Madrasa education myth and reality

Linked with Asghar Ali Engineer – India, with the Two, and with Islamic banking in India: Challenges and prospects.

Published on Two, by Asghar Ali Engineer, 3 February 2009.

2 excerpts: … Now coming to Jhingran’s study of madrasa, I should say it is quite objective and systematic study of madrasas in India. In the first chapter, ‘Society, Religion, Education and Modernity’ she defines and discusses categories like society, religion, education and modernity. This discussion imparts clarity to discussion. While defining religion, particularly Islam, she observes in this chapter, “…Religion is a very complex phenomenon, which is impossible to understand in a few pages. In as much as our main interest here is in Islam, we can generally say that it regards itself as; possessing God’s final ‘revelation’, as well as being a comprehensive whole which includes not only Holy Quran but also the sunna as recorded in the Hadiths. As such religious education is more important and detailed for Muslims, especially the orthodox ones.”

In the second chapter Ms. Jhingran discusses, right at the outset the possible number of Muslim children going to madrasas. She quotes various sources and various estimates available. She is not satisfied by the estimate given by Sachar Committee that about 4 per cent Muslim children go to madrasas. She tries to work out her own estimate. She says, “The feed back that I have got from my frequent talks with the madrasa pass outs, now studying in JNU, or those who have roots in villages, puts the number of madrasa going children much higher …Generally they estimate that at least in villages about 15 to 30 % Muslim children go first to maktabs than to madrasas, if only for a few years.

Well, 15 to 30 per cent is a wide variation and to me it appears to be on higher side though at maktab level it may be so but not at higher madrasa level. I do not think so many maktabs and madrasas are available to that kind of number. But that is not important. What is important is that madrasa continues to be an important institution for poorer rural and to some extent urban Muslims.

The author also discusses reasons for preference for madrasa education among Muslims. Among reasons she points out are 1) paucity of modern schools is Muslim majority areas; 2) lack of separate girls’ schools and even female teachers in common schools; 3) cost of modern education and the poor quality of government schools; 4) poor quality of education in government schools and 5) “genuine grievance of orthodox Muslims is that there is a Hindu bias in school text books.” Then she comments, “Though such biases have tendency to creep up even in supposedly objective statements, any such pro-Hindu and anti-Muslim bias is unfortunate and must be avoided with utmost sincerity as it would cause further resistance to modern education among a particular section of Muslims” …

… Ms. Saral Jhingran then discusses madrasas after independence and also devotes one chapter to madrasa nisabs (syllabus) and an effort to understand them and a critique. Her critique is also well informed about Islam. I must say on the whole the book is a learned and scholarly study of madrasa system and what is taught in them, how relevant those teachings are and what reforms are needed.

This book will greatly help in dispelling many misunderstandings prevalent among non-Muslims and to an extent among Muslims themselves. The critique developed by her invites orthodox Muslims to reflect seriously as to what modern madrasas should be like. Many Muslim modernists have also developed such critique. This book on the whole will be quite useful for scholars as well as for lay people … (full text).

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