In a recent interview to a national daily, Qari Maulana Mohammad Usman, Pro-Vice Chancellor of India’smost esteemed Islamic seminary, Dar-ul-Uloom, Deoband, made some outstanding observations. It will be remembered that it was he who recently issued a fatwa against cow-slaughter?a daring step to take under any circumstances.
A remarkable group
The Deobandis are a remarkable group. They arose in early British times, not as a reactionary institution but as a forward-looking movement to unite and reform Muslim society in the wake of oppression the community faced after the 1857 rebellion. According to historian Mushirul Hasan, ?The Deobandis opposed Partition, rejected the two-nation theory and strongly supported the nationalist movement led by the Congress.? When the Maulana was asked whether other Islamic seminaries toe his line, his reply was blunt and to the point. He replied: ?We aren’ttoo worried about that. We are satisfied that we are right and in line with the sharia.? He said that Deobandis have always been reformists as well as firm nationalists and that Dar-ul-Uloom ?has always heralded the cause of communal harmony and mutual understanding?. Even more importantly he added: ?We have maintained that Hindus and Muslims must live together like milk and sugar, as they have done in the past. I have a plea for my Hindu brethren: they should treat Muslims as their younger brothers.?
Fasad and jehad are different
Asked whether his fatwa might have offended sections of the fundamentalist clergy, the Maulana, in his reply was even more specific. He said: ?Anything that adds to the cause of harmonious co-existence, never offends anyone. We are least bothered by the so-called jehadis because Islam does not propagate bloodshed in any form to advance its cause. In fact, people who commit violence are not jehadis. What they are doing is fasad (rioting, murder), not jehad, which is a most misunderstood concept in Islam.?
Muslims should set an example
The Maulana said that Muslims should set an example in all walks of life, especially education. Deobandis themselves have set an example not only by establishing some 1,000 madrasas but in inviting people from other communities and giving them access to student-teacher interactions in classrooms. This by itself is a remarkable achievement. How one wishes there were more Maulanas like him. It must have taken extraordinary courage to issue a fatwa banning cow-slaughter, but the Maulana did it. But are madrasas all over India equally open to non-Muslims?
According to Home Ministry sources, there are 721 madrasas catering to over 1,20,000 children in Assam, 1,825 madrasas similarly catering to over 1,20,000 children in Gujarat, 961 madrasas catering to 84,864 children in Karnataka, 9,975 madrasas catering to 7,38,000 children in Kerala, 6,000 madrasas catering to over 4,00,000 children in Madhya Pradesh and some 1,780 madrasas catering to over 25,000 children in Rajasthan. In Uttar Pradesh, the number of maktabs is more than 15,000 and madrasas over 10,000 and there are 3,500 madrasas in Bihar. Except in some parts of Kerala, the madrasas cater strictly to Muslim children.
To think that literally lakhs of Muslim children grow up completely isolated from children of other communities should be a matter of concern not only to the government but to Hindu parents as well. No school should be communal-oriented. Fancy Hindu children going exclusively to their own schools and Christian and children of other religions doing likewise: what sort of national unity can we ever expect to achieve? Children of all communities must study together and play together; they must sit together and eat together.
According to Maulana Mohammad Usman, madrasas are not meant to produce doctors, engineers and executives. As he put it: ?Their aim is to prepare students for the eternal after-life through Dars-e-Nizami. In their own way the madrasas are doing a great national service by educating these poor Muslims who cannot afford to attend elite schools.? According to the Maulana, it is matter of record that not one student who has passed out of a madrasa has ever been charge sheeted for anti-national activity. That should be a matter of pride for all Indians and not just Muslims. But in the end the nagging question remains:
Should there be schools exclusively for Muslim children? Shouldn’tmadrasas be open to all poor children, from whichever community they hail and shouldn’teducation in madrasas be such that it goes beyond preparing students for an eternal after-life? That education should be imparted privately whether in masjids or at home. At a school, education should be in English, history, geography and the sciences and, if at all possible, in computer operation as well.
To argue that in a democracy, children of any community have a right to attend schools intended exclusively for children of that particular community is begging the question. No one questions that right. But is it wise to exercise that right now that we are in the twenty-first century? According to two Muslim scholars, Amir Ullah Khan (who is a Fellow at the Indian Development Foundation, Gurgaon) and Mohammad Saqib (a Fellow at the Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies, New Delhi), ?In the last three hundred years, the Dars-e-Nizami has remained almost unchanged (and) has therefore become largely anachronistic.?
Time has come for change
The time surely has come for change. Madrasas were set up in the aftermath of the 1857 revolt, quite understandably. The Muslims wanted none of British education and wanted to go alone. But is that a valid argument today? Is it wise, if not right, to isolate Muslim children from children belonging to other communities? According to the two Muslim scholars named above, at madrasas ?students study aimlessly and teachers teach arbitrarily, without any enthusaism.? The description of madrasas provided by the scholars is truly appalling.
If the fear is that a Muslim child going to a mixed school might lose his Islamic identity, then it has to be removed. Thousands and thousands of Hindu children have studied at Christian convent schools and Christian-run schools and colleges and vastly benefitted by it. Hindu children have kept their identity without the slightest difficulty. Government-run schools should not teach religion; they should be truly secular.
Admittedly, madrasas are run mainly on charity; Muslim charity. According to Maulana Usman there was a time when petrodollars came in freely, even when Arab policies were ?very harsh?. Apparently no petrodollars are coming in now. Isn’tthat one reason when charity from all sources (and not just Muslim) should be put together to provide secular education to children from all communities in the larger interest not just of the nation, but specifically of Muslim children? When will we as a nation ever grow up?
To think that literally lakhs of Muslim children grow up completely isolated from children of other communities should be a matter of concern not only to the government but to Hindu parents as well. No school should be communal-oriented
Should there be schools exclusively for Muslim children? Shouldn’tmadrasas be open to all poor children, from whichever community they hail and shouldn’teducation in madrasas be such that it goes beyond preparing students for an eternal after-life?