Saturday, February 09, 2008

Madrasa education is inimical to Indian Muslims

Many low-income-group Muslims in India continue to send their kids to madrasas for education. These madrasas concentrate on religious schooling and are usually associated to a nearby mosque. The teachers are maulvis or mullahs or other religious scholars adept in Koran and its interpretations.

Though some Islamic purists forbid all kinds of interpretations and translations of the original texts, it is a common feature of Islam to use an authorized agent of religion to interpret the holy book and its contents to masses. Most Muslims parents in India, including the well-off families send their kids for religious teachings. While the well-off families send the kids to a mainstream school for regular education, the low-income-group Muslims depend only on madrasas for all education.

Madrasas have a long history. I would not go into that in this topic. What my concern is the kind of education they impart to the young Indian Muslims.

Most of the madrasa education is primarily based on Koran, the holy book of Islam. Many adherents and supporters of madrasa education contest that this book alone is source for all knowledge and wisdom that a person needs to make a good living. To say that a book written more than thousands years ago has all the knowledge necessary for all times is a far-fetched proposition. To assume that this book alone will impart the kid with all kinds of skills and reasoning abilities, communications skills and personal development needed to survive and excel in this world is outlandish.

Most of these teachers of madrasas are not well educated and some of them have vested interests. They get full attention from highly impressionable kids who are ready to lap up anything they tell them. Added with religious teaching that forbids any inquiry, these institutions become highly suitable for indoctrination of any ideology as teachers see fit.

Madrasa education is based in rote learning. It expects the kids to believe some fantastic stories about mystical beings and miracles performed long ago in some distant lands. Its expects the kids not to experiment with this learning, write it in their own version, or express it in any other way other than what is prescribed thousand years ago.

Madrasa education is based in curbing intellectual curiosity. It asks for students to believe all kinds of supernatural things and blind beliefs and pushes them to accept rules and definitions without asking questions. Any questioning of authenticity or veracity of the holy text is forbidden. Even if questions are asked, the answers are given to snub any further enquiry – saying ‘God said so, hence it is true’.

Madrasa education can make people zealots and fanatics. Any organized religious teaching involves creating strong followers and adherents. Such teachings can be easily extended to create zealots and fanatics as next step. Islamic religious teaching asks for allegiance to a single god and single faith. And madrasas add many other allegiances to different vested groups. Indoctrination is a part of this education that brainwashes kids depriving them all intellectual curiosity, making them robotic machines who can be asked to perform certain duties without asking too many questions (not very different from indoctrination of soldiers by an army).

Madrasa education is not scientific and it is retrograde. There is no inquiry. There is no empiricism. The laws or rules are not questioned. This education lack rational thinking. All debate and discussion is confined within borders of set rules. Many instructions are retrograde, and are not in tune with modern values. They do not welcome the role of modern institutions to debate social issues.

Madrasa education is based in inculcating intolerance. It is not embracing or inclusive. Instead it feeds on dividing the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’ based on religion alone. And the way they differentiate ‘us’ and ‘them’ is not healthy either. It describes ‘them’ in pejorative terms and imparts ‘us’ with a duty to bring ‘them’ into Islam’s fold using certain coercive methods.

What to do?

Currently, the madrasas are outside the purview of state education departments. The curriculum is not monitored or guided by these departments. Therefore, many privileges and incentives, which the government provides to regular schools to ensure kids enrolment, are not extended to madrasas. Madrasa education turns out to be less interesting and quite ineffectual. Indian government and Muslim religious groups have betrayed a big chunk of Indian population by neglecting the education of these low-income group Muslims. Their policies have ensured these groups live in ignorance and poverty forever.

While we continue to address some of the real and genuine problems and issues that Islam faces worldwide as a religion, we should do our best to bring Indian Muslims into the mainstream, impart them with right education and skill sets, so that they can avail the jobs and opportunities this country has opened up.

One of the ways to bring the Indian Muslims into the mainstream is by giving them the same education that other kids get. Religious teachings can be personal but it cannot be a substitute for mainstream education. The mainstream education will involve teaching different languages, Social Studies, Sciences and Mathematics in a proper school.

All Indians are entitled to a good education in a proper school. Denying that education to the young Muslim kids is a crime. If politicians, parents or religious zealots obstruct such means and methods to bring these kids into mainstream education, denying them their basic right, they should be prosecuted.

Related Posts: To Better India II: Primary Education, Hindi is a North Indian Language, English will emancipate the downtrodden in India, Why this pretense?


  1. Most educated muslims, even those from Pakistan, will agree with you.
    I, of course do. They all find it hard to have any decent conversation with a madrasah graduate other than food.

    And these graduates get their living by becoming an Imam at some mosque in a city corner. They get invited to lunches and dinners during festivals (the Eids), birthdays, Prophet's birthday, religious ceremonies, circumcision ceremonies (that's a big one), marriages etc. Life is made for them. lol

    If there is one thing that I appreciate Musharraf for, was in charging into the mosque in Islamabad and rounding up the people with guns. We need such strong measures. Hopefully, affordable alternatives in mainstream education can be made for the poor muslims.

    One of the reason that children are sent there is that these madrasahs offer very cheap lodging and food. The boys and girls who go there are those who are intellectually slow and uninterested in getting an education.

    One other point is that while madrasah education does have a significant rote learning part, the higher madrasah education had a lot of critical thinking in it especially that in the exegetical studies, theology and Islamic law. But the people who actually fare well in these subjects are generally those who pursue them later in their lives after they have secured a mainstream education.

    ~ Vinod

  2. Sujai,
    All your views about Madrasas are also applicable for Vedic schools conducted by Hindus. Children of vedic schools are only taught about religious slokas, hymns, mythological stories etc. It is right time Govt. should ban Madrasas & Vedic schools.

  3. It would be better if institutions like madrassas are banned or are relegated to the periphery of education like sunday schools. Madrassas in no way provide mainstream education to children. We already have enough religious zealots roaming the country we don't need a fresh set to be produced every year in the name of education. Infact it would be better if all sorts of religious learning be banned in schools (Hinduism included) so that religion is taught to children only in a historical perspective. Open minded parents could do the same at home. Children can grow up and choose whichever religion they want to follow. (Considering the retrograde ideas, practices, beliefs and ideologies of most religions children who have not been indoctrinated into a particular religion in their childhood will most likely reject the idea of a religion when they are adults.)

  4. A kid is a kid is a kid. Govt should provide for primary education for ALL the kids irrespective of their religion and also clamp down on religious schools. Good stuff!

  5. Sujai :Just an observation , what u have mentioned as Madrassa centric details holds true for most low end and medium end schools(ones affliated to the State/CBSE Board ) in the country . Well Religion just adds a lot more dogma to the whole thing and perhaps is common to across all religious education in the subcontinent

    Vinod: Sujai here speaks about Madrassa education as in religious learning not Madrassa education for Theological profession , Sujai please correct me if i am wrong

    Just Another Guy

  6. Just Another Guy:

    Yes, you are right.

    I decry different kinds of primary education in India (which I covered in some of my earlier topics).

    This article is centered on Madrasa education and the resulting effect on Indians Muslims. I did not discuss other kinds of education in here.

    According to me, organized religious training adds lot many things which are undesirable


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