The Yogi Adityanath government claims that it wants to 'modernise' the syllabus of madrasas in UP so that the students are also taught subjects like Math, English, Computer Science and Hindi. It claimed modernisation of the syllabus was the intent behind the first-of-its-kind survey of madrasas in the state between September 10 and October 20, 2022. The findings from all the 75 districts were handed over to the government on November 15. But the Muslim community is not easily convinced.
Its religious leadership, which oversees the Islamic seminaries, had criticised the survey as yet another example of Islamophobia, but cooperated with the officials who came to conduct the survey. Now, it awaits the next move of the Yogi government with bated breath.
The talk of introducing modern secular education along with Islamic teachings in madrasas is not new. The demand has been raised from within the community also. But before passing a judgment, we should know some hard facts about madrasas that are found everywhere in India where there is a considerable Muslim population:
• Not every Muslim child is enrolled in madrasas. According to Sachar Committee report, only 3 to 4 per cent of school-going Muslim children go to madrasas.
• Only the poorest-of-the-poor Muslim families send their children to madrasas. (In states like West Bengal, poor Hindus also send their children to madrasas).
• The major attraction for the parents is not the guarantee of free education. It's rather the assurance of free food and lodging for their wards.
• The madrasas are run on zakat fund (a two-and-a-half per cent obligatory donation which every Muslim man and woman is required to deduct from his/her yearly savings in cash and kind).
• The fund is always short. Teachers get salaries depending on the donations they collect from the community.
• Teaching subjects like Science, Math and Computer Science is simply beyond their means.
Hence, madrasas should be viewed as part of the literacy movement. They are teaching those who otherwise don't go to school. To expect them to impart education like mainstream schools is unrealistic. They, in fact, are filling up the void left by the government, especially in backward areas.
Media reports suggest that there are over 7000 unrecognised madrasas in Uttar Pradesh. And according to post-survey data published in newspapers, there are also 16,513 recognised madrasas in the state, out of which 560, or less than four per cent, are receiving grants from the state government.
'Recognised' means those affiliated with the UP Board of Madrasa Education, a government body. 'Unrecognised' means autonomous institutions established under Article 30 of the Constitution, which gives religious and linguistic minorities the right to establish and run their educational institutions. The government can't impose its will on autonomous (unrecognised) institutions.
Even 'recognised' madrasas are unlikely to accept a syllabus that compromises on the core Islamic teachings for spreading which they have come into being. 'Hafiz', 'Qari' and 'Aalim' produced by madrasas fulfil a need of the Muslim society. They become imams and muazzins in mosques, teachers in madrasas and private Quran tutors for Muslim children enrolled in mainstream schools.
States like Bihar, West Bengal and Assam have a large number of madrasas aided by state governments. But the quality of scholars produced by them is much below the standard set by community-backed autonomous madrasas.
There is another notable factor. The institution of madrasa is rooted in the 1857 rebellion against the British rule. The initial founders of madrasas led by Maulana Qasim Nanotvi pledged not to accept any aid from the then government. That tradition was maintained even after independence. Today, those who seek government aid are looked down upon.
Reputed madrasas like Darul Uloom, Deoband, Nadwatul Ulema, Lucknow etc. are autonomous institutions and give affiliation to thousands of madrasas throughout India. Apparently, they are in tune with modern-day requirements. That's why their graduates are found in the country's top universities as students and faculty members. University departments like West Asian Studies, Islamic Studies, Arabic, Urdu and Persian are mostly run by them.
The urdu language, which thanks to the apathy of the government is on a steep decline, has been saved by two institutions in India: the madrasas and Hindi films.
Despite demonising madrasas, it's also a fact that the government is a major employer of madrasa graduates. They fill certain vacancies in the Foreign Ministry and other offices of the government. A good number of them work as translators and interpreters in Delhi and foreign missions in the Arab world. Some of them are even promoted as diplomats. Corporates and private universities having business interest in the Gulf and Africa also employ them.
However, employment for ordinary madrasa graduates is a problem. It's just like graduates of any other educational or professional institution. This is about lack of employment generation and not the syllabus being taught in madrasas or schools and colleges.
Central universities like AMU, Jamia Millia Islamia, MANUU, etc. recognise degrees of some reputed madrasas. Some universities even run bridge courses to take them into mainstream.
Of late, many private institutes have been established, chiefly in the South, which are training and tutoring madrasa graduates to become professionals. In recent years, such institutes have produced engineers, doctors, lawyers, journalists and even IAS and IPS officers.
The overwhelming majority of madrasas in India are controlled, directly or indirectly, by people associated with either faction of Jamiat Ulema Hind, an organisation that came into being during freedom movement and that is fully aligned with the Congress. The Jamiat had vehemently opposed Jinnah's demand for Pakistan and firmly stood with Congress for a united India. That secular ideal of Hindu-Muslim unity is unchanged till date. The sentiment is reflected in the students of madrasas.
Talk to any 'Aalim' or listen to his sermons. He would always advocate peace and universal brotherhood as well as good neighbourly relations with 'biradraan-e-watan' (a reference to Hindus as 'brothers of the nation'). Therefore, contrary to the hate-filled claims of the Sangh Parivar that madrasas are 'nurseries of terrorism', they are in fact votaries of India's unity and integrity.
(Shaheen Nazar is a senior journalist.)