This is in response to the article “Madrasa and Educational Needs of Indian Muslims” (1-7 June, 2008). The learned author has raised many points, some of which are wanting in clarity, depth and approach. The problem is we just ignore the fact that the Indian madrasas had quite different purposes in the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial periods. In the pre-colonial period, madrasas were officially recognised as standard means of education. They were at par with their time (of course, in a narrow sense), imparting education, skills and expertise in various disciplines, required or expected from them by the ruling regimes for the civil services. These services they did in addition to the specialisation in the Islamic subjects.
But the scenario changed completely in the colonial period, especially after the 1857 revolt. Ulama were massacred, religious institutions demolished and the madrasa education was derecognised by the British. In its place the modern secular educational model was introduced and imposed. The motivations for these
changes were doubtful to say the least. Religious education was looked down upon and scoffed at. And the products of the British inspired institutes were alarming by Islamic standards. They became the programmed robots of the west. They were mad in following everything west. They became more English than the English themselves. Above all, agnosticism, atheism and immorality were creeping into the society at an alarming rate.
These results of modern education vindicated the stand of the Ulama. The initial suspicion grew into fear which necessitated action. It was in this scenario that the foundations of contemporary madrasas were laid. The objectives were quite different from those in the pre-colonial period. There were few objectives, but those were very vital for the survival of Muslims as an Ummah. They could not foray into the field of scientific modern education for various reasons. Among them was Muslim Ummah’s intellectual slavery of the British, lack of resources, lack of meaningful co-operation from the authorities and intelligentsia in creating a synthesis of Islam and science.
Sir Syed Ahmed Khan ventured into this field. With due acknowledgement to all his contributions, he was a failure in at least one respect. He could not create a synthesis of Islam and science. The result was the Aligarh graduates were taught science and religion as antithesis of each other – not so explicitly all the time – because of wholesale import of ideas from the west. They were successful in making clerks and civil servants but at the cost of Islamic faith (with few exceptions). This further alienated the Ulama and the necessity, urgency and importance of such learning centres which may impart exclusive Islamic education in a protected Islamic environment dawned upon them.
The madrasas have to be understood in this context. It is a place where exclusive Islamic education is imparted to interested students by the custodians of Islamic knowledge. The madrasas were actually established to save the torch of Islam from getting extinguished, in the face of the onslaught of Macaulay and Marx. It was and is purely voluntary in the sense that only committed and religiously inclined individuals can pursue the study.
All Muslim children are not expected to study in madrasas. On the contrary, the idea was that if about 98 to 99 per cent of children are enrolled in modern education, then at least 1 to 2 per cent of remaining students (the religiously inclined among them) should be encouraged to get specialisation in religious disciplines, so that the traditional legacy is carried to the next generation. Rest of the students were never discouraged to pursue modern education, as long as they didn’t forget their basic Islamic teachings. For the students pursuing modern education, the ulama started maktabs or sabaahiyaas (morning classes) to impart basic Islamic teachings.
Literally there was a virtual division of students among the Ulama and the non-ulama. Ulama took only a paltry share of students, mostly the poor and the destitute, and worked on their project, with the donations and charity from Muslims. Now the responsibility of the remaining corpus of students automatically fell on the shoulders of the so-called liberals and the progressives to lead them to modern and scientific path, with the Government aid and infrastructure at their disposal. The Ulama in their foresight avoided Government aid to preserve their autonomy. They started with almost no infrastructure, with time and tide not in their favour, and slowly and steadily worked towards their goal.
The reality is, the Ulama, in spite of all the disadvantages, were more or less successful in their mission. They not only established world renowned centres of Islamic education but also produced such eminent scholars, who put India on the global Islamic map.
The non-ulama, on the other hand, because of their lack of proper leadership, incoherence and improper approach, were a failure. They could not produce a single world renowned educational or research institute. At the most they can show Aligarh Muslim University, but surprisingly enough it was also established by a madrasa graduate! Now the irony is that the former are being blamed for the failures of the latter, and those attacks are coming from none other than the losers themselves!
Because of the failures of the latter, the Ulama are beginning to foray into those fields until now belonging exclusively (by default) to the non-ulama leadership. But instead of co-operating with them and learning from their successful venture in Islamic education, they are satisfied only with the blame game.
The most disappointing part of the article was the criticism of Sheikh Salman Hasani Nadwi. When the learned scholar said that the syllabus followed by most of the madrasas is up-to-date, he was speaking in the context of the objectives of the madrasas. Those contemporary subjects have been already incorporated in the madrasa curriculum. The knowledge of the contemporary subjects imparted is equivalent to the matriculation level. After that the whole effort is concentrated on giving excellence in Islamic education, which is the main objective of the madrasa system. In this era of specialisation of disciplines, this is purely logical. For example, one who pursues medical education, will be having the knowledge of social sciences, geography, and history up to the level of matriculation only. And the knowledge of physics, chemistry and botany up to the pre-university level only. You cannot give expert training in two or more disciplines at the same time. Such products will be Jacks of all but masters of none. Can you give an example of a Sinologist getting Nobel Prize in Chemistry, or an Egyptologist who is an expert in Modern Physics? The answer will be an emphatic NO! Then why do you apply different yardsticks in case of Islamic education? At the most you can give basic knowledge of the important disciplines and concentrate on giving expert training in one field. This is the norm, this is the trend and this is logical. Giving suggestions against it will be detrimental to the proper functioning of the madrasas.
Another irrelevant question raised was, why the madrasas are not producing the likes of Ibn-e-Rushd and Ibn-e-Haitham? As I said above, it has to be made clear again that, in the Islamic period the madrasa was the mainstream of educational system. Recognised, promoted and funded by the ruling regimes. Moreover, there was true synthesis of Islamic and the scientific disciplines of that time, each being complementary to the other. And from such institutes the likes of Ibn-e-Rushd and Ibn-e-Haitham emerged.
But the scenario was altogether different in the colonial period (esp. post 1857), when the madrasa, as a system of education, was derecognised and the western system of education was enforced upon the ummah, with a sinister design. This forced the heavily battered Ulama to retreat into the seclusion and safeguard the torch of Islamic learning and civilization. And from the ash, they erected such magnificent universities of Islamic learning. This is no mean effort. It is true that modern madrasas are not producing the likes of Ibn-e-Rushd and Ibn-e-Haitham, because they have narrowed down their objectives due to the above said factors. But on the other hand they have definitely produced the modern day Imam Ghazalis, Ibn-e-Taymias, Ibn-e-Majaas, Alf-Thaanis and so on, which is the primary objective of the contemporary madrasa education.
My question is what are these so-called modernists doing other than giving proposals about modernisation of madrasas? What have they produced of significance in this one century and a half?
Aligarh Muslim University? This is all you have got to show to the world! A university established by a madrasa product is the only thing to boast about by the modernists. They themselves have produced nothing.
On the other hand these madrasas, when they were imparting both Islamic and scientific disciplines produced persons like Ibn-e-Rushd and Ibn-e-Haitham in addition to Imam Ghazali, Ibn-e-Taymia, Ibn-e-Majaa, Alf-Thaani, Shah Waliullah, Shah Abdul Aziz, Syed Ahmed Shaheed and even Sir Syed Ahmed among many others to name a few. And when they imparted only Islamic education, they produced the likes of Shibli No’mani, Sulaiman Nadwi, Ashraf Ali Thanwi, Mahmoodul Hasan, Anwar Shah Kashmiri, Hussain Ahmed Madani, Altaf Hussain Haali, Muhammad Ali Joahar, Ameen Ahsan Islahi, Hameeduddin Farahi, Abul Kalaam Azad and so on.
But what these modernists have produced since they started blindly following the West in their hot pursuit of modern education at the cost of Islamic values. Any Muslim Newton? Muslim Einstein? Muslim Faradays? No, only clerks and civil servants! Islam set before our eyes a very lofty ideal and does not allow us to stoop to disgrace.
And regarding madrasa curriculum of the olden times, which comprised scientific education also, from which a genius like that of Sir Syed was produced, my question is, why did the British derecognise such an advanced curricula? If the British would have been honest, they would have encouraged Sir Syed to make a synthesis of Islamic and western scientific disciplines in the madrasas without mercilessly derecognising it. The Ulama had no choice. They could not embrace the scientific education which was considered to be anti-thesis of religion. In the format presented at that time, one discipline was negating the spirit of other. The Ulama had no other choice, but to hold the Islamic disciplines by their teeth and spend the meagre resources at their disposal for that purpose. This was the parting of ways of Islamic and modern scientific disciplines, till then unseen in the history of madrasa system of education and ulamas cannot be blamed for that. And the result is for every one to see, on the one hand Ulama are hugely successful, but on the other hand the so-called modernists are an utter failure.
Now the Ulama are waking up to the reality that, the modernists are people without substance, without sincerity, without commitment to the cause, and therefore the Ulama themselves are beginning to foray into their field. At this juncture what is important is co-operation not confrontation. The approach should be persuasive but not prescriptive. But this co-operation does not mean that you can meddle with the already stretched, time tested and hugely successful curricula of the madrasas imparting specialist Islamic education. Instead you have to establish parallel institutions, with broader objectives, where science and Islam are not just physically clubbed, but a synthesis and symphony of both is created, and then strive to get recognition of the world for this system.
I hope these lines will help in dispersing the doubts about the madrasa system of education.
[DR. KHALID MUQUEEM is Assistant Professor, Dept. of Surgery, Vijayanagar Institute of Medical Sciences, Bellary, Karnataka]