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One of the  world’s largest education systems, with more than 55,000 higher education institutions, alongside an extensive network of schools and nurseries, as per the market intelligence platform, Statista India is known for its myriad ways of teaching. And one such way also includes  the Madrasa system of education.  While some states have recognised and even provided funds to these institutions, at a large scale, these lack acknowledgement. “The prevalence of madrassa education among Muslims in India can be attributed to several factors. Firstly, the Qur’an emphasises the importance of learning, with the commandment ‘Iqra,’ meaning read and Prophet Muhammad’s statement that acquiring knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim.  Madrasas in India have been the mainstay for Muslims studying theology over the past two centuries,”  Mehdi Hasan Aini Qasmi, founder and director, India Islamic Academy Deoband, president, Tanzeem Abna E madaris, said.

Presently, there are about 38,000 madrasas, with around 28,107 recognised and approximately 10,039 unrecognised, as reported by the Ministry of Minority Affairs, state governments’ websites and other reports.  However, experts argue that this count may not capture the true numbers , given the deep-rooted presence of madrasas in small villages and remote areas. Unidentified madrasas could exist beyond the government’s recognised or unrecognised categories, according to field experts.

Opting for madrasa!

Experts believe that one of the key reasons behind muslim community opting for these institutions is that they would like the next generation to understand the religion.  Yet data revealed that  among all the recognised and unrecognised madrasas, just about  20 lakh students enrolled in the academic year 2022-23, while 6.67 crore muslims enrolled at upper primary level during the same period, as per the report ‘The State of Muslim Education in India’ by Arun C. Mehta, former professor at the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration. It means, only 2.99% of muslim students’ enrollment goes to madrasas, rest opted for modern education. “The exclusion of Islamic education during British rule led to the establishment of independent religious schools. Madrasas also played a role in resisting British colonialism, exemplified by institutions like Darul Uloom Deoband. The provision of free education in many madrasas, including Darul Uloom Deoband, attracts students from lower-income families, solidifying the preference for religious education in these institutions,”Aini Qasmi, explained.

The curriculum!

As per the Islamic scholars from the Darul Uloom Deoband and Nadwatul Ulama, Lucknow, as of now, among majority of madrasas, an Islamic curriculum called ‘Dars-i-Nizami’ is followed. This curriculum was developed by Nizamuddin Sihalivi in 1748 CE. Sihalivi was associated with the Firangi Mahal Islamic scholars’ group, after whom the Dars-i Nizami were named. As per  experts, this ‘Dras-i-Nizami’ include subjects such as interpretation and translation of the Qur’an, Hadith (It refers to the sayings, actions and approvals of Prophet Muhammad PBUH) and principles of Hadith, Fiqh (The science of ascertaining the precise terms of the Islamic law) and Principles of Fiqh, Arabic Language, Meanings and Rhetoric (an art of persuading others through the use of language, rhetoric and propositions) Logic and Philosophy, History and Sufism, Beliefs and Literature and Tajweed (The set of linguistic and pronunciation rules used in reciting the Qur’an), among others. “As of now, Darse Nizami is followed in most madrasas in India and that too is a distorted  version of Dars-i-Nizami. If we look historically, after studying under that system, students became medical doctors, joined governments as ministers, people also went to the field of architecture after completing the Dars-i-Nizami, Tariq Ayyubi Nadwi, head, Madarsatul-Uloome Islamia, editor, Nidae Aitedal, explained, adding that  books on  philosophy and logic have been continued. Not to mention, a few educational institutions have tried to bring a positive change in this system but the change is only nominal and it is still unable to meet the contemporary needs.

Interestingly, experts suggest that among madrasa bodies, there has been  a growing concern about upgrading the  education system and thereby  aligning it with modern needs through introduction of subjects such as Mathematics, Science, Computer Science and English language, among others. Further, experts opine that there are a few madrsasas  which have been teaching these subjects but with least efforts on improving their quality and output. “The inclusion of modern sciences in madrasa education has experienced a swift rise. Specifically, subjects such as English and Hindi languages, mathematics, science, history, geography, political science and economics are increasingly becoming integral parts of the madrasa curriculum. It’s important to note that not all madrasas  follow the same approach and  this shift is more prevalent in contemporary madrasas, whereas ancient madrasas exhibit a less pronounced inclination towards incorporating these subjects,” Abul Ala Sayyed Subhani, Islamic scholar and author, said.

The funding saga…  

To be sure,  madrasa representatives have  confirmed to FE Education  that education, including teaching, lodging, food, books and stationery, among other services, is free to students from all backgrounds. Not to mention, some madrasas even provide travel allowances. While significant funds are required to sustain this, some portion is taken care of by the  government allocated  funds. However, these funds often cover only teacher salaries, particularly for those teaching modern subjects and not Islamic subjects in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. “Apart from the registered madrasas, the other madrasas are run by the donations of Muslims. Generally, these madrasas manage their expenses throughout the year with the money they get from the Zakat and Sadqaat (Charity) of Muslims during the days of Ramadan,” Qaasim Rasool Ilyas, spokesperson, All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said.

Interestingly, people claim that  there are strong religious reasons behind the donation to madrasas and other religious institutions. “There is a general perception among Muslims that the cooperation of religious schools is a noble cause in which everyone should actively participate. However, some religious schools have also established their own endowments, providing separate sources of permanent income, such as rents from shops, shopping malls and other such investments,” Subhani explained. Moreover, experts further suggest that madrasas which are registered under Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA)  also receive funds from muslim of other countries, especially from Gulf countries.

Still unemployed?  

As per the different madrasas’ representatives, an average duration students spend  is between five to eight years. However, in terms of employment, this sort of education has hardly helped. “Students attending Madrasas fulfil two primary needs within the Muslim community. Firstly, due to the widespread presence of mosques and madrasas, there is a high demand for trained individuals, including Imams. Secondly, some pursue higher education at Islamic universities, both within the country and abroad, such as in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Additionally, a significant cohort opt for modern education at other universities such as Aligarh University and Jamia Millia Islamia University. Beyond traditional roles, efforts are underway to address employment challenges to remaining students by providing technical education within madrasas,” Ilyas explained.

Conversely, a certain section of guides and teachers at madrasas  remain concerned about  efforts have been made to help  students  get employment. “In recent years, Madrasa graduates have increasingly ventured into entrepreneurship, engaging in businesses such as book selling, cloth trading besides retailing of perfume retail. In this regard, there is no harm in saying that most madrasas do not have any mechanism to provide their graduates with employment. However, the lack of formal recognition for madrasas compared to national universities creates challenges for graduates seeking employment,” Hasan suggested.

Recently, the Assam government  converted and renamed 1,281 madrasas throughout the state into Middle English Schools. Supported by government funds, these institutions have now been converted into conventional schools. Similar steps have been taken by other states, as per several media reports.  “Madrasas across various states are primarily funded by the Muslim community, providing both religious and modern education to some extent. Governments’ support to these institutions is appreciable, but it’s unclear whether the government aims to integrate modern education alongside Islamic teachings or replace the latter entirely. Government initiatives should involve consultation with Muslim leadership to ensure modernisation doesn’t undermine existing Islamic education. Eliminating Islamic education from madrasas is unacceptable and should not be the objective,” Malik Motasim Khan, vice president, Jamat-e-Islami Hind, said.

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