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Why over 3.6 lakh students at Delhi madrassas are stuck in 18th century

Middle school students in private schools code and create phone apps these days; government schools are establishing their game too, but in the 3,000-odd madrassas of Delhi the teaching is stuck in the 18th century. The Quran, Urdu and Persian remain main subjects, limiting the job prospects of their approximately 3.6 lakh students.

“They are churning out big numbers of maulvis, only some of whom can be engaged into the system,” social activist Firoz Bakht Ahmed told TOI. “Others turn into a burden on Muslim society because they have not been qualified in such a way as to be a benefit to the community.”

Although there is no standardized madrassa syllabus, Ahmed said most follow some form of the Dars-i-Nizami pattern created by a Lucknow scholar, Mullah Nizamuddin, in the early 1700s. It was designed to convey learning required for government service at the time but is out of sync with today’s requires. It needs a “radical improve,” he said.

“We can achievement a great deal from analysis in modern Islamic education in other nations. For instance, Egypt’s Al-Azhar university has introduced modern subjects in the thousands of schools it runs. There is no reason why Indian madrassas should not do so.”

Author and activist Sadia Dehlvi said madrassas will ever focus on Islamic education but their modernization is required to make students competitive. “While there has been some modernization in these schools, some more work is required.” Those in the madrassa system, however, said their syllabus is decent and students who feel the need of skill-based learning can opt out of the system.

“We have students appearing from the Mewat region of Haryana, from UP and as far as Bengal,” said Munshi Basheer Ahmed Qasmi, a senior cleric at Madrassa Husain Baksh, founded in 1856 and one of Delhi’s oldest.

“Religious education should not be looked at through the prism of job guarantee. Students are encouraged to seek other lines while attending the madrassa. Many have gone on to clear competing exams and got admission to institutes like Jamia Hamdard and Jamia Millia Islamia where preferences are available to them.”

Mohammad Baqi, 16, is one of the madrassa’s students who straddle both worlds. He studies at the madrassa from early morning till afternoon and then rushes to Fatehpuri Muslim Senior Secondary School where classes run into the evening. “I have learnt Arabic and Persian here and at my school I get modern education. I agree that madrassa education doesn’t open many job opportunities but I still pursued it along with school,” he said.

Wasi, who studied at a madrassa near Kashmere Gate, cleared class X through the Open School on his own while pursuing the Aalimat course—treated equivalent to Class XII—at the madrassa.

Some even turn to madrassas later in life after a successful begins in the mainstream. Uzair Ahmed, 22, studied at Delhi Public school, Mathura Road and worked at Google before joining a madrassa near Fatehpuri Masjid. He wakes up at dawn for Fajr prayers, and reaches his madrassa by 7.30am to read the Quran. He will soon be a hafiz—someone who has memorized the whole Quran. “After that I will see for a new job and go back to working.”

But such examples are rare. The big majority of madrassa students have a limited worldview, and reformers say limiting madrassa education to Arabic, Persian, Urdu and Islamic studies violates the “human rights” of students.

“They appear from far-flung areas to get knowledge so that they can be component of the mainstream and earn their living. Easily making them learn the Quran, Urdu and Persian won’t benefit them. National Human Rights Commission should take note of how these students are being destitute of modern education,” said Asad Ghazi, president, Nawa-e-Haque Welfare Association, an NGO which works in the field of education.

“If this continues for another 20 years, we will have a population of Muslim youths who will be unemployable in the modern economy and there will be chaos,” Ghazi added.

There have been some actions to modernize madrassa education. Jamia Millia Islamia began the Nayi Manzil scheme with support from the ministry of minority affairs. Under it, madrassa students can clear class XII exams after proper training and support at Jamia Secondary School. Students get complete fee remissions, free stationery, books and food and a stipend of Rs 4,000 per month. Also, students who have cleared the Fazilat level (graduation under the madrassa system) can join Jamia Hamdard’s degree and certificate courses in Unani medicine.


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