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Marakzul Maarif: a shining example
By Syed Ubaidur Rahman 

They have everything to surprise anyone believing in the orthodoxy of madrasa graduates. Meet them and get the first hand experience of what a madrasa student could look like after being given some exposure to English and good teachers. With flowing beards and traditional madrasa dress of kurta and pyjama not lower than ankles, these young people flaunt fluent English and etiquette believed to be prerogative of only people with a Public School background. 

Madrasas are in the line of fire from several quarters. In most of the cases they are pointed as the nursery of obscurantism for their lack of forward looking ideas and syllabi dating back to several centuries. The criticism mounted against them from all the four sides is making things out of comprehension for anyone trying to know them. Though there may be some truth in lack of suitable syllabi in most of the madrasas, there are efforts underneath from both inside and outside the madrasa fold to bring them on the track. 

These efforts seldom noticed by either the media or the Muslim community are slowly making it obvious that things are not as gloomy after all as are made to appear. And results are slowly pouring in to prove the point more obvious. 

Markazul Ma'arif Education & Research Centre is one such institution that has set its eyes on changing the whole perspective of madrasas and their outlook. Though it is a small effort but the results are showing up that how fast it is making its impact felt all around. 

Part of Markazul Ma'arif, a registered NGO, it is an example of sorts. It aims students from madrasas and trains them for two years in English language and computers after completion of their courses from their respective madrasas. It makes students undergo grueling exercise for two years. And with excellent syllabi and teachers from premier institutions like Jamia Millia's English Department they are trying to give an altogether different identity to the students. They have employed best people to teach their students. These teachers are not giving these services out of charity or something else, they are being paid what could be expected from any other such classes in the capital.

Within eight years, results are here to see. Graduates from madrasas in different parts of the country including Darul Uloom Deoband, Nadwatul Ulama and Mazahir Uloom and numerous others have benefited. 

But getting in the institute is not an easy job. Mohammad Umar Gautam, the brain behind this venture says that to ensure that only best students are allowed to pursue education here they conduct an entrance test every year that is advertised thoroughly in all the larger madrasas. Letters are also sent to other smaller ones too. This time 150 students applied for twenty seats of the two-years course that is on offer here.

When asked as to how the concept originated, Umar Gautam, an agriculture graduate who is running the Markazul Ma'arif Education & Research Centre (MMERC), told this correspondent that 'madrasa graduates coming out from different madrasas around the country are handicapped due to lack of English education. Not only they were not able to find a suitable place for them in the world, but also they were unable to reason out scientifically and put forward convincing arguments before the masses about the positive teachings of Islam.' Gautam adds that in this competitive world in the post-modernism scenario, it is just impossible to walk without arming with modern education. He says that MMERC selects brilliant madrasa graduates for a two years round the clock education and training course.

'The students are made to perform. They have to keep pace with their fellow students and a strong competitive environment has been developed consciously in its small campus in Delhi' says Umar Gautam.

A few years ago this correspondent unwittingly bumped into a centre run by the MMERC in Mumbai. It was following an advertisement in a Mumbai newspaper where the centre had advertised to hire an English teacher to teach writing to its students. This correspondent who was studying journalism in Mumbai at that time had responded and had opportunity quite a few times to meet and interact with the graduates of the MMERC who were running that centre. It was a different experience altogether. In the midst of a chaotic lifestyle of the largest megapolis in the country, these handful of youths were struggling to learn to serve the nation. Though not exceptionally good but they had a thurst to learn. 

'It is the thing that we want to create among them', says Umar Gautam. He adds that 'almost 80 students who have completed our courses are well placed in different organizations. A few are even able to get an entry in English newspapers.'

This all the centre does without charging any fee from students. 'We don't charge anything from students for two years full time residential course here. In addition, we also provide monthly scholarships to the students for their other expenses' adds Gautam. 

Atiq Qasmi, a Darul Uloom Deoband graduate who completed two-year course from here and now manages the Delhi centre says that the centre ensures that students pursuing education here are not bothered with monetary problems in any way. This gives them hassle free environment and helps them concentrate on their education'. 

But the centre is not the only thing being done by the organizers of the MMERC. In fact it is just a very small activity when compared to other activities undertaken by the Markazul Ma'arif. Maulana Badruddin Qasmi, a graduate and member of the advisory committee of Darul Uloom Deoband also runs 15 state of the art English medium schools, besides almost 500 primary schools (maktab), and several orphanages where almost 1000 orphaned boys and girls have been sheltered. In remote North Eastern States like Assam where though Muslim make 30 percent of the population but are very backward, these steps taken by Markazul Ma'arif are giving relief and respite to thousands of families. Maulana Badruddin is a leading Mumbai businessman having business interests in diverse fields. 

These activities are not just restricted to Assam alone; other Northeastern states like Manipur, Nagaland, Tripura in addition to West Bengal are also benefiting from it. There are 224 primary schools (maktab) being run by it. There are 65 such schools in Manipur, 70 in West Bengal, 10 in Nagaland and 57 in Assam. It is also running scores of healthcare centres in several Northeastern states. It also provides scholarships to meritorious students pursuing professional courses.

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