There is a dire need of madrasa reforms: Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander

Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander is a Valley based Writer, Activist and Independent Researcher. In an exclusive interview with NewsKashmir magazine Executive Editor, Rameez Makhdoomi, he talks about his new book, need for madrasa reforms, gender issues and domestic politics.

What is your debut book “Bridging the Divide: Call for a New Dawn” all about?

Madrasas as the institutions of Islamic learning have always inspired me. Madrasas played a pioneering role in the knowledge building. With the colonization of Muslim lands, the knowledge came to be divided into worldly and religious, quite an alien divide to the Muslim world. Though now we exist in a post colonial era, but the division of knowledge as a colonial remnant still continues. Both the madrasas and schools do not intend to learn from each other, incorporate the subjects or texts that they have artificially compartmentalized and unnaturally divided. There have been attempts to bridge the prevailing antagonistic divide among the knowledge systems, but they have achieved little success.

Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) as the oldest reformist Muslim educational institution, under the able leadership of its ex Vice chancellor Lt. General Zameer uddin Shah started the Bridge course for the madrasa students. It is an attempt to bridge this artificial divide among the knowledge systems. The one year course acquaints madrasa pass outs with English, social sciences and computer literacy. On the completion of the bridge course the students are given 10+2 certificate that renders them eligible for admission in bachelor courses of different streams of social sciences including law and mass communication. The present Director of Bridge course that runs as a part of Centre for Promotion of Educational and Cultural Advancement of Muslims of India (CEPECAMI) and a Muslim intellectual, reformist thinker and writer Dr Rashid Shaz invited me to study the impact of Bridge course on students and how it is viewed by traditional madrasa scholars and Muslim educational institutions as a whole. The book “Bridging the Divide: Call of a New Dawn” is the outcome of ethnographic and textual study. It took me over a year to complete this research and with the institutional support of CEPECAMI and individual encouragement of Prof. Rashid Shaz I was able to complete this study.

What was the main motive behind writing the book?

The main motive was to understand the attempt of Bridge Course and how successful it is in evolving the madrasa cadres to respond to the challenges of modernity, that include social, political, epistemological, educational and gender issues. Also I tried to understand and analyze the historical attempts of bridging the divide between traditional and modern educational systems in Muslim world particularly in South Asia. The shortcomings, flaws of earlier attempts and suggestions to overcome such pitfalls in the present attempt of CEPECAMI have been critical evaluated too.

So what are the Preliminary findings of your study?

The preliminary and concrete findings of the study can be discovered by reading the book. I leave it for the readers to evaluate my research.

How far you have found the need for reforms in madrasas?

There is a dire need of madrasa reforms. Madrasas need a lot of reforms as they only concentrate on their unique education system and curriculum. The Ulema see madrasas as manufacturing factories producing future Ulema but there are many students who drop out and even some which follow a different line after completing their education in madrasas hence wasting the pool of resources that are used to educate and train them, hence stringent measures must be adopted admission process in madrasas. A minimum eligibility of matriculation must be set up and counseling adopted so that students consciously choose madarasa education and life. Till then the local maktabs can fulfill the basic religious requirements. The madrasa people have no institutions which can absorb the surplus Ulema hence they need to be educated about how to start a NGO and avail the government schemes.

Madrasas further need to undergo drastic changes viz a viz their curriculum is concerned. Madrasas must not teach only religious sciences and theology but a bit of Pure sciences and deep concentration must be laid on Social Sciences too which are necessary to understand the contemporary problems facing the Muslims. More stress must be laid on contemporary Fiqh and they must not waste time in discussing the issues like Slave-Master relationship as were prevalent those times but it is irony of fate that Fiqh like this is still taught but there is no contemporary Fiqh included in the curriculum (Nisaab). Also the Tafsir exegesis which is taught is not compatible with the modern times but still it is taught while as nothing is taught about the contemporary Islamic thinkers.

Do you think any more changes are needed in the overall development of Madrasas?

Islam is a missionary religion and it does not believe only in preaching but in Social Work and Activism but we find very less number of socially engaged Ulama. To counter the propaganda against Islam and Muslims as well as to remove the misunderstandings in the minds of Non Muslims Ulama and Madrasa students have to come out of their forts and islands and get in contact with common people as well as non muslims. They must shun the polemical and debating approach but must initiate Inter Faith and Inter Maslak dialogue because muslims are in minority in India and they must take the lead. Also there is a deep wedge between the Ulama and Rich in the North India though in South India they both are socially engaged, this division further needs to be narrowed down.

Though there are lacunas in madrasa administration too like the non conformity to Shura and exploitation of teachers by the hereditary administration but the Muslim Middle Class is doing nothing to rectify the same and become socially engaged in the community issues. The Middle Class mostly is professional one and they are afraid that if they would engage themselves in Social Activism they are destined to be branded as Fundamentalists and Fanatics by the hostile media hence they keep these activities at arms length so as to remain non controversial but they must shun this stance and take a lead in mediating between the Ulama and Non muslims.

Do you think Madrasas in India preach hate based on selective reading and interpretation of the text?

It is difficult to generalize this statement for all of them as Pakistani and Indian madrasas are different, though the rival claims of superiority exist among them all & all claim that they are on the true path & decry others as deviated. There are rival claims among them regarding the superiority which they exploit to spew hate against each other.

Are the allegations about madrasas promoting extremism quite true?

Extremism is a very loaded and relative term. By extremism if you mean exclusivism, upholding the right to be the sole guided sect, righteous people and decrying others as deviated, so yes some madrasas do promote it based on their selective interpretation of religious texts while subverting the plurality of Islam and its message. But this extremism is confined to intra muslim community only not towards Non Muslims. There is some silver lining and Bridge course is trying to rectify this extremism through its intra faith classes and it certainly has positive results.

How much scope is there for feminism in Islam, since you are an advocate of feminism?

I am an advocate of gender justice and if that is feminism I have no inhibition of being a feminist but in a religious sense, because Islamic feminism is a growing body of knowledge. Islam is gender just so as such this query about scope does not arise. Islam is the most gender just among all religions and Islam gave women revolutionary rights in every sphere of life. But it is a sad reality that patriarchy and muslim men snatched most of them. The need of the hour is to reclaim those rights by gender just interpretation of Islam and its scriptures.

What is your take on present student agitation in Kashmir?

Students have always been on the forefront of every phase of resistance politics in Kashmir. But they always have been an exploited lot and used as cannon fodder in the conflict. The old vanguard of leadership never helped any student leadership to be developed in Kashmir. So the present student agitation will again follow the footsteps of its predecessors if it fails to evolve any new student leadership.

Is Non violence relevant in current resistance politics?

Non violence is relevant in every resistance politics. But the irony with resistance of Kashmir has been that it has tried to romanticize with every form of resistance without understanding its contours or consequences. There has been no serious ideology, introspection or understanding about the use of methodology of resistance. Non violence has first to be understood, believed and accepted as a creed rather than a strategy. Civil resistance is a form of non violence, that has proved immensely successful in social and political resistance but there is little or no information about it among the resistance circles.

Where do you find the talk of Kashmir issue on global level?

Kashmir issue is a forgotten conflict and every stakeholder has no political will to resolve it. We lack non renewable sources of energy like Oil and gas, (though we are rich in water resources and future conflicts will be about water), so no big power is ready to intervene on our behalf. Both India and Pakistan have its supporters among the big powers that thwart any attempt aimed at permanent resolution of Kashmir. The Muslim world and nation states are not united, they have failed in resolving the Palestine issue, so to have any hope from them is futile. Also in the post colonial world, secession and establishing a new state is abhorred so we are confronting bleak times