"Madrasas in the age of Islamophobia" | Lost to the ages
The book narrates the decline of the madrasas from being centres of excellence to institutions of restricted learnings with dark clouds of stigma surrounding them; elaborates Nibedita Saha
“Madrasas are a world much removed from the 21st century India; it is a world where students are not allowed to wear jeans, T-shirts, watch television or learn secular subjects for fear of going astray. This is from a community which was once ahead of the global fraternity in matters of science and mathematics, a community which gave the earliest astronomers, medical practitioners and mathematicians. It is a community negating its past. It is a community caught in a time warp.”
The nature of Madrasas in the age of Islamophobia is one that travels through the dark areas of the Muslim education system, unpacking that which is packed into a nutshell right now. The author rather appropriately starts each chapter with one of the verses from the Quran which explains the concept of Ilm (knowledge) in Islam.
With education being independent of a teacher’s personal faith, many of our early scholars went to madrasas and maulvis, including the first president of our country Dr Rajendra Prasad and social reformer Raja Rammohun Roy.
For centuries, madrasas have been the primary source of education for students who hail from financially poor families. They still continue to serve their purpose of imparting knowledge but problems occur as the system of education limps on with its century-old teaching methods.
As the book delves into the methods and techniques of teaching used in madrasas, it presents a troubling outlook, where students are struggling between ‘religious’ and ‘worldly’ knowledge. This division of knowledge, coupled with a lack of tolerance towards criticism has led to the decline of Muslim intelligentsia.
- Humanity has reached the moon but madrasas still continue their old ways with their notion of knowledge remaining as but a whisper. Instead of asking students to read, think and explore, the focus has been on memorising the Quran with a finger on the book and a cap on the head. With no knowledge of maths, English, science, etc., students have become hafiz (one who has memorised the Quran) without understanding it.
In recent times, the image of madrasas has changed from being places for imparting religious knowledge to spawning grounds for radicalised elements. Several mentions of media reports in the book present a strong argument on the representation of madrasas in our society by political parties and media.
Furthermore, in the recent political climate, political parties have used religion to achieve their political agenda. On the other hand, the media has disseminated these political spin stories without doing their due diligence in asking questions.
One of the writers, Ziya Us Salam, who himself belongs to the media community, has acknowledged that “the media has been both irresponsible and indifferent, casting insidious aspersions on the entire community”. Without stepping inside any madrasas, the media has fuelled the notion of madrasas serving as ‘dens of terror’.
First-hand stories from imams and students in the book give one further insight into life after studying in madrasas. Those who pass through typically tend to pick up the job of a teacher or an imam in some masjid or be a muezzin (the caretaker of the mosque). The usual course of occupations is out of their reach due to their lack of exposure to the outside world. The book emphasises upon the dire need of modernisation in the system of madrasas, a sentiment which I agree with wholeheartedly as the world continues moving ever faster with the advancement of technology. Besides religious teaching, madrasas should expand their focus to functional capacity building of their students. Madrasas should introduce alternative vocational subjects so that when a student steps out of the madrasas, they should not feel like out of place.
In a sign of some hopeful change, in 1993, the Government of India proposed the ‘Modernisation of Madrasas’ program, under which financial assistance was provided to madrasas who were willing to introduce modern subjects in the curriculum. Later in 2004, ‘Scheme for Providing Quality Education in Madrasas’ suggested creating a Madrasa Board to improve the condition for educational empowerment.
Many madrasas came forward to establish the Madrasa Board but still, a large number of them remain unorganised. Lack of funds and infrastructure continue to act as roadblocks for the development of madrasas. Still, the best we can do is to as responsible citizens is to be informed of the plight of the system of madrasas and this book does just that with its language and the well-framed arguments that illuminate the dark corners of our understanding of madrasas.