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A Maulana Appeals For Madrasa Reform

Friday, November 27, 2009 05:18:59 PM, Maulana Muhammad Asad Qasmi

Translated from Urdu by Yoginder Sikand

Established in 1978, Jamia Mohammadia Mansoora in Malegaon has already included modern subjects in its curriculum. The Msadrasa is also registered with the State Education Board.


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Children studying in madrasas and training to become ulema fulfill the collective duty (farz-e kifaya) that is mentioned in the Quran in the following words:


Nor should the Believers all go forth together: if a contingent from every expedition remained behind, they could devote themselves to studies in religion, and admonish the people when they return to them,- that thus they (may learn) to guard themselves (against evil) (9:122).


These students are among those who are indicated in a hadith report, in which the Prophet is said to have declared, ‘The best among you is he who learns the Quran and teaches it’. They are also indicated in another such report, according to which the Prophet declared that ‘The ulema of my ummah are like the prophets of the Children of Israel’. According to yet another hadith, the Prophet is said to have mentioned that for he who walks in the path of seeking knowledge God makes easy for him one of the paths to heaven; the angels, pleased with him, cover him with their wings; and the creatures of the skies and on earth and the fish in the sea supplicate for him. The superiority of a scholar over a worshipper, the Prophet is said to have remarked, is like that of the full-moon over all the stars. According to the Prophet, the scholars are the inheritors of the prophets, who have left behind as their inheritance not dinars and dirhams but knowledge (Ahmad, Tirmidhi, Abu Daud, Ibn Maja and Dirami).


He whom God wishes well He provides with knowledge and understanding of the faith. According to a narration reported by Hazrat Anas, the student who travels in the path of knowledge remains on the path of God until he returns (Tirmidhi, Dirami).



Given this great importance of madrasas and the ulema, it is obvious that their responsibilities, too, are immense. They need to provide guidance not just Muslims alone, but to the whole of humanity. This is why madrasas need to introduce, to the extent necessary and possible, the teaching of modern subjects that are indispensable in today’s society. Of course, the centrality, importance and superior place that religious subjects should occupy in the syllabus of the madrasas is undeniable, but madrasas must also keep in mind the contemporary salience of modern subjects and the demands of today’s age. In the absence of this, Muslim society will continue to remain backward and marginalized, and, leave alone being able to guide or lead others, we will not be capable of even walking at par with them. This is why it is indispensable that madrasas introduce the teaching of subjects such as Hindi, English, Science, History, Geography, Economics, Politics and so on, till at least the high school or intermediate level.


Till recently, the syllabus used in the bigger madrasas in India used to take into account the prevailing social and economic needs and demands. Accordingly, they would regularly update their curriculum. This provided madrasa education with expansiveness and made it holistic. As a result, madrasa graduates had a well-rounded learning that enabled them to provide leadership in various spheres of society. However, over time their curriculum began to narrow down and become increasingly stagnant till they began to restrict themselves simply to religious education. This resulted in growing backwardness and marginalization of the wider Muslim society, which, on the whole, remained cut off from, and ignorant of, modern knowledge. To remedy this state of affairs it is now essential for the madrasas to seriously ponder on and review their stagnant and limited stance so as to widen the scope of their curriculum and make the education they provide more holistic. In this way, they can better serve not just their own students and graduates but even the general Muslim society as well as people of other faiths and be a source of welfare, benefit and inspiration for all.



It is essential that the administrators, ulema, teachers and students of madrasas all be characterized by sincerity of intention, the readiness to engage in introspection, and a firm consciousness of their responsibilities. Without these, madrasas cannot be a source of benefit and welfare, and nor will they be fit to receive God’s blessings and assistance. Nor, too, would they be able to have a positive impact on society.


The madrasa system of education is based on sincerity, purity, dedication to God, consciousness of the Hereafter and on placing the demands of the faith over worldly desires. It aims at providing religious education and training to members of society and working for their reform and welfare. On the other hand, the principal aim of the Western-style system of education is material acquisition or accumulation and improving economic standards. This is why it focuses so heavily on job-oriented learning. One consequence of this sort of education is that students and teachers often miss out the higher and loftier aims of education, and focus, instead, simply on the economic factor. Islamic education is certainly not about world-renouncing monasticism. Nor is it blind to the need for human beings to earn their livelihood. But, yet, it does not make economic development or material accumulation its primary concern. Rather, this concern is secondary, though it permits working for this purpose to the necessary extent.




In recent years the Government of India has been trying to implement schemes to introduce the teaching of modern subjects in the madrasas, to help improve the conditions of the madrasas, and to increase the salaries of madrasa teachers. As a matter of principle, no one has any fundamental differences with these measures. Yet, those associated with the madrasas must keep in mind the implications of the setting up [by governments] of madrasa boards, one of these being the declining standards of many madrasas affiliated with such boards. Many teachers and students in these affiliated madrasas are no longer concerned about their principal duties, but, instead, like staff and students in regular colleges and universities, they, too, have joined the materialistic rat-race. This has caused them to deviate from the basic and fundamental aims and purposes of madrasa education. That, needless to say, is a major tragedy. As a poet very aptly puts it:


Oh bird that soars in the higher realms!

Death is better than that food, eating which your flight is impaired.


Aye tair-e lahuti us rizq se mat acchi

Jis rizq se ati ho parwaz ki kotahi



This is translation of the editorial titled ‘Madaris-e Islamiya Ka Maqam Aur Paigham’ (‘The Position and Message of the Islamic Madrasas’) written by Maulana Asad Qasmi, in the September-October 2009 issue of the bi-monthly Urdu magazine Fikr-e Islami









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