LUCKNOW: As dusk falls, it’s time for class at the Islamic Centre of India at Aishbagh Eidgah in Lucknow. Most of the students here are boarders who come from places as far away as Assam and West Bengal. There are evening scholars as well who study in mainstream schools by day and come here for elementary knowledge of Islam in the evening.
Founded by the Islamic scholar Allama Nizamuddin Farangi Mahli, the author of Dars-e-Nizamia, the syllabus followed by nearly all madrasas in the Indian sub-continent, this madarsa has over 500 students – 300 boys and 250 girls. For girls, there is a separate establishment in which education up to Almiat (equivalent to Class XII) is imparted.
Besides the Islamic curriculum, children here are given mainstream education with a focus on religious knowledge and moral education. They are given free books, uniforms and mid-day meals. There is no tuition fee for the curriculum which includes computer education and English.
This decades-old seat of Islamic education has 20 teachers teaching over 500 students enrolled in Tah Kania (Primary), Sau Kania (secondary) and Alia (senior secondary) sections.
Students are free to follow regular school education simultaneously. For those who attend secular schools during the day, special evening classes are run to teach them the basic tenets of Islam, its jurisprudence, and theology. Full-timers are those who want to go for higher studies in Islamic learning.
After graduating from here, students join higher centres of Islamic studies like Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama in Lucknow, or the Darul Uloom in Deoband. Many others also take admission in institutions like Aligarh Muslim University, JNU, Jamia Milia Islamia where avenues for Islamic studies are available.
However, the impressive infrastructure at the Islamic Centre is far removed from the state of its poor cousins in the neighbourhood or over a thousand others spread across UP. A few kilometres from the Islamic Centre, there is a government-aided madarsa with barely any infrastructural support. It depends on government aid which comes once in six months. Even the salaries paid to teachers are irregular.
As a result, most of the staff have left the madarsa for better avenues. It is at present left with just four teachers besides the principal who is threatened by them of taking a legal recourse if not paid their dues. “With irregular flow of aid, it becomes difficult for us to run even the basic curriculum, what to talk of modernisation,” says the manager, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
You do hear criticism of the government's efforts to 'modernise' madrasas. "The government must realise that these centres of education are meant to impart Islamic learning to produce religious teachers and maulvis. Only those students who want to go into the field of religious teaching study in madrasas. Other Muslim children who want to become doctors, engineers and so on join general schools. So, why is the government trying to create this confusion? Will it allow a paper on ‘deeniyat’ (Islamic religious studies) in a medical college,” asks a teacher, pleading anonymity, at a madarsa in Old Lucknow.