By Abdur Rashid Agwan,
In the recent times, no Indian Muslim leader has received such media attention as Maulana Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi, the former vice-chancellor of Darul Uloom Deoband. He almost became a poster boy of the lobby which would like to see much transformation of religious education among Muslims.
Maulana Vastnavi is an MBA, runs several modern institutions apart from a few religious ones in Maharashtra and Gujarat; a highly resourceful person financially and socially and the one who enjoys close relationship with the family which monopolizes the control of this historic Islamic seminary. Perhaps, he was the most eligible candidate in the given situation to head it. And, he was so for a while.
However, his uncalled for Modi remark, soon after taking the charge of the high office of Darul Uloom Deoband, brought him into the whirlwind of a controversy that ultimately cost him the prestigious honor of being its vice-chancellor. The Shura of Darul Uloom sacked him for his appreciation of Narendra Modi as a good chief minister, in spite of serious charges against him as regards the post-Godhra riots. The chapter is closed for the time being. However, one can wonder on the qualitative and quantitative coverage given by the mainstream media to the whole controversy. There is a reason behind it.
[Photo courtesy: jamiatulfalah.org]
Now it has become almost fashionable among intellectuals to talk about reforms of the madrasa education. A hoard of Muslim scholars would be seen discussing with or without agenda, in a smaller or larger gathering of the fellow beings, whether there is a context or not; the need for changes in the system of madrasa education. There is a feeling among such sections that the most blameworthy cause of many problems of the community emanates from the ‘archaic’ trend of religious education imparted in thousands of madrasas spread in each nook and corner of the country. Madrasa education is seen as a stumbling block in the progress of the community. Paradoxically, the Ulama are both being hated for their ‘retrogressive’ attitude and simultaneously pitied for their menial job as lowly paid Imams. What such intellectuals would like as remediation is the teaching of vocational courses and modern disciplines such as economics, law, engineering, medicine, business management and the like in such institutions.
A lot of Muslim intellectuals joined by several other brands of scholars and activists insist on such a view. Even the government has planned under its ‘madrasa modernization scheme’ to encourage these institutions to impart mathematics, science, English and Hindi as additional subjects for which an attractive grant is available.
All this madrasa bashing is going on without considering the objectives of their very establishment. An institution of religious education is established by Muslims to inculcate Islamic education among its beneficiaries, in the same way as an engineering college is established for instructions in engineering and technology. An engineering college will not teach medicine whatever importance it would have for the society, or the vice versa. In the same way it is ridiculous to demand from religious institutions to produce scholars of modern disciplines or engineers or skilled workers who could mend watches or be fitters or electricians besides their job profile as Ulama or Imams. Under the celebrated madrasa modernization program no one is talking to improve teaching of Quranic sciences, learning of Hadith or training in Islamic Shariah through the use of modern tools in teaching practices and education technology. No one from the self-styled reformists is contributing towards increasing salaries and perks of those who are teaching in these religious institutions so that the level of their faculty could be uplifted. No one is suggesting that these seminaries may be given recognition as deemed universities after completing certain formalities. There could be many more ways of madrasa modernization rather than turning them into polytechnics or degree colleges. But, the lobby which loves madrasa bashing, uses it as a branch of Islamphobia rather than for any serious consideration of their modernization.
Why no call for reform in religious institutions of other communities?
It is strange that such people who are vigorously championing the cause of madrasa modernization have almost ignored the religious institutions prevalent among other communities. There are 14 Sankrit universities, hundreds of Gurukuls and thousands of temple-based instruction centres that impart various levels of education in Hindu faith but do not teach any modern subject. The oldest and the largest Sanskrit university in the country, Sampurnanad Sanskrit Vishvavidhylaya, Varanasi, has six faculties and 22 departments right from Department of Veda to Department of Bhut Vidhya but none are teaching modern subjects such economics, sociology, geography, engineering, medicine, management and the like. The one faculty called ‘Adhunik Vigyan Sankay’ has only one department and that too is on Modern Language and Linguistic. The main activities of Uttranchal Sanskirit Academy, a deemed university, comprise “construction of notice boards at temples and sacred places; honours, scholarships/financial assistance in the field of Sanskrit, Sanskrit Theatre Yatras, cultural programmes and instruction in the fields of Astrology and Karma-Kand”. The Hindu religious institutions and Sanskrit education centres in the country are Swaminarayan gurukuls or ISKCON gurukulas or Bhaktivedanta gurukula or for that matter the NAAC approved Vivekananda College or Sanskrit Sodh Sansthan New Delhi. None are running courses for watch repairing, electrician, or mechanical engineering!
Similar is the condition of hundreds of theological institutions run by Christians or the Buddhist seminaries. They impart education in their core constituency and not in any sort of modern discipline until and unless it is incidental to their prime subjects. Then, why this hype and hula for deviating madrasa education from its cherished goal of imparting Islamic education to prepare certain experts in society?
What kind of reform Madrasas need?
It is understandable that teaching methods in madrasa-based institutions need improvement.
Moreover, certain emerging subjects such as Islamic economics, Islamic finance, Islamic law, etc should also be taught therein. Another list could comprise studies in comparative religion, religious communities, revival of fundamentalism among Christians, Jews and Hindus, communication and information technology, etc. But, it is strangely odd to impart vocational training or education in engineering and management as an instrument of madrasa modernization mission.
It is really shocking to note that many intellectuals in the country show their concern regarding the conceived pitfalls of the madrasa education but they are not lamenting on the decline of public education system in the country especially at the primary level which is blurring prospects for Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis and other weaker sections of the country. It should be remembered that less than four percent Muslim children join madrasa stream and the rest join the public or private schools. Thus, there is a serious need for reformation in the public education system as an instrument of progress of the community but the lobby of unsolicited reformists would hardly make it a table talk as they have made the madrasa education as their pet subject of popular discussion. They are not fault finding with the Sanskrit institutions and gurukula education or theology colleges. But they are selectively generous for reforming religious education among Muslims only. Therefore, their sincerity does not pass the veracity test and all their clamor would be only regarded as a form of Islamphobia. In the wake, the high profile case of Maulana Vastanvi was just another occasion for the diehard ‘liberal’ lobby for madrasa bashing and nothing else.
The Muslim community must thank these unsolicited reformers of the community and consign their suggestion to the dustbin of history. But, at the same time it should strive to enhance and improve the system of madrasa education so that it could become more relevant to the contemporary religious and spiritual needs of the community.
(Abdul Rashid Agwan, Chief Editor of IndianMuslimObserver.com, is a prominent author and has written around 70 papers and articles on environment, education, community development, etc in different journals and newspapers. He is a Member, Editorial Board of ‘Muslim Situation in India’ (Sterling Publishers). He also runs a consultancy, Centre for Advancement of Voluntary Efforts, New Delhi, which enjoys associateship of around 200 Muslim organizations. He also runs expert NGO Network muslimngos.com. He is also associated with several well-known Muslim organizations. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org).