Madrasa History and Its Problem

Talking about madrasa reform is fashionable today among the elite. The whole debate is being conducted from a wrong premise. It is focused on what “appears” and not why it appears as it appears. People love to pontificate without ascertaining whether anybody is listening; and if not, then without ever reassessing their own position as…

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Talking about madrasa reform is fashionable today among the elite. The whole debate is being conducted from a wrong premise. It is focused on what “appears” and not why it appears as it appears. People love to pontificate without ascertaining whether anybody is listening; and if not, then without ever reassessing their own position as to why they don’t attract the listeners.

One answer to the demand for madrasa reform lies closer at home: is there not a need for school reform? I have never heard any demand for a school reform, which gives a false impression that school system is perfect and has no need for any reform. This, however, is far from the truth. Schools are not producing good earners. There is only a minuscule minority of “school” (+college+university) graduates who really earn a good and respectable living. A vast majority is of those who fail on economic and social fronts. But they alone take the blame for failure, the system is never challenged. The only reform this system has seen in the past 60 years is frequent alteration in textbooks, which have now been almost totally divested of moral and ethical content.

However, school is not the subject of discussion here; the reference was meant to merely mitigate the force of attack on the madrasas.

First let us look at the history of the madrasas and logic for having them all over the country in such a large number. This takes me back to when I was in Class V. In 1952 Bombay, the government issued a notification to all government-funded schools to drop forthwith any courses from their curricula that had religious content, since the state was secular and the government was constitutionally charged with upholding that state principle. Our school – Hashemiah High School – used to have a daily period for Deeniyat wherein pupils up to Class VII were taught basic Islamic fiqh like namaz, roza, etc. The books taught in these classes were Taaleem ul Islam, the bestseller by Maulana Mufti Kifayatullah, or Maududi Saheb’s Haqeeqat-e-Saum-o-Salat, etc.

Our school Principal, Abdullah Bora Saheb, was personally a devout and pious Muslim, proud of his big beard like that of Sir Syed. He found an alternative. He called a meeting of all class teachers and asked them if they would take the responsibility of taking an extra, off-the-record, 30-minue period to teach Deeniyat to their respective classes, of course without any additional payment. Everyone agreed, obviously. Then the Principal Saheb sent a circular to all parents, explaining the situation resulting from the government’s directive, the new arrangement made by the school, and asking the parents if they agreed to send their wards to school half-hour earlier. The answer was sought in a simple yes or no format. Hundred percent parents agreed with the Principal Saheb’s proposal. Thus a new beginning was made, at a very small scale though. My father, Maulana Hamidul Ansari Ghazi sensed the gravity of the situation more than anybody else and he started a movement. First he individually met various prominent Bombay Muslims – leaders, businessmen, journalists, social activists; to assess their position. They felt the need to do something in order to protect the faith of Muslim children in schools. Then he travelled to Delhi and met leaders of the Jamiat Ulama e Hind, like Maulana Hifzur Rahman, and other prominent Delhi Muslims. From there he went to Deoband where he discussed the issue with Maulana Muhammad Tayyab, the-then Mohtamim (Rector) of the Darul Uloom, Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani and other scholars. In this way he paved the way for the holding of an all-India Deeni Taaleemi Convention in Bombay in 1953. The convention resolved to institute an all-India Deeni Taaleemi Council, and to establish madrasas and maktabs all over the country, in every village, town and in major cities, attached to a nearby mosque, with major madrasas agreeing to provide teachers – the unsung heroes of this movement. Graduates of major madrasas, like the Darul Uloom Deoband, Mazahir ul Uloom Saharanpur, Madrasa Imdadiah Bombay, Jamea Islamiah Dabhel (Gujarat), Madrasa Shahi, Moradabad, Madrasa Baqiat-us-Salehat, Vellore (Tamil Nadu) took it upon themselves to spread in the length and breadth of the country, contact masajid, and start establishing madrasas of various levels where education was provided free of charge, unlike the education provided at government-funded schools.

These madrasas did not need much investment, but only a few desks and some mats (chatai-es), a small blackboard, etc. The teacher was generally the Imam or Muazzin of the Masjid, who would offer free service to the madrasa/maktab where he would teach Nazara Qur’an, fundamentals of the faith (Imaniyat, like six Kalimas, Iman Mufassal and Mujmmal, Dua-e Qunut, Hifz of Parah Amm or as much of it as a pupil could retain, basic fiqh like masael about halal, haram, wuzu, ghusl, namaz, roza, manners and morals etc.

Generally the people of the vicinity would bear the expenses on farz-e kifayah basis; occasionally some additional amount was paid to the teacher concerned as honorarium.

Later generations did not feel that their new generations needed this archaic, old-fashioned, outdated, system. Often their plea was that their children had an increased load of homework and class work in school, and they needed playtime and also recreation after a hectic day in front of their television set, etc; so they don`t have much time left for something which is of no great use in achieving professional success in a highly competitive job market.

Obviously, this new mindset affected the working of the local madrasa system, in certain cases sending the madrasa teacher door to door to collect donations not only for the almost defunct madrasa, but also for his own salary as a functionary of the masjid. In fact this reflects badly on the community rather than the maulvi attached to the masjid-based madrasas. But it is this poor guy who takes all the blame from us, the Community – the highly qualified engineers, doctors, professors – the professional pontiffs.

The question is not whether we need these madrasas; the question is whether we want out future generations to be as good Muslims as we are, thanks to the farsightedness of our forefathers. The madrasa reform is not required to train their teachers at a college style institute, or for introducing modern subjects in the madrasa curriculum – that is already available in great quantity as all brands of schools at a high or low price, which one is prepared to pay for. Madrasa graduates are already experts in the sciences of Tajweed and Hifz of the Quran, and know enough of day-to-day issues of Fiqh to impart to the pupils. The question is whether the community itself feels the necessity of providing this knowledge to the new generations, which schools will not give them.

If the answer is yes, then let the community reorganize itself on the footings of the erstwhile All-India Deeni Taaleemi Council – for which a Second All-India Deeni Taaleemi Convention may also be called.

If the community`s answer is a “No”, then those who are advocating the madrasa reform with a confused state of mind should find some other more fruitful issue to give though to, and leave the madrasa and the maulvi do his job within his meagre means. In that way he will protect and strengthen the basic principles of faith of those who are personally interested in the Faith, and not in dramatics.