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Taking Stock:
Floodlights on Madrasas
By Rizwan Ullah

The institution of Madrasa in India has centuries old history behind it. While the national and the world media is showing madrasas in bad light, it is high time to highlight facts and the true significance of the madrasa in building a moral base of the society and its important role in the freedom struggle. As such, it has come to be a part of the Indian heritage. Madrasas in India have developed through the ages and spread all over the country. The exact numbers of madrasas in the country are not known. However, the Delhi-based Institute of Objective Studies has made a good beginning. In its first survey about seven hundred madrasas have been covered and details about their courses of study and other related information have been collected.

Madrasas in India evolved and achieved such a great eminence that Muslim countries of Asia and Africa, virtually the entire Arab world, looked towards them for inspiration and guidance in teaching and practice of religion. Eminent Indian teachers have been held in high regard by scholars in the Islamic world. Not only that, chapters from the curricula of our madrasas were adopted by the institutions of higher learning in Muslim countries. This being one aspect of the significance of Indian madrasas, the other aspect is their contribution to the freedom struggle. Ulama, the men of iron will, stood shoulder to shoulder with other leading freedom fighters.

Maulana Muhammad Ali declared in London right in the face of British rulers that he demanded freedom for India and that he would not return to a slave country. It did happen, and he died in a free country, albeit it was not India. It was England. Maulawi Barkatullah Bhopali headed the Indian government-in-exile established in Kabul with Raja Mahindra Pratap as its president.

Many Ulama were close to Mahatma Gandhi and Panidt Jawaharlal Nehru. Maulana Azad held views close to those of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. There were others like Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi and Maulana Jamaluddin Afghani who traveled widely in Europe soliciting support for the cause of India’s freedom. As a result, they invited the wrath of the British rulers. Many of them suffered all kinds of persecution, their properties confiscated, families annihilated, sentenced to long term imprisonment, even transportation for life in Andaman Islands. Some of them were sent to the gallows. Ulama like Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad were abused and subjected to all sorts of insults by their own co-religionists for their being against the two-nation theory and consequent partition of the country. They were deeply anguished and frustrated when the Indian National Congress led by Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru agreed to the partition of the country.

This is history but it must be narrated time and again. The irony is that in free India those Ulama and their followers and successors are looked upon with contempt and condemned as collaborators in the act of partition. Alas! As a reward for their sacrifices for the cause of freedom their luck was to receive brick bats — both before and after independence. Moreover, madrasas developed in the best of traditions are stigmatized, vandals are let loose against them at the behest of malicious instigators and the ill-informed and myopic media fans the fire. In fact, it is a peculiar situation where national and international factors have come to interplay.

The whirlwind of media catches everything in its stride and blows out in all directions. In the process, unfortunately, it does not differentiate between husk and grains. This is true of many concepts and terms that get currency through the media and shown in good or bad light. In fact, many events and developments come up all of a sudden and the media in a hurry to carry and compete chooses one of the current terms or coins one and posses it on in the chain of communication. Interested groups, parties or individuals, interpret it in the way that suits their interests. This, sometimes upsets critical balances in the society. One such case is that of madrasas. A madrasa simply means ‘school.’ Elaborated, it may mean an institution for imparting religious teachings. Beyond this specific sphere the institution of madrasa was accorded a positive and constructive role to work as a cohesive factor in the society, as such madrasas played an important role in the history of the freedom struggle which has been distorted beyond recognition in recent years.

Unfortunately, the distortions were perpetrated on two levels for purposes that coincided. The myths about madrasa were spread globally in the wake of developments in Afghanistan. This fallacious version shows madrasa as the breeding ground of ‘terrorism’ where terrorists are trained and exported everywhere. This diabolical piece of ‘global strategy’ came in handy for those in our country who stand for one language and one culture for the nation. They are fueling the fire that may consume the goodwill that exits between various communities and reduce the cultural unity to ashes.

Whatever be the designs of global strategists, it is our duty as the people of India to explain to our countrymen and, through the media, to the rest of the world, that Indian madrasas did play a considerable role in the freedom struggle but they have nothing to do with terrorism or any disruptive inhuman act here or anywhere else. It is in the best interests of the country to see madrasas in their true perspective. This is urgently necessary as the Government machinery has been activated to look into madrasa affairs. It should be welcomed if things move in positive direction, but it is highly doubtful as the bureaucracy, the implementing machinery, vitiates even good intentioned decisions. So the necessity is to be vigilant, keep minor mutual differences on the back burner, accept whatever good trickles down the official labyrinth, resist as forcefully as possible if things turn harmful in longer perspective, pull resources to stand on our own, inform and educate every element of the media to carry it along in the long march that lies ahead. Let it be known that madrasas are marching forward with the time. Technology courses such as computer science are being progressively introduced. This belies the mistaken impression that madrasas are closed-door traps for the youth and a breeding ground for communal hatred.

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