Friday, March 28, 2008

Acting Out

"Young people will do things to get attention with peers that they wouldn't do ... in a context all by themselves without the reinforcement of the peer group..." Read More...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Welcome To the World

Atlas Puzzle

I can't believe how many people have accessed this blog over the past few weeks. It's very exciting to see that people from far away are visiting us like Malaysia, Peru, Japan and Europe among others. I've also received very lovely and encouraging emails from some of you and I thank you very much. Sometimes it may feel like one's work can really feel unappreciated or unnoticed but really one never can tell who is watching.

To the people who are reading this I ask: do you homeschool or are you thinking about it? Do you have any tips or valuable tools? Don't be shy, (says the shy homeschooling mom); feel free to email me or leave a comment on the blog. Let me know about your progress and challenges. For those of you in the U.K.: do you have a large community of homeschoolers there? Is it encouraged among the Muslim population? How is the quality of education in the Islamic schools and are they expensive? Same question for those of you in the States. JazakALLAH Khair.

We are making a book about leaves . It is really just a way to practice handwriting and an excuse for coloring.

I see a yellow leaf.

We have to laminate it and cut out the circles. Then I will punch a hole in it and use a brass tack to hold it together, InshaALLAH. We have just completed chapter one in our science book about the parts of trees and how trees change throughout the seasons. We are anxiously awaiting a more spring-like temperature (we still have snow on the ground and possibly more on the way).

In the meantime, we bought some sunflower seeds from Walmart.

The last frost date is when?!

However, we must wait until the last threat of frost, which according to this is the 9th of May. Read More...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Identify yourself

The many faces of niqab

I wear a niqab, or face veil. I do this of my own volition. I have worn it since my oldest daughter was six months old.

Why do I wear it? Well, for a variety of reasons. First of all, I wear it for extra modesty. Extra modesty, you say? Yes. Believe it or not, I have had guys try to ask me out! Dressed as I was, I have been admired from afar (and up close, I guess). I thought that was insane, but whatever.

Second, when I wore hijab only, people really seemed to go after me for some reason. I've been told by my fellow Americans (at the check-out in the grocery store) that they are going to bomb all of us and our ALLAH. A young punk spat on my back when I was eight months pregnant in the subway here in Toronto, (to him I say see you on the Day of Judgement - rights will be given to those to whom they are due (and wrongs will be redressed)...”[7]Narrated in Saheeh Muslim, #2582

I've been told to go back to my country (er, America?),that I was a disgrace, and once while walking past a group of young girls in 2005 one smugly leaned over and yelled "bomb Iraq!" Blah, blah, blah. And this is the supposed land of multiculturalism. That only applies to food and shopping,I think.

I've received a lot of hostility over the past few years - especially when I am out alone with my children. I find the niqab to be a comfort as it makes most people stay away. So, it is a protection for me. However, there those few self-righteous people who take it upon themselves to "remind me" that "This is Canada, not Afghanistan, you don't have to wear that here", or "Are you going to force your daughter to wear that? But you're so beautiful..." as if they can tell.

Can you believe that?

My daughter will be free to choose the niqab on her own, just as I did. Islam is about knowledge. There is no compulsion in religion. Why is it that because I am a Muslim, people think that I am forcing the religion on my children?

My mother is a Baptist. You don't think she made us go to church on Sunday? We started going to church regularly when I was about eleven and by then, I wanted nothing to do with it. I was always cognizant of God but had my doubts about church.

In Islam, we pray five times a day no exception.

The family that prays together...

We do this when the time for prayer arrives, regardless of location, i.e. at home, the mosque, the mall.... I expect my children to begin praying regularly when they are of age, no exception. This should be a natural progression since they were born Muslim and it is what they know.


It should be an easy transition, a rite of passage, not something forced upon them. My daughters will wear hijab, InshaALLAH. Not because Ummi and Abi said so, but because ALLAH said so. This does not mean that my son is off the hook. He too will dress in accordance to the Sunnah. He too will observe the modesty requirements of a Muslim male.

I wear the niqab because it was the right choice for me. Choice. That means I am exercising my freedom, no? Why is it that people believe that their version of freedom is the right one?

We live in a Western society but this does not make us any less Muslim. It also does not cancel our rights to live as Muslims. Nor does it give those who are different from us free reign to assault with words (or saliva).

Therefore, we have to keep our heads up, speak up when necessary and not take the abuses that we are told we deserve. We must hold on to our identity.

For example, we have two flags of the Khilafah hanging in our classroom.

Flag of the Khalifah

Traditionally, early Arab flags were of one colour only, usually black or white, and charged with a religious inscription. It is thought that Muhammad himself used such flags, and it is said that his followers fought under a white flag.

Working hard

You can see the white and green one there but it is now in a different spot. The point is that I want my children to see the Shahadah everywhere. I want it to be a fixture in their hearts and minds. When I was young, we stood to recite the pledge of allegiance. My children recite the Qur'an and proudly say they are Muslims and that they love ALLAH.

We have also purchased some (very inexpensive) Ottoman coins so that they can see a piece of Muslim history up close and personal.

Circulated Ottoman coin

Note that this coin is free from the ego of the Sultan, unlike the many who have cast their faces upon coins and bills.

Head to head

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Purpose of Sports Part I

As homeschooling Muslims in the West, it seems that we are a relatively untapped market. We are fledglings in a society that comes from the tradition of one-room school houses and bible-based schools. We are playing catch-up and don't always have affordable schools, curricula, qualified teachers and so on.

From time to time, I look at what the non-Muslim homeschoolers are doing, particularly those who implement religion in their day to day activities. If they have good ideas that are halal, I definitely exploit them.

In some ways they, like us, are trying to balance their religious life with the secular world around them. I would argue that they have an easier time since this society was built upon their founding father's religious ideals.
Still, they are facing the same challenges of seamlessly introducing their children into the post-secondary world as us. Take for example, this article which talks about homeschool sports and the new phenomena of talent-seeking scouts and agents.

This is not where our family is headed. Whether it be my son or daughters, I am not comfortable with them pursuing a sports career. Sports is a means to an end, but not an end in and of itself. Physical fitness has a purpose and its own place. Don't misunderstand - I am not anti sports. If anything, I believe it is our duty as Muslims to incorporate fitness into our lives. If not, we (especially Muslim women ) run the risk of developing severe maladies and physical difficulties.

What I mean to say is that as we assimilate into society as much as our deen will allow, we have to be careful once we reach the gray areas. The main danger is the way it detracts from the time we need to study the deen. Sports and fitness is good but should not be a primary goal. The fitnah of a sports professional - or amateur for that matter is great. I have a few non-Muslim relatives who played in the NFL, so I am somewhat familiar with this.

Look at Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf's situation and this was long before September 11th, I might add: National anthem controversy

"Abdul-Rauf is perhaps best known for the controversy created when he refused to stand for "the Star-Spangled Banner" before games[1], stating that the flag was a "symbol of oppression" and that the United States had a long "history of tyranny". He said that standing to the national anthem would therefore conflict with his Islamic beliefs. On March 12, 1996 the NBA suspended Abdul-Rauf for his refusal to stand, but the suspension lasted only one game. Two days later, the league was able to work out a compromise with him, whereby he would stand during the playing of the national anthem but could close his eyes and look downward. He usually silently recited a Muslim prayer during this time.

In an apparent publicity stunt gone wrong linked to this controversy, four employees of Denver's KBPI were charged with misdemeanor offenses related to entering a Colorado mosque and playing "the Star-Spangled Banner" on a bugle and trumpet, in a provocative response to Abdul-Rauf's refusal to stand for the national anthem.[2]"

The "heroes" of this culture are neither examples, role models, or measures of any kind. So before we high-five each other because we homeschoolers have "made it" by getting the same privileges as our public school cousins, we need to forge an identity that is distinct from the Western identity. Read More...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Book Review: On South Asian Madrasas and 'Terrorism'

In this issue:
Book Review: On South Asian Madrasas and ‘Terrorism’
Presidential Address by Maulana Marghub ur-Rahman at Deoband Anti-Terrorism Convention
Deoband’s Anti-Terrorism Convention: Some Reflections
Jamiat in Jeopardy: Uncle-Nephew Strife
Interview: Maulana Fazlur Rahim on 'Modern' and Techincal Education in Madrasas
Ek Kathat Ki Katha: A Maulvi's Unique Story

Book Review

Name of the Book: Madrasas in South Asia: Teaching Terror?

Edited by: Jamal Malik

Publisher: Routledge, London and New York

Year: 2008

Pp: 190

ISBN: 10:0-415-44247-8

Reviewed by: Yoginder Sikand

South Asia’s madrasas have increasingly come to be discussed in terms of their real or alleged security implications. This owes to numerous factors, particularly to America’s so-called ‘War on Terror’. Yet, surprisingly little empirical research has been done on the madrasas in the region. Wild generalizations, based on sensational exceptions, have led to untenable conclusions about all madrasas. This timely book discusses various aspects of madrasas in contemporary South Asia, warning us against making any facile assumptions.

In his introduction, the Germany-based Pakistani scholar Jamal Malik argues that far from being monolithic, South Asia’s madrasas display considerable variety: in terms of sectarian affiliation, approaches to ‘modernity’ and ‘modern’ knowledge, and relations with the state and non-Muslims. Hence the hazards of making any generalizations about them. Malik’s analysis is heavily Pakistan-centric, and he refers only in passing to madrasas in other South Asian countries. He points out that while some madrasas indeed have been associated with terrorism, particularly in Pakistan, this owes much more to the particular socio-political context in which they operate than to any inherent radical tendency in the madrasa system as such. Radicalism in the case of some Pakistani madrasas owes principally to their use by the United States and Pakistan in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, the Pakistani state’s use of Islamist groups, including select madrasas, in its war in Kashmir and increasing resistance to American aggression in Afghanistan and elsewhere. America’s so-called ‘War on Terror’, which has resulted in unimaginable loss of life and destruction in many Muslim lands, and has been used by ruling regimes in many Muslim countries to clamp down on internal dissent, has further fuelled radical tendencies in several madrasas.

Malik also makes the debatable claim that due to their ‘increasing economic and social pauperization’, sections of the ulema ‘tend to become increasingly radical’. He mentions only in passing, without elaborating, the crucial role of the ‘globalization’ agenda of Western powers, in which comprador regimes in Muslim countries play the role of subservient lackeys, and the mounting internal class and cultural contradictions within Muslim countries as key factors propelling radical resistance in selected madrasas. ‘Globalisation’, a euphemism for the contemporary form of Western imperialism, comes along with pauperisation of vast numbers of people in so-called ‘Third World’ countries and the imposition of Western consumerist and hedonistic culture. This is perceived as threatening the cultural integrity of Muslim (and other non-Western) societies, and one reaction to this is radicalism as witnessed in the case of certain madrasas in South Asia, most particularly in Pakistan.

Somewhat the same arguments are made by another Pakistani scholar, Tariq Rahman, who stresses that Pakistani madrasas (and the same could be said of madrasas elsewhere in South Asia) are not inherently militant. Anti-West radicalism in some Pakistani madrasas emanates essentially from contemporary international and local conflicts, Western economic, political, military and cultural domination and hegemony, and mounting income inequalities and poverty. It is also sustained by the Pakistani ruling establishment, including the Army, which has used many madrasas and ulema-organisations for its own anti-democratic political interests.

At the same time, Rahman points out that many madrasas teach what he describes as antiquated texts that tend to disengage their students from the contemporary world and encourage them to reject it. This is particularly the case with texts dealing with jurisprudence, philosophy and logic. Further, almost all madrasas are associated with one or the other Islamic sect, and each of these claims to be the sole true representative of Islam. Consequently, madrasas sustain and further promote intra-Muslim sectarian differences, which have, as in the case of Pakistan, also come to assume violent forms on occasion. Rahman suggests certain steps that might make a major difference in countering these tendencies: redistribution of wealth, a ban on armed religious groups, peace with India, excising Pakistani textbooks of menacing images of non-Muslims and of contents that promote hatred towards others and so on. All of which is, of course, very welcome but easier said than done.

Saleem Ali, yet another Pakistani scholar, discusses the class basis of madrasa education in Pakistan’s southern Punjab region. He sees the madrasa system as functioning as a counterweight to feudalism. Madrasas provide free education, boarding and lodging to vast numbers of children from poor families, neglected by the state and oppressed by powerful landlords. He points out that sectarian strife in the region, that sometimes takes violent forms, particularly between Shias and Sunnis, owes not just to propaganda against other sects taught in the madrasas, but also to active external patronizing of selected madrasas by foreign governments (Saudi Arabia, in the case of the Sunnis, and Iran, in the case of the Shias). It also has a crucial class dimension: a large number of local landlords belong to the Shia minority, while most small peasants and landless labourers, many of whose children study in madrasas, are Sunnis.

Following Rahman, Ali suggests ‘comprehensive land reforms’ in Pakistan to prevent peasants seeking refuge from feudal oppression in radical religious groups. This is, needless to say, obvious, but Ali’s optimism about ‘free market’ economics to bring this about is na├»ve, to say the least, and obviously quite unwarranted. His claim that ‘Such reforms can be undertaken through market mechanisms and instituted gradually to avoid capital flight’ strikes one as unduly optimistic. But his suggestion that the ulema of the madrasas could be encouraged to be exposed to alternative Islamic voices and to become involved in inter-sectarian and inter-religious dialogue is certainly welcome.

Much has been written about madrasa reforms in Pakistan, these efforts being half-heartedly instituted by the present government principally under American pressure. Christopher Candland critically examines these efforts, showing how these have met with resistance on the part of numerous ulema groups, who consider them as unjustified interference. Moreover, the few steps that have been sought to be made in this direction by the Pakistani state have been poorly designed and implemented in an extremely inefficient manner, and this applies even in the case of those few steps that several madrasas have welcomed.

Cadland points out that the issue of madrasa education in contemporary Pakistan must be discussed not in isolation, but in the wider context of the country’s political economy. The Pakistani state, he says, spends only a fraction of its revenues on education, investing heavily in the subsidising of elite education, while ignoring the masses. This is the principal cause of the pathetic conditions of education in the country. It is also a major source of the popularity of the madrasas, which provide free education, boarding and lodging to their students, most of whom come from poorer families.

Reforms in the madrasas, Cadland argues, cannot be imposed from the outside, as the Pakistani state and America, for instance, have sought to do. Rather, he suggests, the Pakistani state must work for this alongside the ulema, particularly those whom he terms as ‘moderately-minded’, through genuine dialogue. He rightly points out that the oft-heard claim that the lack of teaching computers, English and the natural sciences is a major cause of the ‘backwardness’ and ‘radicalism’ of the madrasas is fallacious. ‘Natural science education is not the guarantee of an enlightened mind’, he stresses. ‘Indeed’, he says, ‘many of those most committed to violence in the name of Islam were educated in the natural sciences’. The ‘real problem’ in the madrasas, he maintains, ‘is that their students do not learn how to relate with other communities in a culturally diverse country and a globally inter-dependent world’. Hence, he justifiably recommends, more important that the introduction of computers and natural sciences in the madrasas (which some advocates of madrasa reform never tire of presenting as their sole demand) is the need for their curriculum to reflect respect for human rights and tolerance of other religions and other interpretations of Islam.

The remainder of the book deals with madrasas in other South Asian countries. In her piece, Usha Sanyal looks at two leading madrasas of the Barelvi sect in India to examine the process of the shaping of a distinct Barelvi sectarian identity. She sees this in the context of competing claims by different Muslim sects to Islamic ‘authenticity’, as well as efforts on the part of madrasa managers to ‘modernise’ their curriculum in order to receive state recognition and funding. Similarly, Arshad Alam compares two leading Indian madrasas, one Barelvi and the other Deobandi, tracing the process of formation of distinct sectarian identities, each set against and identified by opposition to the other. He claims that these (and other) madrasas are more concerned with teaching what they see as ‘true’ Islam, defined against what they brand as ‘false’ claims to Islamicity made by other Muslim sects, than with the othering of Hindus and Christians. He argues that the debate is an internal one, which rarely exceeds the Muslim community. Although highly contentious, this claim does point to the oft-ignored fact that for many ulema the ‘other’ within is often perceived as even more menacing than the ‘other’ without.

Irfan Ahmad’s essay deals with the Jamaat-e Islami Hind, focusing essentially on the critique of traditional madrasa education as contained in the voluminous works of the Jamaat’s founder, Sayyed Abul Ala Maududi, one of the founders of contemporary Islamism. He points out that Maududi, not himself a madrasa-trained traditional Islamic scholar, was critical of most madrasas for their opposition to ijtihad or critical rethinking in the light of new experiences, their solid backing of taqlid or the rigid following of the opinions of established schools of jurisprudence and their reluctance to incorporate ‘modern’ subjects in their curricula, even though he believed that it would be fully ‘Islamic’ to do so, although after suitably ‘Islamising’ them.

Nita Kumar’s essay claims to discuss ‘gendered’ education in an Indian madrasa and in a Muslim home, but actually tells us very little at all. It lacks empirical depth, which it tries, albeit in vain, to make up for by incomprehensible theoretical discussion. Zakir Hussain’s piece, the only article on Bangladesh, examines the diverse ways, both negative as well as positive, in which madrasas, their students and the ulema are projected in certain selected Bangladeshi art films. It helps shift the focus of discussions about the madrasa education from the madrasas themselves to the question of how they are perceived by others.

Readers might find the book obsessively concerned with Pakistan, but that is probably because Pakistani madrasas have been the most talked-about in the context of debates on madrasas and extremism. Certain crucial issues have been left out of the discussion, most notably the efforts of some ulema groups (as in India) to counter terrorism (of different varieties, including by Muslims, non-Muslims and the state ), new experiments in madrasa education made by sections of the ulema, the lively internal discourse among the ulema about madrasa reforms and so on. Despite this, and given the fact that little serious work has been produced on the madrasas of South Asia despite their being so much in the news, this book is certainly a welcome development.

Yoginder Sikand runs a blog titled ‘Madrasa Reforms in India’, which can be accessed on


Thursday, March 13, 2008

One in Four?!

This is sad. AlhamduLILLAH for Islam.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Presidential Address by Maulana Marghub ur-Rahman (Rector, Dar ul-Ulum, Deoband and Chairman, Rabita-e Madaris-e Islamia Arabia [Federation of Islamic Arabic Madrasas])
Delivered at the “All-India Anti-Terrorism Convention”, Organised by the Rabita-e Madaris-e Islamia Arabia at Deoband on 25 February, 2008

[Translated (from Urdu), Edited and Abridged by Yoginder Sikand]

In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. Praise be to God, the Lord of the Worlds. May Peace be on the Prophet Muhammad and His Progeny.

Terrorism and the conditions created by it are a matter of grave concern for every peace-loving person. On the one hand are the destructive actions of terrorists, which disrupt peace and cause the loss of life of innocent people. On the other hand is the irresponsible role of those who are meant to preserve the law, who, in the wake of every terrorist act, unthinkingly point their fingers at Muslims [as supposed culprits]. Instead of seriously searching for the real culprits, they blame innocent people and thereby conceal their own ineptitude. These conditions have made those in charge of the madrasas to stand up because even today the Muslims look at the ulema of the madrasas as their true leaders, and their stand is considered as representative of the Muslim community, especially in countries like India. Hence, in this regard, madrasas must today play the role expected of them. They must announce and explain their balanced position on terrorism so as to shut the mouths of the enemies of the faith. At the same time, they must plan a strategy to counter policies and activities directed against Muslims and those associated with madrasas.
In this context, it is appropriate to announce the clear and unanimous stance of the madrasas on the issue of terrorism. We have no relation whatsoever with terrorism. We condemn all forms of terrorism, and in this regard do not make any distinction at all. Terrorism is a wholly wrong and condemnable activity, no matter what the religion, community or social class of those engaged in it. Terrorism is also a total antithesis of Islamic teachings. Islam is a religion of mercy and peace. Hence, any terrorist activity that targets innocent people contradicts Islam’s conception of peace.
In this regard Islam’s teachings are so explicit and clear that it can be said, without fear of being contradicted, that today the only comprehensive concept of peace and harmony in the world lies with Islam. Islam regards the killing of a single innocent person as equal to the killing of the whole of humankind, as the Holy Quran says. Islam clearly instructs Muslims that if they face no threat to their lives, property and security from others, they must behave with them in a friendly manner. Islam also insists on the need to respect treaties and agreements with others. It also prefers peace. It announces the equality of all human beings. The Holy Quran says that God has created everyone from the same set of primal parents, and that He has made them into different tribes and groups so that they may recognise one another. In his farewell address during his last Haj pilgrimage, the Prophet (may peace be upon him) declared that Arabs and non-Arabs and whites and blacks have no superiority over each other. They are all children of Adam and Adam was made of mud. The most noble in the eyes of Allah is he who is the most pious. In taking revenge, Islam insists on reciprocity and does not permit excess. In matters both of friendship and of enmity it appeals for the maintenance of justice, even if that might appear to go against oneself, one’s parents or other relatives. The Holy Quran lays down that the enmity of any community should not cause Muslims stray from the path of justice. Islam has advised mercy for all. The Prophet (may peace be upon him) said that God is merciful to those who show mercy. Islam regards all creatures as members of God’s family.
In short, Islam calls for peace and justice and mercy. Under no conditions does it legitimize strife. This is why terrorism can have no link whatsoever with Islam. Hence, madrasas, which are the true torchbearers of Islamic teachings, clearly announce that they have nothing to do with terrorism at all.
In our country today, Muslims are increasingly being targeted, especially religious Muslims, the ulema and graduates of the madrasas and those associated with them. They are easily branded, or at least suspected, as culprits in any terrorist activity without any investigation or proof. In order to blame them it is considered enough that they are associated with a madrasa or an Islamic organization. The situation has become so serious now that communal forces associate all terrorist activities with the madrasas. In fact, some bigoted people have even branded [Islamic] religious education as the pillar of terrorism. All this is happening despite the fact that the [Indian] Muslims have continued to uphold peace and non-violence and have displayed complete loyalty to their country. They, especially the ulema, have made immense sacrifices for the freedom of India. Can any person claim that without the struggles of the ulema, the country would have ever achieved freedom from the clutches of British imperialism? These pious elders of ours shed not sweat but their blood and sacrificed their lives for the glory of the country without any thought of recompense. This history is worth writing in words of gold. After [India gained] independence, these ulema of the madrasas, who were in the forefront of the anti-imperialist struggle, spurned all reward and focused, instead, on the task of character-building and promoting humanitarianism.
This work is the main focus of the madrasas, which, unfortunately, are today being branded as centres of terrorism and anti-national activities. The truth, however, is that madrasas work for the welfare of the country, the community and the entire humanity. They train peace-loving, honest and responsible citizens of the country. They teach concern for human beings and peace. Here love, not hatred, simplicity, austerity, patriotism and respect for humankind are taught. It is thus no exaggeration to claim that madrasas are a major block that stand firm against terrorism. One proof of this is the historical fact that these madrasas have been in existence for centuries without their character ever being questioned. Instead, they have trained freedom-loving ulema who love their country and stand for peace and loyalty to the country and community. This tradition of theirs made the [Indian] Prime Minister proudly declare at the United Nations that Indian Muslims are not engaged in terrorism. The truth is that the role of the madrasas is as clean as a mirror. Nothing about the madrasas is kept secret. Everything is kept open. And so when wrong allegations are made about them it gravely pains the heart and mind.
We wish to tell the Government and its agencies and departments that for establishing peace and doing away with strife they must remember the need for justice and equality. If they are serious about combating the curse of terrorism they must firmly abide by justice and not make any distinction on the basis of persuasion or religion of people. They must search for the real culprits [in terrorist violence] and desist from harassing innocents so that the country’s unity and integrity is preserved and that it can progress.
To understand the reality of terrorism and its context it must be kept in mind that it is not basically a problem of our country. Rather, it is a curse created by those global powers whose ideology is based on Zionism. Their sole agenda is to pursue the criminal designs of Zionism. They are in the forefront of spreading strife and conflict throughout the world. Otherwise, how is it that, despite spending billions of dollars and committing several thousand soldiers ostensibly to combat terrorism, the problem still remains? In fact, their failure is obvious from the fact that they have failed even to come up with an agreed definition of terrorism. From their actions it is evident that they readily brand any individual who is or can be a barrier in the path of their mindless pursuit of their criminal expansionist designs as a terrorist. The world very well knows that the curse of terrorism remains alive only because of the backing it receives from the Zionist forces. That is why those commentators who keep a close watch on their methods of working argue that terrorist attacks that occur in India must be examined in detail because there seems to be a common pattern in the methods used in several of these attacks. It should not be that because of incomplete investigation or because the investigation is diverted in a different direction the real culprits are ignored and, instead, innocent people are branded as criminals.
For the Government to take on the menace of terrorism it must keep in mind the historical fact that in the past it has happened that on numerous occasions those who are branded as criminals by the state have been claimed as heroes by the people, especially those who have been driven to extremism because of injustice and oppression on the part of the state. Keeping in mind this historical reality, the state should desist from any action which might lead to the emergence of extremism as a reaction.
No community must be blamed for the actions of a single individual or group of people who belong to that community. Otherwise, all the major religions and communities in the world would then be branded as terrorists, which, of course, would be grossly erroneous. This logic also applies to Muslims. Muslims are an inseparable part of this country’s history and civilization. To render them insecure is in no way in the interests of the country at large.
How is it possible for [Indian] Muslims to turn into terrorists, when, from Independence onwards, they have been forced to suffer all manner of problems and difficulties and various forms of discrimination but yet have remained faithful to their country, have always used democratic and Constitutional means to seek to secure their rights, and have abstained from any form of extremism and anti-national activity? After all, how can they damage their own country for whose freedom they have made immense sacrifices? Given the fact that Muslims would bear the brunt of [the aftermath of] any terrorist attack before any other people, every rational person can understand that for [Indian] Muslims to become terrorists is unrealistic.
I wish to tell our fellow [non-Muslim] countrymen that we [Muslims] are their brothers. We have been living together in this country for centuries as good neighbours. Our joint sacrifices gave birth to what is referred to as the ‘Ganga-Jamuna civilisation’. We have fought shoulder-to-shoulder in all struggles for the country. If our non-Muslim fellow Indians fall prey to the false propaganda of communal forces and ignore the glorious history of the Muslims it would be a great misfortune not only for us but also for them and for the country as a whole. That is why they should come closer to us, try and understand us, and struggle together for the peace, unity and prosperity of our country.
A key issue is that of the madrasas, which have been given to us as a precious trust by our predecessors and by the whole Muslim community. We must fully protect them. This is our principal duty. For this we must always keep in mind the basic purpose of the madrasas. Our pious predecessors established them in order to preserve the tradition of learning of the Islamic shariah in an appropriate way. They wanted them to train experts in the Islamic sciences and men of Islamic morals who, through their intellectual expertise and sterling character, would serve as righteous leaders of the Muslim community.
In order to train such people it is necessary that we should seek to protect our [madrasa] students from every negative external influence, including from the mounting wave of materialism and the curse of Western culture. We must focus on their intellectual development in such a way that they do not come under the influence of any anti-Islamic movement or engage in any illegal activities [ostensibly] in the name of Islam.
Another crucial issue is that madrasas must seek to let people living in their surroundings know about their conditions, their peaceful role and their educational activities. Many misunderstandings are caused by ignorance. If madrasas have strong links with their surrounding societies and if the Government and its representatives are constantly made aware of their activities, it would serve as a powerful rebuttal to the propaganda of the communalist forces. We do not need to unnecessarily make or consider others as our enemies. Rather, what we need to do is to spread our message of love.
In conclusion, I earnestly appeal to the leaders of the different Muslim sects to realize that, given today’s delicate conditions, the need for Muslim unity has never been greater before. Is it not possible for us to set aside our minor differences and come together to counter those opposed to us? Furthermore, I must also mention that madrasas need to improve their system of functioning. Their financial affairs should be as clear as a polished mirror. Likewise, the environment in the madrasas must be a model Islamic one, based on good morals, trustworthiness, honesty, respect for the rights of others, obedience to the path of the Prophet and fear of God. If we succeed in moulding our society on these lines, then, God willing, all the dark clouds will vanish and the conspiracies against the madrasas will die a natural death.
May God make this conference a source of blessing for all the madrasas and for the entire Muslim community. Amen.
And, ultimately, praise be to God, the Lord of the Worlds
Marghub ur-Rahman
[Rector, Dar ul-Ulum, Deoband]

How we do it

A couple of people have asked how we are learning Suratul Ikhlas so I thought I would share. We don't do anything fancy, nor do we take a huge amount of time to do it. At the start of each day, we sit together and we recite the surah together three times. Then, we go over each line three times together. After that, I listen to my daughter recited and I give her cues if she gets stuck. Right now, she knows almost the whole surah with no help. She gets stuck on the last half of ayat 3 (...walam yuulad) and the first part of ayat 4 (walam yakun(l) lahuu). She knows walam is there but she needs a little help here.
This was how she sounded after a little practice today:

Masha'ALLAH, not too bad. She had to shout because the mp3 player didn't have a mic. Read More...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Deoband’s Anti-Terrorism Convention: Some Reflections

Yoginder Sikand

The mammoth ‘Anti-Terrorism Convention’ organised at Deoband late last month, which brought together ulema from all over the country, has received wide media coverage. While smaller conventions of this sort have been organized by other ulema bodies in recent years, this one, unlike others, caught the attention of the media particularly because it was organized by the Dar ul-Ulum Deoband, probably the largest traditional madrasa in the world, which large sections of the media have been unfairly berating as the ‘hub’ of ‘terrorism’.

The speeches delivered at the convention have been considerably commented on in the press. By and large, the non-Muslim press has focused almost wholly on the resolutions that were passed that labeled ‘terrorism’ as ‘anti-Islamic’, leaving out other crucial issues that were raised by numerous ulema who spoke on the occasion, particularly about Western Imperialism and Zionism as major factors behind global ‘terrorism’, and the hounding of Muslim youth and mounting Islamophobic offensives across the world, including India, in the name of countering ‘terror’. Muslim papers have dealt with these issues fairly extensively, but, following most of the speakers at the convention, they have placed the blame for ‘terrorism’ almost entirely on what they identify as ‘enemies of Islam’, thus presenting a very one-sided picture. In short, media reporting about the convention, by both the Muslim and non-Muslim media, has been inadequate and somewhat imbalanced. The same can be said of several of the speeches made at the convention.

The presidential address to the convention, which was also circulated as a printed document, was delivered by the conference’s organizer and rector of the Deoband madrasa, Maulana Marghubur Rahman. ‘We condemn all forms of terrorism’, he insisted, ‘and in this we make no distinction. Terrorism is completely wrong, no matter who engages in it, and no matter what religion he follows or community he belongs to’. ‘Islam’, he announced, ‘is a religion of mercy and peace’. Hence, terrorism or the killing of innocent people ‘is totally opposed to Islam’. He evoked the Quran to argue that Islam exhorts Muslims to behave well with people of other faiths if they do not oppress them, to abide by their treaties and agreements with non-Muslims and not to let the injustice of any community cause them to deviate from the path of justice.

Maulana Marghub ur-Rahman argued that far from being ‘anti-national’, numerous ulema and madrasas were in the forefront of India’s freedom struggle. Dismissing charges that madrasas were used for fomenting ‘terrorism’, he insisted that they ‘promote love, peace, tolerance and patriotism’. He appealed to the madrasas to provide ‘proper guidance to their students so that they are not misused as agents to engage in any illegal activity in the name of Islam’, an obvious reference to certain radical Islamist outfits that have sought, largely unsuccessfully, to make recruits among Indian Muslim youth. He suggested that in order to counter the misapprehensions that many non-Muslims have about madrasas, the managers of the madrasas must establish good relations with government officials and people of other faiths living in their vicinity. ‘We must not unnecessarily make or consider others as our enemies’, he stressed. ‘Instead’, he advised, ‘we must spread our message of love’. He also suggested that madrasas should improve their system of functioning, maintain proper accounts and focus on the character-building of their students.

Indians, Muslims as well as others, the Maulana declared, are ‘brothers’, and they have ‘jointly sacrificed for and contributed to the country’. He appealed to all Indians to join hands to work for India’s ‘peace and development’. If the government of India is really serious about combating terrorism, he stressed, it should be neutral in its approach to various communities, not suspect or target anyone simply because of his religion, and cease hounding innocent people, an obvious reference to the growing number of cases of police arresting and even killing Muslims in the name of countering ‘terrorism’. He lambasted what he termed as ‘Zionist forces’ for spreading terrorism throughout the world as a means for promoting Western and Israeli expansionism and imperialism, and even suggested that these forces might well be behind many terrorist attacks in India, which, he insinuated, had been deliberately, but wrongly, attributed to Muslims. He refused to acknowledge that Indian Muslims might engage in terrorist activities, claiming that because this would hurt Muslims more than others ‘it is unrealistic and even impossible for them to be terrorists’.

Several other speakers at the convention repeated many of the points that Maulana Marghub ur-Rahman had made. Like him, all of them argued that Islam did not sanction terrorism or the killing of innocents. Some used this argument to make the specious claim that, by definition, Muslims could not be terrorists, thus placing the entire burden of global terrorism on what they called ‘anti-Islamic forces’, particularly ‘Western Crusader’ and ‘Zionist’ groups. These forces, they alleged, were engaged in a global conspiracy to defame Islam and wrongly brand it as a violent religion, while at the same time engaging in state-sponsored terrorism on a large-scale, as in the case of the American devastation of Iraq and Afghanistan, or masterminding blasts and violent attacks which they had, so they alleged, wrongly blamed on Muslims simply to give them and Islam a bad name.

This, for instance, was the burden of the argument made by Maulana Noor Alam Khalil Amini, editor of the Deoband madrasa’s Arabic magazine ‘Ad-Dai’, in a booklet commissioned by Maulana Marghubur Rahman specially for the convention, which was distributed to those present on the occasion. In a similar vein, Maulana Khalid Rashid Firanghi Mahali, a noted Islamic scholar from Lucknow, declared that ‘America is sowing the seeds of terrorism all over the world’. ‘Anti-Islamic forces’, he claimed, ‘are scared of the increasing influence of Islam. That is why they claim that Islam and terrorism go with each other’. Likewise, Maulana Mahmood Madani, senior leader of the Jamiat ul-Ulema-e Hind, denounced George Bush as ‘the world’s biggest terrorist’. He castigated America and other Western powers for ‘spreading hatred against Muslims and Islam’.

The final declaration of the convention ran on similar lines. It denounced the killings of innocents as completely ‘anti-Islamic’, no matter who the perpetrators were, Muslims or non-Muslims. It insisted that Islam ‘teaches peace, equality, justice and service to others’. It failed, however, to recognise the very existence of terrorism in the name of Islam engaged by some self-styled Islamist groups. Instead, it appeared to put the burden of terrorism entirely on the shoulders of those whom it saw as inimical to Islam. ‘Governments of most countries’, it announced, ‘are toeing the line of Western and imperialist powers, and in order to please them are behaving in a despicable manner with their citizens, particularly Muslims’. It rued the fact that India’s internal and external policies were being increasingly shaped by these anti-Islamic powers, who ‘have unleashed untold terror’ in countries as far as Afghanistan, Iraq and South America. It condemned the hounding of innocent Indian Muslims and their religious institutions in the name of countering ‘terrorism’, while lamenting that the Indian state took no action against the real perpetrators of crimes against humanity. It appealed to the Muslims of India to ‘follow their established tradition of love and respect for the country and be alert so that no anti-Islamic and anti-national forces could use them as agents’. Finally, it called for all Indians to unite ‘for upholding justice, the rule of law and secularism’.

The significance of the Deoband convention can be gauged from the fact that various Muslim organizations (including several non-Deobandi groups), as well as Hindu and secular bodies have welcomed it, although some have rightly expressed the wish that it should have been organized much earlier. The announcement by the organizers of the convention that similar meetings will be held across the country is indeed a very heartening development. One wishes this step would be reciprocated by Hindu religious organizations, who, too, need to take a clear stand against the terrorism being actively stoked by hardliner Hindu groups. One also hopes that the appeals for cooperation with secular non-Muslims that have been made at the convention are accepted by the state and civil society groups and movements, who can explore creative ways of engaging with the ulema for working for Muslim empowerment, inter-communal harmony, improving India’s relations with Muslim countries (particularly Pakistan), promoting dialogue with Kashmiri groups and countering radical Islamist forces from across the borders.

That said, some burning questions still remain. Writing in the Urdu “Hindustan Express”, Shakeel Rashid asks, ‘Why is it that the ulema were silent for the last two decades when Muslim youth were being hounded in the name of combating terrorism and when communal violence, which is also a form of terrorism, was being unleashed on a massive scale?’. For an explanation, which he obviously does not agree with, he refers to Syed Arshad Madani, till recently the President of the Deobandi Jamiat ul-Ulema-e Hind, as having declared at the convention that despite widespread anti-Muslim violence in India for the last 60 years, the Deoband madrasa ‘had not brought the community together’, but that now it was forced to, in the form of the convention, because madrasas are being increasingly targeted. What Shakeel Rashid was probably suggesting was that the ulema were coming into the open to protest mainly because now, unlike before, their own institutions are under attack and that they themselves are being branded as ‘terrorists’.

Another critical issue raised by the commentator Yusuf Ansari, also in the “Hindustan Express”, is that none of the ulema who condemned terrorism at the Deoband convention ‘named a single terrorist organization and condemned it’. Ansari sees it as unfortunate that the ulema failed to explicitly mention, leave alone condemn, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and similar groups in Pakistan and Kashmir, some of which have also now reportedly extended their activities into India, who are ‘misusing the name of Islam to spread terror’. ‘The question arises’, Ansari writes, ‘as to why those ulema who condemn terrorism as anti-Islamic did not say a thing about these groups’. ‘Is it’, he asks, ‘that in their eyes their actions do not constitute terrorism?’ ‘Every speaker at the convention’, he notes, ‘condemned America for its terrorism’, but why, he asks, ‘did they not themselves also introspect and look within?’. Further, he rightly adds, while the ulema denounced the massive killings of Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine by America and American-backed regimes, they remained curiously silent on the massacre of Muslims by fellow Muslims, be it by the late Saddam Hussain in Iraq, or in Darfur, Sudan, where several hundred thousand Muslims have been killed and rendered homeless in a devastating intra-Muslim civil war.

In conclusion, Ansari aptly comments, ‘It cannot be logically sustained that, on the one hand, terrorism is condemned as anti-Islamic, and, on the other hand, silence is maintained about those [Muslims] engaged in such anti-Islamic activities’. ‘It is not enough’, he insists, ‘to denounce terrorism as anti-Islamic. Terrorist organizations must also be specifically named and explicitly and sternly condemned’. Their failure to do so, he suggests, had kept madrasas in ‘suspicion’.

Yet, despite these apt comments by critics, the Deoband ‘anti-terrorism’ convention is indeed a very welcome development. One hopes it is not just a one-time event, but that, as the organizers have promised, it is but the first of a series of such meetings to be held across the country in order to galvanise a truly popular movement involving people from different communities jointly struggling against all forms of terrorism, whether by the state, groups or individuals, and irrespective of the religious or communal affiliation of its perpetrators. As one of the speakers at the convention, Maulana Abdul Alim Faruqi, very appropriately put it, the struggle against terrorism demands that ‘Hindus and Muslims should unitedly work to take the country forward in a spirit of love, brotherhood and unity’.


Jamiat in Jeopardy: Uncle-Nephew Strife Splits Leading Indian Deobandi Ulema Body

Yoginder Sikand

The recent split in the Jamiat ul-Ulema-e Hind, the leading body of the Indian Deobandi ulema, has received considerable coverage in the Urdu press. Most of those who have written on the subjected have lamented the split and have called it entirely avoidable. Many commentators have labeled it simply as a fall-out of a nasty struggle for power between the President of the Jamiat, Maulana Arshad Madani, and his nephew and the Jamiat's General-Secretary, Maulana Mahmud Madani, both of whom have traded heated charges against each other of being allegedly engaged in anti-Jamiat activities.

'If God forbid, the Jamiat has split, then its consequences would be no less hurtful for the Muslims of India than the partition of the country', writes Aziz Burney, editor of the Urdu "Rashtriya Sahara", obviously somewhat exaggeratedly. Another noted commentator on Muslim affairs, Shahid ul-Islam, comments that, 'The split in this great 90 year-old organisaton bodes ill for the Muslims and is a matter of great shame for them'. 'The message that goes out to the public from this', he says, 'is that Muslim leaders do not care at all for Muslim unity, and that too, at a time when Muslims all over are under attack and thus need to be united'. Likewise, writing in the Urdu "Hindustan Express", Shahabuddin Saqib notes that "While the Jamiat seemed to be promoting Muslim unity, inside personal rivalries have divided the organisation'. In an equally caustic lament, Mufti Mukarram Ahmad of the Fatehpuri Masjid in Delhi, opines that the split in the Jamiat suggests that 'Division and strife have become the special feature of this [Muslim] community. None is willing to cooperate with others honestly and with good intentions'. Critiquing those who were quick to suspect an 'external' or non-Muslim hand behind the split in the Jamiat, the Mufti firmly asserted, 'This is simply a fight for power and pelf'.

The split in the Jamiat, lamentable though it is, is not entirely unexpected. Nor is it something novel. Strife began brewing between Arshad Madani and Mahmood Madani soon after the death of the President of the Jamiat, Asad Madani, last year, with each of them contending to take his post. But this is not the first split in the Jamiat, it should not noted. The first division in Jamiat ranks occurred way back in the 1960s. This centred around two Maulanas contending for the post of President of the organisation: Mufti Atiq ur-Rahman Usmani and Maulana Fakhruddin, the Shaikh ul-Hadith of the Dar ul-Uloom Deoband. At that time, Asad Madani (brother of Arshad Madani and father of Mahmood Madani) was the President of the Uttar Pradesh unit of the Jamiat. It is said that he backed Fakhruddin in the presidential election and played a key role in defeating Atiq ur-Rahman. In turn, Atiq ur-Rahman claimed that the elections were not fair. He pointed out that the Majlis-e Muntazima or Administrative Council of the Jamiat had appointed him as Acting President, although he had declined this. Consequently, he refused to accept defeat. It is said that a large section of Jamiat leaders were actually in his favour. Following this, Asad Madani took over the Jamiat's office, forcing Atiq ur-Rahman to form his own separate Jamiat. He appointed one Mufti Zia ul-Haq as President, who later migrated to Pakistan and settled there, and soon his wing of the Jamiat was rendered defunct.

This tussle is also said to have been one of the reasons for the growing differences between Qari Muhammad Tayyeb, then rector of the Deoband madrasa, and Asad Madani. Qari Tayyeb is said to have supported Mufti Atiq's candidature, perhaps one reason being that he was related to him. Following this, Qari Tayyeb sacked Asad from his teaching post at Deoband. Mutual acrimony between these two senior Deobandi leaders finally led to the split in the Deoband madrasa itself in 1980, when Asad Madani's supporters managed to shunt Qari Tayyeb out of the madrasa (with police and Congress help, so it is said), forcing him to set up a parallel madrasa in Deoband, headed by his son Maulana Salam Qasmi.

The Jamiat split again in 1988, when Asad Madani, who by then had become the President of the organization, dismissed Maulana Sayyed Ahmad Hashmi from the post of General- Secretary. The reason, some say, was that Asad Madani was allegedly apprehensive of Hashmi's growing popularity. Another reason was that Hashmi had also become a Member of Parliament, which Asad Madani already was, having been nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the Congress. Asad Madani argued that the Jamiat could not have two Members of Parliament from two different political parties. Consequently, Hashmi was removed from the Working Committee of the Jamiat, following which he formed his own Milli Jamiat ul-Ulema-e Hind, which proved to be simply a letter-head organization. The Jamiat split yet again soon after, in the early 1990s, when a senior Jamiat leader, Maulana Fuzail Ahmad Qasmi, founded his own self-styled Markazi Jamiat-e Ulama-e Hind after he was accused of embezzlement of funds allegedly got from abroad.

That the Jamiat has split yet again should thus come as no major surprise, simply because it is no novel development. Numerous ulema-led groups in India have witnessed such splits, and these have been primarily over questions of struggle for power, pelf and leadership and not over ideology. Despite the emphasis on consultation (shura) in normative Islam, many ulema-led organizations are dictatorially-run, with power and access to resources concentrated in the hands of a single supreme leader and his coterie, who often include his close relatives. Succession to the post of leadership is often decided by this small coterie, not democratically, and this has given rise to what critics who condemn as the un-Islamic practice of hereditary succession. This is certainly the case with the Jamiat today, with leadership of the organization being sought to be restricted to the narrow circle of the Madani family. In this, of course, the Jamiat is hardly unique. The same principal may be seen to be at work in succession to numerous madrasas as well, although these are meant to be community-institutions and not private concerns, being funded by money donated by members of the community.

As long as power and resources remain concentrated in the hands of a single supremo and his small circle of family and supporters, accountability to the rank-and-file or the community at large is given short shrift, succession is limited within a certain 'ruling' family and the principle of shura is given mere lip-sympathy to, the personality cult or, as it is called in Urdu, 'shaksiyat parasti' (literally 'personality worship') that is so characteristic of many Muslim religious organizations cannot be contained. And, inevitably, splits and dissensions will continue to occur unabated, as the Jamiat case so tragically illustrates. Read More...

Chicagoland Muslim Scholarship Fund

The Chicagoland Muslim Scholarship Fund (CMSF) was established in March 2003 to assist Muslim students in the pursuit of higher education. The mission of the fund’s governing body is to contribute to the emergence and future success of young Muslim professionals by providing financial assistance and creating a support network for students.

At this time, the scholarship is only open to those students that attend an accredited university in the Chicagoland area.

In 2005, five awards of $1000 each were planned.

Deadline: The information on the website is outdated. Contact CMSF for this year's info.

Visit the website here.

United Muslim Foundation Scholarship

United Muslim Foundation (UMF) is offering a new $4,000 scholarship to High School Seniors or University Students who are UMF members.

It looks like this is a Florida-based scholarship.

Deadline: Information on the website is for 2007, so contact the Foundation for this year's info.

Visit the website here.

University of Michigan - Vision Scholarship

The Vision Scholarship was founded by the Muslim Students Association (MSA) of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Its purpose is to reward undergraduates entering underrepresented fields by Muslims and who have a sound vision for how they plan to contribute to the Muslim ummah.

Preference will be given to students who are in financial need, have excelled academically, and have taken leadership roles in the non-Muslim and Muslim communities. The award will consist of one $1000 award and one $500 award.

Applicant must be an undergraduate attending the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Deadline: The Vision website only contains information for 2005-2006, so visit the website for contact info. and to make sure this scholarship still exists.

Visit the website here.

Islamic Scholarship Fund

Islamic Scholarship Fund (ISF) is a 501 C (3) non-profit organization founded in 2006 to encourage Muslim students in the United States to pursue college and post graduate degrees in humanities, social sciences and liberal arts.

ISF’s goal is to encourage Muslim students to pursue a college or post-graduate degrees in humanities, social sciences, liberal arts and law through awarding annual scholarships of $1000-$10,000 to deserving students.

Among other things, "Students must be studying at a “top 20” university of their respective major according to one of major rating systems."

Deadline: May 15th of each calendar year

Keep reading here.

Monday, March 10, 2008

$1000 Scholarship for Muslim Women

This is a scholarship for young women (ages 17-22) residing in the Washington, DC Metropolitan area.

Deadline: April 5, 2008

Keep reading here.

Young Professionals, Inc. Scholarship for Muslim Children

This scholarship program is for Muslim families who want their children to attend an Islamic school, but may not have the economic means to do so. This scholarship is not limited to any particular city or state within the United States; it allows the family to choose the school, best fit for their sons or daughters.

The amount awarded to each family depends on financial need and other factors.

Keep reading here.

MYLA Education Scholarships

MYLA (Muslim Youth Leadership Award) is another series of scholarships available to Muslim youth in Minnesota. In 2007, nearly $25,000 was awarded to "assist, prepare and encourage the future leaders in our communities."

The website says it will soon have information posted for 2008.

Click here for more details on this scholarship.

Islamic Center of Minnesota Scholarship

The Islamic Center of Minnesota (ICM) Scholarship Fund was endowed in 1992 with the vision to be available annually to the college students based upon their academic achievement, financial need and service to the community.

Applicants must be residents of Minnesota. High school seniors and university students of any level are invited to apply for the $10,000 in funding that is available.

Deadline: The website says July 31, 2007, so make sure to contact the Islamic Center for information about 2008.

Keep reading here.

Qatar Scholarship Program

The Qatar Scholarship Program offers dedicated Arabic language students from the United States the opportunity to master their skills in an intensive Arabic language program at the Qatar University in Doha.

This program is open to graduate students or those recently obtaining a Bachelors or Masters degree.

Deadline: February 4th (looks like this might be yearly, so this is a good time to start preparing for 2009).

Keep reading here.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Interview: Maulana Fazlur Rahim on 'Modern' and Technical Education in Madrasas

Maulana Shah Muhammad Fazlur Rahim Mujadiddi Nadwi is the Rector of the Jamiat ul-Hidaya, a unique madrasa in Jaipur, Rajasthan, which combines religious, ‘modern’ and technical education. He also heads the Shah Muhammad Abdur Rahim Educational Trust, which runs several educational institutions in Jaipur and elsewhere. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand he talks about his work and about madrasa education in India.

Q: You are considered to be a pioneer in seeking to combine religious and ‘modern’, including technical, education in the madrasas. How did this all start?

A: The story goes back to my great-grandfather, Hazrat Shah Muhammad Hidayat Ali, a noted Naqshbandi Sufi and scholar. He who felt the need for reform in the madrasa system by introducing ‘modern’ subjects as well, for which purpose he set up the Madrasa talim ul-Islam in Jaipur. This was in the period before India’s independence. However, he died in 1951, and his dream was left unfulfilled. Following this, my father, Shah Muhammad Abdur Rahim, seeking to pursue this dream, contacted various large madrasas across India, exhorting them to open departments of ‘modern’ and technical education so that their graduates could be economically self-sufficient instead of having to depend on others. Yet, his efforts met with almost no response. Some ulema argued that it was impossible to combine religious and other forms of education. Other said that while it might well be possible, it would serve no positive purpose. Yet others admitted that it was possible and a good thing but declined to act on my father’s advice on the grounds that this would mean a departure from the tradition set by their predecessors.

Meeting with no positive response to his appeals, my father decided to himself set up a model madrasa providing religious, ‘modern’ as well as technical education so that others could possibly emulate it. This took the form of the Jamiat ul-Hidaya, which began functioning in 1985. My father managed it till his death in 1994.

Q: What is the course of studies that students at the Jamiat ul-Hidaya undergo?

A: In contrast to most other madrasas, at the Jamiat ul-Hidaya students study the various Islamic disciplines till the graduation or alimiyat level, but alongside this they also have to study various ‘modern’ subjects, for which we follow the syllabus prescribed by the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT). This year, our students appeared for the tenth grade examinations conducted by the National Institute of Open Schooling, and the results were quite impressive.

Our course of study begins at the sixth grade. After students finish the tenth grade examination, they do four years more of religious education while also learning a particular technical trade or craft, such as computers, automobile repairing, draughtsmanship, accountancy and so on, so that once they finish they won’t have to depend on others for their livelihood. In this way we are trying to bridge the enormous gap between madrasas and the ‘regular’ system of education. Several of our students are now studying at regular universities, such as the Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi and the Aligarh Muslim University. Some of them are working as ulema, but many others have taken up a range of other occupations, including in banks, offices, business concerns and translation bureaus in India and in West Asia. One of our students even went on to become an aircraft engineer.

In terms of teachers’ background, also, we are quite different from most other madrasas. Roughly half of our teachers are madrasa-trained ulema and the rest have studied in ‘modern’ colleges and universities. Likewise, our roughly 700 students come from families with different sectarian affiliations, which, again, is in contrast to most madrasas that select only those students whose parents subscribe to their particular school of thought.

Q: Some ulema insist that technical education must not be introduced in madrasas, arguing that this might overburden the students, or divert their attention from their religious studies. How do you, as one of the pioneers of technical education in madrasas, respond?

A: We do not say that all madrasa graduates should become professional ulema or madrasa teachers. Everyone needs to pursue some occupation and people should have career options. Why cannot an alim, a graduate of a madrasa, be a good accountant, government official, journalist or businessman? That way they will be also able to tell the people they come into contact with in their professional capacities about Islam and about Muslims. Of course, our main intention is to train good, pious and committed religious scholars, but they must be able to be economically self-sufficient, which they can be if they know a particular trade or craft.

This is no in innovation, I must stress. After all, many leading ulema in the past took up a range of careers, including some that are considered as ‘humble’, but yet made immense contributions to society. For instance, Imam Qudduri worked as a potter, and Imam Abu Hanifa engaged in trade. While thus being economically self-sufficient they were also able to devote themselves properly to their scholarly pursuits.

Q: Some ulema argue that madrasas must not teach ‘modern’ subjects, claiming that this would be simply too much for the students to bear. How do you react to this view?

A: I firmly believe that for the ulema and madrasa students to join the ‘mainstream’, they must have at least a basic knowledge of certain ‘modern’ subjects, as well as English and local and regional languages. In the absence of this, Muslims cannot progress and nor can the country as a whole. Increasingly, I think, many ulema are themselves realizing this.

The division between ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ or ‘worldly’ education that some people make is completely un-Islamic. Islam sees knowledge as a comprehensive whole and positively encourages the acquisition of all forms of socially useful knowledge. If you look at Muslim history, you will see that in the past Muslims produced a great many scientists, philosophers, mathematicians, doctors and so on. Many of them were pious Muslims and several of them were Islamic scholars at the same time.

Q: What reforms would you suggest in the present system of studies followed in most traditional madrasas?

A: The syllabus today followed in most South Asian madrasas is some variant or the other of the dars-e nizami, a curriculum developed three hundred years ago by Mulla Nizamuddin of the Firangi Mahal in Lucknow. For its times, the dars-e nizami was very appropriate and relevant. It was also job-oriented, helping train bureaucrats and officials for the royal courts. But today, the dars-e nizami has largely lost its link with employment, and an institution that no longer has that sort of link cannot last long. Hence, I would urge, madrasas need to reform in accordance with modern needs, while still preserving their basic purpose of training would-be ulema.

I think the only way this can happen is to incorporate and give a respectful place to basic ‘modern’ subjects in the madrasa curriculum, as we have done in the Jamiat ul-Hidaya. In this way, students, after gaining a basic grounding in religious and ‘modern’ subjects, can later decide for themselves if they want to go on specialize in Islamic Studies or in one or the other ‘modern’ subject.

Q: Some ulema dismiss talk of introducing basic ‘modern’ education in the madrasas as an alleged ‘anti-Islamic conspiracy’. How do you look at this claim?

A: I think some people are apprehensive that changes in the madrasa curriculum, even on the lines that I have suggested, might damage or destroy the religious identity of the madrasas. I, however, beg to differ. I think this fear is baseless. It is wrong to see even the most sincere suggestions for reform as a ‘conspiracy’. People who think like this need to open their minds and seriously look at reality.

At the same time, however, I must state that when certain dominant Western powers or anti-Muslim ideologues talk of the need for madrasa ‘reforms’, their intentions are certainly very suspect. There is a hidden motive behind their urgings. These are often motivated by the intention to control, damage or destroy madrasas and Islamic identity and commitment and to diminish the influence of the ulema.

Q: What do you feel about the functioning of madrasas that are linked to government-appointed madrasa boards in certain states? How do you think the state should seek to relate to madrasas?

A: With a few exceptions, I think the general experience of such madrasas has been that once they come under such boards their standards decline and teachers do not take their teaching work very seriously, being now assured of a regular salary from the government. I have not heard of a single madrasa whose standards have improved after coming under a government-appointed madrasa board. So, personally, I think that rather than take up the task of changing existing madrasas or of constituting madrasa boards in more states or of setting up a National madrasa Board, as is now being talked about, the state should open its own model madrasas that combine both religious as well as ‘modern’ education. It is much better if the managers of the madrasas themselves take up the task of madrasa reforms than to let the state do so.

Q: How do you see the ongoing propaganda offensive against madrasas in India, targeting them alleged ‘dens of terror’?

A: This propaganda is completely wrong and baseless. As I see it, is a sinister ploy to defame madrasas, the ulema and Muslims in general. Now, if some anti-social character secretly takes refuge in a madrasa without revealing his real identity, how can you blame that madrasa or all madrasas, for that matter? The same is true if such a person hides in a college, a church or a temple. Madrasas in our country do not preach hatred of other communities or engage in or encourage any illegal or unconstitutional activity. Anyone is welcome to visit madrasas to see things for himself. From time to time, Indian Muslim leaders have been declaring that if a single madrasa is proved to be engaged in training terrorists we Muslims would be the first to demand that it be shut down. However, despite all sorts of wild allegations against madrasas, no evidence of a single Indian madrasa being engaged in terrorism has been discovered.

Besides those who are willfully engaged in seeking to defame the madrasas, there are others who think of madrasas in stereotypically negative terms primarily because they have had no association with the ulema or even with ‘ordinary’ Muslims. I think this is an issue that the ulema desperately need to address. Most ulema have very little interaction with people of other faiths. I think we must seek to build good relations with them. The lack of communication is responsible, to a large extent, in promoting misunderstandings on both sides. In this regard, I would also suggest that the ulema and the non-Muslim media should increasingly interact, on a positive basis, and not, as is often the case, only in the context of some sensational issue, real or imaginary. The ulema should seek to write in languages other than Urdu, such as English, Hindi and the various regional languages, to communicate their views and concerns to non-Muslims who cannot read Urdu. For this they need to learn other languages, and not consider that any language belongs to or is associated with only a particular community or that Urdu is a somehow ‘Muslim’ language, which is not quite the case.

Further, I strongly believe that for not just the Indian Muslims, but for our country as a whole, to progress Hindus, Muslims and others must closely interact, considering each others’ problems as our own and as of the country as a whole. They must seek to solve them jointly. Madrasas should organize regular programmes, to which they can invite non-Muslims as speakers and as members of the audience. In this way, non-Muslims can also learn what madrasas are actually all about.

Q: Some traditionalist ulema might oppose such interaction, thinking that it might impact on the religious identity of madrasa students.

A: I think this is absolutely wrong and if some people do feel this way it represents a horrible form of narrow-mindedness.

Q: Can you briefly describe the other educational projects that you have recently launched?

A: A decade ago, we started the Imam Rabbani Public School in Jaipur. We began with 5 lady teachers and thirty-five students. Today, it is a Hindi-medium school till the 12th standard, following the Rajasthan state school curriculum. It is now one of the biggest Muslim-run schools in Rajasthan, with some 3000 students. Girls and boys are roughly equal in number. Many of our teachers are Hindus.

Besides this, we are also running three civil service coaching centres, one each in New Delhi, Lucknow and Aligarh, to train Muslim students for various civil service examinations and to assist them to get admission into Muslim-run institutions of higher learning without paying hefty donation fees. When we set up these centres, some people felt it was pointless. They argued that in any case Muslims would not be admitted into civil services due to anti-Muslim discrimination. But my argument was that we should understand that we are a minority, and that the many rights that our country’s Constitution gives us can only be actually secured when we have adequate representation in the government services. Only in this way can we effectively put forward our views and articulate our voices to the government, the bureaucracy and society at large. Anti-Muslim discrimination can be addressed only when we join the ‘mainstream’ through the democratic process. So, my answer to our critics was that Muslim students can indeed get into the civil services if they are competently trained. And I must say that our civil services’ training centres have met with fairly good success.

More details about the Jamiat ul-Hidaya can be had from its website


Ek Kathat Ki Katha: A Maulvi's Unique Story

The almost million-strong Cheeta-Kathat community, which lives mainly in Rajasthan's
Ajmer district, and in parts of neighbouring Rajsamand, Bhilwara and Pali, are a unique people. The Cheetas and the Kathats (also known as Merats or Mehrats) are two related clans. Most of them follow a mix of both Hindu and Muslim customs and many identify themselves as both Hindu and Muslim at the same time. Probably more of them identify themselves as Muslims than as Hindus. Yet, many of the former worship in temples, celebrate Diwali and Holi (in addition to Eid), keep 'Hindu' names and are not familiar with even the basic tenets of Islam. Likewise, almost all Cheeta-Kathats who call themselves 'Hindus' practice male circumcision, bury their dead, eat halal meat, slaughtered in the Muslim fashion, and engage maulvis to solemnize their nikahs in the Islamic way.

Today, both Hindu as well as Islamic groups are active among these people, seeking to bring them into their respective folds. Not surprisingly, this is producing new challenges for the ways in which the Cheeta-Kathats define themselves.

34 year-old Maulana Qasim Rasul Falahi is one of the only two fazils or senior madrasa graduates from the Cheeta-Merat community. He is also the community's only Ph.D. holder. He is presently the head of the Religious Education Committee of the Cheeta- Merat Kathat Mahasabha, a representative body of the Cheeta-Kathats. In telling his story (as narrated to Yoginder Sikand) he reflects on his little-known community and his own plans to engage with it.

I was born in Lalpura, a vilage near Beawar in Ajmer district, in 1974. As a child I did not go to school. Like many other Kathat boys of my age, I used to spend my time grazing goats. Then, in 1982, a large number of Dalits converted to Islam in a small village called Meenaskhipuram in Tamil Nadu. This single event galvanized the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) all over India. It began operating on a massive scale in the Cheeta and Kathat areas, seeking to convert our people to Hinduism and to get them to abandon the Muslim customs that they had been following for centuries.

One day, a group of VHP activists came to Lalpura. They asked us if Tablighi Jamaat volunteers visited our area to preach Islam. When we said that some Jamaats had indeed come, they insisted that we should henceforth not allow them to enter our village. They told us, 'Your ancestors were Hindus. They were Rajputs. So, you, too, should become Hindus'.

At that time, although Lalpura was an entirely populated by Kathats, and many Kathats called themselves Muslims, there were six small temples in the village, but not a single mosque. The only person who actually followed Islamic practices strictly was my elder brother, Ahmad Bhai. Listening to what the VHP activists had said, I wondered who actually our people were. Were they Hindu or Muslim or neither or a bit of both? We followed both the Muslim practice of nikah and the Hindu practice of phera in our weddings. We celebrate both Diwali and Eid. Who, then, are we, I thought? This question keep revolving in my mind

Many people in our village, as in several other Kathat and Cheeta villages, fell prey to the VHP's false propaganda. The VHP later claimed to have converted several thousands of our people to Hinduism, although these numbers were exaggerated. But still, even today, I would say that a fourth of the Kathats have become Hindu, a fourth are now somewhat Islamised, and the rest remain as they earlier were.

The VHP's claim that it had converted or 'purified' several thousand Muslim Kathats and Cheetas was widely reported in the press. This caused considerable consternation in Muslim religious circles. Till then, they had heard of Hindus converting to Islam but never of Muslims converting to Hinduism. So, some Muslim groups, such as the Jamaat-e Islami, the Jamiat ul-Ulema-e Hind , the Tablighi Jamaat and the Kul Hind Majlis Tamir-e Millat, sent their people here to see what could be done. They started setting up schools and maktabs to impart basic Islamic knowledge to our people.

In a sense, then, the VHP has to be thanked for making our people increasingly turn towards Islam. If it had not started its so-called 'purification' or shuddhi drive among the Cheeta-Kathats, Muslim organizations would probably have not even heard of us or would have continued to neglect us.

One of the pioneers who played a key role in spreading Islamic awareness among our people in the wake of the VHP's massive entry into our region was Syed Azam Ali Saheb, who works with the Rajasthan Dini Talimi Trust in Beawar. He would travel from village to village on his bicycle, interacting with the villagers and, despite sometimes facing considerable opposition, carrying on his preaching work patiently. He set up centres in some villages where children would gather in the evenings to learn about Islam. I used to graze animals during the day and at night would attend these classes.

Sayyed Azam Sahib thought that I was a keen student, although till then I was completely illiterate. One day he asked me if I wanted to study. I was delighted. 'Yes', I said, 'but who will take care of the animals?'. He said he would send me to an institution in Uttar Pradesh. I did not know where that was. 'Very far from here', he explained.

In 1984, Sayyed Azam Saheb arranged for me to join the Jamiat ul-Falah, a well-known madrasa in Azamgarh, in Uttar Pradesh. There I began learning about Islam, as well as studying basic English and Hindi and some other 'modern' subjects. Eight years later, in 1992, I passed the alimiyat stage and two years after that I became a fazil. I am, as far as I know, one of the only two fazils and one of the only four alims from the Cheeta-Kathat community, which numbers almost a million.

While at the Jamiat ul-Falah, I joined the Students Islamic Organisation (SIO), the youth wing of the Jamaat-e Islami. In 1996, I was appointed as the Secretary of the SIO's Rajasthan wing. After this, from 1999 onwards, I served as the President of the SIO's Rajasthan unit for three terms. This gave me the chance to travel around Rajasthan, and to learn about the pathetic economic and educational conditions of Muslims in most parts of the state. Through the SIO, besides our regular Islamic awareness programmes, we also sought to help out by organizing career guidance camps and encouraging Muslim youth to do some sort of social service in their localities. However, the problems are so immense and there are so few people in Rajasthan doing this sort of work with the state's Muslims. So much more needs to be done!

After finishing my fazilat, I took admission in the Arabic Department at the Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, as a private candidate. I then did my MA, M.Phil. and, finally, late last year, my Ph.D. in Urdu from Jaipur University. I don't wish to brag, but I am the only Ph.D. from the entire Cheeta-Kathat community.

Our community is economically and educationally very deprived. Most of our people are marginal farmers or landless labourers. Many of them survive by breaking stones, cutting and selling firewood and labouring in the asbestos mines, which abound in our region. Then, from the Islamic point of view, the level of religious consciousness is very low. For instance, even now in many villages Kathats who call themselves Muslims ask maulvis to slaughter goats for them at the altar of local deities such as Bhairon Baba, or call Brahmins to solemnize their marriages or worship idols in village shrines.

I recently returned to my community after staying many years outside. The Jamaat-e Islami wanted to appoint me as Secretary of their Rajasthan state unit, but I declined, because I want to devote my time to working particularly for the Cheeta-Kathats. However, I am still a member of the central committee (majlis-e shura) of the Rajasthan unit of the Jamaat-e Islami, the youngest member, in fact.

Now that I have a doctoral degree I don't want to apply for a government job or to work as a lecturer, although I possibly could. Meanwhile, I have recently been elected as the head of the Dini Talim or Religious Education Committee of the Cheeta-Merat Kathat Mahasabha, which is the representative body of our community. Through this Committee, we want to focus on promoting both religious as well as 'modern' education in our community. The functional literacy rate among the Cheeta-Kathats is probably less than 5 per cent, making our people one of the most educationally deprived communities in the entire country. Girls' education should be a top priority. I don't suppose more than 2 per cent of our girls can read and write. Our girls and women do domestic chores, besides which they labour in the fields and in the jungles to help their families survive. Life is really tough for them. Child marriage is still very widespread in our community. In my case, for instance, I was married off at the age of seven, while my wife was only three!

I have sent two young daughters of mine, Ayesha, aged twelve, and Bushra, aged ten, to a girls' boarding school in eastern Uttar Pradesh, where they learn both Islamic as well as 'modern' subjects. No other Cheeta-Kathat family has sent its girls to such schools. When they finish their studies I want my daughters to come back and work for promoting education among the girls of our community.

Through the Dini Talimi Committee we want to work with the few other organizations active in our area who are seeking to promote Islamic and 'modern' education among our people. We don't have the resources to launch large institutions of our own. And then, it is also the case that often efforts to set up such institutions are stiffly resisted by VHP activists. There have been so many cases in our area of innocent maulvis being harassed, construction of mosques or announcing of azan on loudspeakers being prevented and so on. Some years ago, a Muslim philanthropist from Bombay wanted to start a school in a Kathat village near Beawar. The land was purchased and registered for this purpose, but VHP leaders and activists lodged an FIR and managed to prevent this, claiming, absolutely falsely of course, that the proposed school would train 'extremists'. And so, three years have lapsed and the land is still lying like that. Likewise, when the Cheeta-Merat Kathat Mahasabha sought to construct a students' hostel in Beawar, VHP activists vehemently protested and made all sorts of wrong allegations about it.

Our community is extremely poor, and in terms of education, both Islamic and 'modern', we are really deprived. There is so much that needs to be done. Few people outside our area know even about our existence. That is one of the tragedies of this unique community of ours.