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

Education is the key - iv
By Ahmad Rashid Shervani  

Even in other schools (outside our scheme), the number of Muslim first divisioners has increased severally. There is a noticeable change in the approach of many Muslims. Just twenty years ago, the most common attitude was of dejection and defeatism. More often than not, the letters I got from principals ran something like this — Muslims here are very poor. Muslim children do not even get two square meals a day. How do you except them to do better? The school has not added a single book to the library in ten years and most of the old books too have been half-eaten by whiteants. The laboratory is more of a joke. The Muslims of the area are not interested in education at all. The students feel that they have no future. They will not get any jobs because Muslims are discriminated against. The managing committee is in the doldrums. Members of the general body (which elects the MC) do not even pay the ten rupees towards annual fees. The school building badly needs repairs, the ceilings of three class-rooms could cave in any day. In these circumstances, even if 25 per cent or 30 per cent pass, it is a miracle! 

Such "miracles" were happening in most Muslim high schools. Mind you, most of what they wrote was true. The conditions were undoubtedly difficult. Nay, severe, harsh, cruel, back-breaking and unnerving. But I went on repeating the same thing over and over again. Whatever the difficulties, we have to go forward, we have to take our children forward. We have been left behind, far far behind others. We have got to catch up with them. Talabul ilm fareezatun ala kulle Muslimin wa Muslimatin. Education is compulsory for each and every Muslim boy and for each and every Muslim girl. Any Muslim who ignores the education of his son or daughter would rot in hell. Do you want Muslims to be subservient to others? Do you want Muslims to be inferior to others? Do you want Muslims to polish others’ shoes? And I compared the results of Muslim schools with other schools and asked — Are you not ashamed? Has Allah not given the believers as much intelligence as He has given others? 

And then I highlighted any improvement in any Muslim high school. This one of our schools has done so well, look! Why can’t your school do better? You are not so incompetent a principal, are you? These teachers from this or that school have attained such fine results, see! Why can’t the teachers of your school do better? They are not all that incompetent, are they? 

The carrot and the whip. The carrot of prizes and awards and of profuse praise showered on those who did well was effective. When we presented awards to the best principals and teachers we said — These, our brothers (or sisters), are the greatest benefactors of the millat. We are beholden to them for having taught our children well. We are a poor millat. What can we offer them except our heartfelt gratitude, our deepest admiration? And that is just what we are offering them. But when we want to present a gift to someone we love, respect and admire, don’t we wrap that gift in a piece of paper? The amount accompanying the award is nothing. It is but a piece of paper in which we have wrapped our gratitude, our very heart. This is how we presented "awards" of about Rs. 500. How else could we present such small amounts to them? 

Often, I saw tears roll down the cheeks of the award-winning teachers. I could hardly keep back my own. 

Then the whip of stinging criticism, biting sarcasm, blunt condemnation. This too had its effect. You bet it did. 

The good old carrot and the even better old whip did it once more. It was like pushing a stone down a slope. The initial effort was stupendous. At first, the johnnies just didn’t seem to want to move, so used had they become to years and years of lethargy topped with large doses of fatalistic faith — that Muslims are doomed, condemned to remain educationally backward for ever. But once the ball was set rolling, it rolled on and on and on, gathering momentum as it moved. It is rolling on. 

A drop in the ocean 
Barely a million Muslim students study in all the Muslim high schools in North India. There must be at least fifty million Muslim children of school-going age in India. So what I have done to improve board examination results in Muslim high schools of North India could directly benefit only about two percent of all Indian Muslim children. I have been able to do nothing for the remaining 98 per cent. South India is left untouched. Even in North India, Muslim children studying in government high schools and in high schools run and managed by other communities are left untouched. And what of those Muslim children (more than half of all) who go to no school at all? So, what I have done is a drop in the ocean. 

Yet, in this very small sphere, something positive has been done. Much more remains to be done but what has been done, even if it is a drop in the ocean, is not such a small drop, after all. And the cost? I have not spent even one crore rupees per year. You need about one crore rupees to establish one proper high school these days. Just by raising the average results of about 500 high schools from 30 per cent pass to 60 per cent pass, we get as many more Muslim matriculates per year as we could have got by opening 500 new high schools. By increasing the number of Muslim first divisioners from 150 to 6,000, we now get as many more Muslim first divisioners every year as we could have got by opening 20,000 new high schools! Had the results not improved, that is. 
In the end I would say that, basically it is the government’s responsibility to see that Muslims move forward in education. Are the children of Indian Muslims not the children of Bharat Mata? If the many (yes, tens of millions) of these children of Bharat Mata lag behind in education, it is the fault of the government. Undoubtedly it is. The government has neglected education of Muslims. If any part of the Indian nation lags behind (and Muslims are not a small but a fairly large and important part of the Indian nation) then any government which calls itself even decent (not to mention secular etc.) should be ashamed of itself. The government must take much more effective steps to remove the educational backwardness of Muslims and do so immediately. 

This does not, however, mean that we Muslims should just sit and wait for the government to do its duty. The education, the future of our children is involved and we have to do and go on doing whatever we can do, regardless of what the government does or does not do.

I have been working to improve Muslim education since 1975, but due to my limited resources, only in a few states of North India. Now I will try to get this work ("….evaluate the progress of …conduct studies, research and analysis on… educational development of minorities") done by the National Commission for Minorities and the Minorities Commission in every state. (

Ahmad Rashid Shervani is chairman of Bharat Sewa Trust and a member of the National Commission for Minorities). He may be contacted at

Part I: Education is the key - i 
Part II: Education is the key - ii 
Part III:
Education is the key - iii

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