Madrasas in India have contributed immensely to Muslim education. They are still doing so. However, the madrasa syllabi have for long been in discussion both in the media and academia for being outdated, orthodox and irrelevant. Further, the madrasa system of education is often blamed by certain quarters of being rigid, typically traditional, promoting sectarian hatred among madrasa graduates with spillover effects in the larger Muslim society. There is some truth in these claims but there are more allegations than realities.
That most madrasas have avoided modern subjects is true to a large extent. If not aversion, then at least a discomfort with English language is another problem afflicting the madrasa education system, affecting prospects of career growth and advancement for madrasa graduates.
While this has been the case on the one hand, on the other hand majority of the college-going Muslim youth lack knowledge of Deen (religion) and Islam. Many of them can’t even read the Qur’an with proper Arabic phonetics, leave aside knowing its meaning and exegesis. And, there is a general tendency of shifting the blame from both sides, thus missing a balance.
Markazul Ma’arif Education & Research Centre (MMERC), a part of northeast India-based Markazul Ma’arif NGO, was set up to narrow this gap and achieve some balance. Under the guardianship of famous ‘aalim (plural, ‘ulama i.e. scholar, theologian), renowned perfume-baron and successful businessman Maulana Badruddin Ajmal Al-Qasmi, presently a Member of Parliament for a consecutive third term, the Markaz started a centre namely Markazul Ma’arif Education & Research Centre in New Delhi in 1994 with the objective to select a batch of 10 to 20 students (‘ulama) from different madrsas to mainly train them in English language and computers. The impact of this unique initiative was so powerful that a senior lecturer of English of Jamia Millia Islamia, who visited the MMERC in 1994 and interacted with students of its first batch, called it an “enthralling experience” which will undoubtedly be counted as a “yeoman’s service” in educating the ‘ulama. His words have come precisely true.
Within a span of less than a decade around 50 ‘ulama started to show great promises. Their oratorical skills were acknowledged and appreciated by senior academicians. Soon many of them also began writing in English. This captured readers’ imagination, something which journalist Syed Ubaidur Rahman aptly described in these words: “They have everything to surprise anyone believing in the orthodoxy of madrasa graduates.”
This year the MMERC completes 25 years of its establishment and, it is celebrating its Silver Jubilee with a-three-day international seminar in New Delhi from 4 to 6 October, 2019. It is also bringing out a souvenir titled Ulama, Post-Madrasa Education, Muslim Youth and Contemporary Challenges which contains well-written and researched papers on important socio-political and religious topics by the alumni.
Over these 25 years the prevailing misconception about ‘ulama not knowing the global English language of academics, business and communication has evaporated like a non-entity. Other changes are also taking place, thanks to MMERC. Presently there are about 15 such centres of language training across India.
The bearded-‘ulama are gradually becoming kings of the Queen’s language. Many of them have established themselves as journalists, interpreters, translators and authors having their works published in prestigious publication houses in India and abroad.
Although a lot remains to be done in terms of contents taught in madrasas, the English language has opened for the madrasa graduates new avenues of post-madrasa education. MMERC has been a trend-setter and its products are now shining with new knowledge and confidence. Kudos to MMERC and its founder Maulana Badruddin Ajmal Qasmi!
(Author is a senior journalist based in New Delhi. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)