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Published in the 16-31 July 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Ta‘lim-o-tarbiyyat of Muslim children-i
By Asghar Ali Engineer

This might appear somewhat odd subject for Islam and Modern Age series but I feel is important as future of the community depends very much on upbringing of our young ones, especially in a country like India. India is a home to more than 140 million Muslims of highly diverse cultural and social origins. For Muslims India is a country of challenges and opportunities. India is a non-Muslim country but certainly not un-Muslim country. We can call it, if I am permitted to do so, as proto-Muslim country. 

Also, India has been home to Islam as long as Islam has existed. It has deeply influenced India and has in turn been influenced by Indian society and culture. India thus has composite culture. Right from Kashmir to Kanyakumari Sufis have played very important role in shaping Indian Muslim ethos. Thus Indian Islam has been very liberal and humane and open. This is its real strength.

Many Muslims came from Central Asia, Iran and Turkey but they never hesitated to accept composite identity. Amir Khusro, the celebrated poet and musician and disciple of the great Sufi Saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya was first generation Muslim. His father had migrated from Central Asia. But Khusro completely identified himself with India and Indian culture. He even wrote many verses one line in Persian and another in Brijbhasha. And Khusro was no exception. The Indian Muslim rulers with few exceptions also adopted Indian customs, traditions and cultural ethos and patronised Indian music, painting and literature. Rulers like Ibrahim Adil Shah of Bijapur were even known as ‘Jagat Guru’. 

Alberuni studied Indian scriptures and acquired profound knowledge of Indian religions and philosophy and wrote a classical book Kitab al-Hind. Dara Shikoh who was appointed heir apparent by Emperor Shah Jahaan was great scholar of Sanskrit and Hindu philosophy and translated Upanishads into Persian under the title of Sirr-e-Akbar. Many more such examples can be given.

It is to show that Indian Muslims were profoundly influenced by Indian culture and did not hesitate to accept it and make rich contributions to it. Thus Indian Islam has unique character of its own and several generations of Muslims have been brought up under these cultural ethos. The Indian ‘ulama also characterised India as Darul Aman (abode of peace) and when the British established its political hegemony over India fought shoulder to shoulder with Hindu brethren for India’s freedom.

Indian Muslims live under this ethos and value both their Islamic as well Indian identity. They are as much proud of being Indian as being Muslim. All our Islamic festivals also have been influenced by Indian ethos. One has to bring up Muslim children in this atmosphere. It is both a challenge and unique opportunity. Today unfortunately communal and fundamentalist forces are on the rise and are posing great challenge to our humane, open and liberal culture. It is one of the greatest challenges facing us.

On the other hand, onslaught of globalisation and consumerism poses its own challenge. Globalisation and consumerism stress nothing but instant gratification of our instinctual demands reducing our life to mere a project for pleasure seeking. It is modern form of hedonism. We are being invaded all around by pop culture and pop way of life devoid of any meaning or concern for social and transcendental values.

Thus those responsible for bringing of young ones have to face these challenges. Those responsible for upbringing can be divided into three categories: parents, teachers and imams or clergy. All three play an important role in upbringing or ta‘lim-o-trabiyyat of younger generation. But in case of upper class children, perhaps imams or members of clergy hardly have any role. They are educated in western atmosphere and are fluent only in English language and hardly ever attend mosques. They are hardly educated in Islamic tradition. They might even be indifferent to religion and religious values.

These actors i.e. parents, teachers and imams can and should play an important role in proper upbringing of young children. The first most important role is of course played by parents, and specially mothers. It is regrettable that among Indian Muslims the rate of literacy is extremely low among women. Illiterate or less literate mothers cannot really prepare their children for facing acute challenges of life. Thus there is great urgency for spreading education among Muslim women.

In fact responsible parenting requires equal share of responsibility between father and mother. However, in traditional households it is mother who shares this responsibility and that is why educated mother can discharge this responsibility much better. In urban areas female education among Muslims is, of course, on the rise and this augurs well for coming generations. Like others Muslim girls are far better achievers than boys in various examinations. 

Muslim men are also not far ahead in the field of literacy. Most men in urban areas are artisans and in rural areas landless labourers, besides being rural artisans. Others in urban areas do odd jobs and belong to unorganised sectors. There are very few middle class professionals, businessmen and industrialists. For artisans, labourers and workers belonging to unorganised sectors life is a prolonged or unending struggle and their children are deprived even of elementary schooling. What we are discussing here hardly ever applies to them. Their children are brought up in ramshackle homes or even on footpaths. They enjoy no comforts and education is luxury for them.

Some of them may have chance to attend madrasas where maulavis or imams of the mosque play a role in shaping their mindset. Their natural or work environment plays greater role in their upbringing. In rural areas too, either they can avail of madrasa education or elementary school education. They have hardly any chance for going for higher education. Their parents are also generally illiterate and follow age- old customs and traditions. For them Islam is nothing but aggregate of these customs and traditions. They are much more integrated with general rural atmosphere.

Thus what we are going to discuss applies more to a small (though not insignificant) urban middle class Muslims. It should be remembered that India is a secular democratic country and schools impart secular education. Also, middle class children generally do not go to madrasas and also not all of them go to mosques for prayers so as to come under the influence of imams. It is another irony that most of the imams in mosques are semi-literate lot who come from very poor and backward families and are working as imams precisely because they are not educated enough to go for any other secular profession. Thus they tend to be very conservative and can hardly appreciate modern problems and challenges.

It was necessary to throw light on all these aspects of Indian situation so that we can put the question of ta‘lim-o-tarbiyyat in proper perspective and appreciate the kind of challenges facing Muslim children in Indian society today. Our discussion will relate mainly to children of middle class families living in urban or semi-urban areas. It is quite likely that in these families both parents are likely to be educated. Of course there are cases of some upward mobile artisan families who have achieved economic success, are not educated themselves but want their children to be better educated.

Most of the children of these families go to secular institutions for education, private or governmental. There are very few schools and colleges run by Muslims and even in these institutions prescribed syllabus has to be followed and there is very little or no time for religious education. And since these institutions are poor in resources cannot employ more competent teachers and thus standard of education is not very satisfactory. And since most of these institutions are government aided they cannot impart religious education of any kind. Mostly the school going Muslim children have to be tutored at home as far as religious education is concerned.

The mullah who comes home to impart religious instructions to middle class children is semi-literate and is ill equipped to prepare a child for coming challenges of modern, composite and secular society. Ultimately the parents have to discharge this onerous responsibility. It is again very unlikely that both parents would be well educated both in secular as well as religious fields. Only very fortunate children will have such parents. 

Muslim middle class families in urban areas have to face communal challenge and question of religious identity becomes more and more important. Of course Muslims, like others in India have plurality of identities, religious identity being one among them. Also, there is great deal of tension between some of these identities thanks to the pressures created by communal forces. Are they Indians first or Muslims? This question haunts them in schools, colleges and work places. Such pressures drive them into conservative fold or even communal fold. (Continued)

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