Modernisation of madrasas crucial for Muslims' progress
Last updated: 12 January, 2010
By Firoz Bakht Ahmed 22:59 IST
The deadlock over a government proposal to modernise madrasas, or traditional Islamic schools, illustrates how a ‘minority mindset’ imposed by the ulema (clergy) and politicians could draw Muslims deeper into the morass of conservatism, poverty and unemployment.
There is a yawning gap between the Muslim educated in modern classrooms and their more numerous counterparts educated at madrasas, khanqahs, Urdu medium schools or simply nowhere. This gulf has widened rather than diminished over time.
Since taking over as the human resources development minister in May, Kapil Sibal has been driving reforms in all areas of education. Among his initiatives is a renewed push for the 2004 madrasa modernisation scheme, which aims to include the teaching of modern subjects in the largely theological curriculum and centralise the management of the thousands of Islamic seminaries spread all across India.
While as the minister of education, Maulana Azad too tried to establish an all India madrasa board to stabilise the religious education with a proper scale for teachers and a proper examination for students; however he was meted out with utmost resistance by Mufti Atiq-ur-Rehman Usmani, Maulana Shibli Nomani and Maulana Hifz-ur-Rehman, all his close associates.
Reforms in education are a must for the community as Muslims are seen with a begging bowl, languishing in their ghettoized slums with their literacy rates plummeting (41.27 per cent against the national literacy rate of 63.07 per cent). Muslim women have just 21.66 per cent literacy rate as against the 40.54 per cent amongst the non-Muslim women according to surveys carried out by Friends for Education.
Not more than two per cent Muslims are in government jobs. Of the 479 judges at the all India level, only 30 are Muslims that makes it just 6.26 per cent. In the IAS, Muslim percentage is a mere 2.27 per cent. Of the 3,284 IPS officers, just 120 are Muslims — just 3.65 per cent.
In the Central government ministries, the figures are pathetic. Of the 59 secretaries in the home ministry (joint secretaries, directors advisors, etc), the percentage of Muslims is zero. The situation isn’t different in the labour, power, defence, finance, external affairs, personnel, public, pension and grievances ministries. Of course, HRD and Information and Broadcasting ministries do have an officer each out of 26 and 33 respectively, making it 3.44 per cent. Of the total 426 officers in all the ministries, only nine are Muslims which means a meagre 2.11 per cent.
Changes are urgently needed to improve the state of the community. A committee under former Delhi high court chief justice Rajinder Sachar, which conducted independent India’s first exhaustive study has depicted how Muslims fare in education and employment compared with others besides establishing that the community was lagging behind in education and government jobs.
A big step
As for modernisation of madrasas, Atyab Siddiqui, legal advisor to Jamia Millia Islamia and a constitutional expert on matters pertaining to the Muslim community, says, “it’s a big step for Muslim education.” The scheme will enable students from various parts of the country to seek jobs of their choice, he says.
Modern education will provide Muslim youth from these seminaries a progressive socio-political outlook as well as help them find jobs and assimilate into the Indian success story. But the consensus deadline passed in August, and there is still no agreement on reforming madrasa education.
Why madrasas dither reform? Many madrasas find the teaching of modern subjects such as science and mathematics alongside the Quran too much of a dichotomy. Sections of the ulema and politicians belonging to the community also view the move as government intervention that will dilute the essentially theological nature of the madrasas.
The madrasa managements think that by accepting the government grant their autonomy will finish and that they’ll have to toe the government line and so on and so forth. However, the main reason is that their oil-dipped Arab grant might not be pocketed by them if the government comes forward.
The Muslim leadership has lost its voice and its utility and is taking the community back to the dark ages that one could see in the Arab nations before the advent of Islam. Most of the leaders play the politics of vote bank to acquire state patronage for themselves and their coteries. Their obscurantism is leading the community backwards.
They are irresponsibly petty minded and possess a narrow outlook out of tune with reality. The rest of Muslims get mere rhetorical lip-service about their social and economic needs and exhortations about the will of God. Instead Indian Muslims are kept in thrall to clerics and ill educated youths whose militancy has done little to free Muslims from the begging bowl.
The Madrasa Modernisation Scheme was proposed in 2004 by the newly set-up national monitoring committee for minorities education, effectively formalising a 1986 government initiative to improve the quality of education at schools.
It provides for setting up an All-India Madrasa Board to monitor the implementation of the modernisation programme as well as help them upgrade infrastructure and facilities. India cannot progress unless Muslims progress.
(The author is a commentator on social, educational and religious issues)