A look at the Madrasa system of West Bengal

By Manzar Bilal, TwoCircles.net,


Madrasa system in West Bengal came with the arrival of Muslims in this part of India, to impart Islamic education. The Madrasah-i-Aliah founded by Warring Hastings (first governor general of East India Company) in October of 1780 in Kolkata, turned a new leaf by introducing modern education as a full fledged subject along with Islamic studies. The madrasah was supported by government funding and was setup with the purpose of providing man-power for the ever growing bureaucracy of Company Raj.

Some other madrasas were established on the same pattern, at the same time scores of traditional madrasa continued to provide Islamic education in their own way.

In 1927 the “Board of Central Madarsah” was established. Madrasas spread over Bihar, Orissa, & Bengal conducted examination under this board. Some independent madrasas were also affiliated to the central board. During partition the board shifted to Dhaka and an interim “West Bengal Board of Madarsa Education” (WBBME) was set up in Hoogly Islamic College. In 1964 the board was revived by inducting 15 members, a president and an advisory board.

Madrasah-i-Aliah [Photo: www.2classnotes.com]

In a landmark decision taken on June 28th, 1994, the government of West Bengal granted autonomous status to the board and passed “West Bengal Board of Madarsa Education Act, 1994”. Since then it has been enjoying status like other school education boards/councils in the state.

As far as finances are concerned, it works the same way as other educational institutions. Independent or private madrasas run on donations and mentorship while govt affiliated madrasa are funded by state government. Earlier West Bengal Board of Madarsah Education worked under the ministry of education, but the present government took a step further and created a separate ministry for it. Mr. Abdus Sattar is the first head of Ministry of Madrasa Education.

Current state of affairs

Out of thousand madrasas in the state, only 508 are affiliated to the board. Muslims comprise 26% of the total population of the state, and these madrasas cater to almost 70% of less fortunate and poorer Muslim population, as they can’t afford higher tuition fees and have to rely on madrasas for primary and secondary education. To meet the educational need of the community, project for opening 70 madrasas by the beginning of the New Year is in the pipeline.

West Bengal Board of Madarsa Education divids education system into three steps; Junior High Madarsa, High Madarsa and Senior Madarsa. At present, there are 168 Junior High Madarsas, 238 High Madarsas and 103 Senior Madarsas.

The subjects that are being taught at Madarsas affiliated or approved by Madarsa Education Board of West Bengal are English, Life Science, Physical Science, History, Chemistry, Geography, Mathematics, Arabic and Islamic Studies.

Junior High Madarsas and High Madarsas are teaching the same syllabus and text books as prescribed by the west Bengal Board of Secondary Education with the additional subject of Arabic and Islamic studies. But Senior madrasas have a little different pattern of education. It’s divided into phases:

Primary stage – classes I-V

Junior stage – classes V-VIII

Alim Stage – Classes IX-X

Fazil Stage – Classes XI-XII

Kamil Stage – Two Years

Mumtazul Muhaddethin (M.M.) Stage – Two Years

English is taught in Madrasahs but not in primary level. Now to modernize the madrasas, State Government is initiating the use of English as medium of instruction.


After 9/11 attacks, media widely propagated that madrasahs are tools of fundamental Islamic teachings, they accused madrasahs in all over the world of fostering terrorist activities, but in India not even one madrasa was found guilty of this baseless charge. The irony is, the madrasas of west Bengal have a significant Hindu enrollment, many of these madrasas have Hindu teachers and head masters .In fact in some remote madrasas like Kasba M.M. High Madrasa in Uttar Dinajpur district, Ekmukha Safiabad High Madrasa in Cooch Behar district, Orgram Chatuspalli High Madrasa at Burdwan district and Chandrakona Islamia High Madrasa at West Midnapore district,the number of Hindu students is higher than Muslim students. 618 out of the 1,077 students in Kasba, 554 out of 868 students at Orgram, 201 out of 312 at Chandrakona and 290 out of total 480 students at Ekmukha are Hindus. Madrasas are the only education facility they can avail, also madrasas provide free mid-day meals which is very attractive to poor Hindus and Muslims. In some instances, even well off Hindus send their kids to madrasas, because the madrasahs have exactly same curriculum, same syllabus and same management and same pension and pay for teachers, that of other secondary schools.

Contention and doubts

Though administration of Madrasah Board of West Bengal is hopeful and happy with way things are going, Muslim leaders and many academics do not agree with the concept of the board, according to them Madrasas are meant for religious learning and they should emphasize on that only, they think that madrasa board is sailing in two boats at once.

Advocate Adrees Ali agrees that modernization should be implemented at Madrasas but it should not interfere with religious teachings
“There should be changes in madarsa curriculum with the time but religious education must be prime objective of Madarsa education” he said.

“It is neither fully a madarsas system nor fully a secular system. For Muslims a Madarsas education means Islamic education – an education which has given them the great scholars, academics and imams in the past” said Suleiman Kurshid a history professor.

“Earlier, 80 % religious education was taught at madarsas and 20% modern education but now situation is vice versa and religious education lost its importance in these madarsas as it was called extra subject and no one is interested in religious education there” reports Fakhrul Islam Qasmi, rector of Madarsa Qasimul Uloom, Kolkata.

Besides curriculum, the board and Muslim leaders are at loggerheads on the issue of appointing Hindu headmasters and teachers. Maulana Amanat Hussain, imam of Backer Hostel Masjid, Kolkata says, “Muslims are already unemployed, poor and backward in the state and by appointing non-Muslims at 60 % Madrasas, government has snatched opportunities from them to improve their own financial condition. It was Muslims and not government or any others who donated land to madrasas but now Muslims are being thrown out of madrasas”

The common notion among these Muslim heads is that, it is an attempt to push Muslims economically backwards and to gain stronghold in Muslim institutions. Whereas, the condition of some government madrasas is far from satisfactory.

Madrasah-i-Aliah has been finally given the university status and named as Aliah University in 2008 but it remains to be seen whether it will do anything to improve the educational status of Muslims of West Bengal.