Dire need of introducing modern fields of education in Madrasas

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Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander is a Valley-based Writer, Activist and Independent Researcher. He is also the convener of Civil Society for Justice and Development (CSJD). In an exclusive interview with Kashmir News Bureau Executive Editor, Rameez Makhdoomi, he talks about his new book and need for madrasa reforms
Q: What motivated you to write a book on Madrassa reforms?
MHS: Madrasas as the institutions of Islamic learning have always inspired me. Madrasas played a pioneering role in the knowledge building. With the colonization of Muslim lands, the knowledge came to be divided into worldly and religious, quite an alien divide to the Muslim world. Though now we exist in a post-colonial era, the division of knowledge as a colonial remnant still continues. Both the madrasas and schools do not intend to learn from each other, incorporate the subjects or texts that they have artificially compartmentalized and unnaturally divided. There have been attempts to bridge the prevailing antagonistic divide among the knowledge systems, but they have achieved little success.



Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) as the oldest reformist Muslim educational institution, under the able leadership of its ex Vice chancellor Lt. General Zameer uddin Shah started the Bridge course for the madrasa students. It is an attempt to bridge this artificial divide among the knowledge systems. The one year course acquaints madrasa pass outs with English, social sciences and computer literacy. On the completion of the bridge course the students are given 10+2 certificate that renders them eligible for admission in bachelor courses of different streams of social sciences including law and mass communication. The present Director of Bridge course that runs as a part of Centre for Promotion of Educational and Cultural Advancement of Muslims of India (CEPECAMI) and a Muslim intellectual, reformist thinker and writer Dr Rashid Shaz invited me to study the impact of Bridge course on students and how it is viewed by traditional madrasa scholars and Muslim educational institutions as a whole. The book “Bridging the Divide: Call of a New Dawn” is the outcome of ethnographic and textual study. It took me over a year to complete this research and with the institutional support of CEPECAMI and individual encouragement of Prof. Rashid Shaz I was able to complete this study.
Q: What was the research methodology adopted by you while penning down the book?
MHS: The research methodology adopted is both textual and ethnographic. The use of questionnaire has also been there during the course of research and writing of this book.
Q: Tell us about the urgent reforms needed in Madrassa system?
MHS: A holistic approach towards madrasa reforms needs to be initiated. At present three types of reforms in madrasas need to be started earnestly. The madrasas need to reform their curriculum, pedagogy and administrative set up. Most of the madrasas are run as personal fiefdoms by their founders and later by their families. Most of them are run on business model pattern wherein the heirs inherit the property and students of madrasas. The curriculum is outdated based on Dars e Nizami that was sufficient to create administrative officers for Mughal Empire, but now most of the texts are redundant to meet the modern day challenges. Further in most madrasas Islam is not taught on the basis of Quran and Hadith but through Fiqh (jurisprudence) that is variegated depending on the school of thought and jurisprudence the madrasa adheres to. Most of the students are taught to defend their maslaks (sects) not Islam. Also, the voices for introducing the subjects like social sciences and English language have met with little success. Thus we witness that madrasa alumina are most outdated when it comes to understanding and tackling the modern challenges. Regarding pedagogy the text-based approach should be relaxed, that includes giving up the teacher-centric approach and replacing it with a student-centric one.



Q: The book “Bridging the Divide: Call of a New Dawn”. What is the content all about?
MHS: The content is related to madrasas and their reforms. It takes an account of madrasas as prevalent in south Asia particularly subcontinent since the advent of British colonialism. The book talks about the voices for madrasa reforms and how the Bridge course is impacting the pass outs of madrasas and surmises that in the coming decade the alumina of madrasas will have more opportunities to look forward to. Bridge course has opened new horizons for the madrasa students that earlier they could not even dream about.
Q: What are the important findings of your book?
MHS: The preliminary and concrete findings of the study can be discovered by reading the book. I leave it for the readers to evaluate my research.
Q: How much do you find need of introducing modern fields of education in madrassa education?
MHS: There is certainly a dire need of introducing modern fields of education in madrasas, like the English language, technical education, and social sciences. If the madrasas do not need to introduce these changes in the coming days they will be left redundant and will be forced by the changes around them to introduce these revolutionary steps. Further, the dichotomy regarding knowledge that divides it into worldly and religious needs to be breached because in Islam knowledge is holistic and this divide between secular and religious, transcendental and temporal needs to be shunned. If these steps are not taken, then madrasas will become fossils of the past who will just be a butt of ridicule and even religious leadership will be snapped from them in the coming times. It certainly is an alarming situation and they seem to be in a deep slumber.
Madrasas further need to undergo drastic changes viz a viz their curriculum is concerned. Madrasas must not teach only religious sciences and theology but a few Pure sciences and deep concentration must be laid on Social Sciences too which are necessary to understand the contemporary problems facing the Muslims. More stress must be laid on contemporary Fiqh and they must not waste time in discussing the issues like Slave-Master relationship as were prevalent those times but it is irony of fate that Fiqh like this is still taught but there is no contemporary Fiqh included in the curriculum (Nisaab). Also, the Tafsir exegesis which is taught is not compatible with the modern times but still it is taught while as nothing is taught about the contemporary Islamic thinkers.
Q: Do you think any more changes are needed in the overall development of Madrasas?
MHS: Islam is a missionary religion and it does not believe only in preaching but in Social Work and Activism but we find very less number of socially engaged Ulama. To counter the propaganda against Islam and Muslims as well as to remove the misunderstandings in the minds of Non-Muslims Ulama and Madrasa students have to come out of their forts and islands and get in contact with common people as well as non-Muslims. They must shun the polemical and debating approach but must initiate Inter-Faith and Inter Maslak dialogue because Muslims are in minority in India and they must take the lead. Also, there is a deep wedge between the Ulama and Rich in North India though in South India they both are socially engaged, this division further needs to be narrowed down.
Though there are lacunas in Madrasa administration too like the nonconformity to Shura and exploitation of teachers by the hereditary administration the Muslim Middle Class is doing nothing to rectify the same and become socially engaged in the community issues. The Middle Class mostly is professional one and they are afraid that if they would engage themselves in Social Activism they are destined to be branded as Fundamentalists and Fanatics by the hostile media hence they keep these activities at arms length so as to remain non controversial but they must shun this stance and take a lead in mediating between the Ulama and Non Muslims.



Q: Your take on the allegations by some sections of media about madrasas promoting extremism?
MHS: Extremism is a very loaded and relative term. By extremism, if you mean exclusivism, upholding the right to be the sole guided sect, righteous people and decrying others as deviated, so yes some Madrasas do promote it based on their selective interpretation of religious texts while subverting the plurality of Islam and its message. But this extremism is confined to intra Muslim community only not towards Non-Muslims. There is some silver lining and Bridge course is trying to rectify this extremism through its intra faith classes and it certainly has positive results.
Q: Your take on Madrasa reforms in Kashmir?
MHS: I would in this regard say that pace of Madrasa reforms in Kashmir should pick up and they should be taken as a priority as Madrasa reforms in Kashmir are long overdue.