In modern India, in spite of moral decline in different spheres of life, contemporary educational centers are talking about new heights in the educational field; they are trying to keep pace with the world in high technology and above all equal opportunity in education is given top most priority. In addition to it, there have been hot debates about modernization of madrasas in recent days, but there is a distinct difference between modern and religious scholars in the concept of modernization of madrasas. On the one hand Ulama are of the opinion that there should be some minor changes in madrasa curriculum as per the demands of the present age and, on the other hand, modern intellectuals expect complete modification in madrasa syllabus by adopting modern technology.
The important question is that who will decide the boundaries of madrasa curriculum? Will it be those who had studied at madrasas and later on have been rendering their services for the same madrasas or those who had acquired knowledge from modern institutions and thereafter they have been offering their services for the same modern institutions or there are some other people or groups for this purpose. The easy answer of the above question is that it is only the madrasa authorities who are responsible for bringing about changes in madrasa curriculum as per the need and demand of the hour. Yes, it is also necessary that modern intellectuals and new technology experts must also be provided a chance to present their ideas so that a precise and concise syllabus may be prepared.
Here it should be kept in mind that modernization of madrasas does not mean converting madrasas into schools because both the systems have different purposes and benefits. From an Islamic prospective the purpose of establishing madrasas is to propagate and protect Islam whereas the aim of modern educational institutions is to meet worldly needs and aspirations.
The common trend is that people from every background seem to advocate modernization of madrasas, although covertly they have different motives behind this intention. We will not present here a critical analysis about different ideas and motives and will only try to shed some light on the practical ideas in the modernization of madrasas.
1. The existing syllabus should remain intact except a little changes including a few modern subjects such as English language, basics of mathematics and sciences and they should be incorporated in such a way that on the one hand they do not weaken mainstream Arabic subjects in the least degree and on the other hand students become capable of speaking and writing in English, acquainted with mathematical principles and be aware of basic science.
If this idea is materialized, it will be an additional successful step in fulfilling the purpose of madrasa establishment. Moreover, students of madrasas will be saved from running pillar to post for further education in universities. Let me confess here that these modern subjects are already in the educational system of some madrasas but they are only a part of syllabus for the sake of syllabus' sake but they do not benefit students in any degree of usefulness.
2. We also support those religious scholars who are of the opinion that there should be no ruffling of feathers by inflicting extra subjects during the period of Fazeelat course and the reason behind this rigor is to make students proficient in religious subjects. Surely we cannot ignore their sincere intentions because we also need a group of ulama who have full command on Islamic learning and science and are attuned to the spirit of Shariah.
Here I want to make it clear that regardless of different syllabi of madrasas, every madrasa without exception teaches modern subjects in elementary classes. Our concern is here only secondary and higher classes. Thus, those madrasas that do not teach modern subjects in secondary and higher classes, should teach their students the prescribed Arabic syllabus with full attention so that they become experts in their field. Later on after completion of Fazilat course some of them may join such institutions which have designed especial courses for madrasa graduates to attain higher levels of pedagogical skills in English, computers and modern subjects.
For this especial purpose madrasa graduates can pursue a two-year Diploma in English Language and Literature (DELL) course that was introduced by Markazul Ma'arif Education and Research Center and now has a dozen centers across India teaching this course.
Though the graduates of madrasas have full command on Islamic subjects and are duly capable to lead the Ummah but to maximize their benefits and equip them with the polish of English-language skills this DELL course was designed. This would enable them to face new challenges with full confidence and defend Islam with renewed energy.
3. It should be kept in mind that whenever we talk of familiarising madrasa graduates with higher modern education, we intend to cover not all graduates but a selected number from them. It is noteworthy that more than one century ago our ancestral Ulama had already declared that English language is a must for madrasa graduates. According to the history of Darul Uloom Deoband, its governing body in 1318 A.H. had decided to give scholarships to madrasa graduates for further studies in universities and it was also planned that college students will be taught Arabic in its premises but due to lack of funds that dream did not come true.
Therefore, a selected number of madrasa graduates should also join universities but the first and foremost condition for them is that they should not compromise with their Islamic identity in the least degree because they go there to gain something not to lose something. If madrasa graduates change their original religious colour in universities then no one will allow them to do so because it will becloud their main mission.
4. One of the aspects of modernization of madrasas is that some of the subjects may be taught with modern style and technology. For instance, teachers should make a lesson plan for every session as it will surely help students to understand subjects in a comprehensive manner. Likewise history and geography may be taught by the help of projectors and lessons may be illustrated by computer graphics. Surely, no one can deny the importance of abovementioned methods of teaching.
5. From time to time, the government also shows its interest in madrasa modernization and tries to come up with new ideas but it is not acceptable for madrasawalas. The reason has been explained in the abovementioned points. However, if government is sincere about madrasa modernization, firstly it should take care of those governmental madrasas in UP, Bihar, Bengal and Assam which are in pathetic condition in every sense of the word.
Though the purpose of madrasa education is not getting simply governmental jobs. This is done with an eye to serve the nation, country and community which is a constructive and positive step which is encouraged by farsighted Ulama. Graduates of madrasas can prove their best ability in schools, colleges, universities via Urdu, Arabic and Persian teaching and also in some other governmental departments such as embassies etc. Now if the government is serious enough about madrasa modernization, it should recognize leading madrasas' certificates and grant jobs for madrasa graduates in various departments without additional degrees from universities.
To sum up, madrasa modernization is not an unsolved enigma and therefore we should not make a hue and cry for that from sunrise to sunset. The only thing we have to do is that religious scholars should discharge their duty, modern intellectuals should play their role and the government should fulfill the basic needs of the people. I am not only hopeful but also sure that in this way we can reach our desired destination.
*The writer is an assistant editor of Eastern Crescent, Mumbai