If it’s not necessary to oppose Sibal, it’s necessary not to oppose Sibal
If I were a faqih, or a certified graduate in Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), I would have issued this fatwa (edict): When it is not necessary to oppose, it is necessary not to oppose.
By opposing efforts to refurbish what they teach, madrassas or Muslim religious schools are bleeding us with a self-inflicted wound.
India’s booming economy will leave us behind if we fail to realise how important mainstream education is.
Madrassa administrators have questioned the “Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009”, informally called the right to education Act, on several counts, including a claim that it effectively outlaws Muslim seminaries.
The law is being seen clashing with another one, Article 30. Under Article 30, India’s Constitution confers two rights on minorities – (a) the right to set up their own institution; and (b) the right to run it independently with a virtual free hand.
I wrote a frontpager on it on July 5. Some of the clerics’ concerns may be legally valid, the story had stated, quoting experts.
My report somehow led some people to feel I commiserated with the clerics. They called me up to understand my personal view. Merely reporting a development doesn’t tie the reporter and the cause together, I told them.
Minority affairs minister Salman Khurshid said the fear of madrassas is unfounded. The clerics, he said, are “fighting phantoms”. I think they are fighting against our own progress.
The high-level Sachar committee report on disadvantages faced by Muslims has pointed out that only 4% of Muslim children attended madrassas. That’s hardly a consolation. What the report forgot to tell us is that most of the rest 96% probably do not go to school at all.
The report also found that Muslims hold fewer than 5% of government jobs and make up only 4% of undergraduates. The report also found that, though self-employed at a far higher rate, Muslims are far behind other groups in terms of access to credit.
Between themselves, these statistics sums up the benighted socio-economic conditions of Indian Muslims. How are we supposed to overcome these basic barriers without an education that is relevant?
It is time the clerics loosened their grip on poor Muslim children. Islam doesn’t require every Muslim to be an alim (graduate in Islamic sciences). However, mushrooming madrassas, with their free meals, accommodation and religious appeal, remain an attractive option.
The bigger picture is about balancing religious learning with modern education. Muslims want employment, a decent life and equality on all platforms. However, employment is a function of education and skills, none of which can be realistically acquired by attending a madrassa alone. An educated Muslim is more resilient to all forms of disadvantages or discrimination.
Darul Uloom, Deoband, has been the wellspring of madrassas in South Asia. My several trips to Deoband gave an opportunity to look into what it teaches. Before I attempt to loosely describe its curriculum, it may be hard to believe if I tell you that they simply don’t teach jihad. This aspect of Islam is limited to an understanding of jihad as a spiritual concept.
Regardless of the “school of thought” they belong to — Deobandi, Barelvi or Ahl-e-Hadith — most madrassas follow a standardised course called Nizami, institutionalized by the Deoband seminary in 1867. It has roughly 20 subjects falling mainly into two categories: al-ulum an-naqliya (the transmitted sciences), and al-ulum al-aqliya (the rational sciences), include grammar, philosophy, Arabic literature and logic studies.
Notably, not every subject is purely theological or restricted to Islamic law, jurisprudence, Hadith, and Tafsir (interpretation of the Quran). The course includes medicine, mathematics and polemics. However, the courseware is thoroughly outdated. Madrassas teach human anatomy that predates Gray’s Anatomy. The range of their curriculum is restricted to the classical period.
Bangladesh’s Quomi madrassas have made themselves relevant in a very interesting way by successfully incorporating humanities and sciences.
There have been some attempts to mainstream Indian madrassas, like offering linkages with university education and bringing certain government-supervised madrassas on a par with secondary schooling certificates, like CBSE. I will tell you why this was such a bad call.
This move of the predecessor education minister, Arjun Singh, will only increase the relative incompetence of madrassa students. While it will allow him to compete for a job or a university seat, he will lose hands down to his competitor with a secular education.
Unless followed up with uniform curriculum and substantive reforms, real benefits will continue to elude madrassa students. However, the clerics have been effectively scuppering all efforts to modernise madrassas.
Muslim religious leaders, who command powerful voting blocs, have had an uneasy relationship with the human resource development (education) minister Kapil Sibal.
Sibal’s stand that the Delhi-based Jamia Millia Islamia — an institution of immense emotional pride among Muslims — may not be given the minority status has driven a wedge between him and Muslims. His efforts to mainstream madrassa education have only helped sharpen that divide.
The truth is somewhere in between. Both Sibal and Muslims are “fighting phantoms”. Sibal’s stand on Jamia mirrors a general fear that if Jamia is allowed to be a minority institution, it will slip into the hands of fundamentalists. By that yardstick, Sibal should have long been a fundamentalist because he is himself a product of a prestigious minority institution — St. Stephen’s College, Delhi.
Muslim religious leaders, on the other hand, are unnecessarily clobbering him for doing what is his duty – lighting up India’s dark corners with education.