Saturday, May 3, 2008

Indian Muslim Education

Indian Muslim Educational Reform: Halting Efforts

Yoginder Sikand

The reform of Muslim education, in particular bridging
the gap between ‘religious’ and ‘worldly’ knowledge,
has been one of the main focuses of the efforts of a
range of South Asian Muslim reformists and revivalists
over the past century and more. Although bitterly
critiqued by sections of the traditionalist ulema for
some of his views, including what they saw as his
obsession with political power, Syed Abul Ala Maududi,
founder of the Jamaat-e Islami, was one of the most
forceful advocates of Muslim educational reform. This
aspect of his work is often overlooked in analyses of
his life. He wrote extensively on the subject, arguing
that Islam did not countenance any division between
‘religion’ and ‘this world’, including in the realm of
knowledge and education. This made him critical of
both the traditional madrasa system, which provided
little or no space for ‘modern’ subjects, as well as
of the Western-oriented ‘modern’ education system,
which had no room for religion. This was one crucial
reason for the fierce opposition that he faced both
from sections of the traditionalist ulema as well as
from ‘modernist’ Muslim quarters.

Following Maududi, the Jamaat-e Islami of India, with
branches in almost every Indian state, has played a
key, if somewhat limited, role in the reform of Indian
Muslim education. Its educational work is supervised
by an Education Committee, set up in 1990.
‘Admittedly’, says Muhammad Ashfaq Ahmad, Secretary of
the Committee, ‘we have not done as much work as we
should have, but you must also understand that Indian
Muslims and their organizations have been forced to
focus most of their energies on protection of Muslim
lives, properties, institutions and identity all these
years, because of which education has not received the
attention that it deserves’.

Ahmad explains to me the educational philosophy of the
Jamaat. ‘Since Islam covers every aspect of a
believer’s life, all subjects must be understood and
studied in the light of Islam, inspired by faith in
God and consciousness of one’s accountability to God
in the life after death. In this way, Islam opposes
the radical dualism that some people have constructed
to divide religious and worldly knowledge. All
subjects are Islamic and can be legitimately pursued
provided they fulfill God’s purposes.’ ‘Further’, he
adds, ‘our religious leaders must know what is
happening in the world around them if they are to
provide the community with proper leadership. Hence,
they, too, must learn the various different subjects,
albeit in a suitably Islamised manner’.

In terms of institution-building, the Jamaat has
registered few notable successes, however. Its first
initiative in this regard, the Darsgah-e Islami in
Rampur, a town in northern Uttar Pradesh, which it
intended to be a model institution combining Islamic
and ‘modern’ education, has, almost half a century
after it was founded, not progressed beyond being a
lackluster, mediocre junior Hindi-medium high school.
The Jamaat runs a few more such schools on its own,
particularly in Kerala, but now, instead of setting up
and administering educational institutions itself, it
encourages its activists and sympathizers to do so on
their own, all of them being governed by a broad
common policy framework. ‘People today are so heavily
influenced by the dominant system, so reluctant to
accept anything other than the regular, western-style
schooling, that we have been unable to achieve much in
terms of setting up our own educational institutions,
except at the lower levels, of the sort that Maulana
Maududi envisioned’, Ahmad rues. That might be true to
some extent, of course, but the argument does not take
into account the sheer apathy and a distinct lack of
professionalism that characterizes the management
boards of many Muslim educational institutions.

Today, the Jamaat’s educational work is largely
focused on producing textbooks for use in a fairly
sizeable number of Muslim schools across the country,
not all of them associated with the Jamaat. Most of
these, estimated by Ahmad at around 150, are located
in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, home to the largest
concentration of Muslims in India. Of these only a few
are traditional madrasas, the rest being regular
schools and a few madrasas that follow the Jamaat’s
understanding of Islam. Ahmad tells me that so far the
Jamaat has prepared and published textbooks for a
range of subjects, including ‘modern’ ones, that
reflect its ideology, till the sixth grade. These are
mostly in Urdu, although its Islamic Studies texts
have been translated and published in English and
Hindi as well. He admits, though, that these books
have not been updated for almost twenty years now.

Interestingly, many of the Urdu- and English-medium
schools that use Jamaat textbooks also use books
published by the Government’s National Council for
Educational Research and Training (NCERT). Ahmad
stresses that, as citizens of India, Muslims have as
much right to benefit from the Government’s various
educational schemes as other communities, but laments
that this is not so in practice, for a variety of
reasons. ‘It’s wrong to say that the Government does
not want to do anything at all for Muslim education’,
he stresses, but at the same time he argues that
various programmes announced by the Government of
India for Muslim educational development have often
been scuttled by reluctant state governments and

One area that Ahmad feels the urgent need for reform
is in how different communities, their beliefs and
histories are depicted in textbooks. He points out
that biases against Muslims are quite common in a
range of textbooks prescribed and used in schools in
numerous states. This is an issue that, he says, the
Government must address. He tells me that the
Karnataka unit of the Jamaat did a survey of
anti-Muslim stereotypes in textbooks in the state, and
that it was successful in getting the state government
to rectify it. He refers to a similar study, conducted
some two decades ago by the Uttar Pradesh Dini Talimi
Council, which also includes numerous Jamaat
activists. ‘The same sort of surveys should be done
for all the other states’, he advises, but when I
suggest that perhaps Jamaat activists in the different
states take upon themselves this task I receive no
reply but a gentle nod accompanied with a faint smile.

Ahmad is all for madrasa students to have at least a
basic exposure to ‘modern’ subjects. ‘Without this,
how can they effectively lead the community? How can
they properly interpret Islam? How can they
effectively explain to others what Islam is all about?
How can they meet the many challenges that we are
today faced with? How can they rebut allegations
against Islam?’, he asks. A litany of questions, and
Ahmad’s simple recipe is to let madrasas reform on
their own, without any external pressure or coercion,
including by the state. But, he adds, hopes for change
have been greatly dampened by the mounting, and
misplaced, propaganda against the madrasas, unfairly
branding them as ‘dens of terror’. This has forced
many of them to become even more defensive and insular
and to fear that any suggestions for change might well
represent a sinister hidden agenda.

To counter widespread misconceptions about madrasas,
Ahmad suggests that madrasas interact with people of
other faiths who live in their vicinity and even to
invite them inside. ‘Much misunderstanding about Islam
and Muslims owes simply to lack of interaction between
the communities’, he says. He cites a personal
example. He was once traveling in a train, and a
co-passenger, a Hindu woman, asked him, ‘Why do
Muslims take the name of the Emperor Akbar in the
azan, when they recite Allahu Akbar?’. He explained to
her that this was not the case, telling her the actual
meaning of the word which she had confused for the
Mughal potentate. And that, he says, ‘made the woman

‘The point is’, Ahmad continues, ‘that Muslims in
general, and not just the ulema alone, have to have
more close and positive social interaction with others
so that we can explain to them what Islam and Muslims
actually are. And not just verbal interaction, but we
must also seek to help others, no matter what their
religion, when they are suffering and are in pain,
just as we would like them to help us too’. ‘After
all’, he concludes our hour-long discussion, ‘isn’t
that what real education is also about?’

1 comment:

  1. You might be interested in Henry Kissinger's new domino theory about Iraq and radical Islam in India. On the FaithWorld blog at



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quraan burning

Planned Muslim Response to Qur'an Burning by Pastor Jones on September 11 in Mulberry, Florida

August 19, 2013| Dallas, Texas

Mike Ghouse
Text/Talk: (214) 325-1916

Mirza A Beg
(205) 454-8797


We as Muslims plan to respond to pastor Terry Jones' planned burning of 3000 copies of Quran on September 11, 2013 in positive terms.

Our response - we will reclaim the standard of behavior practiced by the Prophet concerning “scurrilous and hostile criticism of the Qur’an” (Muhammad Asad Translation Note 31, verse 41:34). It was "To overcome evil with good is good, and to resist evil by evil is evil." It is also strongly enjoined in the Qur’an in the same verse 41:34, “Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.”

God willing Muslims will follow the divine guidance and pray for the restoration of Goodwill, and on that day many Muslim organizations will go on a “blood drive” to save lives and serve humanity with kindness.

We invite fellow Americans of all faiths, races, and ethnicities to join us to rededicate the pledge, “One nation under God”, and to build a cohesive America where no American has to live in apprehension, discomfort or fear of fellow Americans. This event is a substitute for our 10th Annual Unity Day Celebration ( held in Dallas, but now it will be at Mulberry, Florida.

Unwittingly Pastor Jones has done us a favor by invigorating us by his decision to burn nearly 3000 copies Quran on September 11, 2013. Obviously he is not satisfied by the notoriety he garnered by burning one Qur'an last year.

As Muslims and citizens we honor the free speech guaranteed in our constitution. We have no intentions to criticize, condemn or oppose Pastor Terry Jones' freedom of expression. Instead, we will be donating blood and praying for goodness to permeate in our society.

We plan to follow Jesus Christ (pbuh), a revered prophet in Islam as well as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – that of mitigating the conflicts and nurturing good will for the common good of the society.

We hope, this event and the message will remind Muslims elsewhere in the world as well, that violence is not the way. Muslims, who react violently to senseless provocation, should realize that, violence causes more violence, and besmirches the name of the religion that we hold so dear. We believe that Prophet Muhammad was a mercy to the mankind, and we ought to practice what we believe and preach. We must not insult Islam by the negative reactions of a few.

We can only hope it will bring about a change in the attitude of the followers of Pastor Jones, and in the behavior of those Muslims who reacted violently the last time Pastor sought notoriety – We hope this small step towards a bridge to peaceful coexistence would propel us towards building a cohesive society.

Like most Americans a majority of Muslims quietly go about their own business, but it is time to speak up and take positive action instead of negative reaction. May this message of peace and goodwill reverberate and reach many shores.

Lastly, we appreciate the Citizens of Mulberry, Florida, Honorable Mayor George Hatch, City Commissioners, police and Fire Chiefs for handing this situation very well. This will add a ‘feather of peace’ in the City’s reputation. We hope Mulberry will be a catalyst in showing the way in handling conflict with dignity and peace.

We thank the Media for giving value to the work towards peace rather than conflict.


Thank you.


The people in Dallas are making an effort to understand and clean their own hearts first, when we are free from bias, it would be easy to share that with others. Islam teaches us in so many ways to "respect the otherness of others" and it is time we find simple practical ways of doing it.