride in saying that our child is studying in a convent. This is because these convents have now made themselves centres of modem learning. The madrassas should try and emulate the example of these convents. As administrator of the combined wakf board of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh a few years ago, I had the opportunity closely to watch and monitor the working of hundreds of schools and madrassas. As I was once visiting a madrassa in Haryana, the headmaster asked a six-year-old child to stand up and recite the funeral prayer which he did fluently. I realised that I do not have any friend nor a family member who knows the funeral prayer by heart. But I have to die. It will be people like this child who will recite my funeral prayers. Likewise, there are many other aspects of religious learning which are basically essential for a Muslim. All over the world, Muslims have to offer five daily prayers as per the timings determined by the various phases of the sun. They recite the Koranic verses. In fact, the first part of each rakat (one set of standing with bound hands, bending and prostrations) always comprises the seven opening verses of the Koran. This means that Muslims have to learn by heart at least some portion of the Book which they are taught at home during childhood by their madrassa-educated tutors. But what does the community give to the latter in return? A life of little means? Can they read roadside hoardings? Can they fill a railway reservation form? Are they well-equipped to earn a livelihood between any two mandatory prayers? Are they in a position properly to bring up their children? It`s never too late to introspect and attempt remedial action. This calls for what we can broadly refer to as the modernisation of madrassa education. The ministry of human resource development has a separately budgeted scheme for this purpose. Some states have established madrassa boards. But the governments can only take the horse to the water. The community has to make the horse drink. It has to activate itself and channelise and monitor the proper and regular utilisation of the scheme. In the Punjab wakf board, I had convened a conference for the modernisation of madrassa education which was attended by a cross section of eminent people running madrassas, besides other religious luminaries. The conference had recommended that in addition to the existing religious syllabus, the madrassas should also teach Hindi, English, Punjabi and mathematics. Besides, at the completion of the six to seven year of a regular madrassa course, a year`s simple technical course should be made mandatory for the students. Similar recommendations were made at a seminar organised a few years ago by the India Islamic Cultural Centre, New Delhi. Thus, in the Punjab region, Rajasthan and some other states, some of these additions have already been made in the syllabi of several madrassas. But a lot more needs to be done in this direction. Thus, for expanding the Muslim educational base, two very viable routes are available. Opening new schools for modem education within the existing unutilised private properties and modernising the madrassa education. The Indian Muslim intelligentsia will have to do some soul-searching and find out if it is discharging fully its obligation toward the educational upliftment of the community.


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