IS OUR SCHOOL NOT A SCHOOL?
How the state is undermining an institution vital to the city’s Muslims
Danish Reyaz runs Maeeshat, a website devoted to the “Muslim economy”, which holds regular business summits to “integrate Muslim business with the mainstream”, and with Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s Make in India campaign.
Danish is a faazil – equivalent to a Master of Arts – from Jamiatul Falah, a madarsa in eastern Uttar Pradesh‘s Azamgarh district, where he studied Shakespeare, comparative religion (learning shlokas from the Rig Veda) and evolution, in addition to Islamic studies. Danish saw to it that his sister became a faazil too, much against the wishes of his mother, who did not want her to study.
As a child, Danish, now 37, spent his afternoons playing with Hindu kids in a temple.
They would be taken there by the neighbourhood “Dadi” when she went for her daily kirtan. Back home in Bihar on vacation from his madarsa, his Sunday mornings were spent eating breakfast at a Hindu neighbour’s home, watching Ramayan and Mahabharat on TV. “It’s a myth that we can’t adjust with Hindus. Our education makes us so flexible.”
Faizan Ahmed Nadwi wanted to be a maulvi, but he abandoned that notion because he needed to be self-sufficient. He found a job as an Arabic translator in a software company owned by Hindus.
Addressed as “Faizan Bhai” by everyone at work, the 30-year-old does his daily namaz (he works longer hours to make up for it) in the company’s premises; wears kurta-pyjama-topi on the two “casual wear” days when his colleagues wear jeans, and for the rest of the week is seen in trousers which end short of his ankles. He is content, he says, at being able to be as true to his Islamic identity as he is to his work.
“The learning process that a madarsa puts you through equips you to grasp anything,” says Faizan. “The only obstacle is English. But the standard of English taught in my madarsa, the Dar ul Uloom Nadwatul Ulema in Lucknow, was good enough for me to be able to master the software needed in my company.”
These madarsa graduates deviate almost entirely from the state government’s view of the institution. The irony is hard to ignore: it appears to have slipped past the state that the country’s first Union Education Minister, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, studied at a madarsa.
By declaring that it would categorise the one lakh odd students from such establishments as “out-of-school” because they aren’t tutored in subjects like mathematics, science and social studies, the government has stymied the prospects of needy Muslim children who have no other recourse but to enrol at such institutions. The Sachar Committee, appointed by the UPA government in 2005 to study the social, economic and educational state of Muslims in India, reported in 2006 that 4 per cent of children from the community study in madarsas.
“Why this 4 per cent?” is a question being asked throughout the community. “We have millions of destitute children and child labourers. Why doesn’t the government educate them?” asks advocate Yusuf Muchhala. “Why is it hell bent upon going after this 4 per cent who study in institutions protected by the Constitution, a protection recognised by the Supreme Court?”
And if it really wants to help madarsa students, says Reyaz, why doesn’t it employ them? It might be surprised by their skills.
Their knowledge of Arabic, for instance, has created a demand for them not just in Gulf state embassies, but also in Google India. Their familiarity with English, either taught in their madarsa, or learnt outside, helps them land jobs in English journalism – before he launched his company, Reyaz worked at the newspaper Sunday Indian.
“The English we learnt at Jamiatul Falah was better than that taught in government schools,” says Mumbra businessman Adham Ali. “And our students have always fared well in board exams. Apart from Muslim universities, they’ve been admitted into Jawaharlal Nehru University and Mumbai University, and some even teach there.”
It is perhaps incumbent on the Maharashtra government to determine what is taught at a madarsa. While historical institutions such as Dar ul uloom Deoband and Nadwa teach all that a school does (and more) in addition to religious studies, the smallest one in a village or slum teaches the Quran. “This ensures literacy among the poor while also safeguarding the survival of Urdu,” says Feroze Ashraf, who runs free coaching classes for underprivileged children in Jogeshwari.
Bigger madarsas teach not just the Quran and the Hadees, but also Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Islamic law, inheritance, philosophy and eloquence. “Our curriculum is already so vast, it’s difficult to include other subjects,” says Maulana Syed Ather Ali, who runs the Daru ul uloom Mohammediya in Mumbai. “Despite that, I’ve introduced computers, English, Hindi and Marathi.”
In Maharashtra, Akkalkuwa and Malegaon have large madarsas, while in nearby Mumbra, the Jamiyah Islamiyyah, started 25 years ago by Dr Abdul Hakim Madani, teaches mathematics, science, English, Hindi and Marathi. It has 1,100 boys and girls on its rolls. “I wanted to equip my students with all that was necessary for them to study further or do well anywhere, so I included the national language as well as the state language,” says Dr Madani, a PhD from Madina University and a Nadwa alumnus. “My madarsa’s magazine has sections in all these languages, as well as in Arabic and Urdu. Yet the government does not recognise the degrees given by madarsas. Now they don’t even recognise them as schools. Did they conduct a survey of madarsas before coming to this conclusion?”
State Minority Affairs Minister Eknath Khadse is strenuous in his denial that the government intends to downgrade the status of the madarsa. “There is no question of derecognition. We only said that the students [taught only religious subjects] are not recognised and that they must be brought into the mainstream,” he explains.
Khadse is also categorical that the exercise of cataloguing all out-of-school children in the state is unalloyed in its secular intent. “The government is not aware of what is taught in a madarsa and we do not want to know as we don’t want to interfere in their religious matters. We will not inquire into that,” he says.
When we ask whether surveyors who were sent out on Saturday to catalogue students who were deemed out-of-school were instructed to mark kids from madarsas as students who belonged to that category even if their madarsas taught subjects such as English, mathematics and science, Principal Secretary, Education, Nand Kumar replies: “There were no instructions given. They will not be marked as out-of-school students.” But our reporters found this to be not entirely true. For instance, Mohammed Asif Khan, 10 and Abdullah Ibn Zubair, 11, both of whom live in Chembur, were marked out-ofschool even though they were taught science and mathematics in their madarsa during the state-wide survey (see Page 6 for accompanying story on the survey).
Other than serving an instructional purpose, the madarsa plays the role of an adhesive, binding the community to the religion and its teachings. “Madarsas fulfil a need of the community,” says Ashraf. “The Quran is part of our lives from birth to death; we need maulvis and qazis to conduct our religious affairs. At the same time, basic madarsa education enables the poor to get jobs as imams, muezzins and ustads in masjids.”
It is the community that contributes to the running of madarsas, through donations that can be as little as Rs 50 a month. “This is the community’s way of looking after its poorest children, who are not just educated, but also housed, fed and clothed free of charge in madarsas,” says Ashraf.
In contrast, asks Ashraf, what the government’s has done to educate Muslim children? “We didn’t get anything from the government,” says Maulana Mohammad Shoaib Koti, a scholar from Dar ul uloom Deoband, “so we aren’t likely to be harmed by it de-recognising us – unless the government wants to force us to withdraw our kids from madarsas. Where will these children go? This is the BJP’s way of pleasing its Hindutva supporters and pushing us into a corner.”
In Mumbai’s 92-93 riots, the Dar ul Uloom Imdadiya on Mohammed Ali Road was the scene of a police raid headed by former Police Commissioner RD Tyagi, documented in the Justice BN Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry Report into the riots. The one question posed by Tyagi’s commandos at the students and teachers was: “Where have you hidden your arms? You people live off India and sing of Pakistan.” Teachers at the madarsa were assaulted; among the eight shot dead in that raid, was a teacher who died pleading for water.
The Congress was in power. Today, it is the BJP, whose spokesmen, Mukthar Abbas Naqvi and Sakshi Maharaj, have linked madarsas to extremism and terrorism.
“For us, religious teaching is very important. Without madarsas, this tradition will die, as it has among Hindus, who seem not to care that their children learning about their religion,” says Maulana Arif Masood Qasmi, who studied at Deoband. “And with them, will also die the inculcation of moral values which regular schools ignore.”
Adds fellow alumnus, Maulana Samiullah Qasmi, who lives in a rented flat in Malwani: “Every time I talk about moving, my Hindu landlord forbids me from doing so. He says he won’t get a tenant like me. In Deoband, and indeed in all madarsas, we learn to be of service to our country and our community. We learn about the sacrifices of ulemas in the Independence movement and are taught to see ourselves as part of that tradition.”