Friday, July 2, 2010

For educating the Muslims – Muslims must take the lead

By Shahidur Rashid Talukdar,
Though the noble Qur’an professes the importance of education to the entire humanity, the irony is that beneath the lamp it is always dark. On actual count, due to some unfortunate course of action, Muslims are among the most educationally backward communities in India. Except a few states, the performance of Muslims reckon below the national average almost everywhere. While there are many reasons for the community’s failure in achieving a good educational profile and maintaining the progress, at least one apparent reason is that the community has, in the first place, failed to take appropriate and adequate initiatives towards education. Where there are well-established chains of schools from other communities such as Ramkrishna Mission schools, DAVs, Arya Vidayapeeths, Maharshi Vidyamandirs, host of Christian Missionary schools, to name only a few, imparting quality education among the masses, the Muslim community’s presence in this domain is hardly noticeable.
Unfolding the myth
Glibly put, one can say that the community has not cared enough for formal education rather it has channelized its resources towards religious education by setting up Madrasahs. There might be some truth in the claim, but as a whole it is far from the actual or sole reason. The Sachar Commission Report has revealed that the Madrasahs accommodate only a meager 4% of the total school going Muslim children while the remaining 96% go to secular schools. Besides, there are many who cannot manage to go, at all, to any school, owing to the lack of proper access.

Students at Hajjan Bibi Soghra Hasan Memorial Urdu Girls School in Darbhanga

Even this 4% of the children get enrolled in Madrasahs not necessarily by choice. The report points out that the reasons for enrollment into a Madrasah vary from lack of availability of other schools and linguistic bias to fear of communal harassment. Interestingly, it is found that in such areas where the secular private or public schools are not up to one’s avail, even children from the Hindu community also go to the Madrasahs. There might be a lack of initiatives on the part of the community to set up institutions of formal education, but the level of difficulty the community faces in setting up and getting recognition of such institutions not only daunt the feeble attempts but also deter the community’s motivation. This leads to further exacerbation of the situation.
Recent Developments and Awareness of the Problem
The public findings like the SCR and NSSO reports and individual studies coupled with widespread media coverage of the Muslim milieu, now almost everyone including the Governments, NGOs, and the society at large knows that the Indian Muslim community is far behind the mainstream in terms of educational achievement. Yet another significant development is that a large section of Muslim populace also is acknowledging this backwardness. Owing to such recent developments, now, among the Muslim elites, intellectuals, and a section of youth – a huge debate about the community’s poor performance in the field of education is underway.
An ever-increasing realization of the problem calls for urgent measures to solve it. Having touched the lowest strata of regression towards mediocrity, the community, more than ever, feels the need for a transition from a state of ignorance to participation and from darkness light. As the stakes are high, the efforts to ameliorate the situation must be quick, firm, visionary, sustainable and holistic. Now the question is what needs to be done and how it should be done to maximize the efficiency and return.
Muslims Need Schools and Coaching Centers, first
A realistic assessment of the situation offers a prompt solution that the community needs rigorous intervention at the school level, rather than college or university level. Well groomed, bright, talented and competent Muslim adolescents will find their way through the mainstream colleges, universities and other professional institutions of higher learning. Universities, engineering and medical colleges become relevant only when there is an overwhelming demand for such institutions. Such demand will sustain only when there is an abundant supply of high quality students for schools. Another such necessity is that of highly committed and professionally managed coaching centers. Coaching centers will be the best tools in this transformation process. Because they require less investment, and if efficient enough, they promise a high return – both in terms of improving the quality of students enrolled in a regular course as well success in various competitive examinations.
Muslims Must Take the Lead
Now it becomes important to see how this can be achieved. While the Governments need to provide a suitable platform for development, the community’s role in its emancipation cannot be overemphasized. The community must, at this juncture, resolve to bring a revolution among its members regarding the spread of education both in terms of quality as well as quantity. In order to initiate and sustain such an Educational Revolution there needs to be a movement from the grass roots up to the leadership. Although intervention at the policy level is imperative to bring a change, but people’s involvement in the change process is even more important. Active participation of the entire Muslim community, at each stage of transition, from planning through implementation is a must.

Now the question is how to garner such a participation without creating a mess? Well there could be many ways to develop awareness and motivate people to form special interest groups to create awareness among masses about the importance and expected return of education. While there can be many ways to do it, one way is to attach religious affiliation to education. Seeing the never ending zeal and overflowing passion of the Muslims in religious matters it can said that if the message of worldly education comes through any religious body, it is likely to have a far greater impact than any other secular body among the masses, especially in rural India. Another reason is that these organizations such as Masjid committees, Marqaz, or any other Muslim bodies active at local community level are already functioning, they have a strong network and above all they are inexpensive. Making use of established mechanisms should be easier than developing newer mechanisms for creating awareness or enhancing motivation.
The Muslim religious organizations must assume a more meaningful role in the reconstruction of the society rather than confining themselves to what they are currently preoccupied with. Instead of narrowing their focus exclusively on religious issues, the Muslim scholars should engage themselves towards socio-economic empowerment of the community. Because a community on the margins of the society is not what is recommended by Islam. The role of religious organizations, at this moment, should shift heavily towards disseminating the message of education, channelizing the community resources and monitoring the progress of education amongst the Muslims in particular and society, in general. Imagine the message “Read, in the name of Allah… teacheth man what he knew not” becoming a part of every Friday sermon, the prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) saying: “To seek knowledge is compulsory for every Muslim (male or female)” – becomes the subject of an Ishtema, Tableegh Jama’at moves with the mission of “spreading education across borders”! Imagine the potential impact of it. I am sure it will have much more penetrating effect than a million dollar campaign to spread education among Muslims.
This move, however, should not be viewed as radicalization of education or not to confuse attaching “religious importance to education” with religious or Madrasah education as such. Taking parallel from other communities, it is apparent that involvement of religious organization does not necessarily influence the curriculum in terms of radicalization. The schools or colleges will, after all, follow the mainstream formal curriculum recognized by the government.
Muslim Leadership Must Come Forward
Here comes the role of Muslim leadership, both religious and secular. The Muslim bodies like Jamiat Ulama – e – Hind and other Islamic bodies should come forward to guide and help develop regional and local bodies to conceive the message, crystallize a plan of action and pave the way for moving ahead with it. Further, even more important role for the leadership will be to advocate for the local bodies on higher platforms - state or national level agencies and lobbying for recognition and mobilizing resources for the Muslim educational institutions. Securing the Waqf properties and raising funds from individuals, Government and non-Government sources will be two most prominent issues to be handled by the leadership.
If the participation of the leadership at the top and the community at the bottom can be ensured then the middle level, that is, the technicalities of institution building can be managed by a third party. For effective implementation of the plans formulated by leadership, there needs to be professional agencies, such as Educational Consultants, which have special expertise to setting up schools, coaching centers, recruit teachers, and develop policies to efficiently run those institutions, and so on. These agencies will work as a bridge between the leadership and the masses. Such agencies can either be formed from amongst the educated and progressive community members or can be hired directly by paying for their services.
A three tier arrangement involving the Muslims masses at the bottom, professional agencies at the middle, and the community leaders on the top will greatly take care of the educational deficiency among Muslims of India.

(The writer is a Ph.D. student at Texas Tech University, Texas, USA. Originally he is from Assam, India)
[Photos by Mudassir Rizwan of]

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