As efforts are on at the Centre to make madrassas mainstream, Rishi Majumder speaks to people who have made significant strides alongside their Islamic education
Photographer (for Dr Mohammed Ubaid Qureishi): Fahim Mulla
A scheme to affiliate madrassas with the National Institute Of Open Schools (NIOS), thus granting a madrassa certificate acceptance in colleges and universities, awaits cabinet approval. This scheme, requiring that madrassas expand their syllabi for subjects like science, humanities, languages and art and craft, comes close on the heel of an approved scheme that proposed an investment of Rs 325 crore for Islamic seminaries. Also provided under the scheme, covering around 6000 madrassas, are three teachers for science, mathematics and languages to each madrassa; honorariums of Rs 6,000 for each student at primary and elementary level, and Rs 10,000 monthly for teachers at secondary and higher secondary level; and an assistance of Rs 5,00,000 to 10 madrassa boards.
These have kick-started debates about will such schemes truly lead to national integration, and increased education and employment among the country’s Muslim population; or like so many pre-election minority appeasement announcements, will their execution run only skin deep? And will they interfere with the essential religious learning a madrassa imparts? We have chosen three individuals who, after a madrassa education, embarked on stunningly successful careers in fields where a recognised high school degree is a must, to address these issues.
“YOU’RE A MAULANA FROM INDIA, and you’re going to teach us English?” the immigration official at Heathrow Airport asked Mohammad Afzal Qasmi. “Yes,” Qasmi smiled. “I’m a maulana from India. And I will be teaching English at Blackburn.” Having begun his madrassa education at a village near Muzzafarpur, UP, he moved to the Darul-Uloom-Azizia madrassa at Mira Road at eight. He went on to do his Fazil (equivalent to BA) at the Darul-Uloom Deoband before studying English at Markazul Ma’arif at Delhi. This was the first time the 18-year-old studied English.
“It was difficult as we had to start at the beginning. All I could manage of the written word were capital letters, which I had learnt on my own,” he says in a clipped British accent. Qasmi is a lecturer of Arabic at Blackburn College, and teaches English to students aged 11 to 16 at Jamiatul Ilm Wal Huda, also at Blackburn. He has also been among the first few teachers of English at the Darul Uloom Deoband, despite “initial opposition” from the organisation known for scoffing at such changes.
“Merging madrassas with the education system might give people a bit of both, and a lot of neither,” he argues. “When given the option to study subjects which would land students career opportunities, they would naturally neglect subjects related to religion or Arabic.” Yet, Qasmi agrees that madrassas, being providers of free education, would allow the government’s education scheme to reach a wide population. “A balance has to be struck,” he counters. “While some madrassas could be integrated thus, others — known for the intensive work they’re doing in terms of religious and Arabic scholarship — should be left alone.” Instead, he recommends the provision of special ‘package courses’, such as the one he went through to learn English, for languages, science, IT and even specifically for competitive exams. “A little knowledge has proven time and again to be a very dangerous thing,” he asserts. “We need proper muftis (scholars). Not someone who decides to issue a fatwa because his knowledge of Islam has been half baked.” Another reason he wants some madrassas to be allowed to run independently is the preservation of languages like Urdu and Arabic. Qasmi himself continues to learn, as he teaches, via a host of diploma courses from British universities. “I want to be a professor here,” he wraps up. But no matter how well he knows his English, his expertise with languages was born of the nuances of Arabic, drilled into his head by rote at a madrassa.
WASEEM-UR REHMAN HOLDS THE DISTINCTION of being the first student of the orthodox Darul-Uloom-Deoband school to have entered the civil services. He did not need to give his matriculation or higher secondary examinations in private as he chose to graduate in Unani medicine, for which the Aligarh Muslim University and the Jamia Hamdard University at Delhi, accepted his madrassa degree. “Hence, for me practicing Unani medicine was always a back up plan, in case I didn’t crack the civil service examinations,” he explains.
Rehman explains how his madrassa experience contributed to his success in these examinations: “There is a tight schedule which means a lot of hard work, and discipline.” He also says that subjects such as philosophy, Islamic jurisprudence and logic, which formed a core part of his curriculum, train a student’s mind to grasp new subjects quickly.
Rehman’s journey into the IAS began with hearing of these examinations at Aligarh, and then devoting two years to study his chosen subjects for the examination — History and Persian Literature. His selection was confirmed in May this year, and he has just begun training for the coveted job. On being asked what his core issues of concern as the government’s representative will be, he answers adamantly, “That’s for the government to decide. My core issues are whatever the government asks me to deal with. My faith and my long years of learning in a Madrassa has taught me loyalty and dedication.”
He lauds the government’s plan and says eligibility is the most important thing. “Once such a scheme gives madrassa students eligibility to compete, there will be no looking back.” Rehman feels that many poor students, who partake of a free madrassa education, have immense potential and such a plan will unlock it to the country’s benefit.
DR MOHAMMED UBAID QUREISHI’S FATHER, a doctor himself, has not studied in a madrassa. “But he wanted me to get the religious education that gives us a sense of purpose in life,” he remembers as the reason he found himself enrolled at the famous Navdatul Ulema in Lucknow, at age three. When at age 19, the same father suggested that Qureishi try his hand in the medical field, he found himself faced with a series of scary competitive exams, that his classes at the Navda (what the Navdatul Ulema is colloquially called) had ill equipped him to sit for.
“My biggest hurdles were science and mathematics,” remembers Qureishi. “Which were taught only at a very basic level at the madrassa.” So a spate of private coaching classes were sought, to enable Qureishi to take on his matriculation and higher secondary examinations, as well as crack the dreaded All India Pre Medical Test (PMT). “My father and brother’s support helped me most of all,” he recounts. “Their belief that I could do this, as well as their guidance.” Today, having completed his MBBS and internship from the GSVM Medical College at Kanpur, Qureishi has switched tracks again, cracking another competitive exam to land himself a seat in Symbiosis University’s management school in Pune, specialising in hospital and healthcare management.
“That first bit of studying for my matriculation exams was the toughest,” Qureishi says. “After that I had conditioned myself to grasping new things fast, as well as dealing with competition.” Qureishi believes that while the government schemes mentioned will give madrassa students the option of enrolling in technical courses like medicine and engineering, he would rather wait and see them come into effect before commenting further. “Also, one must remember that integrating a madrassa’s syllabi with that of a normal school is not as simple as it sounds,” he cautions. “The essence of a madrassa is its emphasis on the spiritual rather than the material.”
This article appeared originally in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India. Here’s the link: http://alturl.com/omcv