A clarion call for Madrassas: Time for a paradigm shift in the system

By Dr M A Mufazzal

A ten days online conference was jointly called by All India Student Madrasa Forum and Ulamae Islam in Delhi, to discuss the future of Madrasas in India, where a fair number of speakers from divers sectors and walks of life have participated and expressed their views. The conference concludes with almost a general consensus that substantial changes are required to be introduced into the system to cope with modern challenges.

On the one hand, the conference was successful in instilling the idea of reform and getting the overwhelming responses and representation from all the sects and school of thoughts, while on the other hand it was unable to make out the know-hows and practicalities.

Voices for reforms in the Madrasa system are not new to be debated, it has rather to be seen hand in hand with the project of Islamic modernism in a way or the other, which surfaced more starkly in the post-colonial period in general. The project of Islamic modernism was caught up into a vicious circle of its own multifaceted and contradictory perceptions, hence it could not manage to revive the declining fortunes of the Muslim societies. Consequently, one the one hand, the Islamic modernists increasingly transformed Islam from an elastic ‘ethical and moral public discourse’ to an inelastic, static and codified entity applicable mostly to a very limited, personal and family affairs. On the other hand in its passionate effort to become ‘modern’ the project ended up legitimizing westernization.

Without having a felt impact on Muslim masses and societies the project of Islamic modernism remained an intellectual movement whereas Nadwa and Aligarh movements appear in the subcontinent as the variants of the project. To bring the project on ground it pulled social support from a notable section of westernized middle class who were eagerly looking for a relatively more liberalized version of Islam and this class never let it to percolate down the masses. Hence, it could not multiply and still restricted to have only one Aligarh Muslim University even after a hundred years have passed on it.

Owing to the creamy layer character of the modernist movement, the education system remained torn off between what is called religious or Islamic education (Dini Taleem) and secular education (Dunyawi Taleem), a division that has come to prevail in the medieval Muslim societies which became further cemented under western political hegemony. In addition, a number of factors were added, in the course of time, to keep this resistance intact still. Under attack by western rationalism and positivism this process was further aggravated by transforming Madarassas (originally a learning seat) into a religious institution exclusively dedicated to impart Islamic education, while governmental and private schools became the seats of secular learnings. The Islamic modernists failed to arrest the increasing social gap between Madrasa’s Islamic system of education and masses and westernized secular system of education and elites; hence the gap between the two got widened and Madrasa educations became increasingly irrelevant in the modern world.

Notwithstanding the objective of harmonizing the Islamic culture with western sciences, the modernists could not engage themselves with masses to dispel their apprehensions; their perception of compromising their religious identity and values while seeking secular education. This fear remained instrumental in widening the gap between the so called two systems of education i.e. Dini Taleem (religious or Islamic education imparted in Madrassas) and Duniyawi Taleem (secular education given in public and private schools) in Muslim society.

The continued presence of diarchy in our educational system gave way to western secular educational institutions to exercise almost monopoly over state resources, power, and authority, while the Islamic education system and their products continued to suffer from disenfranchisement and marginalization at each level. The diarchal system was further institutionalized so much so that science and secular subjects were taught only either in English and French while Islamic subjects were offered either in Arabic or indigenous languages.

Bearing this background in mind, it is required to have rounds of deliberations on know-hows, modalities and practicalities in such a way that they could generate a strong social force for change down the masses as against the modernist movement that could not break the limited circle of middle class and intellectuals. The clarion call for change in Madarssas is still ringing to be answered.


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