Madrasas and allegations of extremism

By Maulana Waris Mazhari,

(Translated by Yoginder Sikand)

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Madrasas are a characteristic feature of Muslim societies the world over. They serve as centres for religious and moral instruction. As in other democratic countries, in India, too, all religious communities, including Muslims, are allowed by law to establish such institutions. Thus, there are many Hindu gurukuls in the country, in addition to which are the vast number of centres run by the RSS, where, in contrast to madrasas, training in the handling of weapons is openly given.

Again, in contrast to madrasas, these centres propagate intoleranc and hatred towards people of other faiths. It is thus distressing that while madrasas are accused of promoting terrorism, no one raises a finger against these Hindutva institutions. It seems that madrasas stand as the single major obstacle in the path of the Hindutva agenda of ‘saffronising’ the country and imposing Brahminical Hindu culture on all its inhabitants. That is why the madrasas have come under heavy assault by the fascist forces in India today.

The anti-madrasa propaganda is not a new development. However, it has rapidly increased in intensity in the recent past ever since the Hindu Right began to gain political power and strength in much of the country, first in some states and then at the national level. When the BJP came to power at the Centre, its Human Resources Development Minister, Murli Manohar Joshi, sought to impose the Hindutva ideology through the educational system, or what the media referred to as ‘saffronisation’. Then, in accordance with a carefully planned strategy, in 2001 a Ministerial Group was formed in the aftermath of Pakistan’s uncalled for aggression in Kargil. The Group submitted a report on internal security which falsely alleged that madrasas in India had turned into centres for promoting religious fundamentalism and thus had become a major security concern. It claimed, without supplying evidence, that madrasas were being used by terrorist, fundamentalist and anti-national elements, particularly in districts along the international borders with Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.

As soon as the report was submitted the media began parroting the same lines. Interestingly, prior to the report the media had not made much of a noise about madrasas. The question thus arises that, if these allegations were true, where was the country’s investigative media prior to this? Why did they have to wait for the report to come out to cry hoarse about these allegations against the madrasas? To add to the absurdity, Lal Krishan Advani, senior BJP leader, in fact denied these allegations in Parliament when responding to a question by a Muslim MP, but the Group that prepared the report was formed under his supervision and came out with quite the contrary argument, which greatly boosted the anti-madrasa campaign, which still rages in the media. And, reflecting this frenzy that has been whipped up against the madrasas, numerous students and teachers of madrasas continue to be falsely accused of being behind terrorist acts. The authorities of the madrasas have been insisting that such allegations are almost wholly baseless and lacking in evidence. In actual fact, none of these allegations against madrasa teachers and students have as yet been proven based on standard and acceptable principles of evidence and justice.

Allegations against madrasas in the media and by certain political forces are routinely framed in such a manner as to target and attack not just these institutions but also Islam as a religion, in line with the fiercely anti-Islamic stance of these forces, who claim that Islam itself promotes intolerance and terrorism. This anti-madrasa propaganda has now become so pervasive that even many non-Muslims who do not have any prejudice against Islam have serious reservations about madrasas. They believe that the ulema of the madrasas deliberately distort Islamic teachings for their own political purposes and interests and, accordingly, are turning Muslim youth towards terrorism. This view is now widely held not just among non-Muslims but also among several Muslims themselves. For instance, in an article published in several newspapers in May 2000, the governor of Goa, Muhammad Afzal, levelled the same sort of allegations against the madrasas.

An influential section of the media is now employing the anti-madrasa campaign as a means to attack Islam itself. A good illustration of this is an article that appeared in the India Today magazine in June 2001, titled ‘Crescent Classroom’. The writer, Sumit Mitra, visited a madrasa in the Muslim-majority Murshidabad district in West Bengal and filed a report, from which I am quoting some excerpts below:

‘Murshidabad is more of a fanatic oddity in a state not much given to stand-offs along communal lines. This is evident in a religious-educational movement that demands “Islamic education” for children. The drive to “purify” education is spearheaded by the Barua Rahamani Education Society (BRES) [which…] has already opened 109 madarsas in the state […] [T]he Barua Ahle-Hadis Education Society begins Arabic lessons at the prep level. But more interesting is the society’s publication of the book on the Bengali alphabet, replacing the age-old Barna Parichay of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar. The traditional textbook introduces the first letter aw with the word ajagar, Bengali for python, but [the] Salafi Barna Parichay says after aw: awju korey pak haw-o (wash yourself to be pure before namaz). The second letter of the alphabet, aa is dinned into the child’s ears with the exhortation Allah-r naam law-o (Take the name of Allah)”. The third letter, ee, goes with the line Embrace Islam.

The Talibani twist to such unorthodox alphabetic drill frequently surfaces. For the letter “dh” the book has a picture of dhol, the percussion instrument, with the line dhol tabla-e khodar lanat (God’s curse be on music). For r, it is rasool (the Prophet)…For sh, it is shirk, [the crime of] of comparing anyone with Allah….’

According to the writer, all this is evidence of what he calls ‘Talibani’ education. He claims that this sort of education promotes intolerance and extremism. This single example reflects the fierce hostility of a certain section of the media. If teaching ‘A’ for Allah and ‘R’ for Rasul is branded as ‘fundamentalism’, then no Muslim of this country can be exempted from this charge of being a ‘fundamentalist’. Nor, too, can the followers of other religions, who seek to provide their children with knowledge of their own faith. Is the constitutional provision and guarantee of secularism to be interpreted in such a way that children are not to be given religious education or that they should not be brought up according to the teachings of their faith? Is teaching about God, morals and the purification of the self, all of which religion talks about, anti-national and tantamount to so-called ‘Talibanisation’?

In the heat and fury of the hate-driven anti-madrasa campaign, the actual roles and identity of the madrasas have been completely ignored. In India, Hindu Right-wing forces, and, at the global level, senior American leaders and defenders of American Imperialism, have left no stone unturned in their effort to project madrasas as centres for training terrorists. To back the claim about madrasas in India being allegedly engaged in promoting terrorism, the Ministerial Group report prepared when the BJP-led government was in power at the Centre refers to—and this is repeated by large sections of the media—the recent rise in the number of madrasas in certain districts in the country along its international borders. This is misleading. In actual fact, the number of madrasas has increased not just in these districts but all over the country in general. One reason for this is the heightened sense of insecurity and defensiveness about their religion and identity among Muslims across the country caused by the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992 and the developments that took place thereafter. Another factor is undoubtedly economic—the scope for collecting donations for madrasas has now become wider. This is a result of the woeful neglect of the economic dimension in the present system of madrasa education. The increase in the number of madrasas simply as a means for collecting donations is an unfortunate development. But this increase must be seen against the findings of the recently-released Sachar Committee Report, according to which only 3-4% of Muslim children study in full-time madrasas.

There is no doubt that the anti-madrasa campaign as well as widely-held negative views about madrasas have been strengthened by on-going political developments in neighbouring Pakistan. The aggressive and totally stupid actions of some madrasas and self-styled ‘Islamist’ groups in Pakistan have only further contributed to the negative image of the madrasas, as have statements and actions against madrasas by pro-American Pakistani leaders in order to curry favour with their American bosses. These have given further impetus to the propaganda against madrasas being spearheaded by anti-Islamic forces in India. It is, however, incorrect to equate Pakistani madrasas with their counterparts in India, because the contexts in the two countries are vastly different. It is as erroneous as equating Hindu institutions in Sindh, Pakistan, or in Bali, Indonesia, with Hindutva outfits in India.


A well-planned, organised policy and campaign is required to counter the false charges of Indian madrasas being engaged in fanning terror. For this, madrasas need to be more open to the wider, including non-Muslim, society and must also address their internal weaknesses and shortcomings.


*This is a translation of a chapter by Maulana Waris Mazhari titled Madaris Par Intihapasandi Ke Izam ki Haqiqat in Yoginder Sikand & Waris Mazhari (ed.) Dini Madaris Aur Dahshatgardi: Ilzam Aur Haqiqat (‘Madrasas And Terrorism: Accusations and Realities’), Global Media Publications, New Delhi, 2008, pp. 113-20.

Waris Mazhari is the editor, Tarjuman Dar ul-Ulum, official organ of the Old Boys’ Association of the Dar ul-Ulum, Deoband. He can be contacted on [email protected]

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