Madrasa: The Target of Prejudice
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Author : Sumna Sadaqat

“Around 4:30 pm, the police officials came back and assaulted us like animals at the madrasa and subsequently at the police station. When we were at the Civil Lines police station, the police officials said that we should be thrown in a ditch. They beat me with a stick everywhere except my head. I had injuries on my legs, thighs, waist and back,”
– Shameem said[1].

These were the words of a madrasa student who was arrested by the UP police in December 2019 in the name of assisting those charged with heinous crimes in the anti CAA protests.

The basics

Shameem, his friends and teacher of the Hauza-e-Ilmia Imam Hussain madrasa, Muzaffarnagar neither participated in any protest, nor did they commit any crime but they faced tremendous torture and injustice because of their association with a renowned madrasa of the city. Since all allegations against them were false, they were released from prison in January 2020. Such incidents reveal that a lot of prejudices regarding madrasas can be traced in our society, and these rumours and stereotypes are fast gaining currency in our polarized world.

Before digging deep into the stereotypes and the baseless arguments, it is essential to comprehend what a Madrasa actually is. The Arabic word, Madrasa, literally means a school. In the South Asian subcontinent, it refers specifically to an Islamic religious seminary, dedicated to teaching primarily the Islamic sciences.

It is an institution responsible for producing young graduates who will eventually possess varying levels of expertise in various subjects such as Islamic jurisprudence, Arabic language, Quranic exegesis, Islamic cultural heritage etc. These graduates can develop their careers as Arabic translators, Islamic preachers, Imams, Islamic financial experts, professors and journalists, amongst other things.

The misconceptions

The most common notion is that Madaris only provide Islamic training, and promote fundamentalism and radicalisation in the society. But this is absolutely false, as when the students are taught about Islam, they are taught to respect other faiths and develop inter-religious harmony. Madaris in Southern states particularly are shining examples of this. Madaris in Kerala teach both contemporary sciences and Islam, have both evening and day shifts for students who wish to attend usual schools and modern technologies are used for imparting education. In West Bengal, Muslim and Non-Muslim students are taught an array of subjects, not restricted to religious sciences. Some of the teachers also belong to Non-Muslim backgrounds and thus, these madaris function like ordinary schools, which are not only cost-efficient but also instil a sense of brotherhood and promote the ideals of an all-inclusive society in young minds. This reveals the pure intentions of the stakeholders of the institute, who only wish to generate rational thinkers and sensitive individuals capable of working in the society freely.

The reality

It must be highlighted that they shoulder the responsibility of educating so many children, largely from underprivileged sections of the society and provide basic amenities of life, like food and shelter to a host of students.

Today, Madaris provide an opportunity to Muslim girls to attain education as well. Muslim parents, seeking a safer and more conducive environment for their daughters, find these madaris to be a good solution. For those parents who are afraid of sending girls to schools located far off from home, Madaris are a more feasible option. Some examples of such Madaris include Jamat-ul-Salehat, Rampur, Uttar Pradesh and Jamia Aisha Niswan, Hyderabad. Such seminaries prove all skeptics wrong in their assumptions that they are orthodox and restrict women from learning.

On the other hand they provide a blend of scientific and religious sciences, and give female students all kinds of facilities and opportunities, much like their male counterparts.

Due to the exaggerated picture portrayed in the media, unnecessary arrests made by the police and the deficient public opinion about madaris, students and teachers suffer thoroughly. Only a few national and state universities recognize some of the Madaris and allow students to take admissions, while most of them do not consider Madrasa graduates to be eligible for admission.

Even after being admitted, these students have to face many stereotypes from teachers and fellow students and prove their credentials repeatedly. Most of them find it difficult to find jobs as they are assumed to be weak in communication skills, management and technology. Translators of languages like Arabic and Urdu are not offered commensurate salaries as other language experts are. Despite all of this, these institutes do their best, battling the paucity of funds while trying to actively contribute to society. A case in point is during the pandemic, Madrasa teachers voluntarily contributed to the relief. Staff and teachers of the UP Madrasas declared that they would give their one day’s salary to the state relief fund. Some madrasas have been turned into COVID care centres as well.

The disturbing consequences

Apart from the ‘routine’ discriminations and perceptions, the most harmful stereotype is that Madaris are centres for ‘breeding’ terrorists. But this baseless allegation has caused a great deal of harm. It has been seen that madrasa graduates have been picked up and put behind bars for unrelated events, and released after losing many years of their precious time to incarceration. This has an adverse effect not only on the individual, but disturbs the entire families and deprives future generations of opportunities as a result. One such case is of Mujiburahman, who was an Imam at a local mosque where he was arrested by the ATS for being involved in ‘Jihadi’ activities in September 2015. In spite of being slapped with UAPA, he was acquitted in May 2019, in a sessions court in Akola, Maharashtra as nothing could be proved [2]. Such acts by the state and police ruin the lives of other people associated with the person in question as well. For the state, it is easy to correct its mistake or release a person after years, but nobody has an answer to who will restore the time lost and the dignity that was stripped away? We cannot even depend on the media, although its responsibility is paramount in this regard. But we must not forget that the Indian Constitution gives various minority communities in the country the right to establish and administer educational institutes under Article 30. Hence, questioning the existence of madaris is absolutely anti-constitutional and condemnable. They are not only allowed to exist, but also to flourish in our society and have been protected under the constitution. After all, it must not slip our minds that madaris produced priceless jewels of the country like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Munshi Premchand and the first President of Independent India, Dr Rajendra Prasad.

[1] Akshay Deshmane, UP Police Admits It Wrongly Accused Innocent Muslims Of Violence During Anti-CAA Protest, 1/8/2020, Huffington Post

[2] Ziya Us Salam and M.Aslam Parvaiz, Madrasas in the Age of Islamophobia, Page 9-19 New Delhi 2020

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