After years of resistance, why it’s time for Madrasas to go modern



By Nithin Sridhar

Madrasas and other institutions that do not teach subjects like Math and Science will not be recognized as formal schools, according to the latest decision taken by Maharashtra government. Further, they will not receive state funding and the students in them will be marked as “out of school”. Hence, around 1.5 lakh students enrolled in 1889 registered Madrasas will stand to be marked as being “out of school”.

Though the Minister of State for Minority Affairs, Mr. Kamble has clarified that the measure is aimed to make sure that such students can be included into mainstream, it has been heavily criticized by Muslim leaders and opposition parties. Kamal Farooqui of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board has been quoted as saying- “It is ill-designed and ill-timed, I don’t know why they are doing it.”

But what is being ignored by all the critics of the decision is the fact that without imparting education in crucial subjects like Math, Science, Social Studies, Computers, and English, no modernization is possible.

What are Madrasas?

Madrasas are centres of Islamic learning. Although some Madrasas teach secular subjects like logic, language (Arabic through the medium of Urdu), Islamic history and geography, in general, they have a religion-based curriculum focusing on the Quran and other Islamic texts.

They do not train students in modern science, technology and value systems. The major difference between Madrasas and regular schools is that the education imparted in Madrasas are not enough to qualify the students for employment in modern-day offices.

In 2013, Maharashtra government had launched Dr. Zakir Hussain Madrasa Modernization Scheme, under which the government will fund various activities like building libraries, hostels etc. of those Madrasas that would enroll with the scheme.

In return, these Madrasas were asked to teach Math, Science, Languages and Social Sciences. But, only 556 Madrasas availed this scheme in 2014-15. Further, the religious clerics raise the issue of government interference, every-time there is an attempt at introducing Madrasa modernization schemes be it in the states or at the centre. This clearly depicts the reluctance of Madrasas to modernize themselves and mainstream their students.

Why is modernization necessary?

Madrasas in India originated during Delhi Sultanate. It was primarily a medium to equip the youth for administrative services of the Sultanate. Since the cessation of Muslim rule in India, graduates from Madrasas largely remain unemployed except for those few who continue studies in departments of Islamic studies, Arabic or Urdu in some of the modern Indian universities. Many of the Madrasa students find it difficult to get into higher education because of the lack of education in Math and Science. This directly contributes towards poverty prevalent among various Muslim communities.

In his report regarding introduction of modern education in Madrasas, Justice M.S.A.Siddiqui notes- “Most of the Madarsas are averse to the introduction of modern education. Some of the books taught in this system are antiquated and others have become irrelevant to the global society we live in. The curriculum of majority of Madarsas is exclusivist, which could give rise to fundamentalist tendencies among the students. It is a welcome trend, however, that some of the Madarsas have introduced modern education complemented with religious education.

In majority of these Madarsas, though, the students have no access to modern secular education. This not only breeds a sense of alienation, but also isolates them from the inclusive society that India is. General secular education will open the doors of perception and act as the natural light of mind for our people to live pro-actively in the total contest. If modern education is introduced in these Madarsas, it will certainly create conditions for promoting modern and secular outlook among students and empower them to participate as equal partners in an inclusive society.”

Justice Siddiqui further points out that the managers of Madrasas are completely confused regarding the objectives of Madrasa teachings. The curriculum prescribed in the Madrasas are neither uniform nor scientific. He cautions that-“What students learn in Madarsas is very largely based on religious instructions that fail to equip them with the skills required today. Muslims in India must realize that they are actually scraping the bottom of the education barrel in an era of internationalism.”

“Dar-ul-Uloom, Deoband” and “Dar-ul-Uloom Nadwat-ul Ulama, Lucknow” are two of the premier institutes of Islamic learning in India. They have a comprehensive syllabus that covers wide range of topics. The Nadwat-ul-Ulama of Lucknow also brought about certain far-reaching changes in the traditional curriculum of the Qaumi Madrasas. The primary five years cover complete primary education as prescribed for general schools along with giving religious lessons.

But, these changes are only limited to famous and well established Madrasas. A large number of Madrasas are neither affiliated to the Central Board nor registered with the state government. According to Maharashtra government’s data, only 1889 Madrasas are present in Maharashtra. But, Maulana Syed Athar Ali, a Muslim Personal Law Board member, has been quoted as saying that there are7000 Madrasas in Maharashtra.

It means that more than half of the Madrasas in Maharashtra function independently and have their own syllabus giving more importance to Islamic subjects and in some cases completely ignoring secular subjects. This has resulted in alienation and further deprivation of Muslim students who study in these Madrasas.

Therefore, it becomes very vital to bring about modernization of Madrasas for the benefit of the Muslim population of India.