Monday, September 29, 2008

The System of Training in Madrasas: Some Aspects in Need of Reform

By Dr. Muhammad Amin (Senior Editor, Dairat ul-Maarif al-Islamiya, University of Punjab, Lahore)*
(Abridged and Translated by Yoginder Sikand)

Today, advocates of madrasa reforms can be divided into broadly two groups. Firstly, external elements and forces and their local agents. Secondly, some people within the madrasa system who genuinely want to improve it and, accordingly, suggest certain measures for reform. The positions of these two groups need to be clearly distinguished from each other. External forces call for changes in the madrasa system in accordance with their anti-religious agenda, while we who call for change in the system do so to make it better serve its religious purposes. Thus, if critics like us may not agree with some aspects of the present madrasa system it is certainly not because we want to harm or undermine it. Rather, the intention is to make the madrasa system more effective in meeting its goals and also so that madrasas can produce ulema who can play a more effective religious role in society.

The Meaning and Importance of Tarbiyat (Training)
What is termed ‘training’ in educational terminology can be equated with the shariah term tazkiya. In Arabic, the root of the term tazkiya has two meanings: firstly, to purify something, and, secondly, to burnish something and make it prosper or develop. The aim of education must be to purify one’s self (nafs) of all impure beliefs, deeds and blemishes of character, and to develop those good qualities that the shariah upholds. In the Quran God says that He has sent all His prophets for precisely this purpose of tazkiya of human beings. Education is not simply the acquisition of knowledge, because that cannot be an end in itself. Rather, the aim of education is righteous actions based on knowledge. This means that education aims at purification of the self. Thus, God says in the Quran, ‘Truly, he succeeds that purifies it, And he fails that corrupts it’ (Surah Ash-Shams, 9-10). In other words, our welfare depends on tazkiya. The concept of welfare in Islam is a comprehensive one. It includes both religious as well as worldly success. By this is meant gaining felicity in the Hereafter and also leading one’s life in this world in obedience to God. Thus, tazkiya denotes the training of one’s self in such a manner that one obeys God easily and willingly and abides by His laws.
God has sent the Quran as a means for the tazkiya of human beings, and it also serves as a source of knowledge. The human personality that the Quran desires can be developed if one’s knowledge and moral training are based on the Quran and if this is done with wisdom. It is the path to the attainment of excellence (ahsan) by abiding, in the best way, by God’s laws.

The question thus arises that if this moral training is so important, why is it ignored in our educational institutions and not given practical importance? There are several reasons for this. Firstly, many parents are not even aware of the importance of proper training of their children. They think that their responsibility is limited to providing them good food and clothes and sending them to schools, colleges and or madrasas, and they have no more concern for their moral development. It is as if they have no other duty than to provide them with external and physical necessities. However, most important from the point of the needs of children is that parents should be concerned about their character development and do what they can to ensure that this happens in the right manner. These days children go to school in the mornings, come back home in the evenings, then go for private tuitions and, after that, sit glued to the television along with their parents. Many parents do not give more time than this to their children. The reason is that parents do not even realise that the proper training of their children is their responsibility.
Another reason is that teachers have also become negligent of the need for the proper training of their students, although this, rather than simply providing information to their students, should be their actual work. And this responsibility of teachers becomes even more crucial today, when television and other such things are playing havoc with morality. There is a pressing need for teachers to give greater stress to the students’ appropriate training in our educational institutions today, particularly in madrasas.
The Types of Tarbiyat
Tarbiyat can be further classified into different types: religious training, intellectual training, administrative training, physical training, and so on.

Religious Training
Islam provides guidance and laws for four broad spheres: beliefs (aqaid), worship (ibadat), morals and manners (ilhlaq-o-adab) and social affairs (muamilat). Beliefs, obviously, provide the foundation; worship is about the relation between the slave and God, the Sustainer; while morals, manners, laws and principles guiding social affairs have to do with relations between and among people. Proper religious training requires that all four of these spheres must be paid attention to, so that students can seek to progress in all of them. Among our religious circles there is considerable misunderstanding in matters concerning religious training. For instance, the institution of Sufism, which emerged for the purpose of tazkiya and tarbiyat, now gives particular stress to recitation of litanies (zikr) and to ritual worship (ibadat), and relatively little attention to morals. I do not belittle the importance of these things, but there is need for a balanced form of religious training. Worship surely is important, but is properly observing the rules and principles related to social affairs unimportant? Is lying unimportant, or going against one’s word or being cruel to one’s wife and children? These are also important issues, about which God and the Prophet have provided rules and laws. So, in the name of religious training to give importance to some things and not to others is an unbalanced approach from the religious point of view.

When discussing religious training, the proper manner of conducting one’s day-to-day affairs also needs to be stressed. For instance, the issue of punctuality. I have noted that this is not respected in religious functions, whereas this is the first thing that we learn about our daily worship. As soon as it is time for congregational prayers, people look at their watches. Praise be to God, this shows that we are punctual at least as far as prayers are concerned. But the question is: Why does this not become our habit in other matters as well? If punctuality is commanded by the shariah in matters of prayer, why not in other matters also? In the congregational prayers, worshippers should pray in straight lines. This means that God wants us to inculcate in ourselves a sense of unity, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with each other. Why, then, is this virtue that the shariah wants to promote through prayer ignored in other spheres of life?

Intellectual Training
Intellectual training includes several things, such as freedom of thought, developing oratory and writing skills, use of library facilities, exposure through educational tours and so on. Take the question of the freedom of thought first. This is also a basic religious foundation. This is evident from several episodes of the life of the Prophet, who is a model for us all. He himself encouraged his companions to think for themselves. Thus, for instance, during the battle of Badr, Hazrat Habab bin Manzar, a companion of the Prophet, asked him if he had decided that his army should halt at a particular place on the basis of Divine revelation. The Prophet replied in the negative. The companion then suggested that the place was not appropriate. A similar incident took place during the battle of Ahzab. The Prophet thought that the matter could be solved by entering into some sort of give-and-take with the Jews. When the leaders of the Ansars of Medina heard of this, they said to him that if this was a commandment based on Divine revelation they would willingly accept it, but that if this was just a proposal on the part of the Prophet they did not agree with it. The Prophet accepted then their suggestion. Take the case of the woman Hazrat Burairah, whose husband Mughith used to roam around like a mad man. He followed her, crying profusely, desiring that their marriage should remain intact because since Hazrat Burairah had been freed from slavery her marriage had been dissolved. When the companions of the Prophet approached the Prophet about this, he called Hazrat Burairah and advised her to maintain her marriage with Mughith. She asked the Prophet if this was command, to which he answered that it was not an order but a request. In response, Hazrat Burairah asked for forgiveness, but said that she did not want to remain married to the man.

So, undoubtedly the shariah envisages the highest form of obedience. But this does not contradict freedom of thought, and this the Prophet explained to his companions on different occasions. The companions rendered unconditional obedience to the Prophet and, in that, present a model for us to seek to emulate. At the same time, our religion stands for the freedom of thought. This does not go against the unconditional obedience of God and the Prophet. We should obey [God and the Prophet] without any reservations and with full zeal, but Islam does not teach us to close tightly shut the doors of our hearts and minds and to stop thinking.
In relating this question of freedom of thought to the system of madrasa education, three issues are of particular concern and need to be urgently addressed. The first relates to the aim of madrasa education, the second to the madrasa curriculum and the third to the status of sect or school of thought in Islam.
The Aim of Madrasa Education
Today, most people associated with madrasas think that the aim of these institutions is simply to produce maulvis to staff mosques and madrasas. I think this is a limited approach. The classical Islamic tradition of learning did not know any dualism, any strict division between the ‘religious’ and the ‘worldly’. The distinction between the two, with madrasas coming to specialise only in the former, was a product of the changes bought about by the British conquest. Before that, the dars-i nizami curriculum, which is today used in most madrasas, provided the basis of the educational system that also produced government officials, such as administrators and judges, as well as doctors. When the British captured power and put an end to Muslim rule, the madrasa system was badly hit. Many ulema who opposed the British were brutally killed and the endowed properties through which the madrasas used to finance themselves were confiscated. English replaced Persian as the official language, and so those who had been trained in Persian and Arabic through the madrasas were rendered unemployed. This explains the popular saying that emerged at this time: ‘Study Persian and you will be good only for selling oil’.

At this critical juncture, some ulema decided to set up a chain of madrasas in order to save whatever they could of the Islamic tradition of learning, and to enable people to follow the rules of Islam at least in their private sphere. But the British are no longer here, and so there is no reason why madrasas should not expand beyond simply producing ulema for mosques and madrasas, although, of course, that is also necessary.

The Madrasa Curriculum
Once the aims of madrasa education expand, the madrasa curriculum will broaden on its own. In colleges and universities, before every semester, professors meet and discuss and then decide what they will be teaching. This is left to them, and they are not forced to teach anything against their will. The curriculum is not, or at least should not be, something static. At the time of the Prophet, the course of learning was only the Quran. After his demise, Hadith also began being taught. After that, fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) was added, and, a century later, the teaching of the principles of fiqh (usul al-fiqh) was introduced. In the face of the challenge of Greek philosophy, logic later came to be added to the curriculum. So, in other words, the curriculum is no holy cow. It always changes in accordance with the needs of the times and of society. Some parts of the madrasa curriculum, such as the Quran and Hadith, will obviously never change, as also the Arabic language since our religious scriptures are in that language. But Persian, which continues to be taught in the madrasas, does not have any sanctity. It was important at one time, when it was the official or court language and a key to employment. But today Persian is not the medium of communication in the country. So, there are some things in the curriculum which must be seen from this angle. To repeat, by itself the curriculum does not have sanctity. The only aim of the curriculum is to produce such learned and effective ulema who can serve the religious needs of society and mould peoples’ character and life in accordance with the demands of the faith.

If one looks at the madrasa curriculum with all these issues in mind, a number of drawbacks or limitations are evident. Leave aside the agenda of the West when it talks of madrasa reforms. Is it not necessary for us to understand this world? Imam Ghazali felt compelled to study Greek philosophy so as to rebut it. Then, why don’t we understand that today we should study Western philosophy in order to combat it? If you do not understand the philosophy of the West, how can you rebut it? That is why we ourselves need to study other prevailing philosophies. Just as in the medieval ages, Greek philosophy posed itself as a major challenge, today the challenge and the source of strife is Western philosophy. How, then, can the ulema say that it is useless to study English? If you do not study English, how will you know what your opponent thinks and how that thought should be combated?
Another drawback of the present madrasa curriculum is that the Quran does not have the central place in it that it should enjoy. Madrasas offer specialisation in Hadith, but why not in the Quran? Is the Quran less important than Hadith? And then, madrasas generally teach the Quran and Hadith from a jurisprudential angle, and give very little importance to the message and philosophy of the Quran and Hadith. Even in the teaching of fiqh a wrong or tendentious approach is adopted, simply in order to defend a particular school of jurisprudence. Further, most madrasa students do not know how to write and read Arabic properly. All these aspects of the curriculum are in urgent need of reform.
The Status of Sect or School of Thought
Unfortunately, many of us equate one’s school of thought (maslak) with religion (din) itself. I am not advocating that people should stop adhering to a particular school of thought. In matters of jurisprudence and theology, everyone follows some school or the other. This is not something strange. But a school of thought is not religion itself; it is simply something based on ijtihad or human reflection on the primary sources of religion. Its status is that of an opinion. Divisions based on school of thought have become unnecessarily acute in our society, and, in some circles, have even become the excuse for bloodshed. Scores of people have been killed as a result of this, although the real cause might be something else. In this regard, the ulema need to adopt a more mature approach.

Madrasas need to engage in research, including specialised research, in matters of religion. It is pointless simply repeating what has been written before. Once, a young friend of mine who teaches in a madrasa in Lahore told me that he had starting doing some writing and research. He asked me to pray for his success. I told him that this was good news, and asked him what he was writing about. He replied that he was preparing a book of supplications. I asked him what he planned to do after that. His answer was that he would later work on a book about prayer. I don’t say that this is not a form of service of the faith, but the question is: Is it an appropriate use of one’s capacities and time to repeatedly write about the same sorts of issues?

In this regard, let me cite a personal experience. I once wrote to a professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, telling him that I wanted to work on a doctoral thesis. He asked me to send him a list of topics on which I wanted to research. I said that I wanted to work on a comparative study of ijtihad in Islam and law-making in the West. The professor wanted to know what new aspect of ijtihad I could work on because, he said, already much work had been done on the subject. When I insisted that I wanted to work on precisely this issue, he replied asking me what I knew about Western law. He also requested me to send him a four-page note on the scope of ijtihad. I worked on this note and sent it to him. He responded by saying that my knowledge of Western law was not deep enough for me to do a Ph.D. on the subject, and that my elaboration of the scope of ijtihad did not appeal to him. What new thing, he asked me, could I do or bring out with my proposed research on the subject?

So, what I mean to say is that we are simply reproducing things. Take any of our literature and see. It contains nothing new. It does not discuss new issues. So, until madrasas change their approach to research and come up with new things, the lacunae in the field of Islamic scholarly research cannot be addressed.
Proper library facilities are indispensible for proper research, but most madrasas lack libraries. In those few madrasas that do have libraries, students generally do not use their facilities. Few madrasas subscribe to learned journals and even newspapers. This has to change. Madrasas must have a compulsory library period for all students. In addition, so that they may learn more about their environment, they should be taken on educational tours. We have to widen their intellectual horizons. It is an essential condition for a mufti and a mujtahid, people well-versed in Islamic law, to be aware of contemporary developments in the world so that they can relate Islam and the shariah to them. After all, it is not possible for anyone who does not know about the conditions around him and in the world at large to engage in ijtihad.

Oratory and Writing Skills
Promoting the oratory and writing skills of students is necessary for them to be able to invite people to the faith and provide them proper guidance. Unfortunately, almost nothing is done in the madrasas to encourage the students’ writing skills. Many madrasa students stop reading books after they graduate. Our students must be encouraged to write for newspapers so that they can get their views across to a wide readership.

At a meeting of ulema I once made a point which everyone agreed with. I said that I had heard Friday sermons in mosques in various localities in Lahore and found that 90 per cent of the people enter the mosque after the second call to prayer (azan), that is after the sermon is delivered. This is to say that they come only to pray, not to hear the sermons. Why is it that people do not want to listen to the sermons of the ulema? The truth is that it is the duty of the ulema to guide society along the lines of religion, and if they do not do so they have failed. To be effective, it cannot be that the ulema and ‘modern’ educated people operate on different wave-lengths and think in entirely different ways.

Administrative Affairs
Madrasas should restructure their administrative affairs in such a way as to encourage students to develop leadership qualities. For this they should entrust students with certain administrative tasks. This will help them become more self-reliant, confident, disciplined and capable. Madrasas should also provide facilities for the physical development of their students in the form of games and sports.

Practical Framework for Training
For the sort of wide-ranging reforms that I have suggested above, the managers and teachers of the madrasas have a crucial role to play. In turn, for this the managers and teachers themselves have to be suitably trained. They should realise that they are not just teachers but also guides for the students and that they have the duty to provide proper training to them and develop their character. Students look upon their teachers as models to emulate, and they follow their teachers’ example. They think as their teachers’ do. Hence, there is an urgent need for training the teachers, both in teaching methods as well as in terms of their thinking so that they themselves follow religion in the right way and inspire their students to do so, too. They must be inspired by sincerity and concern for the welfare of their students. The students must feel that the teachers relate to them with love and concern. No one can be taught through the force of a stick. Nor can force inspire students to develop those capacities that can be nurtured through love and care. Unfortunately, however, students are routinely punished in some madrasas, particularly in the classes devoted to the memorisation of the Quran. This is a wrong method. Teachers must relate to the students through softness, care and love so that they are inspired to learn, and that they do so not because they are commanded to but, rather, because they themselves want to.

Another distressing issue is that no specified time is apportioned in the madrasas for the proper moral training of their students. Madrasas should have separate periods for this, and it should be taught as a separate, compulsory subject for the students. Madrasas need to develop a separate curriculum for the subject. Some Sufi texts are already included in the madrasa curriculum, and this can be supplemented with selections from the writings of Sufi scholars like Imam Ghazali and Shah Waliullah. Some popular Sufi writings contain certain errors, and so more appropriate Sufi texts can be chosen.

Madrasas should set up committees whose concern should be the moral training of their students. These should be headed by madrasa rectors or senior teachers and should also include some students as well as teachers. The committee can develop appropriate programmes and events for the entire academic year to encourage the proper moral training of students. Students who excel in terms of moral behaviour can be given prizes or given extra marks.
In conclusion, I wish to state that religion does not lie simply in books. It takes the form of a living fact in society. With God’s grace, Islamic society has retained its continuity over fourteen hundred years and more. To maintain and strengthen this continuity society must continue to be linked to the faith. The ulema have an important task to play in this regard. Thus, they must have a harmonious relationship with the wider society. For this, they should understand the intellectual, physical and material demands of society.

This is an abridged translation of Dr. Muhammad Amin’s paper titled Madaris Ka Nizam-e Tarbiyat: Chand Islah Talab Pahlu, in Shabbir Ahmad Khan Mewati (ed.) Dini Madaris Aur Asr-e Hazir (al-Shariah Academy, Gujranwala, 2007), pp.77-98.


101 Cookbooks

Very nice pictures on this site

Saturday, September 27, 2008

New Book: On Madrasa Reforms in India

Book Review
Name of the Book: Madrasa Reforms—Indian Muslim Voices
Edited by: Yoginder Sikand
Publisher: Vikas Adhyayan Kendra, Mumbai (
Year: 2008
Pages: 163
Price: Rs. 100
Reviewed by: Nasir Khan

What exactly needs to be reformed in the present system of madrasa education? Why? How? And, equally importantly, who should take on the responsibility for this? These are issues that are being hotly debated today in the media, in policy-making circles and also among Muslim scholars, including the ulema of the madrasas themselves. Because in India most ulema write in Urdu, their voices are not heard outside a narrow circle of Urdu readers, who are almost wholly Muslim. Consequently, their views on the entire gamut on issues related to the question of madrasa reforms generally go unheard of in the so-called Indian ‘mainstream’ media. This book, a collection of interviews by Yoginder Sikand with almost two dozen Muslim scholars, mostly ulema and graduates of madrasas, highlights the little known and even less understood ongoing debates within Muslim circles about the reform of traditional madrasa education. As the noted Islamic scholar-activist Asghar Ali Engineer rightly remarks in his preface to this work, ‘The book will help dispel many myths about madrasa education in India’.

The scholars whose views are contained in this book, in the form of in-depth interviews, represent a variety of schools of thought. They include two graduates of the Dar ul-Ulum Deoband, two from the Nadwat ul-Ulema, Lucknow, one Firanghi Mahali, three from an Ahl-e Hadith background, four from institutions associated with the Jamaat-e Islami, and two leading Shia ulema, besides some Islamic scholars who have not studied in madrasas themselves but who write extensively on Islamic issues, including on the madrasas. Most of these scholars are well-known figures in the field of Indian Muslim scholarship. They include Maulana Salman Husaini Nadwi of the Nadwat ul-Ulema, the Lucknow-based Shia scholar, Maulana Kalbe Sadiq, the Jamaat-e Islami scholar and noted Islamic economist, Muhammad Nejatullah Siddiqui, Maulana Muhammad Fazlur Rahim Mujadiddi, the rector of the Jamiat ul-Hidaya, Jaipur, one of India’s most innovative madrasas that combines traditional Islamic and modern education, the noted Deobandi scholar and senior leader of the All-India Milli Council, Maulana Asrar ul-Haq Qasmi, the prolific Delhi-based writer Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, and the editor of the official organ of the Deoband madrasa’s Old Boys Association, Maulana Waris Mazhari. Other noted India Muslim scholars interviewed in this book, but who are not themselves trained ulema, include Professor Akhtar ul-Wasey, Head of the Department of Islamic Studies at the Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, Zafar ul-Islam Khan, editor of the popular Delhi-based Muslim fortnightly Milli Gazette, one of the few Indian Muslim magazines in English, and the well-known Mumbai-based Islamic scholar Asghar Ali Engineer. In addition, the book also contains lively interviews with half a dozen young graduates of madrasas who have also studied in universities and who are now working in capacities other than as traditional ulema, including in such fields as documentary film-making and journalism. In this sense, the book departs from much of the existing writings on madrasas, which tend to focus almost exclusively on just one or the other school of Islamic thought and on traditional ulema who have little or no exposure to alternate forms and systems of education.

Despite the fact that most of these interviewees have received a traditional madrasa education, they are all unanimous about the need for reforms in the madrasas—not just in the curriculum, but also in such aspects as methods of teaching, administration, fund-raising, and relations with the wider, including non-Muslim, society as well as the state. They thus indicate that, contrary to what is often imagined, there is indeed a growing recognition among a number of Indian ulema today that madrasas do indeed need to reform. In addition, these voices indicate that the ways in which this agenda of reform is construed by the ulema are diverse.

A major demand on the part of these scholars is that madrasas should introduce at least a basic modicum of ‘modern’ subjects, particularly social sciences and English, in their curriculum. They offer various arguments for this. Some stress that Islam does not recognise any strict division between religion (din) and this world (duniya). Indeed, they argue, in Islam this world is regarded as the arena where religion and religious commitment must be played out, and that it is a ‘field’ for the Hereafter. This means, therefore, that Islam advocates a comprehensive understanding of knowledge, including of issues pertaining to this world. In other words, they suggest, introducing a basic modicum of ‘modern’ sciences and subjects in the madrasa curriculum would actually assist in practically expressing this Islamic understanding of knowledge. Others argue that by providing madrasa students with a working understanding of ‘modern’ subjects and languages they would be in a better position, as would-be ulema, to give appropriate guidance to Muslims, to deal with issues of contemporary concern, to counter more effectively challenges to Islam and to express Islam in terms more intelligible to people today. At the same time, there seems to be unanimity on the point that the ‘modernisation’ of the madrasas in terms of curricular change must be carefully controlled, and that it must not result in the total ‘secularisation’ of the institution, for its basic purpose is, after all, to train religious specialists.

In addition to the inclusion of basic ‘modern’ subjects, the scholars interviewed in this book also call for revision of certain existing texts generally used in Indian madrasas, particularly for what are called the ‘rational’ or ‘ancillary’ subjects such as philosophy and logic. They must be replaced, they say, by texts that reflect contemporary intellectual trends and challenges. Likewise, some of them argue that several texts, written centuries ago, that are still used for the teaching of fiqh or jurisprudence, a major concern of the madrasas, must be revised, replaced or expanded, so that students are made aware of contemporary issues of jurisprudential concern. Reforms in teaching methods are also forcefully advocated. The inordinate stress on rote memorisation is critiqued as is what is felt to be the intellectually debilitating atmosphere in many madrasas, where discussion, debate and independent thinking are frowned upon. Modern, student-centric methods of teaching are advocated, and several scholars call for the setting up of madrasa teachers’ training centres , there being, as yet, no such institution in the entire country despite the fact that in India today madrasas number in their thousands.

Several of the scholars whose voices are highlighted in the book also call for reforms in the ways in which madrasas perceive or relate to the outside world: to fellow Muslims, including Muslims of other sects, non-Muslims, women, and to the state. Some of these scholars are very critical of the stance of many traditionalist ulema in this regard, and advocate reformulating perspectives on these matters in accordance with their more inclusive and socially progressive understanding of Islam. In other words, they advocate alternate Islamic theological and jurisprudential perspectives on these issues of considerable concern and debate today. While some of them believe that reforming the madrasas is solely the responsibility of the ulema of the madrasas themselves, and are suspicious of state intervention, others call for madrasas to work together with agencies of the state and with well-meaning non-Muslims, including secular NGOs, in order to improve the conditions in the madrasas.

This book makes a very valuable contribution to our understanding of madrasa education in India, particularly concerning the issue of madrasa reforms. It is thus indispensable reading for all those interested in the subject. It well deserves to be translated into local languages, most specially Urdu, so that it can benefit the ulema as well.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Still Keeping Busy

I've slowed down a bit due to the advancing pregnancy (and the fasting), but I'm still knitting when I can.

Pretty Baby Sweater

I hope to have a little more of the classroom in order this weekend because it's a mess (I need to add some shelves to get things out of the reach of my youngest). Hopefully, I will get some pictures of our new books up soon. Until then, stay strong and enjoy your Ramadan.

By the way, the pattern can be found here. Read More...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Book Review: Islam in Post-Modern World

Name of the Book: Islam in Post-Modern World—Prospects and Problems
Author: Asghar Ali Engineer
Publisher: Hope India, Gurgaon (
Year: 2008
Pages: 159
Price: Rs.350
Reviewed by: Yoginder Sikand

The title of this book is, admittedly, somewhat misleading. What exactly is 'post-modern', a term that the book purports to address, but nowhere does it define what the author means by it? Can one talk of a 'post-modern' world when for vast numbers of people 'modernity' (whatever that may mean) itself seems far out of reach? That said, this immensely absorbing set of essays, the latest of Asghar Ali Engineer's writings on socially engaged understandings of Islam, is a must for scholars of Islam as well as for the general reader.

Engineer begins by lamenting the fact that hardly any ulema or Islamic scholars have been able to suitably respond to the myriad challenges that 'modernity', 'post-modernity' and 'globalisation' have generated. He bemoans the lack of 'original' and innovative Muslim thinkers, and claims that most Islamic intellectuals (including, but not only, the ulema) today simply repeat, debate and discuss medieval texts and their prescriptions. By these he means texts other than the Quran and the Traditions attributed to the Prophet, that were written by themedieval ulema, including works based on their own reflections of these two principal sources. While he admits that there are indeed things of value in these texts, he points out that their authors were products of their own times and of their particular historical, social, economic, cultural, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. All these indelibly influenced their understandings of the Islamicscriptures. Hence, he argues the need for Muslim scholars today to reflect on the Islamic scriptural resources afresh in order to seek to relate them to contemporary realities. This, he says, is the urge that underlies the various essays, on a disparate range of themes, contained in this book.

The first essay in the collection, titled 'Islam as Religion and Islam as History', reflects on the obvious fact that the history of Islam, as indeed of all other religions, does not conform to its teachings. Engineer suggests that, like other religions, Islam should be understood not according to the actions of those who claim to follow it, but, rather, by what it preaches. However, he adds, Muslims seeking to counter widespread anti-Islamic prejudice cannot do so simply by quoting Quranic verses or glorifying Muslim history. Instead, he suggests the need to objectively and dispassionately examine the history of Islam as historically understood by Muslims over the centuries. Here he talks about Islam at the time of the Prophet, with its thrust on liberation of the oppressed and on social equality, and how, when Arab and other Muslim empires were later established, interpretations of Islam underwent a shift in order to justify feudal authoritarianism and monarchical rule, resulting in notions and laws that sought to justify the subordination of the poor, women and people of other faiths. Engineer sees this as, in a sense, a revival of the pre-Islamic Jahili traditions and as a betrayal of theactual spirit of Islam.

The second essay in this collection discusses the vexed issue of 'tradition' and 'modernity', and of how Muslim scholars have responded to the question. 'Modernity', writes Engineer (without, however, defining what he means by the term) is often resisted because of insecurities, fear of change, and because it might threaten to undermine the vested interests of leaders as well as their worldviews. Technological changes are slowly accepted, but changes in traditional understandings of religion are often resisted strongly. This is the case not just with many Muslims alone, but with others, too. On the other hand, Engineer stresses that when it started out as a powerful religious and social movement, Islam, like other egalitarian religions such as Buddhism and Christianity, actually wrought considerable change, challenged old traditions and beliefs, and championed social equality and sensitivity to suffering. He appeals for a revival of this spirit to infuse contemporary understandings of Islam, as indeed other religions.
'Modernity', Engineer somewhat simplistically claims, is based on reason, and so is the Quran, arguing, therefore, that a Quranic or Islamic form of 'modernity' is indeed possible. The Quran, he notes, appeals to the intellect along with faith, and opposes blind faith. He contrasts this to what he sees as the blind conformity enjoined by many traditional ulema who, so he claims—and here he makes a very broad and perhaps untenable generalization—refuse to accept change even within an Islamic framework. He writes—and, again this can be debated—that they regard the solution of every problem as lying solely within received tradition, considering any departure as sin. This, he says, is because they look upon medieval understandings of Islam asformulated by the classical jurists and theologians as binding for all future generations as well, refusing to recognize the human element that went into informing their understandings. Another reason for this, he says, is the influence of what he regards as fabricated Hadith reports attributed to the Prophet Muhammad. In this regard, he earnestly pleas for a revival of the tradition of ijtihad, a practice that was stressed by the Prophet himself, to creatively respond to contemporary and changing developments and concerns. Change, he notes, is inevitable. God, he opines, creates ever-new situations that take the form of new challenges for people to creatively deal with, and not for them to escape from or to respond to simply by repeating answers supplied by medieval scholars. Hence, he argues, the need for a new, contextual fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence and new understandings of theology.

One of the major challenges at the global level today is that of inter-faith relations. In the third essay in the book Engineer critiques the notion, commonly held by many Muslims as well as people of other faiths, that Islam is viscerally hostile to other religions and their adherents. This understanding, he says, emerges from not examining certain Quranic verses as well as historical instances of intolerance in their particular historical contexts. Critiquing this understanding, he evokes the Quranic dictum that there is no compulsion in religion and that a true Muslim must believe in all the prophets of God, with each 'nation' having received at least one such prophet. To further stress his point, he refers to the Quran as laying down, 'Everyone has a direct to which he turns (himself), so vie with one another in good deeds' (2:148). Likewise, the Quran adds, 'For every one of you We appointed a law and a way. And if Allah had pleased He would have made you a single people, but that He might try you in what He gave you. So vie with another in virtuous deeds' [5:48]. Engineer writes that this means that the Quran accepts theplurality of religions, ways of life and laws, and treats this as a challenge to humanity to coexist with tolerance and strengthen peace and morality. This, he says, is an eminently practical approach to other faiths and inter-community co-existence.At the same time, Engineer recognizes that medieval jurists or fuqaha often subverted this Quranic approach to people of other faiths in order to justify their subordination. Hence, he argues, '[The] whole corpus of fiqh in respect of Muslims and non-Muslim minorities must be reviewed and [a] new fiqh should be evolved which should fit into [the] new context. The concept of dar ul-harb [domain of war] and dar ul-islam [domain of Islam] are totally outdated today' (p.42). This new fiqh that he calls for should, he says, champion human rights, respect for other faiths and their religions, and place the spirit of religion, including such cardinal values as love, compassion, peace, inter-community solidarity and social justice, over mere ritualism.

This new fiqh and new understandings of theology would have major implications for how the normative status of Muslim women is understood, as the next two essays in the book make clear. In the first of these essays, Engineer broadly surveys the history of what he calls patriarchal understandings of Islam on the part of male religious scholarly elites, a project in which women had little or no role after the first few decades of Islam. He seeks to retrieve the spirit of gender justice and equality that he sees the Quran and the Prophet's own life as having been informed by, and cites with approval the efforts of contemporary women Islamic scholars to develop gender-sensitive understandings of their faith. The second of these essays deals with the controversial issue of fabricated so-called Hadith reports attributed to the Prophet considerably after his death. Engineer writes that their purpose was to justify and strengthen male domination and to undermine the gender equality enjoined upon by the Quran. He calls for Muslim scholars to develop new understandings of women's status and roles and inter-gender relations based essentially on the Quran.

Half a dozen or so other articles also included in the volume reflect the same basic concern for developing a socially engaged understanding of Islam related to a host of other issues, such as Hindu-Muslim relations, AIDS, the environment and Islamophobia, as well as critiquing what Engineer regards as erroneous and un-Islamic interpretations by self-styled radical Islamists and diehard Islamophobes.

This book comes straight from the heart and speaks to the heart as well. The clumsy grammar that is evident right through the book (and this is a feature of many of Engineer's writings) may thus be excused. As a plea for rethinking traditional understandings of religion to address a wide range of contemporary challenges, this book excels.

Stone Soup

For 8-13 year old writers.

Madrasas and the Importance of Education in Islam

By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan (Translated by Yoginder Sikand)

In the early period of Islam, wherever Muslims spread through vast parts of the world they set up large centres of learning in the form of madrasas. This opened up a new chapter in the history of humankind, inspired by Islamic teachings, for the Quran stresses education for all. If the Quran is studied with an open mind, it is evident that it places great emphasis on knowledge and education. Without exaggeration it can be claimed that the Quran was the first book to remove restrictions on the acquisition of knowledge beyond a narrow class of priests and make it available to all. It was thus the first to present the concept of mass education.

The first revelation to the Prophet, in the year 610 C.E., was the instruction to ‘read’. It is said that the Angel Gabriel asked him to ‘read’ (iqra), but he replied that he did not know how to do so. The Angel asked him to read a second time and he gave the same reply. When the Angel instructed him the third time, he recited the Quranic verse that the Angel had delivered as the first divine revelation to him.
In this respect, Islamic culture can be termed as a ‘reading culture’ or ‘Iqra culture’. This made education and learning an integral and central part of Islamic culture and of the lives of the followers of the Prophet. This happened in India as well, after Muslims came here and Islam spread in the country.
The Madrasa Movement in Nineteenth Century Colonial India

After the British captured India , for a while Muslim leaders believed that first the British must be ousted from the country and that only after that would they have the opportunity of engaging in any religious work. The revolt of 1857 was a product of this thinking, but it failed in its objectives. This led the ulema to realize that it was pointless to seek to counter the British through military means. The only practical way out, they believed, was to avoid conflict and confrontation and to engage, using peaceful means, in constructive activity, focussing particularly on the education of the community. Consequently, numerous madrasas were established across India in the second half of the nineteenth century, and this soon assumed the form of a mass movement for Muslim educational awakening.

One could say that the madrasas shifted the struggle of the community from violent conflict to peaceful educational activism. This represented the choice of a peaceful option over a violent one. The ulema reviewed their position and, without terming it as such, issued what can, in some sense, be called a ‘fatwa’: that India had become dar ul-talim or an ‘abode of knowledge/learning’, and that now all Muslims must get involved in the field of education. This was an extremely important decision.

After considering India as dar ul-talim, a vast number of madrasas and other educational institutions were set up across the country, the result of the efforts of literally thousands of dedicated ulema. They sacrificed themselves so as to keep the community alive and to maintain the tradition of religious knowledge, surviving on meagre incomes and leading simple lives, without expecting worldly rewards. The madrasas that they established provided free education, which particularly helped the poor. The ulema decided that they would depend on community donations, and not on government funding so that they could thereby retain their autonomy. They thus faced numerous hurdles, including financial, but yet carried on with their work with a sense of mission and dedication.

Peaceful Methods of Educational Activism

This world runs on the basis of certain fixed laws. One of these is that non-violence is more powerful than violence. This is illustrated in a tradition attributed to the Prophet, according to which he is said to have declared that God blesses softness with that which he does not give to harshness. This relates, in fact, to all actions, including the sphere of social or collective action. The Quran says that problems always come along with opportunities. The correct approach is to ignore or not be intimidated by the hurdles in one’ s path, and, through peaceful means, to make use of the opportunities that are available.

This wise strategy was also adopted by the madrasa movement. The nineteenth century ulema who led this movement could have thought of first removing the major hurdle that they faced—British rule—by seeking to militarily destroy it and to uproot the British system of education, in the belief that only after this could they establish a system of education of their choice. Had our ulema thought in this way, the movement that they launched would have died out shortly after it was spawned, and it would have produced no positive results for the community, just as in the case of numerous violent movements before it. However, God provided the ulema with the vision to adopt the right course. They avoided the useless path of destruction and focused all their energies on constructive activities, using entirely peaceful means, mainly by setting up madrasas and other related institutions. These institutions were able to sustain themselves in the long-run and expand vastly in number. They had a very positive impact on society, which could not have been produced by short-lived violent movements.

The Missionary Role of the Madrasas

Ideally, Islamic madrasas should prepare scholars who, once they graduate, should communicate the message of God to others, besides providing religious guidance to Muslims. This is what madrasas used to do in the past. However, over time this missionary approach of the madrasas was overtaken by an approach that is based on polemics. Because of this, madrasas have become ineffective in doing any practical work with regard to Islamic mission. Every year our madrasas produce thousands of graduates but they are not in a position to fulfil our missionary needs. Students in the madrasas are trained to engage in some sort of missionary work, but this training is entirely on polemical lines, and not on the lines of dawah or ‘invitation to the faith’, as correctly understood. Consequently, madrasa students can become good polemicists but not good missionaries.

The past was an age of polemics, a product of the ‘age of the sword’, which was based on the principle of victory and defeat. He who won on the battlefield was regarded as successful, and he who was defeated was regarded as having failed. It was in that particular milieu that religious polemics emerged. Such fiery polemics were a common phenomenon in the past but no longer so today. This is the age of scientific exploration and investigation, not of the war of words. Hence, the place of polemics has been taken by serious dialogue. This shift demands that madrasas also suitably modify their approach and system of education. They must prepare their students for scientific discussions, instead of heated polemics.

The crucial difference between polemics and dialogue is that in the former the opposite party is regarded as an enemy. There is no concern for the welfare of contender in the polemicist’s heart. He seeks to defeat him more than to improve or reform him. And this is why polemics generally become a sort of battle, characterised by hard-hitting arguments, bereft of softness and gentleness. Indeed, often the polemicist is not concerned with what is right and what is wrong: his only concern, like that of a skilled lawyer, becomes to defeat his opponent. This, however, is not in accordance with the practice of the prophets. In contrast to the polemicist, the aim of the ideal Muslim dai, or one who engages in inviting others to the faith of Islam, is to appeal to the heart of man. Hence, it is very necessary to institute necessary changes in the madrasas in this regard, so that their approach comes to be based on the Quranic principle of dawah instead of polemics.

Madrasas and the Transmission of Islamic Learning

Through the medium of madrasas, the tradition of Islamic learning is carried on and transmitted to future generations. This is one of the major contributions of the madrasa system, and this is indispensable for the community to stay alive.

In 1994, I travelled to Spain. It is often thought that in 1492 C.E., when the 800 year-old Muslim political rule in Spain came to an end, the Muslims of the country were also wiped out, and that they were all killed or forced to flee. But, during my visit to Spain, I realized that this was not quite true. In actual fact, even after Muslim rule came to an end in Spain, several thousand Muslims remained in the country. What happened was not that Muslims suddenly disappeared from Spain but, rather, that the tradition of Islamic learning and its transmission to the future generations was destroyed. It is a matter of common knowledge that education was actively promoted in Muslim Spain, but this was done under the patronage of the Muslim rulers. Hence, when Muslim rule came to an end so, too, did the educational system that the Muslim rulers had supported. Because of this, the future generations of Muslims were cut off from the tradition of Islamic education, and, over the years, they gradually lost their identity so much so that they even forgot that their ancestors had once been Muslim.

In the nineteenth century, when Muslim political power in India collapsed, the Indian Muslims were faced with the same danger. Here, too, the educational system had been under the direction and patronage of the rulers. Fortunately, at this delicate juncture the ulema stood up and decided to establish a system of religious education for Muslims that would not depend on government assistance but, instead, would be funded by the community. With the grace of God, this project was successful, so much so that in a few years a large number of madrasas were set up across the country. It was because of this that India was saved from meeting the same fate as Spain. It was due to the creation and expansion of madrasas that today Muslims in India can be said to have a vast and strong non-political religious and communitarian foundation, which is more important, useful and meaningful than political power was in the past.

All this happened through the use of peaceful and constructive means that focused on institution-building. Modernity made this possible, because modern developments have relegated political power to a secondary status. Today, the real concentration of power is in institutions, and through them much more can be done than was possible in the past through political power. Political empires are formed on the basis of military power, while non-political empires are based on institutions and organizations. While political empires serve the interests of individuals or small groups, such non-political empires can serve the entire community. Political empires are based on subjugation of others, while non-political empires can, through community-based institutions, work for the welfare of the whole of humankind.
Extracted from the chapter titled Islami Talim ['Islamic Education'] in Maulana Wahiduddin Khan's Urdu book Din-o-Shariat: Din-e Islam Ka Ek Fikri Mutala ('Religion and Divine Law: An Intellectual Study of Islam') [Al-Risala, New Delhi, 2002], pp.74-160.

Madrasas and Ethical Education

By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan (Translated by Yoginder Sikand)

An important aspect of the madrasas is that they produce good citizens of the country and good human beings—people who live according to moral principles and human values. This is one of the major purposes of the madrasas, in accordance with the Hadith wherein the Prophet is said to have declared that he had been sent in order to perfect morality. In contrast, non-religious schools, colleges and universities aim basically at producing people whose primary purpose is material self-aggrandisement. These non-religious or secular institutions train their students to acquire good jobs, as if human beings are simply 'earning animals' or 'pleasure-seeking animals'. They reflect the understanding that the real and final aim of life is material acquisition, and that there are or can be no limitations to human freedom. Their educational philosophy is based on materialism and the belief that this world is all that exists. From this follows the belief that material acquisition and pleasure are the basic aim and purpose of life. This leads to moral relativism and ultimately to crass materialism, unstoppable greed, sheer utilitarianism and moral chaos. It also leads to a complete loss of real purpose in life.

In contrast to this job-oriented education, madrasas provide 'God-oriented education', aiming to uplift students from the material and onto the spiritual and moral plane. For them, material things are simply a need, not the aim. They are based on a spiritual, rather than materialist, philosophy. In addition to providing knowledge, they also focus on the spiritual uplift of their students, encouraging them to obey and to rely on God. This is in contrast to secular schools, where the spiritual dimension is missing. Madrasas recognize human freedom but also know its limits, for after a point it can turn into a curse. They also encourage respect for 'eternal' or God-given ethics, which forms the framework for an ideal society. Madrasa students are made aware of the real purpose of life, of where they have to start their life and what their final stage is. This creates a firm faith, based on the knowledge that this world is merely a path, a road to the life after death in the Hereafter. This promotes the realization that this world is a testing ground for the Hereafter, not something to be indulged in, and, that, hence, the aim of life should be success in the Hereafter, instead of in this world. Consequently, madrasa students are taught to restrict themselves to their bare needs, rather than hanker after luxuries, to remain content with what they have rather than to constantly think of acquiring more material comforts.

Of course, what I have written here pertains to the level of theory or principles. As far as the empirical reality of the madrasas is concerned, there are many faults and drawbacks that one can mention. But the basic point is that the drawbacks that I have indicated above with regard to secular or non-religious educational institutions are a result of their aims and their educational philosophy. Accordingly, they are an integral part of that system. In contrast, the drawbacks that exist in the madrasas are a result of their practical flaws, not because of shortcomings in their philosophy of education. While these practical flaws and errors can be corrected, the ideological flaws in the educational philosophy of non-religious educational institutions cannot be done away with unless this philosophy is itself accepted as fundamentally flawed.
Madrasa Reforms
Yet, madrasas, like everything else in this world, are capable of further improvement. So as to help them serve their purpose better, I have some suggestions to make. In order that the ulema can provide appropriate leadership and guidance they must give particular stress to the learning of the English language. It is not necessary that English be made a compulsory subject in the madrasa curriculum. However, along with various modern subjects it should be made an optional subject in every large madrasa, and students who wish to study English and these other subjects should be free to do so. I have participated in numerous international conferences and have been repeatedly struck by the fact that there are many people in other religious communities who can represent their faiths in such forums in English and in a modern idiom. In contrast, there are very few such Muslim ulema who can do so. It is very necessary for the madrasas to address this major problem by taking appropriate measures. For this, madrasas could consider organizing extension lectures on matters of contemporary import, adding certain books on these subjects in the existing madrasa curriculum, providing opportunities to their students to participate in inter-faith meetings, conducting training camps for their students during vacations, encouraging students' unions to arrange for talks and discussions on contemporary issues, and so on.
I would also suggest the setting up of a nodal Madrasa Centre to galvanise the efforts that are being currently made by individual madrasas so that this becomes a collective effort, and, hence, more effective. The Madrasa Centre would seek to promote unity between the madrasas, serve as their collective voice and work for their common objectives. It would relay information directly or otherwise related to the madrasas to them and would enable them to be aware of global and other such contemporary developments.
Another major task of the Madrasa Centre would be to help create such an atmosphere with the help of the madrasas that it may become possible for the madrasa curriculum to be re-looked at. There has been much discussion about this for a long time, but yet very little has been done in this regard. As is well known, the present system of madrasa education is based on two sorts of disciplines. The first are the 'revealed sciences', whose inerrancy and sanctity is not in doubt. Yet, it must be remembered that this sanctity pertains to the text [of the Quran and Hadith] and not to their [human] interpretation and commentaries thereon. Hence, while preserving these same sacred texts, changes can be allowed in the books that are used to interpret and to comment on them in accordance with the changing times. The second type of subjects are the ancillary 'rational sciences' [such as logic, astronomy, philosophy, etc.]. These are not in themselves sacred, and depend on spatial and temporal conditions, and so can be suitably changed if the need so arises. In place of the old 'rational sciences' that have lost their usefulness, new 'rational sciences' should be taught in the madrasas so that students can appropriately present Islam to the modern mind.
Presently, inadequate focus is paid in the madrasa curriculum on the Quran and Islamic History, and Hadith is often taught from a jurisprudential angle. These issues must be suitably addressed. The present syllabus contains a lot of material on 'false sects', but most of these sects no longer exist today. Instead, stress should be paid to such sects that remain in today's world. Another issue in need of reform concerns the teaching of polemics. Madrasas continue with the past tradition of training their students in polemics in order to relate to others. This approach needs to be abandoned and replaced by scientific dialogue. Unfortunately, our madrasa graduates are not at all trained for this, and nor are they made aware of scientific logic.
Very little introductory literature about the madrasas exists in English, Hindi and several other languages. This is a great problem. It is necessary for such literature to be produced so that non-Muslims can gain a proper understanding and appreciation of the madrasas. This could be arranged for by the proposed Madrasa Centre. Through this and other means the Madrasa Centre can play a crucial role in dispelling the prevailing misunderstandings about madrasas. These misunderstandings have promoted calls for steps to be taken against madrasas. Some call for a law to regulate madrasas, others insist on what they call their 'Indianisation'. Yet others claim that madrasas severely impede national integration and hamper the progress of the country because they allegedly prevent Muslims from joining the country's mainstream. It is true that these misunderstandings are wholly baseless, but they have become so widespread that it is wrong to ignore them. The proposed Madrasa Centre can counter these misunderstandings simply by putting forward the true picture of the madrasas before the public.
Extracted from the chapter titled Islami Talim ['Islamic Education'] in Maulana Wahiduddin Khan's Urdu book Din-o-Shariat: Din-e Islam Ka Ek Fikri Mutala ('Religion and Divine Law: An Intellectual Study of Islam') [Al-Risala, New Delhi, 2002], pp.74-160.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Silhouette of Your Kids

My husband constantly spams sends me links from time to time of interesting things and I thought this one was cute:

Inhabitots

Madinah Arabic pdf's

You can download them here if you need them, InshaALLAH. Read More...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

It's a good thing this was quick

We went to a yard sale a few months ago and one of the items we purchased was an Easy Bake Oven for $3CDN.

Easy Bake

It sat in a lonely corner of the kitchen and my daughter would mention it from time to time but I never took the initiative to open the box. I did manage to purchase the baking mix for it and it also sat alongside the box.

So today, since we had a free calendar and the other two children were sleeping, we opened the box.

She anxiously waited as the oven preheated for fifteen minutes. She mixed the batter and filled the pans.

Fresh from the oven

Then, I made the mistake of trying to photograph the finished product while a four year old practiced patience, lol.

The finished product

So the three of them hastily enjoyed an afternoon treat (the other two woke up as soon as we finished. Of course, they ate it so fast that I couldn't photograph it. Read More...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Madrasas: Reforms a Must (By Ghitreef Shahbaz Nadwi)

(Translated by Yoginder Sikand)

A proper system of education is indispensible for every community. Muslim societies have had a long and glorious tradition of education. Islamic centres of learning served as power houses of the community. The madrasas of South Asia are part of this historical tradition, and many of them came into existence to defend Islam. In reality, not only are these institutions a part of our glorious historical legacy, they also play the role of large community NGOs, to use a modern term. In the past, madrasas served important social functions, producing judges, lawyers, commanders, litterateurs, historians, religious scholars and preachers. However, British rule completely undermined this system, and due to external attacks and internal weaknesses, the madrasa system began rapidly to lose its relevance in terms of the objectives it was devised to serve. Muslim religious leaders now began to turn a blind eye to the developments unfolding in the world around them. They ignored the rapid changes occurring in the political, economic and intellectual fields. Instead of working to reform their institutions from within, they considered that other communities or external forces were the root cause for their problems and their decline. Consequently, even today the same educational policies that the ulema of the British colonial era devised continue intact, with all their limitations, and, unfortunately, these inheritors of the legacy of their elders continue to refuse to accept the need for any changes therein.

I am not a victim of any madrasa-phobia and nor do I deny the services of the madrasas and the positive contributions that they have made. On the contrary, I recognise that madrasas play an important role in promoting religious awareness and social reform among Muslims, and that they produce religious specialists who can provide religious guidance to people and who staff religious organisations and institutions. Yet, while recognising this positive and constructive role of the madrasas, I still feel the urgent need for wide-ranging reforms within the madrasa system in accordance with the needs of the present times and also in order that madrasas can effectively fulfil their basic objectives. After all, among the objectives of the madrasas is to produce scholars and ulema who can answer and appropriately respond to contemporary challenges and work as missionaries and leaders who can explain religion in a contemporary idiom suitable to our present era of globalisation and dialogue. In my view, these basic objectives of the madrasas are not being properly addressed by them at present. Hence the need for far-ranging changes in the curriculum and system of madrasa education.

In India today, there are basically two types of madrasas (here I am referring specifically to Sunni madrasas, leaving out Shia madrasas from the discussion) that are not controlled by the state. Firstly, those that follow the traditional dars-e nizami system. These include the Dar ul-Ulum, Deoband, the Mazahir ul-Ulum, Saharanpur, the Jamia Ashrafia, Azamgarh, and the smaller madrasas associated with these. Secondly, madrasas that do not follow the dars-e nizami pattern, such as the Dar ul-Ulum Nadwat ul-Ulema, Lucknow, the Jamia Salafia, Varanasi, the Madrasat ul-Islah, Sarai Mir, the Dar us-Salam, Oomerabad, the Jamiat ul-Huda, Jaipur, the Jamiat ul-Falah, Bilariyaganj, and smaller madrasas affiliated with them.

The first type of madrasas are very numerous. They have a longer history and also exercise a very great influence on the Muslim public. The sort of changes that these madrasas have undergone, both in terms of their curriculum as well as in their structure, has been peripheral, very limited and largely in name alone. This is insufficient to meet the demands of the times. This system has become, in many senses, outdated, and reforms are urgently called for in several respects. Interestingly, in the past, this dars-e nizami system was considerably dynamic in the past and did undergo major changes, but this, unfortunately, is not quite the case today.
In these madrasas, great stress continues to be given to ‘Greek’ logic and philosophy, the so-called ‘Greek rational sciences’, which deal with many issues that are no longer at all relevant and whose place has been taken over by modern philosophy and other disciplines. Likewise, considerable emphasis continues to be given to formulations of fiqh (jurisprudence), but in such a way as to present fiqh in an extremely static, unchanging and frozen manner, ignoring contemporary concerns and developments. Consequently, these madrasas remain stuck in the medieval jurisprudential (fiqhi) framework. No attention is paid to a comparative study of various schools of jurisprudence, and these madrasas are characterised by excessive and unwarranted narrow sectarianism. Another distressing issue is that too much time is spent on the rules and intricacies of Arabic grammar, ignoring the teaching of the language through the more effective and less time consuming direct method. Because of this, even students who spend eight years studying in madrasas cannot speak proper Arabic. Furthermore, Hindi and English, unfortunately, get very little attention.

Sadly, there is no proper arrangement for teaching modern subjects in these madrasas. Whatever is actually taught in these madrasas in the name of modern subjects amounts to nothing more than A,B,C,D. Despite this, it is worth noting that some of the leading ulema who had themselves studied the dars-e nizami course and were ranked among the leading ulema of the Deobandi school of thought exhorted and encouraged madrasa students to also study modern subjects. Thus, Maulana Qasim Nanotawi, the founder of the Deoband madrasa, is reported to have said that he wished he had learnt English so that he could use it to tell others about Islam and also to defend the faith from its detractors. Maulana Anwar Shah Kashmiri, another leading Deobandi scholar, studied modern philosophy and encouraged his students to do likewise. Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani, rector of the Deoband madrasa, was vehemently opposed to British colonialism, but yet stressed the need to study modern languages for purposes of telling others about Islam. Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi, another doyen of the Deobandi school of thought, believed that madrasa students must also have a general education till the Bachelor’s degree level.

As far as the second type of madrasas—those that do not follow the dars-e nizami system—are concerned, there is no uniformity among them in terms of curriculum. Instead, each big madrasa of this sort has its own educational policy and tradition, and while sharing some things in common, they differ considerably from each other in other respects. Though they claim to have borrowed good things from both the traditional and the modern systems of education in order to evolve a balanced approach, this, sadly, has been more in the nature of a slogan, limited to theory and hardly put into actual practice.

In terms of methods of teaching, both types of madrasas do not differ substantially from each other. Both are generally characterised by a standard approach which is based on specific texts and on the person of the teacher, while students are treated simply as mute listeners. The focus is on the actual content of texts specified in the curriculum, rather than on the disciplines that are meant to be learnt by the students. It is the teacher, rather than the student, who is at the centre of the system. In place of comprehension, great stress is given to memorisation of texts and lessons. The method of teaching Arabic grammar is extremely faulty. Students are made to memorise elaborate grammar rules, and little attention is paid to practical exercises. The books of Arabic grammar used in madrasas that follow the dars-e nizami are centuries old and are written in an extremely antiquated style. Teaching these texts and in the present fashion is greatly time consuming.

Because madrasas continue to ignore modern teaching methods, they make no arrangements to properly train their teachers. Consequently, teachers often lack expertise in the subjects they are appointed to teach, and students do not properly participate in the learning process. They are not taught to freely use their reason and to think on their own, while the Quran actually gives great stress to this—the word ‘aql’ (reason) occurs more than a hundred times in the Quran. The present system lacks a free atmosphere wherein students and teachers can discuss with each other in a healthy manner. Students are treated sternly, and are sometimes even given physical punishments, particularly those in maktabs, junior madrasa classes and departments for the memorising of the Quran. In selecting subjects to teach, no consideration is made of the students’ interest or natural inclinations. The environment in the madrasas is so insular and closed that it breeds ‘personality worship’ and ‘worship of the elders’. The students’ intellectual capacities are rendered completely frozen and they do not dare to differ with their teachers.

These are all very bitter truths, but they must be recounted because they have remained the same for over a hundred years and little has been done to address them. While much has been written about this, unfortunately in practical terms little has been achieved so far.
In the modern system of education, students are provided a basic common education till a certain level, and after this they go on to specialise in different fields depending on what subjects they are interested in. Because of this basic common education that they receive at the initial stage, doctors and engineers, for instance, despite their different areas of specialisation, are able to understand each other. However, madrasa-educated graduates are unable to communicate with secular educated people because they lack the basic common or secular education needed for this purpose. This is an issue that madrasas must seriously consider and address. The system of madrasa education as it presently is renders madrasa students completely cut off from the wider society, as a result of which they have no understanding of modern thought and contemporary intellectual developments in the world around them. The modern globalised world has no place for such people who want to live cut off from the rest of the world. This is an age of dialogue. But all this is not taught to the madrasa students. What they learn is related only to one aspect of society, and is not relevant to the rest. It is because of this that madrasa graduates cannot play an active and constructive role in society at large. It is in this context that madrasas urgently need to introspect and do away with their numerous shortcomings.

Presently, the system of madrasa education is such that there is no proper way of categorising the students according to different levels and capacities. Some students join the madrasas out of compulsion, and are dull and not particularly interested in their studies. Most of them fail to finish the course of studies and drop out mid way. Those who somehow manage to finish the course often take to other occupations after graduation and forget what they had learnt in the madrasas. On the other hand are bright and hardworking students who wish to complete the entire course of learning. Accordingly, madrasas should devise some system whereby from the very outset they can distinguish between both sorts of students. The former sort can, after receiving a basic education, be provided with some sort of technical or vocational education, while the others can continue with their course of studies in the madrasas. Unfortunately, there is no system like this in place, and hence both bright and dull students are made to study the same course till the final level. Further, there is the additional concern of economic problems that madrasa students face once they graduate and the fact that they cannot all be absorbed in appropriate positions. Because of this they resort to setting up new madrasas of their own, although the large number of madrasas across the country are quite adequate for the community’s needs. There is need to address this issue as well, so that by properly categorising various levels of madrasa education, precious economic resources can be saved and used wisely and the students’ capacities can be properly developed.

These levels can be categorised on the following lines:

At the first level, students would be provided with enough religious and secular education so as to enable them to lead a respectable life as Muslims in society. At this level, students would learn the basics of Arabic and other disciplines, and the curriculum can be developed with the help of experts.

At the second level, students would receive that amount of religious education so as to be able to provide guidance to people on issues of day-to-day concern. It is at this stage that a large number of students drop out of madrasas and leave their education half finished. Hence, they should be trained in such a way that even if they discontinue studying in the madrasas they would be able to study further on their own. At this level, intelligent, hardworking and serious students must be separated from the others so that they can later go on to receive higher madrasa education. At this level, too, technical or vocational education can be provided to the extent that resources permit, for which benefit should be taken of various government schemes.

At the third stage of madrasa education only those students who are serious about their studies should be taken, because to admit all and sundry will prove damaging. The selection process must be strict, and quality of the students should be preferred to their numbers. At this stage, students should be trained in the various religious disciplines so that they can directly access and benefit from the original sources. Alongside this, they must be made aware of modern disciplines and contemporary developments. After passing out of this stage of education, students can go on to join suitable departments in colleges and universities and receive higher education in fields of their choice and interest.

The fourth and final stage of madrasa education should be reserved only for selected students who wish to specialise in a particular branch of religious learning. They must be trained in this in such a way as to be able to provide appropriate guidance to society in accordance with contemporary needs. For this they would also need to engage in detailed study of one or the other modern social science discipline. At this stage, in place of total reliance on texts and teachers, students must be made to do field or empirical work and experimentation. They should be encouraged to become creative, rather than simply blindly repeating what has been said or written before.

Certain changes are also necessary with regard to the texts and methods of learning employed in the madrasas. A complete and new syllabus needs to be devised for the madrasas, and for the first two stages of madrasa education that I have outlined above, entirely new books should be written and used. This should be prepared by a team of experts and must take into account the age, interests and psychology of the students. Direct methods of teaching Arabic must be adopted, with less reliance on the intricacies of grammar. The number of prescribed texts needs to be reduced and greater focus needs to be paid to the proper comprehension of the various disciplines that the students study. Further, adequate arrangements need to be made for training madrasa teachers, for which new research and methods need to be benefitted from. Students should be given adequate freedom. Presently, the madrasas are unnecessarily strict with their students, suppressing their minds and stifling their personalities. Such methods of training are resorted to as make many students petrified of the very faces of their teachers so much so that because of this they even discontinue their studies.

A hundred years ago, Maulana Shibli Numani had very rightly said about the madrasas, ‘Our education, our curriculum and our progress have remained at the same level as they were two centuries ago. How, then, can we appropriately respond to contemporary developments?’ Sadly, this plea of the Maulana still remains seriously unaddressed even today.

*This article appeared in the Urdu monthly Dar us-Salaam (published from Malerkotla), vol.21, issue no.5, August 2008.

The author, Ghiftreef Shahbaz Nadwi, is the Director of the New Delhi-based Foundation for Islamic Studies and the Assistant Editor of the Urdu monthly Afkar-e Milli. He can be contacted on Read More...

Free Slavery Lapbook

CurrClick has a free Slavery in North America lapbook to download. By the way, it's a multilevel lapbook. Read More...

Cheap Fun with Paper

Link here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Cave Under Construction

This week has been so busy for me! We got a few new book shipments in for the next school year and some things for the classroom (more on this later, InshaALLAH), including a couple of surprises thrown in from the husband (what a nice guy).

It was also confirmed that there is no gestational diabetes this pregnancy (woohoo!)so I thank you tremendously for your du'a. I spent about two and a half hours downtown at the hospital waiting to get my Rho(D) immune globulin injection so I couldn't fast that day. I hardly ate anything though. Once you get into the fasting mode, the appetite comes back a lot slower than one expects. I have to get these injections every pregnancy since I am Rh negative.

Here is our Cave of Hira.

Cave of Hira

It should be good with one more coat of paint. I am using it as practice for my daughter's Qur'an recitations. Each time she has to recite a different surah to get some goodies for herself and her brother and sister. So far there has been a bit of candy and an assortment of dollar store treasures. They are pretty excited about the whole thing so I am glad that we did it. Now I need to find a moment to finish painting it! Read More...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Good Post

I was reading through the posts of Happy Muslim Mama and found a link to this excellent Ramadan reminder. Enjoy! Read More...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

If You're Going to the Markham Fair...

You can use these curriculum guides for your visit. Read More...

She's So Creative, I Just Love It

I was wondering what to do as a daily activity (with treats of course)and AlhamduLILLAH, I think this is it. I scrapped the advent idea (you know, the one with the countdown calendar)because I am just too pregnant to be creative right now (and really feeling lazy).

This is perfect and there is still plenty of time, (InshaALLAH) to do this.

JazakILLAH Khair Ukhti!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Maybe This Will Be Next?

A Well-Rounded Geek

We Signed Her Up

Tool of the Trade

We received a call on Saturday afternoon for a Sunday afternoon meeting with UCMAS Canada. I am so glad that it's only a few minutes away. After discussing the program and seeing what my daughter should be able to accomplish - we signed her up.

There were a couple of students there for a make-up class (it started on Friday) so we left her there to start immediately. She was so excited, she was practically pushing us out the door (no need to worry about separation anxiety, lol). She stayed for about an hour and we were told that they were impressed with her ability, AlhamduLILLAH. I hope that she can keep up with the others because they are six years old and I don't know what kind of training they have had thus far.

I am glad that we decided to go with Singapore Math - I think the style of UCMAS and Singapore will complement one another.

Each week, she is scheduled to attend a two-hour session and complete homework (no more than twelve minutes) each day. The initial sign-up fee included her abacus, backpack and workbooks.

Tha Backpack

There are ten levels in the program, each lasting about three months, as long as the student passes the assessment with an average of 70% or higher.


After a few levels, no abacus is used; the students must picture the abacus and mentally perform a variety of math functions, i.e., addition, subtraction, multiplication or division in a limited amount of time. InshaALLAH she does well - although I am already proud of her for trying.

UCMAS Gear

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Canadian Curriculum and Educational Materials

Here is a list for those of us north of the U.S. Read More...

Friday, September 5, 2008

Research and Scholarship in Madrasas: Some Reflections

By Maulana Abu Ammar Zahid ul-Rashdi
(Extracted from the author’s Urdu book Dini Madaris Ka Nisab-o Nizam [Al-Shariah Academy, Gujranwala, 2007] and edited and translated by Yoginder Sikand)

In order to understand the present state of research and scholarship in madrasas, it is important to locate them in their historical context. Thepresent structure of madrasa education in South Asia is a product ofcolonial times, when British rule led to the rupture of the traditionalMuslim political, economic, military, legal, administrative and educationalsystems. In the wake of this and in response to these new challenges,numerous ulema devised the present system of madrasa education so as toprotect Islamic culture. These new madrasas were intended to protect thefaith and religious identity of Muslims and to maintain and promote thetradition of Islamic learning. Their graduates were to keep mosques andmadrasas alive in their capacity as imams, muftis, teachers and preachers.They were also to combat challenges to Islamic beliefs and culture. Tillnow, the madrasas have been operating in this defensive mode as thesechallenges and threats are not only still alive but are becoming even moresevere with the passage of time. It is in this context that the status ofscholarship and research in South Asia's madrasas must be understood.

The story has two sides to it. On the positive side, several madrasas nowrun dar ul-iftas that supply questioners with fatwas or opinions on a widerange of issues in order to guide them. Many madrasas and their scholarshave produced an immense corpus of Islamic literature in the form of booksand magazines. A few ulema-run institutions have come up in recent yearsthat are pursuing research and scholarship on contemporary issues. Anincreasing number of ulema are now writing on religious issues for'mainstream' newspapers. Several graduates of madrasas in South Asia havegone on to do research in regular universities at home and abroad. And now several madrasas have their own websites on the Internet which provideinformation about these institutions and their schools of thought and guidereaders on religious matters. All this shows that madrasas today are notunmindful of their responsibilities in the field of scholarship andresearch.

But there is another side to the story, or what can be called the negative side. Prime importance is placed in the on-going research work andscholarship in madrasas on sectarian understandings and also on allegianceto key personalities within each school of thought, leaving little space forother issues. The aim of much of this scholarship seems to be to assert theclaim of superiority of one sect over the others, and this is not done in aspirit of genuine dialogue, but, rather, in a fiercely polemical fashion,which often degenerates into ridicule and abuse. Till now madrasas haverefused to benefit from modern methods and styles of research and the workof international research institutions. This is not only because people inthe madrasas are generally not conversant with foreign languages but alsobecause of the deeply-ingrained belief that they are intellectually superiorto the rest of the world and, hence, that they do not need to know about,leave alone benefit from, others. Madrasas seem to imagine that benefitingfrom the intellectual work of others—other Muslim intellectuals, otherIslamic sects and international research institutions—is a negation of theirsense of superiority. This is, in a sense, a reflection of their essentiallydefensive attitude.

Even in research on matters concerning Muslim social issues, madrasasimagine that they must be bound by their sectarian affiliations. Till nowthere has been no effort to bring together leaders and ulema of differentMuslim sects to discuss important issues concerning the entire community andto engage in collective research, reflection and dialogue. There has sadlybeen no collective and organized effort to promote and improve the qualityof research and scholarship in the madrasas. This sort of work is leftmerely to certain individuals who might have an interest in doing so, andtheir patronage, support and guidance is, likewise, done, if at all, on apersonal basis. The conditions of libraries in most madrasas leave much tobe desired. Most madrasas either have no libraries worth the name, and thosethat do have some books lack essential reading and reference material on awide range of subjects. The selection of books for madrasa libraries is alsoguided by the sectarian affiliation of the madrasas and personal whims.A range of necessary and vital disciplines essential for proper research,such as sociology, history, psychology, politics, economics and humancivilizations are not taught in madrasas, and, worse still, their importanceis yet to be appreciated, although these are indispensable if madrasas areto fulfill their objectives. Another major problem is the teaching oflanguages. Leave alone English and other international languages, theteaching of Arabic in most madrasas is also faulty, limited simply to thecomprehension of certain texts. Even after supposedly studying Arabic forseveral years, the vast majority of madrasa students are unable to converse,deliver a speech or write an article properly in that language. Further,even Urdu is not taught in the madrasas as a language and no arrangementsare made for students to familiarize students with modern Urdu idiom and thelanguage and style of contemporary Urdu journalism. Because of this, manymadrasa students and even teachers are not able to even write a two- orthree-page article in Urdu.

In order to remedy the situation, I have some suggestions to make. Firstly,the strong sense of intellectual superiority that has been constructed likea high wall behind which madrasa teachers and students live must beaddressed. We have to come out of that environment and face practicalrealities and accept the fact that besides us others also live in this worldand that they, too, have intellectual and scholarly abilities. We have theright to differ from them but we have no right to deny their existence. Inmy view, madrasas need to understand and benefit from the scholarship andresearch being conducted by national and international Muslim and non-Muslimresearch institutions working on issues with which madrasas are concernedand also from the scholarly work of other Muslim sects and schools ofthought. Madrasa boards, where they exist, must deeply introspect into thematter and devise steps and plans to promote and improve research andscholarly pursuits within their institutions. Furthermore, the leaders ofthe madrasas must take serious cognizance of the growing cultural and otherchallenges facing the Muslims today that threaten Muslim identity,institutions, beliefs, practices and faith. This is happening at the globallevel, and it is something that madrasas must devote their attention to interms of serious research, scholarship and publishing.
kashif