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Changing Winds Blowing Across India’s Madrasas

Madrasa students learning computer (video image- southasiamonitor.org)

New Delhi, March 3— Madrasas, institutions for Islamic religious teachings, are changing as per the needs of the community. Contrary to the image created by the media, they are imparting both religious and modern education to their students.

Here is a text story based on a short video documentary published on southasiamonitor.org. It is part of Positive Journalism Feature supported by Frank Islam Foundation. The video captures quotes of some former madrasa students including Zameer Uddin Shah, former Indian Army Vice Chief and former Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University and Hasan Akram, a Journalist with BBC.

Zameer Uddin Shah says: “In India, the popular misconception about madrasas is that they are factories of, I will refrain from using the word, but it portrays that they are factories of very hardcore people. But that is not the case.”

Hasan Akram, Journalist, says: “The popular notion of Muslims has unfortunately become negative with misinformed perceptions about their education and culture. Mass media has continued to portray madrasas in this dangerous light.”

video image- southasiamonitor.org

Madrasa is an Arabic word for an educational institution. It is widely seen as an institution for Islamic religious teaching. From providing an easy route to royal employment in Mughal India, to playing a crucial role in the fight against the British during the freedom struggle, it is little known that madrasas have made several significant contributions to Indian history. There are glorious examples like Rajendra Prasad, India’s first President, social reformer Raja Ram Mohon Roy, and acclaimed Indian writer Premchand who had studied in madrasas. Though madrasas stress on religious teachings, a sizeable portion of their curriculum consists of secular subjects just like any other school. Madrasas are expanding horizons for young Muslims in India, even as they are building spaces for girls’ education.

Shah says: “I have visited madrasas in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other places. They are normal schools and this is what madrasas in India were before 1857. After 1857, the Muslim community because of the victimisation by the British, withdrew into a shell.”

Akram says: “If you see the madrasas in Kerala or in West Bengal, they merge the regular school curriculum with that of the madrasas. Tis equips the students of madrasas to build a better future for themselves.”

Hem Borker, Assistant Professor, Jamia Millia Islamia says: “The history of madrasas education is a history of continuity and change. And the reason why madrasas have remained relevant is because they have evolved and adapted to the changing needs of the community. We see that in the inclusion of girls, we see that in the wedding of worldly and religious education, we see that in the inclusion of secular subjects, vocational training. A lot of madrasas now have life-skills programmes.”

video image- southasiamonitor.org

Arshad, a former madrasa student who is currently doing masters from Jawaharlal Nehru University, says: “I am from Champaran, Bihar. There is an institution called Jamia Ibn-e Taimiya. That’s where I acquired my education up to 12th grade. After that, I appeared for entrance exams at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and completed my graduation there and now I’m pursuing my masters from JNU too.”

“These students have immense capabilities. I mean if you can memorise the Quran, you can memorise and learn anything. That’s my belief,” says Shah.

Kamran says: “I am very confident that madrasas will continue to occupy a space in imparting education just like regular schools. The second aspect is that madrasas are changing as the society changes. It is like the institution has had a new awakening as they become more modernised with time.”

Arshad points out a problem about recognition of madrasa certificates. “The hurdle right now is that the education and certificates of madrasas are not recognised by the government. So, a madrasa student may be capable and talented but they may not be able to make use of that talent,” he says.

Former AMU VC Zameer Uddin Shah concludes: “Let me tell you, a large number of students have learnt English within one year and 100 per cent such success rate for beating competitive examinations to enter institutions all over the country’s universities, into law, into humanities and arts. They have gotten admission, they’ve gotten into Jamia, Aligarh Muslim University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, all over because what is needed is to show them the path.”

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Independent India’s first education minister and Islamic theologian, had once said: “Education imparted by heart can bring revolution in the society.”

Nobel Laureate, writer and poet Rabindranath Tagore had said: “The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence.”