17-year-old Mohammad Irfan, whose father is a daily wage labourer named Salauddin in Uttar Pradesh’s Chandauli district, has achieved a remarkable score of 82.71% in the Uttar Pradesh Madhyamik Sanskrit Shiksha Parishad Board’s Uttar Madhyama-II (class 12) exams.
The board mandates Sanskrit language and literature as two mandatory subjects, in addition to other subjects.
Irfan, who aims to become a Sanskrit teacher, stands out as the sole Muslim student among the top 20 performers in both classes 10 and 12.
The boy was enrolled in Sampurnanand Sanskrit Government School due to financial constraints, as it was the only affordable option for his father, who earns a daily wage of Rs 300. The school charged an annual fee of Rs 400-500.
Irfan belongs to a religiously devout Muslim family, and his father mentioned that they have always encouraged him to pursue his aspirations without any hindrance.
“In junior classes ‘Sanskrit’ was a compulsory subject and it was from there that he developed a liking for the language. He now plans to do Shastri (equivalent to BA) and Acharya (equivalent to MA) and will then look for a job as a Sanskrit teacher,” he said, while speaking to The New Indian Express.
“I’m not sure why people associate a language with a religion. A Hindu can be extremely good at learning Urdu, while a Muslim can be very good at studying Sanskrit. I am a graduate who understands the value of education,” Irfan said, addressing media on the question of people connecting certain languages with some religions.
Irfan’s father says Salauddhin said, “I am happy that Irfan has chosen a different path. He had a keen interest in Sanskrit right from the beginning and wanted to study it further. I had no problem. I encouraged him to go ahead as it was something different for a Muslim student. His diligence has borne fruits.”
“I strongly disagree that a Muslim can’t study Sanskrit or a Hindu can’t be an Arabic or Urdu scholar,” adds Salauddin. “I have no problem with Irfan’s choice of subject?” said Salauddhin.
The father fondly remembers how his son took an interest in Sanskrit. According to him, his son began studying Sanskrit in the junior classes where it was a mandatory subject. When his son chose to continue studying Sanskrit in class 12, the father supported his decision and encouraged him to pursue it.
“Irfan wants to do Shastri (equivalent to B.Ed) and Acharya (equivalent to MA) and then wants to become a Sanskrit teacher.”
Jai Shyam Tripathi, the principal of the college where Irfan studied, commends his student and holds him in high regard. The principal notes that Irfan has consistently been a diligent and hardworking student, and has even brought prestige to the college through his achievements.
In recent times, there has been an increasing trend among the Muslim community to break away from stereotypes and pursue the study of Sanskrit, an ancient language whose grammar was scientifically developed by Rishi Paanini. In fact, last year, an Islamic institute in Kerala set a precedent by providing facilities to teach Sanskrit.
One particular Muslim educational institution in Thrissur, Kerala, stands out due to its unique sight of students dressed in long white robes and white head-dresses, chanting Sanskrit slokas and mantras under the guidance of their Hindu teachers.