New Delhi, Jan 17 (IANS) – In the world of Muslim seminaries in India, the Maulana Azad Islamic Awakening Centre in the capital is almost an oddity.
Operating out of a three-storey building attached to a mosque in the Muslim-majority residential area of Jamia Nagar in south Delhi, the centre is fairly well maintained compared to other ‘madrassas’, or Islamic seminaries.
And unlike most other such religious schools that barely have 100 students, the Maulana Azad centre has 650 male pupils enrolled, some of them from as far away as Bihar, Assam and Manipur. The bulk of the students are however from Delhi and the neighbouring states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
The centre is also clearly better off than its counterparts as far as funds are concerned. While the administrators maintain the Muslim community funds the school and enables them to pay teachers well, staff privately admit that donations also come in from abroad.
But that’s where the dissimilarities end. Like any other madrassa, the Maulana Azad Centre for Islamic Awakening is caught between conflicting pressures to stick to tradition and embrace modernity.
The school has been experimenting with introducing modern disciplines, but with limited success. Teachers say students find it hard to cope when new subjects are introduced because the theology course is quite exhaustive.
There is, however, an acknowledgement of a need for change, especially making students familiar with computers.
“Computers have become an inevitable part of education. Many students, after graduating from the madrasas, study computers because we cannot teach them here,” said Nasrullah Mohammad Yosuf, an alumnus of the centre who has been teaching here for about a decade.
“The internet is so important nowadays. There are many other technical things one should know to survive in this world. For that one needs to have a basic knowledge of science.
“We teach subjects like science, social sciences and mathematics till Class 6 and English is taught till the bachelor’s degree level,” added Yosuf. “We tried teaching science and mathematics in senior classes but it didn’t work. Students were overburdened and they could not do well.
“We are again introducing science this year in Class 7 and it will be taken forward to higher classes every year,” said Yosuf, who has done a course in Islamic theology in Saudi Arabia.
The neighbouring Jamia Milia Islamia (JMI) university here had organised a 21-day workshop for madrassa teachers to discuss ways to modernise these institutions and introduce use of computers.
Experts at JMI said madrassas are itching to modernise after years of criticism for allegedly fomenting fundamentalism and obscurantism.
“The majority of madrassas are in favour of teaching modern subjects, at least at the elementary level. But they do not have the teachers, the space or the money,” said Mohammad Akhtar Siddiqui, director of the Academic Staff College at JMI who conducted the workshop.
Only a small segment of India’s 140-million Muslims goes to madrassas.
Mostly enrolling boys, these seminaries teach Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Islamic law and jurisprudence, the Quran and the Hadith, or Prophet Mohammed’s sayings.
The high school-level course is called Maulvi, the secondary school certificate Alim and the bachelor’s degree Fazil. Though there is no fixed duration of a madrassa course, it generally takes two-three years more to graduate than the normal school system. Some madrasas, called maktabs, impart only primary education.
At the Maulana Azad Islamic Awakening Centre, students take lessons between 7.30 a.m. and 12.45 p.m., then again for two hours in the evening after a five-hour break. They also read the namaz five times everyday.
Students live free of cost at the hostel in the same area. Those who can afford to pay Rs.500 monthly for food.
Said Yosuf: “Even those madrassas that were once against teaching of modern subjects are now encouraging students to study science and mathematics. But the only fear is that students, after taking modern education, join other professions.
“The objective of madrassas is to produce Islamic scholars and not other professionals. We cannot compromise on that.”
He said madrassas produce students for religious work so they should not change professional streams, just as doctors should not become engineers. Many madrasas graduates become teachers at seminaries or priests at mosques.
© Copyright 2001-2003 IANS India Private Limited, New Delhi. Posted on Religioscope with permission.