Malala Yousafzai, the world’s youngest Nobel Prize winner, was shot and left for dead on October 9, 2012, by the Pakistani Taliban because she was a Muslim girl who wanted to study. The tragedy of Islam is that its global face is no longer the astronomer Ben Mousa, the reformist Saudi princess Adila bint Abdullah or the moderniser Mustafa Kemal Atatürk but the submachine gun-wielding, murderous, floppily dressed young illiterate with a ragged beard and a vicious temperament. For him, education is a rejection of all the knowledge the world has accumulated through the centuries.
The Maharashtra government’s decision to derecognise madrassas that do not offer mathematics, science and social studies as formal schools is the first major step to revolutionise the education of Indian Muslims and make them knowledge-competent in global society. This has the ‘secular’ forces up in arms, since the Congress party and its ideological safari partners believe that the minority vote has to be cultivated and retained at any cost, even if it means promoting radical theology and fire-breathing mullahs, who are mostly illiterate. In the 11th to 14th centuries, considered by scholars as the Golden Age of Islam, madrassas instructed students not just in religion but also taught mathematics, astronomy, astrology, geography, alchemy, philosophy, magic, and occultism. As Islamic civilisation declined post the Industrial Revolution when Muslims rejected scientific advances like electricity as un-Islamic, religion became a nostalgic refuge of identity.
Politics is also geography. Most Indian Muslims live in the rural interiors of UP and Bihar, where education and employment opportunities are subnormal while their numbers in high-growth states like Maharashtra, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Haryana and Gujarat are less, giving them little access to major markets.
The Fadnavis government has clearly stated that the move is aimed at not just madrassas but also at schools which teach only Vedic studies. As per the 2001 Census, the total literacy rate among Hindus is 65.1 per cent of 82.8 crore. Among Indian Muslims, it is 59.1 per cent of 13.8 crore—much below the national average of 64.8 per cent. The cause of this disparity lies in the history of reform in the two antagonistic religions. Until the mid-1800s, many regressive social practices prevailed in Hindu society. Sati and untouchability were established Hindu practices. But reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy got widow burning banned and Ambedkar and Gandhi worked for the dignity of the lower castes. This gave Hindus an upper hand in market economics and education. By Independence, they were ahead in all growth factors. There were too few game-changers like educationist Sir Syed Ahmed Khan among Indian Muslims. This disparity caused resentment in the disadvantaged Muslim, who is viewed with suspicion by the Hindu gestalt which bears the genetic scars of Islamic colonisation.
The imams who set the theological curriculum of those madrassas that exclusively focus on Islamic sharia would be shocked to know that the oldest university in the world in Fez, Morocco, was founded by a Muslim woman, Fātimah al-Fihrī, in 859 AD. In the ancient Islamic world, there were madrassas dedicated to teaching medicine, like in 15th century Damascus, though degrees could not be issued because there was no examination and certification system unlike in Europe. Knowledge was prized in the 12th century Islamic world; Caliph Hārūn al-Rashīd spent a fortune to buy Tawaddud, a slave girl for his harem, because she had studied astronomy, medicine, law, philosophy, music, history, grammar, literature, theology and chess.
Instructions in madrassas, however, revolve around religion, with other branches of knowledge playing a secondary role. In a nation where the need for a Uniform Civil Code is becoming increasingly relevant, a Uniform Education Code is necessary to make Indian youth employment-proficient in a competitive world environment. Religion and politics is a morbid mix, and education always gets bad marks.