Madrasa education : The need for reform


By  Javeed Mirza



The Sachar committee states that around 4% of Muslim youth attend Madrasa education in India. If the Muslim population of 2020 is taken as 200 Million and 40% (80 Million) are youth below age 20, it implies that around 3.2 million youth attend Madrasas. 80% of these youth are Male and around 20% female. The impact of the Madrasa is not limited to these students but has a direct bearing on the family members depending on them. The effects of this are felt for generations. Parallel constructs of Madrasa education exist in the neighboring countries. There are shades of differences between them, but they are predominantly akin. Reform of the Education system will bring significant changes in the lives of millions of youth and their families. Mobilization of the Madrasa students was seen in Pakistan and Afghanistan as the students (Taliban) were recruited for waging war, first against the Soviet Union and subsequently against the USA. Educational effort in this sector of Madrasa education is of high importance.

A typical Madrasa has between 100-200 youth but there are Madrasas that have 500- 1000 students. Some Madrasas are exclusively for Boys and some for Girls and some have both.  There is a total separation enforced between the two sexes in places where both Male and female students’ study. Most Madrasas offer Free boarding besides Free education or charge a very nominal fee. The Madrasa institution subsists on Charity from the community and get their funding during Ramadaan and Bakrid festival periods. Students start with the Noorani-Qaida (first step where Arabic script, common to Urdu and Arabic, is learned). This is also taught at the Maktabs (the early childhood religious learning school). The students then move to the Nazira learning stage. This lasts around 2 to 3 years and caters to students of age group 5 to 10 years. The students are taught the foundational aspects of Islam, the reading of the Quran with the proper pronunciation (Tajweed) and memorization of some of the suras. At this point most students stop studying the religious texts and are engrossed in mainstream study. After completing Nazira level of learning, most students stop attending Madrasas and attend Public or Private schools. However, students who continue attending Madrasas, on completion of this stage, get on the track of becoming a Hafiz. This is where the student is taught the memorization of the whole Quran. This arduous task takes 3 to 4 years. The student also gets to know the main gist of the Quran. Some students from here go on to become a Fazil or an Alim (undergraduate courses). Not all Fazil students are Hafiz. The Fazil course is for 5 years. The Alim course is a 8 year course and students are Hafiz. The Alim gets to be knowledgeable about Islam, its Jurisprudence and the Hadees (the practice of Islam as followed by Prophet Muhammad). The Mufti course is taught for those who would like to apply the learning of Islam to contentious issues in the community and is of 3 years duration. The Mufti is qualified to issue rulings (Fatwa) on a topic based on the Quran.

There is a variation in the working of the Madrasas between those established in the North (UP and Bihar) and those in other states. Also there has been some introduction of Computers and vocational learning in some Madrasas. It is at a very preliminary level.  There exist different schools of thought in the Madrasa educational system like the Deobandi, Barelvi, Ahle Hadees, Tableeqi etc. Darul uloom in Deoband is considered the most important of the Madrasa institutions in the country and most Madrasas across the country follow its curriculum.

Madrasas Education has been in existence for many centuries. Madrasas constituted an important segment of Education for many centuries. It catered to the education of Muslims, and in some places, non-Muslims also studied here.  It was in the early twentieth century that Modern Muslims started learning in English. Sir Syed Ahmed. a renowned educational leader and founder of Aligarh Muslim University was a pioneer in the establishment of modern Education. After Independence as education spread, people started availing the Govt. school system and the Madrasa strength decreased. In course of time, the Muslim Middle class opted to teach their Children in local languages as well as in English medium in private institutions. Madrasa’s were reduced to catering the poorest of the students. By offering free boarding and fees it was able to pool its strength.

The NEP linkage to the Madrasa Issues

The recently passed National Education policy (NEP) has direct linkage to the Madrasa school system.

a)  The NEP intends to grow the Educational budget from the present 3% of the Nation’s GDP to 6%. However, no timeline for doing this is mentioned. With the doubling of the educational fund, there will be scope for greater learning and an expanded education could provide the availing of greater learning facilities in the Madrasas.

b)  There is a huge support for the introduction of ECCE (Early Childhood Care and Education) in Para 1.8 Alternative schooling like Ashramshalas are being supported. However, there is no mention of Madrasas as an alternative/ Parallel learning center. Pressure should be built on the govt. so that Madrasas are also allotted funding and status as alternative schools.

c)  Alternative schools should have linkages to industry in the form of Vocational training.  This will provide a source of livelihood for those who are economically weak and prefer to earn in place of learning. Likewise, Entrepreneurial Training can be provided, so Madrasa students can learn to do Business and will be provided with loans for starting business.

d)  The NEP recommends growth of the SEDGs (Socio-economically Disadvantaged groups) in para 6.8 and seeks allotment of “inclusion fund”. There are 60 identified Muslim concentration districts in the country. These must be earmarked for Educational support.  The state or the Center should clearly mark these areas as centers for growth and allocate special funding for establishment of colleges, Vocational centers, boarding schools (for males and females). The growth of colleges will enable the absorption of Madrasa students in mainstream learning after making provision for transfer from Madrasa to regular school.

e) Various schemes need to be incorporated as part of the SEDG like education for OOSC (Out of School Child) education, schools for Girls. Transportation arrangement and provision for Online learning. This will supplement the needs of the Madrasa students.

f) Urdu is mother tongue for tens of millions of Muslims. It is not recognized as one of the mediums of instruction in NEP. It is blatantly discriminatory against the Muslims. Also, Madrasa students get to have a good command of Arabic, having learned the language. Arabic is one of the 5 recognized International languages adopted by the UN. However, among the foreign languages supported by NEP, Arabic is not recognized. This is again discriminatory and targeting one community. It is also short sighted as learning of Arabic can be useful to the community and for the country as the MENA (Middle East North Africa) region practices Arabic and there is a good amount of trade with this part of the world.

g)  The NEP in Para 6.20 recommends “…. to sensitize and develop respect for diversity. Any biases and stereotypes in the school curriculum will be removed, and more material will be included that is relevant and relatable to all the communities “. Madrasa education is a very biased subject and viewed with suspicion and neglect. This aspect of NEP needs to be strengthened and all effort done to show that Madrasa education is an alternative means of education which has its relevance in a country of diversity like India, and only adds to its richness.

Issues of Madrasa education

Missing of Basic Education

Madrasas students are deprived of other branches of learning like Physical, Social, and Environmental sciences, English, Regional language, Mathematics, Computer learning. This lack of all-round and basic education is a huge handicap for the Madrasa student and invariably places the student outside the competitive arena, shorn of marketable skills and inept in adapting to them.

Mainstreaming not viable

The students are unable to join the predominant Public (govt) School system as the two tracks are vastly different. Not knowing the subjects, they are unable to qualify and be mainstreamed in the regular learning school system. Since they do not meet the minimum threshold of learning (passing the Xth grade) they are ineligible to attend Junior college or Vocational learning (ITI and Polytechnic). They invariably drop-out from the regular learning stream.

Lack of job opportunities

This loss of learning and options to attend college or Vocational centers isolates them from regular job hunting and they can only fit in the Madrasa related jobs. These are mainly that of being a Muezzin or an Assistant Muezzin or Imam/Asst. Imam of the local mosque. These jobs are far few for the number of students passing out from Madrasa and they pay a pittance. Most students must seek out their own means of survival by learning skills or doing private enterprise on their own.

Missing of Secular learning

Madrasa education like other closeted education (the Hindu Vedic Gurukul learning institution) is missing in national integration and promotion of secular values. These need to be fixed through measures that foster communal learning and living.


The Madrasa educational system, as it currently exists, is an archaic system that calls for immediate change. It has provided learning in the sphere of Religion but has stunted educational growth and understanding in the diverse aspects of life that are essential for living. Its limitations are profound and its effect devastating. Revamping of Madrasas education should have the following salient features:

1)  Madrasas must run two tracks of education… one catering to Islamic learning. This can be done in the morning and another track teaching all govt. mandated subjects in the afternoon. This will permit an all-rounded learning for the student and will place him/her on a high pedestal of learning. This would prolong the religious learning to some extent but make it viable and substantiative on the other hand. It will not only make the student learn Religion but also enable him/her to learn all subjects and pass standard exams enabling him/her to be admitted into Junior college or ITI /Polytechnic.

2) Vocational center:  The Madrasas physical building complex can be used to start Vocational training. All students from age 14 onwards can be taught Vocational learning. They will have two learning tracks … regular education in the afternoon and Vocational Training in the evening.

3)  Govt. Recognition should be sought categorizing the Madrasas as alternative private schools. All rules pertaining to recognition must be adopted. Govt. appointed Teachers should teach all the regular subjects and their salaries paid by the govt.

4) If Govt. recognition is Not possible, then the Madrasa management must appoint qualified Private teachers to teach all govt. mandated subjects and follow govt. given curriculum. The institution should function as a regular school inviting all community students to attend and charging a nominal fee from all students. For those who cannot afford to pay the fees, it must seek govt. scholarships. To make this viable it must upgrade its infrastructure by adding desks and chairs, computers, library, and other essential learning tools. The management must seek funding from local community leaders and should offer them a role to play in running the institution.

5)  Online Education: Today there is a provision for undertaking Large scale Mass education by employing Technology tools called MOOC’s (Massive Openware Online courses).  This has been in vogue for more than 5 years …example established by reputed universities like Harvard, MIT, Berkeley and others. It permits simultaneous education of hundreds of thousands of students in different corners of the globe. Openware platforms like allow students to learn all subjects like English, Math, Geometry, Languages, Science at ZERO cost. We need to avail these channels of learning and apply them for educational enhancement of the Madrasa school system.

6) Established educational centers with good competency in Computer science and Teaching need to be identified and earmarked as Lead institutions. Madrasas and other small and low functioning educational centers (Urdu/English medium private schools) that need online learning help should tie up with the Lead institutions. Examples of Lead institutions can be MANUU in Hyderabad and AMU and Jamia Millia Universities as well as reputed Teaching centers like Shaheen in Bidar, Azam Campus in Pune etc. The Lead institutions should train the Teachers of the recipient centers as well as transmit lessons to them using IT platforms. The required IT platforms need to be built which will allow the imparting of classes as per the mandated state curriculum. Mentor teachers from the Lead institutions will conduct online classes and the recipient centers will have Trainee teachers who will assist Teaching inside the class.  In case where students are not attending classes, the Mentor teachers will directly teach to students who are attending remote classes on phone/ipad/desktop/Tablet. One lead institution can simultaneously teach many recipient centers using MOOC technology. Payment arrangement need to be made for compensating the work of the Lead institution. The Payment amount will however be extremely low since the classes are spread to tens of thousands of students simultaneously.  This will provide good quality education on a large scale and give spurt to educational standard across-the-board in all schools seeking such help.

7)   IT applications can also be built that will allow the monitoring of student/Teacher attendance, student performance tracking, online linkage with govt. institutions to help obtain govt. subsidies and scholarships and other administrative needs for the efficient and productive running of a school.



  1. Madrasa imparts rote education. Government funds many Madrasas that impart religious instructions as the main subjects. It has become a hobbyhorse for many from the community and those shift the entire burden on the Government.
    Unless the community requests the Government for the nationalization of all the Madrasas, the system shall not work. The community should not have a rigid stand on this aspect. Let all the Madrassa become regular schools. Religious education that leads to exclusionary attitudes, be taken care of at Maktab levels. Unless it is done I don’t see any perceptible change in the educational level of Muslims. It is self-inflicted pain and agony on them. Let them make an earnest request to Government and stop taking funds from Government for imparting religious instructions. The government is always starved of funds.
    Good Luck


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