Thursday, January 31, 2008

Thank you for shopping at Mommy's Grocery Store

So today we continued with our money lesson which included some work in the Calvert Math book and the math workbook. The lesson introduced the quarter and consisted of several sorting exercises (sort the coins front and back). She also had to do an exercise which asked if she had enough money to buy different items for various amounts, like a kite for 3 cents if she had 7 cents, etc.
Then, we had some real fun and set up our own grocery store with empty boxes and grocery bags.

lowest prices around

I went to to print off a sheet of $1, $5 and $10 bills but we never got around to using the fives and tens.

cash register

I decided to keep it simple and just used the ones and all of the change that came with the Calvert curriculum.

It was fun! I loved it when she realized for the first time that when you buy something, your actual cash in your wallet depletes! The look on her face was priceless. After a while I started to run low on bags because we reuse our canvas totes and have very few plastic bags, so I began to charge her. She got smart and started bringing her own bags, lol.

Setting up shop

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What number comes after 5?

The past few weeks we have been covering lessons on time and money.Time is money The time portion was very easy for her and she can recognize the hour and half hour as long as the analog clock has numbers. Our living room clock has Roman numerals so she can't use that one but the classroom clock has numbers.
We also learned A.M. and P.M. and early and late. Again, no problem. Time after time
Then comes the second part of the lesson;money.I tell her the values of the pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. So far, so good. I ask her to show me one cent. No problem. O.k. five cents. Five pennies, good, good. O.k. what else could five cents look like? Uh.... Ok, remember the nickel? That's five cents too. O.k. back on track. Show me five cents two ways. She does it. Good. Now, what is one penny and one nickel? Blank stare. What are five pennies and one penny? Six cents. Good! One penny and one nickel? Two cents. How much is one nickel? Five cents. O.k. and one penny? One cent. Add them together. Crickets chirp. O.k. What number comes after five? I don't know. Come on, you know this, what comes after five? Blank stare. Groan. O.k. lesson over for the day. Mo' money Thankfully, this was at the end of the school day and maybe we were both tired. Tomorrow, InshaALLAH I know what we have to work on first!
She did do a little freehand writing, which I find adorable, especially her grocery lists. She's spelling everything phonetically so she's applying what she knows without all of the complicated rules: Flowers are amazing! She likes to read and we are going through several books right now. Look it up This one is the most important. I want her to increase her vocabulary. I really admire the homeschool children that participate in the spelling bees. I looked at several lists for her age group and some were a little easy so I really feel good about that. My biggest concern has always been whether or not she would be on par with the other children her age but so far she has surpassed my expectations.
Craft wise, we have been doing a bit of this and that. She is learning to knit but isn't coordinated enough to hold both needles on her own. I am thinking that she could really get the hang of crochet though. She knows which way the needles go so it's a start. I think crafts are good because they take a certain discipline and teach patience.
Knitting by the kid

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Islamic Fiqh Academies New Steps In Madrasa Reform

By Yoginder Sikand

Madrasas were originally intended as institutions for the preservation and transmission of the Islamic religious tradition as a whole. In contemporary India, however, they focus largely, although not exclusively, on the teaching of fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence. Most Indian Muslims adhere to the Hanafi school of jurisprudence and so most madrasas in the country restrict themselves to the teaching of the books of Hanafi fiqh. Almost all these books were written between the ninth and the fourteenth centuries, in a context very different from that of India today. Most of their authors lived and worked in Central Asia, Iran and parts of the Arab world. Consequently, their understanding of fiqh was shaped by the particular environment in which they lived. The questions that they raised and the answers that they provided were a product of the concerns of their own times. Not surprisingly, their books do not deal with many issues of contemporaryconcern and relevance. Despite this, most Indian madrasas continue toemploy these texts, and, consequently, the teaching of fiqh has been gradually distanced from real-world concerns.

An interesting and innovative experiment to reform the teaching and understanding of fiqh is the work undertaken by Delhi-based Islamic Fiqh Academy (IFA). Following the example of similar academies in some Arab countries, Europe and North America, the IFA believes that ijtihad, or the creative, context-sensitive interpretation of fiqh, is absolutely essential in order to provide Islamically suitable answers to issues of contemporary relevance, issues on which the corpus of traditional fiqh is silent or else irrelevant. Thus, it questions the widely held assumption of taqlid or blind imitation of the earlier jurisprudents or fuqaha, stressing instead the inherent dynamism of Islamic law. In contrast to past precedent, it believes that ijtihad on many issues is no longer possible on the part of a single scholar or 'alim. Because many questions of contemporary concern involve a range of disciplines, it argues for what it calls 'collective ijtihad', bringing together 'ulama trained in the traditional Islamic sciences as well as experts in various fields of modern knowledge to deliberate on various issues and provide Islamically acceptable solutions. Interestingly, and in contrast to many traditional 'ulama, the IFA does not identify itself with any particular school of thought (maktab-i fikr). It stands for tolerance and respect of differences between the different Sunni mazhabs or schools of fiqh.

The IFA's activities are wide-ranging, including publishing books, organising lectures and training programmes and holding seminars. It has produced several texts on a variety of contemporary issues, from insurance and birth control to modern commercial transactions and organ transplants, offering opinions on these based on collective ijtihad. It has held a number of seminars in different parts of the country, in which 'ulama and modern scholars have participated to collectively discuss various issues which the traditional books of fiqh are silent on, but which Muslims have increasingly to face today.

A major focus of the IFA's work has been the promotion of new understandings of fiqh in the Islamic madrasas in the country. One of the most successful of its initiatives in this regard was its madrasa training programme, which, however, has since been discontinued. The concept of the programme emerged at the IFA's annual seminar at Bangalore in 1990. The next year, it sent out letters to various madrasas in the country, offering to arrange, at its own expense, for extension lectures by university lecturers in their campuses on various modern subjects. The lectures would cover a range of disciplines, including the social and natural sciences, modern medicine, philosophy, comparative religion and so on, but presented in a suitable Islamic form and located within the contemporary Indian context. It proposed that these lectures should later be collected and published as textbooks, which could then be incorporated into the madrasa syllabus. It saw this initiative as helping to bridge the gap between madrasa-trained and university-educated Muslims, and to dispel what it saw as the wrong, though widely-held, notion of 'religious' (dini) learning as being somehow distinct from 'worldly' (duniyavi) knowledge.

Between 1991 and 1993, the IFA organised training camps at some 40 madrasas in different parts of India to acquaint students and teachers with issues of contemporary relevance. At the camps, professors of different subjects from various universities, including the Aligarh Muslim University, Jami'a Millia Islamia and Lucknow University, in addition to some leading 'ulama, spoke to and interacted with students and teachers of the madrasas on a range of issues. Although most madrasa students who attended the lectures responded enthusiastically, some madrasas, says IFA's secretary Amin 'Usmani, were not very welcoming, fearing that this might 'divert' the attention of the students from their religious studies. Unfortunately, the programme was discontinued two years after it was launched, primarily because of shortage of funds.

Usmani opines that unless the teaching of fiqh in the madrasas isreformed, madrasas can play little role in enabling the Muslims to deal with the challenges of modernity. He suggests major curricular reforms in this regard. He argues that the focus of the teaching must be on the 'usul (basic principles) of the Qur'an and the Hadith, rather than, as at present, on the furu' or minor details of fiqh. He argues that while madrasas generally place great stress on the teaching of intricate details of ritual purity, the nitty-gritty of marital relations and the minute intricacies of divorce and so on, they tend to neglect what he sees as the 'basic spirit' of the Qur'an and the Hadith. 'Usmani also stresses that the teaching of fiqh must take the contemporary Indian context seriously. He suggests that madrasas should equip their students with the knowledge and skills needed to operate in a modern religiously plural society. For this, he stresses the need for madrasas to introduce the teaching of other religions from a non-polemical perspective so that Muslims and people of other faiths can understand each other in a more sympathetic way.
He advocates the introduction of what he calls 'Peace Studies' as a regular subject in the madrasas, through which the students could be taught the importance of peace and ways of working for it in accordance with the Qur'an and the Hadith.

'Usmani places his hopes on the younger generation of madrasa students, who, he feels, are more open to alternate views and willing to critically engage with issues of contemporary concern so as to develop more relevant, and, therefore, more authentic understandings of Islam, including of fiqh. Most older generation 'ulama, he laments, seem to be either hostile or indifferent to voices such as his that are today calling for the reform of the madrasa system. Read More...

Barbara Metcalf: On South Asian Madrasas (Interview)

Barbara D. Metcalf teaches at the Department of History at the University of California, Davis. She has worked extensively on Islam in India, focusing particularly on the Deoband madrasa and the related Tablighi Jama’at movement. Here she talks to Yoginder Sikand about the role of madrasahs in contemporary South Asia.

Q: In recent years, and particularly after the events of 11 September, 2001, there has been much talk in India, Pakistan and America, particularly in official circles, about the activities of some madrasahs that are believed to be actively involved in sponsoring militant activities. What are your views on this?

A: The government of Pakistan has the most serious issues about madrasahs because all evidence points to the fact that many madrasahs, especially along the frontier with Afghanistan, have in fact been places where young men have been recruited for militant movements. These movements have had international dimensions, especially in Afghanistan and Kashmir, but they have also spilled over into the sectarian and now anti-state violence that threatens everyday life within the country. Even a couple of years ago, I was disheartened to visit a major madrasah in Lahore, the Jami’a Ashrafiyya (one that Musharraf identified, by the way, as a model madrasah), and was depressed that a guard with a rifle slung across his lap had to sit in front of the main entrance. Any institution seems at risk of some kind of attack.

The Pakistan government has attempted to end foreign enrollment as a first step to controlling the madrasah, and now is trying to register madrasahs, ideally with a view to knowing more about what is taught and even introducing secular subjects. This has produced great protest in recent weeks. Here is where America is involved -- even if the Pakistani government see this registration in its own interests, and in the interests of its citizens, the madrasah and the `ulama see the move as exemplary of Musharraf's being a pawn in the hands of America. ]

As for India, there have been inappropriately inflammatory comments by right-wing politicians about the alleged subversiveness, foreign funding, etc. of madrasah. As Muslims themselves have replied, if there is illegal activity, there are laws that can be applied. There is shockingly little attention given, I might add, to the right-wing teaching inculcated in some Hindu schools.

Two actions are worth noting. The BJP government when it first came to power began denying visas to foreigners wishing to study in madrasahs, ending centuries of India's being a cosmopolitan venue for the religious sciences for students from Central Asia, Malaysia, and East and South Africa in particular. Secondly, the government has initiated under the Human Resources Ministry an initiative to supply teachers, texts in secular subjects, and even computer instruction (all through the medium of Urdu) to madrasahs. This move has, understandably, been met with skepticism about intent in many institutions although several computer instruction facilities are functioning successfully.

Q: Do you think government interference is the right way to approach the question of 'reform' in the madrasas?
A: It certainly does not seem to have been productive so far.

Q: How would you distinguish between the Indian and the Pakistani madrasas on questions related to security and 'terrorism'?
A: I think that it is unfortunate to link the two countries. As far as I know, no one has ever identified an Indian madras ah linked to terrorist activity whereas in Pakistan there is a case to be made.

Q: How do you see the madrasah of South Asia as responding today to questions of modernity and pluralism?
A: This is a very important question. First of all, what do the students learn? It is worth underlining that the madrasas vary enormously -- the term covers little ad hoc schools teaching the alphabet to local children all the way to places that consider themselves universities and centres of great scholarship. At best, the schools teach far more than the rote learning they are accused of. In fact they inculcate great linguistic skills, analogic and other forms of reasoning, and logic as well as the content of a great cultural tradition. Ideally, students learn a high level of self-discipline and morality. Two vignettes. In Pakistan I met a young woman who had graduated from a madrasah in Peshawar. She spoke fluent Arabic and, in a large gathering of women, was impressive in her self-confidence coupled with modesty about her achievements. I also visited a girls' madrasah in Lahore with facilities for teaching blind girls and providing training in computers. (They also teach the girls the encyclopedic, early 20th century guide for women, the Bihishti Zewar, which I was interested in since it's a text I've translated!)

All this may not add up to "modernity", but it certainly means that some students acquire considerable "social capital" thanks to these schools. I also visited a couple of madrasahs in the upper Doab when I as in India last winter. One comment. One of the schools taught roughly equal number of girls and boys, and as we arrived, a flood of girls in bright colored kurtas came flying out of school, as happy as children any where at the end of the day. The school was to be closed the next day to serve as the polling place for the scheduled state elections-- neither the girls nor the civic duty were part of the usual image one has of a madrasah. Literacy is good, schooling is good -- even if this is not modernity. And in both India and Pakistan, as people often note, there are often limited options for students. Public education in Pakistan is a disgrace. I am less informed about India, but I might note that a team of anthropologists working in the area I visited documented what they called "institutional communalism" on the part of government, by which they mean a disproportionate neglect of schools, medical facilities, etc. in primarily Muslim areas. Read More...

Defending the Madrasas: Indian Ulama Respond

By Yoginder Sikand

Owing to a series of violent events in the last several years in different parts of India, Indian Muslim organizations, including madrasas, have been pushed on the defensive. Although the actual identity of the perpetrators of these violent attacks has, in most cases, not been reliably ascertained, the media has been quick to blame Muslims for them. Influential sections of the Indian media, as well as right-wing Hindu organizations, have singled out madrasas, in particular, for attack, branding them as ‘factories of terror’, although there is no evidence of Indian madrasas engaging in any sort of armed training or militant indoctrination. Demands continue to be made, mostly by hardened anti-Muslim ideologues who have little or no understanding of the madrasas, that madrasas be banned forthwith or else be closely monitored and controlled by the state.

Faced with the mounting campaign against them, ulema-led Muslim organizations, including madrasas, have been forced to respond by denying involvement in these violent attacks. They have organised several seminars and press meetings on the issue and to make clear their stand, to argue that, contrary to media allegations, madrasas have nothing to do with terrorism, for, it is argued by the ulema, Islam and terrorism are completely incompatible.

The mounting attacks against the madrasas, as the numerous conventions that have been organised recently indicate, suggest that the ulema are now being compelled to engage in the wider social and political arena to defend themselves from the charges against them, being forced out of the narrow confines of their seminaries. This might well prove to be a blessing in disguise, for it is possible that it might pave the way for greater and more meaningful dialogue between at least some sections of the ulema and certain well-meaning non-Muslim civil society groups and the state. In the long term, this interaction might have a positive impact on the madrasas themselves, making them more open to curricular and administrative reform as well as perhaps promoting contextually relevant understandings of Islam more conducive to a multi-religious society such as India. It might also enable non-Muslim civil society groups and the state to better appreciate the important contributions that madrasas are making in providing free education to poor Muslims, and this might facilitate their working with the ulama on common projects or for common purposes.

Yet, these conventions, such as those that I have attended, are clearly inadequate in certain respects, important though they are. Almost all of these have been organized by ulema groups, who present themselves before the state and the media as the sole legitimate leaders and spokespersons of the entire Muslim community. This claim is, of course, hardly true, although the fact that the ulema are taking the lead in airing Muslim grievances is bound to lead to a further entrenchment of the claim of the ulema to represent Muslims in public forms. It might also further marginalize the feeble efforts of ‘modern’ educated Muslims, more familiar with contemporary developments and, in some cases, articulating more contextually relevant understandings of Islam, to represent Muslim aspirations, including with regard to such issues as Muslim economic, political and educational empowerment and the problems of Muslim women, issues on which they may differ substantially with many ulema.

These conventions organized by ulema bodies, while serving the valuable purpose of defending the madrasas and Muslim organisations more generally from attack, must be seen in the context of an ongoing struggle for authority within the Muslim community, between ‘secular’ and ‘modern-educated’ Muslims and the ulema, on the one hand, and between different sections of the ‘ulama of various sectarian backgrounds, on the other, as to exactly who is qualified to speak for Muslims and Islam.

That it is now largely the ulema, associated with different madrasas and schools of Islamic thought, who are in the forefront of defending Muslims from the charge of ‘terrorism’ in public forums, such as these conventions, is hardly surprising. Especially in north India, there are relatively few Muslim organizations run by non-ulema working for the benefit of working class and poor Muslims or for articulating Muslim issues and aspirations in the public domain. The number of madrasas, that cater essentially to poor Muslims, training them to become ulema, far exceeds that of organizations run by Muslims who are not madrasa-trained ulema. Muslim organisations whose work is to promote religious education and awareness are far more numerous than those working for Muslim economic welfare or ‘modern’ education. This indicates the fact that the ulema and their madrasas are much more organically rooted in Muslim society, particularly in north India, than their non-ulema counterparts. Hence, it is not surprising that the ulema see themselves as the leaders of the community and most qualified to defend it from the attacks that it is seen as facing today. Hence, too, a large section of the Muslim masses choose to entrust the ulema, rather than non-ulema Muslim leaders, such as Muslim politicians or social activists, with that onerous responsibility.

That it is essentially the ulema who are now visibly defending Muslims and their organizations, while non-ulema Muslims appear relatively much less active, is a reflection of the fact that there are relatively few grassroots-level Muslim organizations, particularly in north India, where most Indian Muslims live, that are not run or controlled by the ulema and that are devoted to anything but religious education. A directory of Muslim NGOs across the country recently published from Delhi indicates that the vast majority of such organizations are run by ulema and have religious aims and objectives. A survey conducted by the noted scholar Imitaz Ahmad some years ago clearly shows that most funds provided by Muslims by way of zakat, sadqa and other forms of pious donation are given to madrasas, where poor Muslim children receive free boarding, lodging and education. Hence, while economically more prosperous Muslims aspire to send their children to ‘modern’, preferably English-medium, schools, the responsibility of maintaining and transmitting the Islamic religious and scholarly tradition, which is associated with low-paid jobs such as that of imams and khatibs in mosques and teachers in madrasas, is placed firmly on the shoulders of Muslim children from poor families who attend the madrasas. It is commonly, although erroneously, thought that zakat and other such forms of religiously-inspired charity should be provided only to madrasas and other such religious causes, and not for, say, promoting economic empowerment or ‘modern’ education among the Muslim poor, the argument being that donations to ‘religious’ causes are a source of continued blessings for one even after death (sadqa-e jariya). This notion, promoted by some ulema because serves their own interests as well as that of the madrasas that they run, has been critiqued by several Islamic scholars as ‘un-Islamic’ and as reflecting a rigid division between ‘religion’ (din) and the ‘world’ (duniya) that is said to have no warrant in the Qur’an. Consequently, middle-class Muslims, notable exceptions apart, have paid little attention to developing organizations working among the poor on secular issues, such as ‘modern’ education or economic betterment, remaining satisfied with providing charity to the ulema of the madrasas for them to shoulder that duty, and supposing that they have abided by an important religious duty by doing so.

This explains why middle-class Muslims enjoy few organic links with the Muslim masses. It also explains why it is that it is the ulema who do. In turn, this tells us why it is not middle-class Muslims but the ulema who are now in the forefront of defending the madrasas, a phenomenon further buttressed by the fact the few, if any, middle-class Muslims send their children to study in these institutions. This is a reflection of the yawning chasm between the ulema and middle class and elite Muslims, whose ways of understanding the world are, in crucial respects, vastly different. This also points to the rigid educational dualism so starkly characteristic of Indian Muslim society, between the ulema of the madrasas and middle-class Muslims, educated in English-medium schools, both of whom have little or no opportunity of interacting with each other.

Most middle-class Muslims, like their non-Muslim counterparts, are content to carry on with their own private lives and their quest for economic ‘success’, having little or no concern for the Muslim poor, who lead miserable lives in the ghettoes into which they have been condemned to live. This indifference to the plight of the Muslim poor is yet another reason for the very small number of organizations run by non-ulema working for the welfare of the poor Muslims and for Muslim community causes other than those strictly ‘religious’, especially in north India. In turn, this explains why it is not ‘middle’ class Muslims so much as the ulama and Islamic organisations who are today in the forefront of visibly representing Muslim demands and concerns in the public domain. Many middle-class Muslims, seeking to ‘integrate’ into what is arbitrarily defined as the Indian ‘mainstream’, desirous of maintaining good relations with their non-Muslim counterparts (essentially middle-class ‘upper’ caste Hindus) and careful not to antagonise them, consciously or otherwise seek to downplay overt signs of their ‘Muslim-ness’ in public. They make conscious efforts to distance themselves from the Muslims in the ghettos, in order both to stress their claim of being ‘superior’ and more ‘cultured’ than them as well as to convince their non-Muslim peers that while the Muslims of the ghettos may be ‘obscurantist’, they themselves are not, and are no different, except for certain rituals that they might occasionally practice or in their names, from the middle class non-Muslims whom they seek to ‘integrate’ with. This tendency has been exacerbated by the growing wave of Islamophobia in India and abroad in recent years. Such Muslims are haunted by the fear of being branded as ‘communal’, ‘anti-national’ and ‘terrorist’ if they were to take up the cause of the Muslim poor and of Muslims harassed by agencies of the state and rabidly anti-Muslim Hindutva organizations. That duty, therefore, has been left to the ulema and Islamic organizations to shoulder.

Although their approach might be limited, the role of the ulema in articulating Muslim aspirations needs to be appreciated with empathy, given their limited resources and lack of appropriate cultural capital necessary for articulating Muslim concerns before the wider non-Muslim public and the state. This does not, however, mean that the ways in which they have been going about doing so are entirely appropriate and effective. The several meetings to defend the madrasas from charges of ‘terrorism’ that I have attended in recent years have consisted of all-Muslim audiences, with speakers delivering long lectures in chaste Urdu, which few non-Muslims can understand. Consequently, if the intention of these meetings was to convince non-Muslims of the credentials of the madrasas, they have, because of the way in which they have been structured, been largely unsuccessful. That purpose could have been served if non-Muslims, including the media, civil society groups, human rights activists as well as leaders of organisations that are today in the forefront of the campaign against madrasas, had been invited to attend these conventions and listen to what the ulema have to say in their defence. Further, they should have taken the form of serious dialogue and frank exchange of views between the ulema and their critics rather than the one-sided monologues and apologetic defence of madrasas and Islamic groups that they have so far consisted of.

This, however, is easier said than done, for most ulema have limited contacts, if at all, with non-Muslim civil society groups whom they could possibly dialogue with. At the most, certain ulema groups have links with certain non-Muslim politicians, and it is mostly these that have constituted the miniscule non-Muslim presence at the conventions that have recently been organized, thus effectively limiting their impact on the broader non-Muslim public. This, coupled with the fact that most ulema are not comfortable in Hindi or English and given that their organizations generally lack any effective liaison with the non-Muslim media, has meant that the conventions have not succeeded in making much of a dent on non-Muslim opinion about the madrasas.

Not only have most of these conventions been addressed and attended almost wholly by Muslims, thus defeating their very purpose of reaching out to the wider society, they have also been entirely ulema-dominated ventures. Only a few non-ulema Muslim intellectuals and activists have participated in these events, reflecting both a certain indifference on the part of this class to issues that these conventions have taken up as well as perhaps a fear on the part of their ulema organisers that their presence might undermine the claims of the ulema of speaking for Islam and Muslims.

A central theme repeated by ulema speakers in all the conventions that have been organised recently to defend the madrasas and Islamic organizations is the claim that Islam is, by definition, opposed to terrorism. There is a world of difference, these speakers have argued, between legitimate Islamic jihad and terrorism. Speakers at these conventions have insisted that Muslims, by definition, are passionately opposed to terrorism because Islam forbids it. A ‘Muslim terrorist’, they have argued, is a contradiction in terms. Muslims should not be blamed for terrorism, these speakers have declared. Rather, they insist, the West, Israel and the Hindutva lobby are the principal practitioners of terrorism, and Muslim resistance to this, they have argued, is more often than not legitimate self-defence, as for instance in Palestine and Iraq.

The recent fatwas and pronouncements of leading Indian ulama declaring the incompatibility between Islam and terrorism are a welcome development, and will probably help mould public opinion, both Muslim and non-Muslim, against terrorism. It might also help, to an extent, in changing the views of many non-Muslims about Islam, particularly about the notion of jihad. Yet, this defence is inadequate because many of the ulema who articulate this line fail to deal seriously with the fact that there are indeed Muslim groups who do engage in terrorism precisely in the name of Islam and who represent an interpretation of Islam that, in this regard, is in contrast to that articulated by those ulema who insist that Islam has no room for terror. While the argument that certain non-Muslim actors, including certain states, are also engaged in various forms of terror is legitimate, it is clearly misleading to deny that certain Muslims, too, do so, and that too in the name of Islam. This, too, needs to be condemned with equal passion. To be more effective, this condemnation of terrorism engaged in by certain groups who claim to be ‘Islamic’ must not remain, as it has, at a general level. Instead, these groups should be specifically mentioned by name in the fatwas issued against terrorism, something that the conventions organized by the ulema on terrorism have generally failed to do.

Despite the obvious limitations of the response of the ulema to mounting charges of ‘terrorism’ being labeled against madrasas and other Muslim organizations, something, it must be said, is better than nothing at all. The response of the ulema can better be appreciated when contrasted with that of middle-class or elite Muslims, who appear to be doing little, if anything, in this regard. Clearly, however, Muslim grievances cannot best be articulated by the ulema or only by them, given their worldview and training and their limited contacts with and exposure to non-Muslims, although in this regard they have a crucial role to play. It is imperative, therefore, that concerned ‘modern’ educated Muslims, too, seriously seek to engage in the process, being more at ease with the ‘modern’ world and more sensitive to contemporary social realities. Only then can Muslim views be articulated more effectively, and genuine dialogue with others, including non-Muslim groups and the state, be promoted.

It is another matter that an influential section of the ulema might well be averse to this, fearing that this might challenge their own claim to speaking on behalf of Islam and all Indian Muslims. The state and various political parties, too, might not look at this development kindly, as such Muslims are bound to make more demands on the state for their comunity, in terms of genuine empowerment, than the ulema have, the demands of many ulema groups being minimal, such as the preservation of Muslim Personal Law, the restoration of the Babri Masjid, unlocking mosques under the control of the Archaeological Survey of India, the declaration of a public holiday on the occasion of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad or allowing Muslim government employees to grow beards and to take off from work on Fridays. But whether sufficient numbers of concerned non-ulema, ‘modern’ educated Muslims will indeed respond to the growing harassment of Muslims and their institutions by getting actively engaged in Muslim community issues remains to be seen.


State Policies on Madrasas and Muslim Education:

That Muslims, as a whole, are one of the most deprived communities in India, including in terms of education, is a well-known fact. Discussions about Muslim educational deprivation or 'backwardness', as it is sometimes referred to, often revolve around the issue of madrasas. Even government policies on Muslim education reflect this concern with madrasas. Often, announcements by various governments about schemes for Muslim education deal almost wholly with madrasa education. This, what one can call inordinate obsession with madrasas, urgently needs to be critiqued.

An oft-heard argument is that Muslims are themselves responsible for their own educational 'backwardness' as they prefer to send their children to madrasas rather than to 'modern' schools. The assumption here is that Muslims are somehow so 'fanatic' about their religion or that they see their religion as so fiercely opposed to 'modernity' that they simply do not want, or refuse, to send their children to 'modern' schools. Muslims thus come to be framed, interpreted and understood solely in terms of religion, in a manner that is vastly different from the way the behavior of other religious communities is understood. In this way, Muslims also come to be blamed entirely for their own educational marginalisation, and the fact that widespread Muslim poverty and the role of the wider society and the state in perpetuating Muslim economic and educational deprivation is completely ignored. This assumption runs as a hidden sub-text that underlies government policies on Muslim education. Since Muslim education thus comes to be reduced largely to madrasa education, government policies generally focus on this sort of education alone.

This assumption is, however, baseless and urgently needs to be questioned. For one thing, as the Sachar Committee Report shows, hardly four per cent of Muslim children study in full-time madrasas. Secondly, many Muslim parents choose to send their children to madrasas simply because they cannot afford the cost of sending them to 'modern' private schools or because they feel that a madrasa education will at least ensure their child a job as a religious specialist as well as merit in the Hereafter, neither of which education in a government school can provide. Thirdly, this assumption ignores the fact of the growing eagerness among Muslims for 'modern' education, and in fact, the growing involvement of Muslim religious organizations in seeking to provide both 'modern' as well as Islamic education to Muslim children. This development is easily observable in any Muslim locality, with the mushrooming of private schools, often so-called English medium schools. This phenomenon is, in a sense, also a reflection of the dissatisfaction that many Muslims feel with the public school system, whose ethos and curriculum is, in many cases, Hinduistic and sometimes even hostile to Muslims.

This means that the notion that Muslims are so wedded to madrasa education that government policies on Muslim education must be primarily concerned with madrasas is wholly fallacious. Clearly, if only four per cent of Muslim children go to full-time madrasas, and if many of these do so for want of access to 'modern' education or because of the apprehension that many Muslim parents have of the Hinduistic ethos of schools or of the discrimination that many Muslims report at the hands of teachers in such schools, instead of seeking to intervene in the madrasa system in the way it has done so far, the state must provide better and cheaper 'modern' schools in Muslim localities and address anti-Muslim biases, a task that it has largely failed in doing.

There is yet another reason why the inordinate interest of the state in madrasa education and its 'reform' needs to be critiqued. As many ulema, managers of the madrasas, see it, the intentions of the state in seeking to 'reform' the madrasas are not beyond suspicion. They see this talk of 'reform' as motivated by what they regard as an ulterior motive of interfering in and controlling the madrasas, and, consequently, undermining their autonomy and their Islamic ethos and identity. They point out that talk of madrasa 'reforms' gathered particular momentum during the rule of the BJP at the Centre, when, following the release of a report on national security, demands began made for the state to intervene in the madrasas in order to combat 'terrorism', based on the misleading contention that Indian madrasas are 'hotbeds' of 'terror'. They look at how the demands for madrasa 'reform' by various governments, such as that of the United States, as well as it client regimes, such as Pakistan, are linked to their quest to control and quash opposition movements. They see these demands as hypocritical, since it was precisely these governments that funded and promoted radicalism in certain Pakistani madrasas in the wake of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. They thus argue that the state is not sincere in its protestations of being concerned about 'reforming' the madrasas. If the state is serious about countering 'terrorism', they ask, why is it not seeking to similarly 'reform' the vast chain of schools run by right-wing Hindutva forces throughout the country, which, unlike the Indian madrasas, openly preach hatred against other communities, particularly Muslims and Christians?

There is now much talk about the Central Madrasa Board that has been mooted by Justice Sohail Aijaz Siddiqui of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions. Although it has been made clear that madrasas can affiliate to the proposed Board voluntarily and that the Board will not interfere in the functioning of affiliated madrasas, a large section of the ulema have opposed the proposal. There is some merit in the arguments of both the proponents as well as opponents of the proposed Board, but that need not detain us here. The point is that, as considerable opposition to the proposal indicates, the state should seek to evolve a consensus with the ulema on what it can or should do regarding madrasas, rather than imposing anything on the madrasas in the name of 'reforms'. In the absence of this, and without the cooperation of the ulema, schemes for madrasas funded by the state are unlikely to be effective.

As far as state intervention or participation in madrasa education is concerned, clearly the scope is limited. The state, if it is indeed serious about helping the madrasas, could arrange for more universities to recognize madrasa degrees. This will help broaden the career prospects of madrasa graduates as well as help expose them to aspects of social reality that they have been sheltered from. At present, only a few universities, particularly those with some sort of historical Muslim association, do so. For this purpose, madrasas may be encouraged to arrange for their students to simultaneously enroll in open school examinations. Further, senior madrasa students could be encouraged to enroll in courses offered by open universities. At present, there is a distinct lack of awareness among the ulema and madrasa students about these possibilities. Literature about this should be made readily available to the madrasas, particularly in Urdu. The state could also launch scholarship schemes for madrasa students who enroll in universities.

In universities that recognize madrasa degrees, special free or subsidised English classes can be organized for students from madrasa backgrounds. For students enrolled in madrasas, the National Council for Promotion of the Urdu Language could consider preparing special texts and related study material for social sciences and English that are based on and reflect their particular cultural worldviews. The state could also open technical training centres attached to madrasas, which could cater to madrasa students or graduates. Non-governmental organizations, Muslim as well as others, can be encouraged by the state to work along with madrasas on common projects, including those funded by the state. In these and other ways, the state would be able to play a positive role with respect to madrasas without being open to the accusation of seeking to interfere in the madrasa system.

To repeat a point made earlier, the state must make the promotion of 'modern' education among Muslims its priority in place of seeking to directly intervene in the field of madrasa education. This calls for many more good quality public schools in Muslim areas, scholarship schemes for Muslim students, hostels for girls and boys in Muslim localities and so on, on the lines of similar programs for similarly marginalised communities such as Dalits and Adivasis. In addition, the government's general schemes for education must have some sort of Muslim component to ensure that adequate funds are allocated to Muslim localities. There also needs to be a social audit of institutions set up and programmes launched by the Central and state governments that are meant for minority welfare and education. No reliable research has been done on precisely what these institutions and progammes have actually done, in practical terms, for promoting Muslim education.

It is obvious that the welfare and development of the country as a whole itself demands that the state pay much more attention that it has hitherto done to Muslim education. But for this, the state must move beyond mere symbolic vote-grabbing sops. Ultimately, however, it is for Muslim community leaders to creatively engage with the state and non-governmental organizations to make Muslim education a priority, both in their demands on the state as well as in their own involvement with the community.


Countering Anti-Madrasa Propaganda

By Yoginder Sikand

Subjected to relentless attack by right-wing Hindu groups and by influential sections of the media as alleged ‘dens of terror’, madrasas in India are now often talked about within a narrow framework that is defined essentially by ‘security’ considerations, real or imaginary. Forced on the defensive, the response of the ulema is also now framed, in part, in similar terms, seeking to argue that madrasas have nothing to do with terrorism. Consequently, other crucial issues pertinent to the madrasas, particularly the question of curricular reform and the welfare of madrasa students, are increasingly being sidelined in public discourse about madrasas in India, and probably elsewhere too.

In response to media allegations against madrasas, in recent years Indian ulema organizations have organised several conferences and seminars seeking to put forward their argument that madrasas have nothing to do with terrorism at all. One such conference, on the theme “The Humanistic Role of Islamic Madrasas”, was recently held in New Delhi. It was organized by a faction of the Ahl-e Hadith movement, a school of Islamic thought ideologically close, if not almost identical with, the Saudi ‘Wahhabis’. In contrast to most other such conferences, this one brought together leading ulema of schools of thought other than the Ahl-e Hadith as well, such as the Deobandis and the Jamaat-e Islami. Not surprisingly, the Sunni Barelvis and the Shias, both of who consider the Ahl-e Hadith to be virtually outside the pale of Islam, were conspicuous by their absence.

Allegations of terrorism leveled against the madrasas were a major issue of discussion during the two-day conference. The subject was the central focus of the keynote address by Maulana Rabe Hasani Nadvi, rector of the Nadwat ul-Ulema madrasa, Lucknow, and President of the influential All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, considered to be one of the leading ulama of India. Although Nadvi did not attend the conference, copies of his speech were distributed to the participants.

Nadvi’s comments reflect a widespread response on the part of the ulema to the charges leveled against the madrasas by their detractors as well as to critiques of madrasas by fellow Muslim advocates of madrasa reform. Nadvi insists that, far from being producing ‘terrorists’, madrasas are devoted to training students who, in his words, ‘posses high moral standards’, ‘nobility’ and ‘humaneness’. Critics of the madrasas, he argues, are motivated by base motives. They have inherited, he says, the legacy of European colonial rulers, who, for their own benefit, introduced a system of education that had no space for morality and spirituality, and that was focused, instead, solely on material acquisitiveness. This system of education was not concerned with the life after death but, rather, was centred entirely on worldly pleasures. Consequently, he argues, European colonialists sought to destroy the madrasas, and their ideological progeny today continue in their legacy.

In thus seeking to defend the madrasas from allegations made against them, Nadvi offers a mirror image of the arguments of detractors of the madrasas, seeing madrasas as representing the ideal system of education in no need of any substantial change. On the other hand, he dismisses the ‘modern’, ‘secular’ system of education as a left-over from colonial times, critiquing it for, as he puts it, ‘ignoring the higher goals of a moral life and being, in one sense, opposed to them’, being allegedly wholly ‘worldly’.

Nadvi thus sees no merit at all in the arguments of the critics of the madrasas. Their intentions, he suggests, are ignoble and their arguments reflect the fact that they are products of a colonial education that sees religion and the ‘lofty human values’ that he says madrasas stand for as a stumbling-block in the path of establishing their own hegemony. This is why, he says, imperialist forces are seeking to defame madrasas as ‘conservative’, ‘fundamentalist’ and as ideological factories of ‘terro5rism’. In this determined defence of madrasas, the difference between theory or rhetoric and actual practice is completely erased. It is as if the graduates of madrasas, unlike their counterparts from ‘modern’ schools, are the very epitome of virtue. As Nadvi puts it, ‘The role of other forms of education in promoting people’s morals and character appears much less than that of the madrasas’. The critique of madrasas articulated by their opponents is thus dismissed as having not the slightest validity at all.

In Nadvi’s defence of the madrasas there is no recognition of the obvious fact that not all madrasa students live up to the high moral standards he insists that madrasas maintain. There is no admission of the fact that sectarian prejudice is actively cultivated in many madrasas, with almost every madrasa being associated with one or the other of several competing schools of Islamic thought, one of their main functions being to rebut the claims of their competitors to representing normative Islam. Nor is there any reference to the fact of patriarchal attitudes and what Islamist feminists would argue are misogynist and ‘un-Islamic’ interpretations of the shariah that are routinely articulated in the speeches and writings of numerous ulema associated with the madrasas. What Muslim advocates of interfaith dialogue would contend are ‘un-Islamic’ positions on inter-faith relations and perceptions of other faiths and their adherents that are associated with significant sections of the ulema are also completely invisiblised in this uncritical praise of the madrasas. There is not even a hint of recognition of the fact, as claimed even by several sympathetic Muslim advocates of madrasa reform, that madrasas often promote a narrow, insular mindset. That madrasas generally focus on the nitty-gritty of medieval fiqh or jurisprudence on a host of issues that have completely lost their relevance or else are interpreted in such a manner as to be incompatible with modern sensitivities, thus failing to equip their students to creatively engage with contemporary challenges and demands, is also ignored. In Nadvi’s uncritical adulation of madrasas there is no allusion to fact that at least some madrasas in neighbouring Pakistan are engaged in promoting militancy and sectarian strife, a fact that detractors of the madrasas have used to wrongly brand Indian madrasas as ‘dens of terror’. It is thus as if there is no need for madrasas to introspect, to recognize the fact that there might be at least a hint of merit in some of the arguments put forward by some of their detractors.

Nadvi, however, is right when he argues that Indian madrasas are not engaged in actively promoting ‘terrorism’. This is something that even senior Indian government officials have testified to. In contrast to madrasas in India, literally thousands of schools run by right-wing Hindu organizations instill in their students relentless hatred of Muslims, Christians and other non-Hindu communities.


Indian Madrasa Reform: A Leading Maulana’s Plea

By Yoginder Sikand

The media might portray them as vehemently opposed to change, but that is not quite an apt description of the Indian ulema as a class. Here, as elsewhere, such banal generalizations are quite unwarranted. In recent years, in fact, a number of ulema associated with leading Indian madrasas have been advocating reform, both in the madrasa system as well as in the relations between the ulema and the wider society. And, slowly but steadily, such changes are being noticed.

One such Islamic scholar, regarded as among the leading contemporary Indian ulema, is the Hyderabad-based Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rahmani. Senior member of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board and General-Secretary of the Islamic Fiqh Academy, he is a prolific writer, with several books to his credit. One of his most recent books deals precisely with the question of reforms in Muslim education. Titled Dini wa Asri Talim: Masail wa Hal (’Religious and Contemporary Education: Problems and Solutions’, the book provides interesting insights into the problems of Muslim, particularly madrasa, education, and spells out an ambitious set of proposals to encourage the ulema to be more socially engaged.

Rahmani argues that Islam adopts a holistic approach to knowledge, not making any rigid division between ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ knowledge. Rather, it divides knowledge into ‘useful knowledge’ (ilm-e nafi) and ‘useless knowledge’ (ilm-e ghayr nafi), with ‘usefulness’ being determined by the capacity of a certain body knowledge to promote individual and social welfare in this world and in the life after death, as described in Islam. Hence, he says, socially useful sciences like Medicine, Engineering and so on, are positively allowed for in Islam. The Quran, he notes, also refers to numerous issues that are related to a range of scientific disciplines, including Astronomy, Physics, Biology, History, languages etc.. This implies that Muslims are not forbidden from learning these subjects. ‘The Quran’, Rahmani says, ‘encourages us to acquire knowledge of the sciences that can reveal the secrets of the world’, and these include the human and the natural sciences. Accordingly, he says, early Muslims excelled in these sciences, building upon the legacy that they inherited from the Greeks.

Using this argument, Rahmani insists that madrasas should include a modicum of ‘modern’ subjects in their curriculum, enough to enable their students, as would-be ulema, to function in the world outside and to be aware of ‘the demands of the present age’. This would also, he says, provide them with better skills to communicate with ‘modern’ educated Muslims as well as non-Muslims. It is wrong to say, he argues, that the ulema ever condemned the learning of English and other ‘modern’ subjects, for all languages ‘are from God’. Rather, what they opposed was the ‘Western culture’ that advocates of English education championed. Just as the founder of the Deoband madrasa, Maulana Qasim Nanotavi, introduced Sanskrit in the madrasa’s syllabus, today’s madrasas must teach English, he advises. Besides, he says, they should also familiarise their students with the basics of Economics, Political Science, History, Geography and Mathematics. Knowledge of these subjects, he writes, are also important for understanding and interpreting Islam according to the demands of the times.

It is entirely possible, Rahmani says, to learn ‘modern’ subjects by keeping one’s Islamic faith and culture intact. In this regard, he adduces the example of the Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, in whose establishment leading Deobandi ulama played an important role. He also refers to the increasing number of madrasas in India today that have incorporated the government-approved curriculum till the primary level. This shows that the ulema are not vociferously opposed to ‘modern’ education, as their critics allege.

In order to incorporate ‘modern’ subjects into the madrasa curriculum, Rahmani suggests that the time devoted in madrasas to such subjects as antiquated Greek Philosophy and Logic be accordingly reduced. A second alternative is to arrange for madrasas to teach the government-approved syllabus till the seventh grade, along with basic Islamic Studies, and focus thereafter only on religious subjects. Or, a better alternative, he says, is to induct students into madrasas only after they have completed their matriculation along with a basic course in Islamic Studies.

Yet, Rahmani says, the inclusion of ‘modern’ subjects in the madrasa curriculum must be facilitated in such a way that the students are not over-burdened. As it is, he says, they have to study 21 disciplines in the course of eight years of study, and so they should be taught only a basic level of ‘modern’ subjects. Else, he says, they would turn out to be good neither in religious nor in contemporary subjects. Further, he adds, the inclusion of ‘modern’ subjects must not impact on the basic aim of the madrasas—to produce religious scholars, and not simply ‘clerks for the market’, as modern schools do. For the same reason, he also opposes the inclusion of technical education in the madrasas, arguing that the solution to the economic problems of the ulema is for the community to ensure that they enjoy a good standard of living, like Christian priests, so that they can devote all their attention to religious and community work.

Rahmani also advocates certain changes in the teaching of religious subjects in the madrasas. Students must be familiarised, he says, with all the various Islamic schools of jurisprudence, and not, as at present, only the one with which their madrasa is associated. They should also be encouraged, he advises, to ‘critically apply their minds to reflect on the principles of jurisprudence in different and new contexts and with regard to new issues’, something that they are not encouraged to do presently. For this purpose, too, he says, students would need to have a basic understanding of various ‘modern’ subjects. In addition, he suggests, madrasa should teach their students not just the details of Islamic jurisprudence, but also the ‘principles of jurisprudence’ (usul al-fiqh), the ‘aims of the shariah’ (maqasid-e shariah) and the ‘secrets of the shariah’ (asrar-e shariah), which, he writes, are presently not given sufficient attention.

Rahmani advocates that the ulema be far more socially engaged than at present. They should, he advises, establish closer links with their non-Muslim neighbours and interact with them so as to clear mutual misunderstandings and help establish communal harmony. They must invite non-Muslims to their programmes and also attend their functions. They must establish good quality schools and hospitals that cater, besides to Muslims, to non-Muslims as well. In this regard, he cites the example of the Prophet Muhammad, who, he says, sent money to the drought-stricken non-Muslim Meccans even though they fiercely opposed him. Madrasas, he says, should also seek to combat fierce inter-Muslim sectarian rivalries that are fanned by sections of the ulema associated with the madrasas. They must also work with ‘modern’ educated Muslims for community causes, and not shun them on the grounds that they are allegedly not being religious enough.

Madrasas, Rahmani concludes, are a crucial need for the Muslim community, for they are the bastions of the tradition of Islamic learning. Yet, he adds, this certainly does not mean that all Muslim children must study in madrasas and train to become ulema. Only a few will do so, he says. Other Muslim children must go in for ‘modern’ education, and for this purpose Muslim organizations must set up appropriate institutions such as schools and colleges. However, he says, they should not work as ‘commercial and profit-making institutions’, as many of them presently do. Instead, they should cater to the poor as well, including the non-Muslim poor, for whom they can institute various scholarships. They must improve their dismal standards, he warns, and stop exploiting their staff. Instead of setting up high-level specialised institutions, that involve considerable investment and attract relatively few Muslim students because of their high fees and the low levels of higher education among the Muslims, they should concentrate more on establishing primary schools that have an ‘Islamic character’.


Traditionalist Ulema and Educational Reform in Kerala

By Yoginder Sikand

Muslims account for around a fourth of Kerala’s population, and the single largest group among the state’s Muslims, the Mapillas, are among the most literate of the various Muslim communities in the country. Madrasas and schools run by literally hundreds of Muslim religious organizations in the state have made this possible. A recent study by Zubair Hudawi, himself a madrasa graduate from Kerala and presently a doctoral candidate at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, titled Development and Modernisation of Religious Education in Kerala: The Role of the Samastha Kerala Jameyyat ul-Ulama, discusses this contribution in great detail.

The Samastha Kerala Jameyyat ul-Ulama (SKJU) represents a traditionalist theological position, quite opposed to Islamic modernists on numerous points. Yet, as Hudawi argues, it has not hesitated from championing modern education. Hudawi, who spent several years studying at the Dar ul-Huda Islamic Academy, the SKJU’s leading centre for higher Islamic education, seeks to explain this enigma through an in-depth analysis of the organisation’s evolution and development, arguing against the notion that the traditionalist ulema are necessarily and wholly opposed to ‘modernity’. He argues that the SKJU is an excellent example of a traditionalist Muslim religious organization that, rather than opposing ‘modernity’ outright, actually facilitates it, albeit selectively. Thus, today, he writes, the SKJU runs not just several thousand madrasas but also numerous English- and Malayalam-medium schools, and scores of women’s and technical colleges.

The proactive role played by the SKJU, Hudawi argues, must be seen, in part, as a response to the emergence of new Muslim religious organizations promoting mass education in the early decades of the twentieth century, when reformist Kerala Muslim scholars set up institutions that combined both traditional Islamic as well as modern education and championed modernist interpretations of Islam. The Mapilla Revolt of 1921, crushed brutally by the British, proved a major turning point in this regard. It was similar in its impact to the suppression of the 1857 revolt for the Muslims of north India, creating a climate for reformers, concerned with the plight of the community, to emerge. They argued that the Mapillas had deviated from the ‘original’ Islam by incorporating a host of ‘un-Islamic’ customs, many of which the traditionalists upheld but which the modernists condemned as wrongful innovations. They saw Islam as positively encouraging, rather than, as some traditionalists argued, opposing, modern education, and called for a radical overhaul of the traditional system of madrasa education.

Because they insisted that the Islamic scriptural resources could be accessed without the traditional ulema as intermediaries, the reformists were sharply condemned by the latter. Some of them were even condemned as apostates. Yet, they continued their work, setting up educational institutions that represented a major shift in the structure of religious authority from that represented by the earlier individual scholars or musaliyars. In place of traditional mosque schools (called othupallis in Malayalam) that focused on the memorisation and recitation of texts but ignored writing skills, they set up modern schools that taught reading and writing and provided education in both religious and secular subjects. Several of these organizations, set up in the pre-1947 period, still exist today, running literally thousands of madrasas-cum-schools in the state, such as the Jamaat-e Islami and the two branches of the Kerala Nadwat ul-Mujahideen.

Faced with the growing challenge of the reformists, which they saw as not only articulating what they regarded as ‘un-Islamic’ views but also as challenging their authority as interpreters of Islam, Kerala’s traditionalist ulema first reacted by issuing fatwas against them and appealing to their followers to boycott them. However, witnessing the expansion of alternate Muslim religious groups at their expense, they soon decided to follow their path. In 1926, a group of traditionalist ulema, many of them also Sufi shaikhs, got together and established the SKJU in Calicut, the centre of the Mapillas of Malabar. Although its principal aim was to defend religious practices and beliefs which the modernists condemned as ‘innovations’, particularly those related to the cults of the Sufi saints, the SKJU also called for the promotion of modern education compatible with Islam and inter-communal harmony.

The primary focus of the reformists who challenged the traditionalist ulema was on the reform of religious education, but, in contrast to many of their counterparts in northern India, they also sought to promote modern education, Muslims then being (as now) relatively marginalized compared to the other communities in Kerala on this front. After 1947, when Kerala was still part of the Madras state, the Government of Madras banned religious education in state-supported schools. This forced Muslim organisations in the region to set up educational boards that established literally thousands of part-time madrasas, enabling Muslim children to attend these as well as regular schools at the same time. In this way, most Muslim children in Kerala were able to receive madrasa education for a minimum of five years’ public schooling. Separate madrasa education boards were set up by the main Muslim sectarian organisations, each of which prepared their own textbooks for madrasa students, appointed teachers and school inspectors and granted certificates.

In 1951, the SKJU established its own religious educational committee, the Samastha Kerala Islam Matha Vidhyabhyasa Board, under which it set up a number of madrasas, for which it prepared a uniform set of graded texts, organized examinations, trained teachers and provided scholarships to needy students. Till the early 1970s, Hudawi writes, the SKJU remained aloof from the field of modern education, running, instead, a vast number of full-time madrasas in the traditional fashion. However, faced with the growing demand for modern education even among its followers, commonly known as ‘Sunnis’, it began to adopt the pattern of education of its reformist rivals. Today, the SKJU has almost 9000 part-time madrasas across Kerala, whose timings are adjusted in such a way as to enable their students to study in regular schools as well. Until 2005, the SKJU’s educational board had issued certificates to over 19,00,000 students who had passed the fifth grade. It has prepared a series of textbooks in English for children from the upper kindergarten grade till high school that are used in its part-time madrasas, and is working on a similar set of texts in Urdu to cater to Muslims in north India, where it now has some branches. It has even expanded abroad, where it runs educational centres in several Gulf States where Malayali Muslims live.

Besides its thousands of madrasas, today the SKJU runs a madrasa teachers’ training centre, several shariah colleges that combine religious and secular education, scores of co-educational and women’s schools and colleges, a committee to provide financial help to poor madrasa teachers, with almost 400 branches throughout Kerala, a madrasa teachers’ pension scheme and separate magazines for children, women and madrasa teachers. It also runs a number of orphanages, some of which receive state funding. Some of these orphanages run schools, polytechnics, industrial training centres, presses, computer centres and dispensaries, besides madrasas.

As Hudawi’s study brilliantly demonstrates, stereotypical notions about the traditionalist ulema being wholly opposed to change need to be revised. The SKJU case demonstrates that, far from being fiercely hostile to modernity, many of them may be said to be creatively responding to the demands of modernity by attempting to fashion their own Islamic version of it.


Maududi on Madrasa Reform

By Yoginder Sikand

Syed Abul Ala Maududi (1903-79), founder of the Jamaat-e Islami, is regarded as one of the chief architects of modern-day Islamist revivalism. He was a profuse writer, and is credited with literally hundreds of works on a diverse range of issues. Although he not a graduate from a traditional madrasa, he wrote considerably on the subject of madrasa reform. His reformist educational views are summed up in a book recently published by the Jamaat-e Islami Hind, titled Islami Nizam-e Talim (’The Islamic System of Education’. The book is actually a document sent by Maududi to the Pakistani Educational Commission, probably sometime in the 1950s. Although thus considerably dated, its relevance in terms of contemporary debates about madrasa reform is undeniable.

Maududi begins by noting the existing dualism in Muslim education—between madrasa-trained ulema, on the one hand, and university-trained graduates, on the other, who have almost nothing in common between them. He argues that Islam does not countenance any rigid dualism between ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ knowledge, and, therefore, that this dualism must be bridged.

Maududi goes on to critique the existing system of traditional madrasa education. He writes that it is incorrect to claim, as many ulema do, that it represents the Muslims’ traditional system of religious education, which, therefore, should remain untouched. Instead, he writes, it is actually a remnant of the system of education of the medieval ages, of the period of Muslim political rule in India, that was geared to the training of civil servants. This is why he refers to the existing madrasa system as ‘the old system of education’ (qadim nizam-e talim), rather than as the ‘system of religious education’ (dini talimi nizam), which is how most traditionalist ulema describe it.

‘The usefulness of this system’, Maududi opines, ‘was finished the day British rule was established in India’, because, as a consequence, its graduates were unable to gain a place in the new administrative set-up under colonial rule. ‘Because this system contains our centuries’-old cultural heritage, and it contributed in a limited way to fulfilling our religious needs’, he notes, “many Muslims think that it should be preserved as it is so that Muslims’ don’t lose their ancestral heritage and that they maintain their cultural identity’.

That, however, so Maududi argues, is not the right attitude to adopt. Today’s rapidly changing circumstances have led to what he sees as the ‘rapid decline of the usefulness of the system’, its graduates being ‘unable to cope with the demands, conditions, problems and needs of the times’. Today, he notes, the overwhelming majority of madrasa graduates have no option but to take up careers as imams in mosques, teachers in madrasas, delivering public lectures and even ‘fanning all sorts of religious conflicts so as to impress upon their audience that they are indispensable’. Consequently, Maududi adds in a bitter critique of the traditionalist ulema, ‘Although they do some good, spreading a bit of religious knowledge, this is far outweighed by the damage that they do, because they cannot properly represent Islam or guide the community on the lines of religion or solve its problems’. ‘In fact’, he goes on to add, ‘I would say that instead of working for promoting the glory of Islam, the opposite is happening, for the way they are today representing Islam is causing people to increasingly distance themselves from it’. ‘This’, he laments, ‘has led to a decline in the honour of Islam, and due to them sectarian conflicts continue to thrive’. He explains this by arguing that ‘their necessities of life’, or, in other words, their quest for material comfort, forces these ulema ‘to keep these conflicts alive’.

A second reason for the urgent need for reform of the existing system of madrasa education, Maududi writes, is that, contrary to common perception, its specifically religious component is ‘very limited’. This is because when it was formulated, in the period of Muslim political rule in India, it was not intended to produce religious scholars, although this is how it is generally perceived today. Rather, its purpose was essentially to produce civil servants to man the administrative apparatus of Muslim-ruled states. The main reason for having a limited religious component in the curriculum was that Islamic jurisprudence was administered by medieval Muslim rulers in some spheres, and, therefore, civil servants needed to have a basic understanding of the subject. They also needed to learn subjects such as philosophy, logic, etiquette and grammar, and, in fact, Maududi says, these subjects are given more importance in the madrasa curriculum than the Quran and the Hadith, the traditions attributed to the Prophet. This, he claims, continues even today in many madrasas.

Although several madrasas now give more attention to Hadith than in the past, Maududi writes, they unfortunately give ‘particular importance to those Hadith reports related to sectarian conflicts, and to the nitty-gritty and minor details of jurisprudential rules’. Little attention is given to the history, development, principles and methodologies of Islamic jurisprudence or fiqh. However, Maududi stresses, these neglected subjects are essential, for without them it is not possible to engage in ijtihad or creative and independent articulations of jurisprudential responses concerning a whole host of issues, particularly those of contemporary concern which are obviously not directly dealt with in the works of traditional fiqh. In this way, Maududi argues, ‘it appears that the existing madrasa syllabus perhaps reflects an understanding that ijtihad is a sin’. Yet, he adds, without ijtihad, Muslims cannot progress. ‘Consequently’, he says, concluding his sharp critique of the existing madrasa system, ‘madrasas are unable to fulfill even those religious functions for which they were retained’.

Maududi is equally critical of the existing system of secular or Western-style education, or what he describes as the ‘modern system of education’ (jadid nizam-e talim). Introduced in South Asia by the British, it was geared not to promote Islam or the interests of the Muslim community, but, rather, to rear a class of servants to staff the lower orders of the British Indian administration. Consequently, Maududi says, the system had no place for Islam. The various subjects that were taught in the system, such as the natural and social sciences, were framed in such a way as to exclude God and His existence completely, having been developed by people who were anti-religious. Not surprisingly, most of those who studied in this system also lost their faith in religion. Furthermore, Maududi adds, this system ‘is bereft of even basic moral values’, as it encourages fierce competition, selfishness and individualism, and is concerned only with the promotion and fulfillment of worldly desires.

Maududi thus sees both systems of education as being desperately in need of reform, and so calls for a ‘revolutionary change’, to replace both of them by a single system that, he says, should aim at promoting ‘a free and progressive Muslim community’. Such a system should produce pious, practicing and committed Muslims who excel in all fields, and who see God’s existence and purpose in all that they study. This system would end what Maududi describes as the ‘un-Islamic’ division between ‘religion’ (din) and ‘this world’ (duniya). It would, in fact, be ‘completely religious and worldly at the same time’, for Islam, far from preaching renunciation of the world, sees the world as the ‘field for the hereafter’ (akhirat ki kheti). This ideal Islamic educational system, Maududi explains, ‘should enable Muslims to understand the world, make them capable of properly conducting their worldly lives, but training them to see the world through the lens of Islam and inspiring them to work run its affairs in accordance with Islam’s teachings’.

This means, therefore, that religious education cannot be a small supplement tagged on to a basically secular syllabus. Instead, Maududi calls for what he describes as the ‘Islamisation of all social, natural and physical sciences’, cleansing them of their atheistic assumptions. They should, instead, he advocates, be based on the teachings of the Quran, and those who study thus Islamised subjects must be encouraged to ‘implement’ Islam in their respective fields of study and expertise. Further, rather than focusing on the accumulation of bookish knowledge, this new system, Maududi proposes, must seek to promote ‘character-building’ on Islamic lines.

Maududi provides a brief blue-print of the new, uniform system of education that he proposes for Muslims to follow. At the primary stage, the usual subjects that are taught in schools today would continue, although suitably ‘Islamised’, along with basic Islamic education. This would carry on in the secondary and high school stages as well, with the addition of Arabic and more detailed learning of Islamic beliefs, teachings and practices, seeking to relate Islam to daily life concerns. Thereafter, students would be able to specialise in one or other branch of learning, be it the Quran, Hadith or Islamic jurisprudence, or (suitably Islamised) History, Politics, Chemistry and so on. Specialists of all these subjects would be considered as ulema and would have the same employment opportunities.

Girls’s education is as important as that of boys, Maududi writes. ‘No community can advance if its females are ignorant’, he says. He recommends that girls learn the same subjects as boys, but he opposes co-education. The medium of instruction, for both boys and girls, he writes, should be the mother tongue, and English should be taught just as any other subject, rather than being privileged as the medium, as is the case in most elitist schools and colleges.

In this way, Maududi suggests, the rigid dualism that characterizes contemporary Islamic education would be ended, and what he sees as Islam’s holistic philosophy of education could be put into practice.


Kashmir's Largest Madrasa: Dar ul-Uloom Raheemiyyah

By Yoginder Sikand

Established in 1979, the Dar ul-Uloom Raheemiyyah, located in the town of Bandipora, is the largest madrasa in Jammu and Kashmir. Founded by a graduate of the Deoband madrasa, Maulana Muhammad Rahmatullah, it currently has more than a thousand students on its rolls. Patterned on the Deoband model, it is one of the few madrasas in the state that provide Islamic education till the takhasus or specialization level.

The Trust that runs the madrasa also runs several other institutions, spread over three separate campuses. These include the Faiz-e Aam school for girls (till the fifth grade) and a similar school for boys (till the tenth grade). Both these institutions follow the curriculum prescribed by the Jammu and Kashmir State Board for Education, besides providing students with religious education. The madrasa is located on a separate plot of land, donated by a pious elderly woman, the late Aziz un-Nisa, who is said to have taught the Quran to hundreds of boys and girls in and around Bandipora. Adjacent to the madrasa is a four-storey technical institute which is scheduled to be opened this year, offering courses in computers, tailoring, painting and book-binding to students of the madrasa and others. Work on a mosque that can accommodate some six thousand worshippers is almost complete. A new library is coming up, whose collection includes numerous handwritten manuscripts in Persian and Arabic, some several centuries old. In addition, the Dar ul-Uloom runs some sixty part-time maktabs in and around Bandipora, most of whose teachers are senior students of the madrasa.

Mufti Nazeer Ahmed, aged 40, one of the elders at the madrasa, is a specialist in Islamic jurisprudence. His principal task is to dispense fatwas and hear disputes in the dar ul-qaza or 'house of justice' that is attached to the madrasa. Till date, the madrasa has received several thousand requests for fatwas.

When I enter his cell to meet the Mufti, I find him sitting in a corner on a carpet, surrounded by men and women who have come to him for advice. He asks an old woman, who cannot speak, to explain her problem. It relates, like many other cases that he hears daily, to marital and inheritance squabbles. He then hears out the others who are party to the dispute and eventually gives an opinion in the woman's favour.

As the crowd shuffles out of the room, he beckons me to sit next to him. I ask him if his madrasa's acceptance of modern education, as represented in the two schools that it runs, in addition to the madrasa itself, is unusual for the Kashmiri ulema community.

'Not at all', he replies. 'Many of our ulema believe that we need to have both modern as well as Islamic education, including even for girls'. 'Students with knowledge of both', he adds, 'can effectively communicate Islam, by their words and deeds, in a whole range of spheres, and not simply as religious specialists. A pious Muslim engineer or doctor is best suited for preaching Islam to engineers or doctors'.

Mufti Nazir offers added justification for this approach to education. 'If ulema acquire law degrees, they will be in a better position to offer fatwas. Or, if you want to establish an economic institution or system run on Islamic lines, a degree in Economics can be useful. Or, if a madrasa graduate studies journalism, he can use his skills to present a proper understanding of Islam to others and to counter anti-Muslim media propaganda. And for this, madrasa graduates must also study English and other languages, so that they can communicate with people who do not know Urdu'. The Mufti also refers to the need for technical training for madrasa students. 'This is important for those students who will not take up careers as ulema', he explains.

I ask the Mufti about the Kashmir dispute, but he brushes aside my question politely. 'We have nothing to do with politics', he says. He stresses, however, that allegations about madrasas in Kashmir being allegedly involved in promoting 'terrorism' are false. 'We are completely transparent, an open book, and have nothing to hide. Anyone can come and visit us and sit in our classrooms', he replies. 'Not a single madrasa in Kashmir has been identified by intelligence sources as engaged in that sort of activity'. To brand the madrasas as a whole as 'factories of terror' on the basis of the activities of a few stray students is unfair, he stresses.

We talk about inter-community relations and what Islam has to say about them. It is wrong, the Mufti tells me, to equate all non-Muslims as 'enemies of Islam', as some self-styled Islamists argue. 'You cannot generalize like this about any community. There are good people in other communities, just as there are bad people among Muslims. Our duty as Muslims is to approach others with kind words and a good heart and tell them about Islam and impress them with our good example'. For that, the Mufti says, peace is a must, so that others would be willing to listen to what Muslims say about their faith. Moreover, he adds, 'We must learn about each other's religions, not to condemn and denounce others, but to understand them'.

The Mufti tells me about a Hindu whom he met some days ago who had read about Islam and the stress it lays on ethical values. 'He told me that he appreciated Islam because of these values that it stands for, and not because of Muslims' behaviour. ‘So’, he says, ‘Islam must not be judged on the basis of the wrong actions of some Muslims'.

The call for the evening prayer comes floating in. As I get up to leave, the Mufti hands me a bunch of booklets that the madrasa has published. He asks me to spend the night if I want as it is getting late and I might miss the last bus to Srinagar. I would certainly have loved to—his cheerfulness, simplicity and hospitality have been so endearing, but I really must leave. I promise him that I'll try to return soon.


Deoband's Rector on Central Madrasa Board

By Yoginder Sikand

The recent suggestion by Justice Siddiqui, Chariman of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions, that the Government of India set up a Central Madrasa Board has been welcomed by a section of the Indian ulema, but many influential Muslim clerics in the country have strongly opposed it. Although the press has highlighted this fact, it has not cared to seriously look at the arguments that these clerics make in this regard, thus reinforcing the deeply-held stereotype of the ulema being allegedly wholly opposed to madrasa reform.

Some months ago, the Dar ul-Ulum at Deoband, arguably India's largest and most influential madrasa, organized a massive public gathering under the auspices of the 'All-India Federation of Islamic and Arabic Madrasas' at Deoband to specifically discuss the question of the proposed Board. Expectedly, the convention concluded with a stern denunciation of the Government's plans.

The Deoband madrasa's opposition to the Board, which may be taken to reflect the opinion of several non-Deobandi clerics, too, was summarized in the inaugural address to the rally delivered by the rector of the Deoband madrasa, the ageing Maulana Marghub ur-Rahman, which has recently been published as a booklet. The Maulana sees the proposal of cnstituting the Board as aimed essentially at undermining the Islamic or specifically religious character of the madrasas and thereby to cause them to 'deviate' from their basic objective—that of producing scholars of the Islamic tradition. He refers to American imperialist offensives in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the pressure that America is exerting on many Muslim states to 'reform' their religious education system to argue that behind America's demands for reform of the madrasas is the sinister motive of destroying their identity and, with this, their ability to challenge Western hegemony. At a time, he asks, when few governments choose to defy America's writ, 'Is it impossible that the proposed Board could be part of our own Government's expression of loyalty to global powers?'.

The Maulana claims that the opponents of Islam recognize the crucial role that madrasas play in sustaining the Islamic scholarly tradition and popularizing it among the Muslim public. They see the madrasas as being a major hurdle in their expansionist and imperialist designs. Hence, he claims, they are 'conspiring' to undermine the madrasas. However, instead of doing this directly, they are seeking to do this by another means—by converting madrasas from institutions of Islamic learning into 'employment training centres'. The proposed Board, he argues, is one such effort on the part of the Indian Government, for once madrasas begin to receive aid from the Government through the Board they will be under its control and their independent religious character would be seriously affected.

Evoking a central principle enunciated by the founders of the Deoband madrasa, the Maulana argues that madrasas must remain free of financial dependence on the state or rich and powerful people. So as to remain rooted among and responsible to 'ordinary' Muslims, they must depend only on donations by the Muslim masses. This would, he says, earn them the pleasure of God, being dependent only on His help for their finances. Pleading for madrasas to safeguard their autonomy from governmental interference, which is bound to happen if they receive government aid, the Maulana adds, 'The ulema of Bukhara mourned the decline of knowledge when the [Abbasid] government began funding the Nizamia madrasa in Baghdad', a reference to one of the earliest government-supported madrasas in the Muslim world. They 'expressed sorrow that religious education would be procured therein not for the sake of the Hereafter but to acquire worldly pomp and splendour'. He predicts that the same might happen to madrasas in India today in case they are affiliated to the proposed Central Madrasa Board and receive funding from it.

The Maulana notes that Justice Siddiqui defends his proposal by claiming that the Board would enable Muslims to adjust to 'modern demands' and overcome their 'backwardness' by combining religious and secular education and in this way help them 'gain success in terms of economic benefit and spiritual benefit for the Hereafter'. Siddiqui also argues, the Maulana points out, that the Board, while not interfering in the religious education of affiliating madrasas, will lay down the syllabus for secular studies therein and that it would also have the power to inspect the accounts of these madrasas to the extent that they receive funds from the state.

The Maulana dismisses these as seemingly benign but actually sinister proposals. The proposal of such a Board was, he points out, first made by the previous BJP-led coalition government at the Centre, which had appointed a working group on 'national security', led by the then Home Minister, that expressed concern about the increasing number of madrasas in India, seeing them as a security risk, and wrongly alleging links between madrasas in border areas and the Pakistani secret service agencies. In this context, the report had suggested the setting-up of a Central Madrasa Board to ostensibly promote madrasa 'modernisation' but actually to counter their alleged security threats. Hence, the Maulana says, the proposal itself is suspect since its origins themselves are suspect.

The Maulana further questions the wisdom of such a Board by noting that it has not been demanded by any representative Muslim organization. 'The question thus arises', he says, 'that while the Government consigns legitimate Muslim demands into the dustbin, how can it, in the absence of any such demand, establish a massive programme for madrasa welfare?'. Obviously, he argues, the intentions behind the proposed Board are not pious.

Further questioning the need for such a Board, the Maulana notes that, as the recent Sachar Committee Report on Indian Muslims reveals, less than 4 per cent of Muslim children in India study in full-time madrasas. The rest 96 per cent either study in regular private and public schools or not at all. 'The Government', the Maulana says, 'is not bothered about these 96 per cent children'. He asks, 'How come such sympathy for these 4 per cent?'. If the Government truly wishes to do something for Muslim education, he advises, it can 'do all it wants' to promote modern education among the rest 96 per cent

of Muslim children. However, here it has done precious little, if at all, and, instead, has adopted policies that make it increasingly difficult for minorities to establish their educational institutions. Is it not ironic, he asks, that 'Where Muslims need the Government's help the Government's policy is one of non-cooperation, while in the case of those institutions [madrasas] that think that remaining safe from Government help is the biggest help they can get, the Government insists that they should accept its aid?'. 'What meaning should be attributed to his?’, he questions.

Taking on Justice Siddiqui's argument that the Board is needed in order to enable madrasa graduates to secure better economic prospects, the Maulana argues that in Islam the aim of acquiring religious knowledge is to win the favour of God, rather than for using it for worldly ends. Hence, he says, the ulema have always stressed the need for 'pious intention' in pursuing religious education, and have insisted that it should not be had as a means for economic advancement. This being the case, he says, obviously this basic aim of the madrasas would be severely affected if the proposed Board comes into being. In this regard, he stresses the point that madrasas are not intended to promote the economic development of the Muslim community. Rather, he says, they aim to 'train such specialists who, indifferent to worldly pleasures, devote themselves to the protection and defence of Islam'. This objective, he claims, would be severely hampered if madrasa education were sought to be linked to the question of employment, as Justice Siddiqui envisages the proposed Board as doing.

Other crucial aspects of the madrasas, the Maulana goes on, might be similarly negatively affected if the Board comes into being. The ulema of the madrasas are required to propagate the message of Islam and even, if the need so arises, to speak up to 'tyrant rulers', but, the Maulana says, government-aided madrasas would lose this freedom. Their Islamic character can easily be undermined if the government forces them to study 'un-Islamic' material or sing 'polytheistic' songs, he says, referring to the practice in several BJP-ruled states making the singing of Hindu-inspired and 'un-Islamic' songs mandatory for all students in government schools. Justice Siddiqui promises that the religious curriculum of the madrasas will not be impacted upon by the Board, but, the Maulana asks, what if the Board structures the syllabus of secular education in such a way that the time and space devoted to religious study in the affiliating madrasas are greatly constricted? And when Siddiqui says that the Board will have the right to inspect the accounts of the affiliating madrasas to the extent that they take financial aid from it, what, the Maulana questions, is to stop 'communally-minded' government officers from creating problems for the madrasas in matters related to their other funds? Further, he adds, the performance of madrasas affiliated to state-level boards appointed by governments in some states has proved to be a miserable failure, and so there is every chance of this happening on a far larger scale if the Central Madrasa Board comes into being. Finally, he says, the Board will seriously impair the constitutional rights that minorities enjoy to establish and run educational institutions of their choice, free of governmental interference.

While countering the proposed Board, Siddiqui suggests that madrasas coordinate with each other, improve their functioning and the moral standards of their students, work more closely with their surrounding societies and also regularly submit their accounts to government-approved auditors so that they cannot be accused of financial impropriety. In this way, he suggests, the madrasas might be able to take the wind out of the sails of those who, he argues, seek to undermine them in the name of the proposed Board.

Of course, not all ulema would agree with everything that the Maulana has to say. Some of them have indeed welcomed the proposed Board on the condition that it guarantees the autonomy of the madrasas and that no decisions are thrust on them without the approval of their ulema. Many of them stress the need for inclusion of secular subjects in the madrasa curriculum to a certain level, with or without the help of a Board. The lively, often heated, debate on the Board, and on madrasa reforms more generally, thus continues to rage in ulema circles.