People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
Madrasa Education: Present Scenario & The Muslim Community
RECENTLY a debate on madrasas and Madrasa education has cropped up in West Bengal. It has grabbed the frontlines in both the press and electronic media. In the context of complex incidents in recent times, some significant comments related to madrasas made by our chief minister ignited the debate. He spoke not only on madrasa education, but simultaneously put forward deeper issues like expansion of modern education among the Muslim community; modernisation of madrasa education; progress among the Muslims and their role; as well the fight against divisive trends and maintaining the unity of our country. But those significant opinions did not get mention in the mainstream media, as they do not go well with the recipe of crispy news that the voices of the central home minister and the chief minister of our state sound similar. Before looking at the debate I would first like to discuss some relevant themes.
ISLAM AND EDUCATION
Education has always received great weightage in the Islam religion. The religion emerged in the barren Arabian lands which were both culturally and socially backward. Thus education was put forward as the lamp to illumine darkness. The main theological text is the Koran, where the word llam is used, which means knowledge. It is the second largest word used in the Koran. There it is suggested going to China so as to acquire knowledge.
Hazrat Muhammad won the war of "Badar", and to many this saved Islam. There were many captives in this war who were freed on different conditions. One such condition was that if a prisoner could educate ten Muslims he would be with emancipation. Muhammad expressed this in different language, that the ink from the pen of a knowledgeable person is even purer than the blood of a martyr.
The suggestion to go to China to acquire knowledge, or to get educated from non-Muslim prisoners obviously implied no inclination to religious teachings. Rather, Islam essentially, in several ways, directs acquiring knowledge of the world and modern education. During the period of expansion of the Islam religion it was staked, that there should be no room for long quarrels and hatred in this religion. Restraint, sympathy forgiveness, justice according to law, friendship and harmony are the basic tenets of Islam, whose propagation is compulsory.
MADRASA EDUCATION: PAST & PRESENT
The Muslim population numbers more than a hundred crore across the world. It is too difficult to specifically assess the number of madrasas spread over different countries, but definitely they number some lakhs. India ranks third, after Indonesia and Pakistan in terms of Muslim population. Here also there is a long tradition of madrasa education. Without going into the historical details I would rather try to focus on the present controversy in our state.
In this state the Muslim minorities accounts for twenty-one per cent of the population. Institutes like madrasas emerged as a historical necessity. The intention was expressed quite explicity in 1780, when the Alia Madrasa College, Calcutta was established "to promote the study of the Arabic and Persian languages and Mohammedan law, with a view more especially to the production of qualified officers for the court of justice." People capable of reading and explaining the book of law written in Farsi was an urgent need and Warren Hestings, responded to the demand of a section of Muslims to establish a Madrasa college. A Sanskrit college also received British patronage for similar reasons. So it is a fact that studies in both Hindu and Muslim theology received British favour. For the two successive centuries of the Imperial age there was no exception to the above mentioned fact.
Now, we should take note of the syllabus pursued in madrasa educaion. Madrasa is an Arabic word which means an educational institution. In essence madrasa has nothing to do with studies in theology.
Maktab is a Farsi word which also means an educational institution. But from the beginning, not in our country alone, but throughout the world, studies in Islamic theology have always been incorporated in madrasa education. It would be better to confine our discussion on madrasa education specifically to our state, where it has undergone a long history of different phases, and ups and downs.
Broadly speaking, there are three types of madrasas in West Bengal high madrasa, senior madrasa and khariji madrasa. The first two categotries comprising nearly about five hundred institutes, are registered with the West Bengal Madrasa Board. Many do not know that the syllabus in high madrasas is no longer in its initial form. Mathematics, Social Science, Geography, all are taught, in concurrence with those of schools under the Madhyamik Board. Though negligible in number , some madrasas have also introduced computer studies. Arabic, as a classical language is taught on a large scale which creates additional pressure on students of madrasas.
In senior madrasa English, Mathematics, History and Geography are taught to a comparatively lesser extent and studies in Islamic theology get the greatest weightage.
According to a government order passing in Alis and Fasil should be treated equivalent to Madhyamik and Graduate levels respectively. How much this is recognised in practice is a different question.
Khariji madrasa, where only Islamic theology is taught are not recognised by the Madrasa Board. It is difficult to count their exact number, but no doubt this number is on the issue.
We should consider the social perspective in the establishment of high and senior madrassas. They emerged after independence in Muslim-populated areas with patronage from different political parties. At that time it was easier to get recognition, and moreover, at the primary level they received funds from Zakat-e-Fitra. To many it may seem a religious act, providing employment to Muslim students as well. Quest of knowledge and employment of Muslims are the less major reasons for establishing madrasa. Students passing from the senior madrasa expected prestigious jobs, but since this materialised only for a few, the rest either became priests (Maulabi) in mosques or teachers in the khariji madrasas and delivered speeches in religious gatherings throughout the year. These acts still have relevance in society and the system runs smoothly.
Some people argue that if general schools are available everywhere there is no need of madrasas for Muslims. This is not completely true because in many villages both madhyamik schools and madrasas co-exist with sufficient number of students attending both. The reasons for establishing madrasas were altogether different. There are also examples where the children of a person who pioneered a madrasa, didnt go to his fathers institute but got educated elsewhere and then joined madrasa as a teacher.
Needless to say the syllabus should be further modernised, a point which I have mentioned at the outset. There has been some revision in the syllabus of high and senior madrasas, and more would be done. The main question is how much weightage should be given on teaching Arabic and whether it should be taught as a classical language.
In general, the point is of acquainting the Muslim community, what constitutes one-fifth of the total population in one state, with Muslim theology.
THE CONSTITUTION & RIGHTS OF MINORITIES
There has been a series of debates and discussions among the proponents of our constitution on the rights of minorities in independent India, and how to defend them, which culminated in the present state of our understanding. Even then hundreds of cases related to the issue were brought up in different courts and resolved through specific judgements.
Regarding the freedom of adhering to different religious beliefs our Constitution says "Subject to public order, morality and health and to other provisions of this part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion." [Article 25 (1)]
In the context of rights of minorities on the question of establishing and managing educational institutions, it is said "All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice." [Article 30 (1)]
A direction to all governments is given in this regard "The state shall not, in granting aid to educational institutions, discriminate against any educational institution on the ground that it is under the management of a minority, whether based on religion or language." [Article 30 (2)]
LEFT FRONT GOVT. & MADRASA EDUCATION
There is a concerted campaign that the Left Front government intends to close down madrasas. It has been suggested that it will close down illegal madrasas. But why only madrasas, any government has the right to close any illegal institution. If we concretely assess the situation of Madrasa education in West Bengal during the Left Front regime we see that the reality is quite contrary to the false campaign.
The number of madrasas is more than five hundred. The number of madrasas established during the period of Left Front governance is even greater than that which emerged in the centuries following its inception.
Teachers of high and senior madrasas no longer depend upon the funds from Zakat-e-Fitra but received monthly salaries from the government treasury like others. New teachers with higher qualification are being selected for madrasas through the School Service Commission without any consideration of religious beliefs. In the last budget the Left Front government allocated Rs 120 crore for Madrasa education.
All these measures are exceptional. Moreover, enormous change has been made in the syllabus which received support from the Muslim community as well. It is the Left Front that has uplifted madrasas from the status of mere factories producing mullahs, and integrated them with the mainstream of educational process. Further change is necessary and the government intends to bring about this.
The chief minister talked about this modernisation which is in concurrence with the directives of Islam. Some sceptics view this as a move to aim minorities votes but it needs to be mentioned that no development or progress is possible keeping twenty one per cent of the population in the dark and out of the mainstream.
SOME ISOLATED EXPERIENCE
The Constitution has provided the minorities the right to establish institutes to teach theology. Since there is no need for recognition by the government, it is difficult of know their exact number. There is no doubt that this number is increasing. There is nothing wrong if the government wants to enumerate the madrasas or appoints any agency to survey them, rather it is a necessary exercise for all religious institutions.
Even in remote villages khariji madrasas have large establishments with no lack of funds, while the primary school may not have a roof. Will this go in favour of Muslim community? Only khariji madrasas will receive funds from the Zakat-e-Fitra why not the high madrasa and primary schools? When these questions are raised it is completely irrational and meaningless to allege that this raises doubts about the patriotic feelings of Muslims.
No one can state that teaching in khariji madrasas is modern enough; no one can deny at the same time that modern education is essential for Muslims as well. To take up an attitude of fierce competition, would be detrimental to the Muslims community. If funds flow to khariji madrasas instead of primary schools the whole community will lag behind, lose relevance in social process, and the quest of knowledge much advocated in Islam would be placed out of gear. Where newly constructed khariji madrasas or mosques are breeding anti-nationalists rebels, or instilling terrorism, that should be identified and judged according to the court of law.
There is no question of this. Terrorism is an identifiable phenomenon, which emerged in a definite historical perspective. When mass uprisings and a communist movement threatened the status quo in Muslim countries, terrorism was created and fueled by imperialist forces as an antidote. The imperialist-backed terrorist outfits in Indonesia, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan are witness to this fact. Imperialism has the same intention also in this question.
Recently in a speech president of Pakistan, General Musharraf, expressed concern on the need for modernisation of madrasa education, and integrating it in the mainstream, registering all madrasas, and imposed restrictions on the registration of new madrasas. Political and separatist activities centering in madrasas and mosques have been declared illegal.
Not only in West Bengal, but throughout the world progressive people should come forward in this regard. The problem is more acute in border areas. In those fringe areas we may find a popular Imam who has been propagating religious teaching for several years, but a little enquiry reveals that he is a citizen of Bangladesh, and does not possess permission to reside in our country. He may be respectable person but how can one deny the fact that his residing in India is illegal.
Some people say, let us know where such alien campaigns are going on and identify them, then we will take steps. This approach is too childish. It is the responsibility of the government to take steps, and if this is not done everyone will criticise the government? But the government is not talking about taking steps presently as the situation is not severe. We also have to keep in mind that the ISI network is very active in these areas, and they are using some institutions as their centres of activity. It is quite impossible to assess what contribution this large number of khariji madrasas in our country actually make the progress of the Muslim community, but this is definite, that the gains of development in this society are not due to khariji madrasas. Then what is wrong if restrictions are imposed for at least some time, on the establishment of new madrasas! The need for Maullavis and Maulanas in Muslim community will not be hampered in the least by that. Rather if the funds allotted for these are channelled to Muslim areas for expansion of education and other development works, this would ultimately help the minority community to come forward. The Left Front government is committed to render all support in this manner.
Finally I underscore the fact that ultimately national security is always top priority and it can be ensured only by the people of a country. No compromises can be made in this regard. On the question of national security, unity of the people, independent of caste, creed and religion, is more important than increasing the deployment of armies on the borders. Both Hindu and Muslim fundamentalism, backed by imperialist forces, pose a serious threat to the national security of our country, and we should face the challenge, rising above all sectarian views.