By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath seems interested in the madrasa education system in order to examine and overhaul it. Recently, he has instructed the officers of the minority welfare department to ‘modernize the madrasa education’. He seeks to introduce new courses, vocational training, modern sciences and secular subjects in their religious curriculum. Apparently, a complete and coherent madrasa curriculum which is, for too long, an overdue is expected to be evolved in the new government in Uttar Pradesh. It is supposedly being worked out with an emphasis on the vocational education and skill development in the madrasas. On April 12, Business Standard reported: “during the presentation of the minority department, the Chief Minister asked officials to modernise madrasa education and include English, professional and skill development courses also”.
Notably, during the review of the minority welfare department, CM Yogi Adityanath also directed that land be identified in every district for construction of community centres for minorities and all arrangements be made for Haj pilgrims. For many analysts, this could be another ‘appeasement policy’ of the drastically changing BJP party for the Muslims in Uttar Pradesh. But the renewed madrasa discourse has triggered a pertinent question: Will the Yogi Sarkar (government) change the education system of the state’s Muslim seminaries which was conceived by the eminent Ulema of Firangi Mahal and was wholly adopted by the Lucknow-based U.P. Board of Madrasa Education?
Clearly, this would be typically seen by the ‘conspiracy theorists’ among Muslims as an ‘onslaught’ of the ‘Hindutva nationalists’ on the madrasa education system. Nevertheless, unlike the previous governments which loudly announced the ‘reform movements’ in the UP madrasa, Yogi Adityanath’s government is gearing up for a major overhaul in the age-old madrasa education system. Apart from the new vocational courses which are highly required in the educational curricula of the UP Madrasas, tech-based education programmes and professional skill development will also be included in the new educational curriculum.
But for a close observer, this development is also indicative of an ongoing internal overhaul in the outlook of the BJP leadership towards the Muslims in Uttar Pradesh. One could recall that an MP of the same party from Unnao had blamed the Madrasas for “imparting terror education” and “breeding thee Jihadis”. He went to the extent of laying this claim: “Show me one madrasa where the national flag is unfurled on Independence or Republic Day”, as reported in Hindustan Times.
Given this kind of previous hostile remarks, the recent instruction of Yogi Adityanath regarding the constructive development of the madrasa education system is an utter surprise. Clearly, it indicates that the BJP is trying to distance itself from its alleged animosity towards the madrasa tradition, at least in Uttar Pradesh, if not in the entire India.
For the education system of Indian Madrasas to be properly reformed and vetted, the Dars-e-Nizami curriculum which is being taught verbatim and word for word, for over two centuries, will have to broadly include the secular subjects like history, geography, science, sociology including the language skills. Notably, Uttar Pradesh CM has clearly pointed out the need for this paradigm shift in Madrasas in his statement wherein he said: “history, geography, mathematics, science and English will be an integral part of the modernised madrasas’ educational curriculum”, as the leading Urdu newspaper in India, Inqilab reported on April 14.
Needless to say, if the graduates of Madrasas are already anchored in these subjects, they will possess the required capability to face several competitive examinations on both state and national levels, particularly the civil service exams. Besides this, the revitalised curriculum with the vocational education and skill development well-embedded in it will open up worthwhile opportunities for the madrasa graduates, especially if they grasp the English langue skills. Since they are, more or less, well-versed in different eastern languages like Arabic and Persian (Farsi), they land up the lucrative jobs in embassies, medical tourism, journalism and translation directories in several countries.
Since Uttar Pradesh churns out the largest number of madrasa graduates in India, the UP-government’s plan in the state’s Madrasas will considerably turn out a productive move. Interestingly, CM Yogi Adityanath has recently planned a broader overhaul of the state’s entire education system in an attempt to blend the nationalist and modern curricula. “The traditional and the modern education should blend. We should have an education system which promotes nationalism but is modern,” he said talking to the media.
Unquestionably, the development of a modernistic, rationalistic and progressive educational curriculum in Madrasas is a long overdue. It is required to fulfil the need for the traditional Muslim clergy (Ulema) to broaden their worldview and intellectual horizon. Therefore, if the UP government introduces a modern scientific temperament in Madrasas, it will certainly help the Ulema who are still looked up as thought leaders in the practical life of the Indian Muslims. Such an attempt aimed at equipping them with the modern tools and sophisticated skills will greatly help the larger Muslim society to usher in a more empowered and enlightened leadership.
This should have stimulated a critical and healthy debate on the educational reformation in Madrasas as well as other seminaries and educational institutions. But it seems that the current wave of political bashing will paint it with the same brush. Barring a few Hindi and Urdu media outlets, the mainstream media have surprisingly overlooked this big news.
However, for a critical appreciation of this issue, this writer has talked to a number of well-versed Islamic scholars who have rigorously researched the madrasa education systems in India.
Talking to this writer, an expert on madrasa education, Professor Mahan Mirza of Notre Dame University, who is also a Lead Faculty of the Madrasa Discourse program, underlined the imaginative ways of reforming the madrasa theology by including the subjects of science, philosophy and shared values. He stressed the need for constant revitalization and renewal in the madrasa theology (Tajdeed Fil Deen). He said: “Madrasa students should be exposed to critical thinking and the construction of new knowledge in the service of their societies. Upgrading the capacity of the Madrasa students will have a multiplier effect on millions of India’s Muslim population and beyond. As advocates of theological literacy that values human dignity, the next generation of Muslim leaders can confidently engage the world with shared values across cultures and traditions. The transformative impact they will have is a long-term goal of the project”.
This writer also talked to the author of “What is a Madrasa?” Dr. Ebrahim Moosa, who graduated from the Lucknow-based Dar ul Uloom Nadwa, India’s most advanced Islamic seminary with its branches across Uttar Pradesh. Drawing on his own years as a madrasa student in Uttar Pradesh, he offers practical suggestions to both Muslim leaders and the governments’ policymakers for madrasa reformation. He says: “Even the best reforms of madrasa education in India and Pakistan today hardly meet the minimal standards of what is required in terms of reform. In an experimental “Madrasa Discourses” project conducted by the University of Notre Dame, we have witnessed the transformative experiences many recent madrasa graduates experienced. They are challenged intellectually and they have shown to be most capable in acquiring the skills necessary for them to become thought leaders in their communities.”
However, he avers, many analysts ‘hide their heads in the sand’ and fail to address the crucial issues pertaining to the madrasa system. He opines that often policy makers execute decisions based on media impressions or faulty intelligence reports. But at the same time, he says: “The madrasa leadership in South Asia and elsewhere does not comprehend that the negative image of the madrasa also impacts the reputation of Islam as a faith tradition. The betterment of these institutions and their graduates can only add to the flourishing of Muslim communities globally. I share my own experiences with the leadership of the Madrasas in a candid manner with a view to start a conversation leading to progress”.
In his book, Prof. Moosa explains how understanding the madrasa systems is relevant to a better acquaintance with the largest Muslim minority in the world’s largest democracy in India. He considers it essential to delve deeper into the “prospects for peace in Afghanistan, dialogue between Washington and Tehran, the UN’s bid to stabilise nuclear-armed Pakistan” and other geopolitical situations.
Indeed, ‘madrasa’ is at the heart of the current geopolitical issues of Muslims across the world. Without a deeper analysis of the historical significance and the current function of the madrasa in the Muslim societies, their religious, cultural and political affairs cannot be grasped in the desired manner.
Dr. Waris Mazhari, an alumnus of Dar ul Uloom Deoband who has done his PhD on the Indian Madrasas, and is a lecturer at the department of Islamic Studies in Jamia Millia Islamia, says: “the most urgent task to achieve in the madrasa education reform is the conciliation of traditional Islamic thought with the contemporary scientific and philosophical worldviews. Particularly, the Islamic scholastic theology (Ilm ul Kalam) and the Islamic jurisprudence (Ilm-ul-Fiqh) have to be more open to an objective study”.
This comment reaffirms the reflections of many recent madrasa graduates including this writer. After a rigorous analysis of the madrasa curriculum known as “Dars-e-Nizami”, I contend that Indian Madrasas in general and those in Uttar Pradesh particularly need radical reforms in various areas of study. First and foremost, all textbooks and references that peddle the ideological extremism, exclusivism and Islamist supremacism must be removed from the large corpus of the madrasa literature. They need to be replaced by the universal and essential messages of Islamic scriptures, which call for the unity of existence, religious pluralism and brotherhood of mankind.
But since its conception in 1748, the orthodox curriculum of Dars-e-Nizami is taught in almost all Indian Madrasas as a ‘verbatim revelation’ which has the ‘divinity’ of being unquestioned. Replete with the fruitless theological polemics, it shackles and spoils the impressionable minds of the young Muslim students who are deliberately kept in the dark about modern sciences and secular subjects being taught in other educational institutions.
More deplorably, the spiritual treatises compiled by the early Sufi saints which were part of the Indian Madrasas for a century, are absent from the existing madrasa textbooks. As the founder-editor of NewAgeIslam.com, Mr. Sultan Shahin pointed out in a paper presented at a seminar in Srinagar, Kashmir, even the Sufi-oriented Madrasas in India have purged their syllabus of the historical documents of Sufism (Tasawwuf) such as Rumi’s Masnawi, Sa’adi’sGulsitan and Bustan, Suharwardi’s Awariful Ma’arif, Daata Ganj Bakhsh’s Kashful Mahjub, Nizamuddin Aulia’s Fawaidul Fuwad and even the Sufi poetry of Ameer Khusrau and Shirazi.
First posted on New age Islam