Madrasas declared ‘non-schools’ is an attempt to include Muslims in India’s public life – Tufail Ahmad

Tufail Ahmad“Evidence from past decades proves conclusively that Indian Muslims who enroll in madrasas do not go on to become physicists, economists, space scientists, chartered accountants, software engineers or doctors, not even political leaders. Madrasas are the wheels of this institutional exclusion of Muslim citizens from India’s public life.” –  Tufail Ahmad

Madrasa in IndiaThe Maharashtra government’s move to consider madrasas as “non-schools” and their students as “out of school” has stirred a national debate in India. Opposition politicians and some journalists, without considering a Muslim child’s fundamental right to free and compulsory education, have criticised the decision.

Abu Azmi, the Maharashtra leader of Samajwadi Party, has declared: “Any interference in operations of madrasas will be fought tooth and nail. The Samajwadi Party will fight for the society including Muslims.” Mohammed Zahoor Ahmed of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, a religious organisation with no consequential legacy to the benefit of Muslims, has threatened legal action against the Maharashtra government. A Muslim citizen’s right to free education is not discussed by any politician or journalist.

Evidence from past decades proves conclusively that Indian Muslims who enroll in madrasas do not go on to become physicists, economists, space scientists, chartered accountants, software engineers or doctors, not even political leaders. Madrasas are the wheels of this institutional exclusion of Muslim citizens from India’s public life.

Therefore, if citizens are being excluded from India’s social mainstream and denied the choice of professions in this manner in a sustained way, it becomes obligatory on the Indian Republic to remove such roadblocks from the life of its citizens. Yes, a few madrasa students do enter modern professions, but this is due to their personal striving not due to the contribution of madrasas, much like a girl from a Mumbai slum overcomes hardships to enter the famed IITs, or other institutions of excellence.

Evidence from past decades also proves conclusively that Muslim children who enter madrasas predominantly go on to become the following: Islamic clerics, Urdu poets, imams of mosques, revivalist preachers of the kind found in the Tablighi Jamaat and Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, or political parasites of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind type.

It is simple to observe that madrasas limit options for Muslim children while schools expand their life’s choices. Once in a rare while, a student of Darul Uloom Deoband turns up in Delhi’s television studios for debate or becomes an engineer, which does not automatically mean that madrasas are producing journalists, engineers or experts on international politics. Generally, madrasas paralyse Muslims from opening their minds at a young age when a child’s curiosity should empower them to mentally prepare for inter-planetary travel.

Therefore, it is obligatory on the Indian state to ensure that the country’s education system opens up choices for Muslims in the manner it does for non-Muslims.

Vedic SchoolThe Maharashtra government’s move to treat madrasas and Vedic institutes as “non-schools” and their students as “out of school” is a simple administrative measure that will expand choices of life for citizens, whether Muslims or non-Muslims. This measure is not aimed to dis-empower Indian Muslims.

In fact, it was part of a survey carried out by the Maharashtra government on 4 July to identify and ensure that all children of 6-14 years age enter schools. This is a constitutional objective that the Indian state is required to fulfill irrespective of whether these children are Muslims, Hindus, Christians or others. Effectively, Maharashtra’s move de-recognises madrasas that do not teach mathematics, sciences and social studies.

Under the Right to Education (RTE) Act passed by the previous Congress government, madrasas and Vedic institutes that do not meet the teaching standards in mathematics, sciences and social studies were already de-recognised. The Maharashtra government is merely implementing the RTE Act.

In Indian democracy, education is the only effective tool that empowers citizens in their day-to-day life. Education creates multiple turning points in the life of a citizen, offering numerous career opportunities to progress in life.

However, evidence also shows that madrasa students fail to rise in life because ideas and skills taught to them exclude them from mainstream professions. As a result, Muslims are pushed to the margins of society. While the rest of the society thrives, Muslims end up in ghettos. Madrasas’ overwhelming role is to close doors of public life to Muslim girls, but India’s ministry of women and child development has shut its eyes to this vast problem.

There exists a serious problem with madrasas whose key objective is to spread Islam. Generally speaking, madrasas are of two kinds. One, seminaries established by Muslims which teach the Quran, Hadiths (sayings and deeds of Prophet Muhammad) and Islamic studies – sometimes also teaching basic Hindi, English and mathematics. Such madrasas survive on charities and are not accountable to any government authority for their activities.

Two, in some states such as Bihar, madrasas get funds from the government for introducing science, mathematics and social studies in their curriculum. In these cases, it is clear that some of the state funds are used to finance the study of the Quran, Hadiths and Islamic studies, since all teachers of madrasas get salaries from the state. This is a violation of the Constitution, which requires the Indian state to remain secular.

Under Article 30(1) of the Indian Constitution, religious and linguistic minorities have the “right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.” The Indian Constitution does not offer a definition of “educational institution” but teaching of the Quran, Hadiths and Islamic studies is not the Constitution’s objective and therefore madrasas imparting religious education cannot be called “educational institutions”.

Madrasas teach religion and can benefit from the Article 25 which guarantees the “the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion.” What is important is that every Indian child, whether Muslim or not, is guaranteed a fundamental right to free and compulsory education under Article 21(A), and therefore every child of 6-14 years of age must be in school during school hours of the day. Only after 14 years of age or outside school hours, children can go to a madrasa.

There is a larger problem: madrasas are not designed to preparing Muslims for life in this world. Their sole objective is to teach Quranic subjects and prepare children for the propagation of Islam and for a life after death. Madrasas, whether aided by the state governments or not, excel at this objective. Naturally, students emerge from madrasas as misfits for modern society.

Madrasa Darul Uloom DeobandThe Darul Uloom Deoband is the world’s second largest madrasa after Cairo’s Al-Azhar University.

Let’s look at some fatwas (directives) delivered by it in recent years: talking to fiancé on phone is haram (forbidden); Muslims must not work in banks; women cannot preach or deliver sermons at mosques; donating blood is un-Islamic; saying “talaq, talaq, talaq” to wife on cellphone is valid divorce; acting and modelling are disallowed by Islam; women cannot become qazis (judges); homosexuality is an offence in Islam; adolescent girls are barred from riding bicycles, and so on.

Some Islamists and their brethren on the Left argue that fatwas are merely advisory opinions. However, they forget that these opinions have more power on the lives of Muslims. The ideas contained in these fatwas, whether or not a fatwa is issued formally, are taught by all madrasas across the world, not just in India.

Students who emerge from madrasas in India create a value system based on these fatwas. Also, thousands of students graduating from madrasas like the Darul Uloom Deoband go on to establish numerous similar madrasas, teaching the same retrogressive ideas, producing misfits for our society and creating ghettos in our neighbourhoods.

Each madrasa is a mini-Darul Uloom Deoband that dictates the lifestyle choices in its neighbourhood. It takes just one madrasa graduate to stand up and deliver a sermon that shuts up an entire village of Muslims. Some analysts argue that not even one per cent of Muslims go to madrasas, but this one per cent Muslims from madrasas rules over the remaining ninety-nine per cent of Muslims. – India Facts, 6 July 2015

» Tufail Ahmad is a former journalist with the BBC Urdu Service and Director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC. He can be reached at: tufailelif@yahoo.co.uk

Alauddin Khilji's Madrasa, Qutb complex, built in the early-14th century in Delhi, India.

Madarasa of the Jamia Masjid mosque in Srirangapatna, India. This mosque dates back to the 1700s and is where Tipu Sultan used to pray.

2 Responses

  1. Nice write up.

  2. Madrasas dens of gays, ban them: AMU professor – TNN – Aligarh – May 27, 2015

    ALIGARH: An Aligarh Muslim University professor’s alleged comments on madrassas that they are “dens of vice and homosexuality” has triggered a storm of protest in the campus.

    The professor, Waseem Raja of the university’s history department, has been accused of saying in a WhatsApp message that he sent to a TV channel that “maulanas are involved in such activities” and that the fortunes of Muslim youth will only change for the better if madrassas in the country are banned.

    Chat grabs show Raja saying, “We want removal of madarsa… Where homo sexuality is rampant…Maulanas are part of it”.

    The professor, who has been teaching in AMU for the past three decades, has, however, denied he said any such thing. “I did not say anything like that,” he told TOI on Tuesday. “I have been part of SAARC conferences in the past and I have always spoken about reformation of the community. Are madarsas not part of the community? That does not mean I said such things, my phone was hacked and I have blocked the chat group now.”

    But students have taken to social media to condemn Raja’s remarks. Shah Alam Turk, a research scholar, said, “I was chatting on the group when Raja popped saying such things — his personal views. I messaged him saying ‘You have constitutional rights to express (your views), but don’t defame (madrassas) without verifying facts first. This is prejudice, not logic, and will weaken the community, not strengthen.”

    Other students hit back equally hard. One of them said: “People like you spoil the name of the university. God has given you reason, so think before speaking.”

    Mustafa Zaidi, AMUTA secretary, said the professor should have “calculated” what to say. “Such statements can be misconstrued and can result in anger,” he said, adding, “If he said so in the first place.”

    Rashid Shaz, director of AMU Bridge Course that deals with madrassa students, condemned Raja’s views and said, “Students of madrassas are very cultured and have standards of morality. One should show evidence before questioning them en masse.”

    AMU PRO Rahat Abrar said course of action against the professor will be decided only when the VC returns. “VC is away, decision will be taken only when he returns,” he said.

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