Vice President Mohammed Hamid Ansari Wednesday urged the Muslim community to embrace modern education to stay in tune with the changing times and overcome its social and economic backwardness.
"Education is the most important socio-economic challenge for the Muslim community. Its deficit is the biggest impediment to its (the Muslim community's) progress, prosperity and empowerment," Ansari said while inaugurating a two-day Muslim Education Conference organised by Maulana Azad Vichar Manch (MAVM) here.
He said that "though Islam placed great importance on education and learning, many Muslim communities in India have long ignored the need to acquire education, and through it, knowledge".
"The modern period of Islamic history begins with decadence within and intrusion and menace from without. The quest for knowledge was replaced by apologetics," Ansari said, quoting a scholar.
"Lack of education has led to higher unemployment, rampant underemployment and confinement to traditional, low-paying professions, and under-representation in the modern organised business sector," Ansari said.
Although the educational backwardness among the Muslims was known before, the Rangnath Mishra and Sachar Committee reports brought forth the ground reality with official data.
The reports stated that the literacy rate among Muslims was 59.1 percent compared to the national average of 64.8 in 2001, with the gap greater in urban areas.
In higher education, while seven percent of the total population were graduates or diploma-holders, the figure for Muslims stood at four percent.
While enrolment of Muslim boys and girls in primary education has shown significant improvement, Ansari said more efforts were needed at the secondary and tertiary levels.
"In rural areas, schools for girls up to senior secondary levels should be made mandatory to ensure that girls continue their education with the need to impart vocational training which leads to better employment potential," Ansari said.
He called for introspection and remedial measures from within the Muslim community.
"India cannot emerge as a modern, developed nation-state without its largest minority being a part and parcel of the growth story and being fully integrated in the national mainstream in all spheres," Ansari said.
To illustrate, he cited the examples of Malaysia, Indonesia, Iran and Turkey which have reaped the benefits of high literacy levels.
Attended by over 1,500 delegates from around the country, the two-day conclave will deliberate on various issues confronting the Muslim community, strategies for education, education for Muslim girls, utilizing Wakf funds for education and other topics.