The madrasas had been around since the 11 century. A ninth century theologian defined the dogma adopted for the madrasas which adopted a core curriculum that divided knowledge between, ?revealed sciences? and ?rational sciences?. The revealed sciences included study of Koran, Hadid, Koranic commentary and Islamic jurisprudence. The rational sciences included Arabic language and grammar to help understand the Koran, logic and rhetoric.
An estimated six million Muslims are studying in madrasas around the world and twice their number attend maktabs attached to village masjids. The poorest countries have the largest number.
Islam is not comfortable with newspaper, radio and television. A jehadi believes that of all the communities raised among men, he is the best, enjoying the good, forbidding the wrong and believing in God. And he must make it the same in the eyes of men by force. He must fight the unbelievers who carry Muslim names but have adopted the ways of unbelievers. When he grows up, he says he will carry out jehad ?in every possible way.?
This approach to education dominated the Islamic world for centuries together, until the advent of colonial rule when education penetrated countries previously ruled by Muslims. Muslim society became polarised between madrasas educated mullahs and the economically prosperous western educated individual.
But the poor remained faithful and there emerged certain movements like Muslim brotherhood in Arab world and the Islamic Party in South Asia. The Iranian revolution and Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, both in 1979, inspired a profound shift in the Muslim world and in madrasa. Ayatollah Khomeini'srevolutionary regime promised to expand its ideas to other Muslim states. In the midst of this conflict and the madrasa boom, the US helped create economic resistance to communism in Afghanistan. General Zia-ul Haq established madrasas in Afghanistan refugee camps, where five million displaced Afghans provided natural supply of recruits for the resistance. The refugees needed schools and the resistance needed mujahideens. Madrasas provided a little bit of education but they basically served as the centre for indoctrination and motivation. General Zia'smodel spread throughout the Muslim world. It also involved even the 5-6 year old children because ?no one was considered too young to do the right thing?.
A Hadith said, ?Paradise lies under the shade of swords.? Similar free schools came up in Morocco, Algeria, Indonesia and Philippines. Muslim immigrants in Europe and North America established the madrasas alongside with mosques. Zakat (donations) was used for setting up madrasas which gave very small salaries to its staff and books were handed down to the students from one generation to the next. Zakat and financial assistance from Arab countries led to proliferation of madrasas.
Classes at madrasas are free, as are meals. Teachers carry a cane and can often be brutal. One madrasa in Pakistan has resorted to the practice of chaining students to pillars until they memorise the day'slesson, But, compared with life in a squalid refugee camp, the harshness of the madrasas, probably is a blessing. The day begins with the pre-dawn prayer and a break-fast comprising bread and tea; it ends with the night prayer and a dinner of rice and mutton. Hafiz, the Koran teacher, can recite all 114 chapters and 6,346 verses of Koran.
For centuries, young men have gathered at Islamic seminaries to escape western influences and quietly study Islamic texts that have been handed down unchanged through the ages. But over the last two decades, revolution, great power politics, and poverty have combined to give a violent twist to the fundamentalist teachings of the madrasas. And now in one of the globalisation'sdeadlier ironies, these ?universities of jehad? are spreading their medieval theology worldwide.
(The writer is an ex-officer of Indian Economic Service and an eminent economist.)