Bhopal: The Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, recently tweeted that his government will be conducting a review of all illegal Madrasas and institutions that are suspected of teaching fundamentalism in the state. Given that Madhya Pradesh is only a few months away from Assembly polls, many see this move as an attempt to polarize voters and appease the majority.
Following it, the Deputy General of Police in Madhya Pradesh, Sudhir Saxena, on Thursday (April 27) held a video conference to review the state’s law and order situation. The meeting was attended by all the ADGIs/IGIs from various zones, as well as police commissioners from Bhopal and Indore and the SP/DCPs from all districts. They were instructed to keep a close eye on banned organizations like the PFI (Popular Front of India) and Madrasas.
In September 2022, Cabinet Minister Usha Thakur called for a survey of Madrasas in Madhya Pradesh to close unregistered Madrasas. This is not the first instance of any government targeting religious institutions of Muslims such as Madrasas. The governments of Uttar Pradesh and Assam are doing a continuous crackdown upon Madrasas. Himant Biswa Sharma, the Chief Minister of Assam informed in March that they have shut down 600 Madrasas and plan to close all as they don’t need them and require schools, colleges, and universities which produce doctors and engineers. A statewide survey to identify unrecognized Madrasas was also conducted in Uttar Pradesh.
The sudden controversy over the Madrasa in the state of Madhya Pradesh has filled the Muslim community with disappointment. Masood Ahmed Khan, Secretary of the Coordination Committee for Indian Muslims told eNewsroom, “I believe that when they label Madrasas as illegal institutions, they are not targeting those that come under the Madrasa Board, but rather Maktabs in Masajid. Their aim is to compel Muslim children to study in government-sponsored Madrasas, effectively denying them mainstream education and limiting their social equality. The same pattern was followed in Uttar Pradesh and Assam, where independently regulated Madrasas are under attack. This attack on Madrasas is clearly a targeted attack on Muslims. Any investigation into their regulation should also include Pathshalas. It is unfair for only Muslims to suffer in this way.”
According to the Madhya Pradesh Madrasa Board, there are 2689 madrasas operating in the state, out of which only 1755 have a DISC code and recognition. According to the District Project Coordinator’s office, there are 479 such madrasas in Bhopal. However, there are a large number of madrasas in the state that are not affiliated with any authority. Previously, madrasas used to receive grants from the government, but since 2014, the grants have been discontinued due to various complaints against them.
There is a distinction between a madrasa and a maktab. The former is a formal religious school that may offer residential facilities, whereas the latter is a supplementary school usually attached to a mosque. The maktab provides religious education to children who attend regular schools.
The Madrasa Board is essentially a government school that operates in Urdu medium. In contrast, independent Madrasas that follow the Dars-e-Nizami concept adhere to the university/college pattern. These Madrasas are autonomous bodies and are often affiliated with higher Islamic Seminaries, including Darul Uloom Deoband and Nadwat Ul Ulema. They follow the syllabus of these institutions, which is already known to the government.
According to the Times of India, the School education department deputy secretary PK Singh said that registration of madrasas is not mandatory in Madhya Pradesh. If anyone wants, they can get it registered. Thus, the government has no data on the number of madrasas, how many students they have, or what syllabus is taught, say officials. The registration of a madrasa is entirely voluntary by the person or organization that runs it. Since 2019, registration of new madrasas is closed in the state. If one wants to get a madrasa registered, there is no way. Registration of madrasa is renewed every three years and officials say it’s being done for the already recognized ones.
A Brief Of History Of Madrasas and Madrasa System In India
The term ‘madrasa‘ originates from the Arabic word ‘darasa,’ meaning ‘a place of study.’ Initially, Madrasas did not have any religious implications. Over time, in 1701, with the establishment of Firangi Mahal Madrasa in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, the concept of ‘Dars e Nizami‘ emerged. The syllabus included medieval sciences and aimed to train students for civil services and government jobs, with limited religious content such as Tafseer and Nadira Qur’an. The purpose was to bring out bureaucrats from there.
However, with the advent of colonial modernization, the meaning of Madrasa education underwent a transformation. Madrasas reinvented themselves, and the establishment of Darul Uloom Deoband in 1867 marked a significant change which introduced a new model of public funding to Madrasas. It gave independence to Madrasas and attracted uneducated Muslim individuals towards learning. However, with the aim of protecting Islam this model limited the Madrasas to religious education only. Prior to this, Madrasas were dependent on donations from rich Muslims.
Madrasas registered under the Madrasa board fall into two categories. The first is fully regulated by the government, similar to schools. The second is private Madrasas that receive support from the central government through the Scheme for Providing Quality Education in Madrasas (SPQEM) scheme. This scheme supports the Madrasas for modern education. However, there is also a third category of unregistered and independent Madrasas. These Madrasas are deemed illegal by the system and are accused of teaching fundamentalism.
Senior researcher of SPECT foundation Dr Sajid Ali told eNewsroom, “As of now the government has only accused Madrasas of promoting fundamentalism without providing any data to support their claims. For the Muslim community, Madrasas are essential to safeguard their religion and identity. These institutions offer free or low-cost education, making them accessible to children who cannot afford school fees. As per the Sachar Committee report, only 4% of Muslim children attend Madrasas. As the vast majority of Muslim children lacking access to education, instead of addressing this issue and providing education to all, the government is targeting Madrasas for political reasons. This move, as seen in Uttar Pradesh, Assam, and now Madhya Pradesh, is a part of competitive Hindutva aimed at securing votes. Unfortunately, it appears that this is the only means through which they believe they can win.”
The Sachar Committee Report (2006) mentioned in detail the social, economic and educational status of the Muslim community of India. The Report found that Muslim parents are not averse to modern or mainstream education and in sending their children to the affordable regular schools. They do not want to send their children only to Madrasas if other schools are accessible and affordable.
Importance Of Madrasas For Muslim Men And Women
Ayman Khan, a 21-year-old resident of Bhopal, recognizes the immense value of her Madrasa education. Growing up in a poor Muslim family, she initially attended a nearby school, but her father’s income as a laborer made it impossible to afford tuition for all three of his children. Fortunately, Ayman’s father enrolled them in a Madrasa where she learned Arabic, Urdu, and Persian. Ayman now gives Arabic and Urdu lessons to neighborhood children and has achieved mastery in these languages.
Ayman believes that Madrasas provide an essential education for girls like her, and rather than being threatened by political moves, the government should focus on providing education to Muslims. “Without Madrasas,” she mentions, “I would not have been able to achieve anything. Girls like me have a significant importance of Madrasas in our lives. Would they deprive us of education? Instead of comparing us to others, the government should recognize the value of our education and invest in it.”
Ayesha, 24, a practicing Muslim girl never saw school. Her parents, both of whom were illiterate, instilled in her a love for the Quran and the teachings of Islam from a young age. She was enrolled in local Madrasa at the age of five, where she learned to read and recite the Quran. Further, she studied Islamic jurisprudence, theology, and Arabic. Madrasa became the most significant part of her life, as she spent most of her time there, learning about the religion and building strong bonds with teachers and peers. “I love the sense of community and the discipline that the Madrasa education instilled in me. The lessons I learnt at the institution have given me a strong foundation in faith and a sense of purpose in life. Now, I am a teacher at the same Madrasa where I studied. I will dedicate my life to passing on the knowledge and values I learned here to the next generation of Muslim children,” pointed out Ayesha.
Mufti Faizan, an Arabic teacher at a prominent school, completed his education from a Madrasa. Despite attending primary classes at a school, he enrolled in a Madrasa for Hifz Qur’an. Faizan is a strong advocate for the value of Madrasa education and the professional opportunities it can provide. He argues that it is a myth that Madrasas do not produce professionals, as many of his peers from the Madrasa have gone on to work in respected fields such as teaching, medicine, and engineering. Faizan believes that society needs to stop viewing Madrasas with suspicion and instead recognize the valuable education they offer to the underprivileged.
Senior Journalist Shams Ur Rehman Alavi said that the government’s recent statements about Madrasas being illegal are aimed at appeasing their electorate with anti-Muslim rhetoric and have little to do with education. Muslims are not provided with cultural and religious education in regular schools, which makes it necessary for them to seek such education through Madrasas. Madrasas have always been independent institutions, and even the formation of the Madrasa Board in the 1990s was met with opposition from Muslim intellectuals who feared future government regulation. Despite this, Madrasas have played a major role in teaching languages like Urdu, Arabic, and Persian to many Muslims.
“Attacking Madrasas is a move to undermine the system and erase Muslim identity. Instead of focusing on this negative rhetoric, the government should recognize the important role that Madrasas play in providing education to underprivileged communities and work to support their infrastructure and network. There is no need to debate the legality or illegality of Madrasas when their contribution to society is so significant. It is evident that the government wants to erase the visible Muslim identity, which includes discouraging practices such as Namaz, Hijab, and Madrasas. The state should not interfere in Muslim’s choice to provide religious education to their children, and Muslims should not be required to register their Madrasas,” said the senior journalist.
“In addition, it is important to recognize that millions of Indians speak Urdu, yet there are few Urdu teachers in regular schools, mostly Sanskrit teachers. It is the responsibility of the government to provide equal opportunities for education and cultural preservation, rather than appearing as opposed to educational institutions of minority communities,” added Alavi.