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Published in the 16-31 March 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Muslim education - a DIY kit

By M Yusuf Khan

The Milli Gazette Online 

United Economic Forum, Mumbai had prepared a report about inadequate Muslim participation in various areas of influence in June 2004. It gives one of the reasons for adequate number of Muslims not getting selected as Officers in the banks and financial institutions to be poverty/ weak financial position of their families, as they cannot afford high cost coaching at reputed Coaching institutes. Therefore it suggests relaxation in the selection norms or granting reservation for Muslims. When the government jobs are dwindling day by day and the Multinationals and other private companies are going to be the future employers should Muslims still insist on reservations and relaxation in recruiting standards, without bothering about its consequences?

Today in south India, Muslims are running seven medical colleges, twenty engineering colleges and hundreds of good schools. Interestingly only twenty percent of the Muslims live in the south. The rest of eighty percent have not been able to establish even one medical or engineering college. Not even a coaching center. To say that it is the lack of resources that is holding back the Muslims maybe partially true but the real reason is lack of determination and will. 

When Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime Minister, Doon School suddenly became the favourite of the media because of his association with it. Every newspaper vied with each other to carry articles about Doon Shool and its alumni and their achievements. In the midst of that it was sheer audacity on my part to write in the Statesman about a quaint school, Islamia Primary School, in an equally quaint village called Tajpur Kurra, in eastern Uttar Pradesh, which of course had no claim of producing a prime minister. Yet its contribution to the village not only added prestige to its agrarian society but it helped to raise the economic status of many families. One of its students subsequently rose to become the Chairman of the Industrial Development Bank of India, the most prestigious banking institution of the country. It also produced a couple of Ph Ds, medical doctors, lawyers, an award winning author, even a pilot and many other successful professionals, while the surrounding villages without the benefit of any educational facility sorely lagged behind.

The article in the Statesman did evoke an unexpected response. The Aga Khan Foundation got in touch with me and wanted to help the Islamia School. The stipulation was that the village community should start the construction work. The money would come as the work progressed. The Foundation wanted the village to show genuine interest in the project. Being in a government job all I could possibly do was to get in touch with local people who had been rallying support for establishing a Degree College in the neighbouring Qasba. By this time the standard in the Islamia School had fallen abysmally low due to indifference of the authorities and unmotivated new generation of teachers. But the local leadership showed no interest. Perhaps, a primary school was not a big enough project to get them into the limelight, as would be a Degree College. They never got a Degree college and the village school went from bad to worse. In the last thirty years or so the school has not produced a single student who could match the achievements of its earlier generation of learners.
One may wonder why this story is being narrated when most village schools suffer the same fate? It is different because Tajpur Kurrah happened to be predominantly a Muslim village and the families were not too strong financially. Maulvi Shabbir who was the first teacher and the founder of the School had set a very high standard right from the beginning. The farming Pathan community was not favourably inclined towards, any form of education other than learning the Quran by heart. Then, taming the rowdy children and motivating them was a task only a committed man like Maulvi Shabbir could perform. His successors carried the flag ably for many years till the rot set in. The students who did well in life, had to compete against all odds. They had no 'uncles' in high places. It was also not too long after the Partition. There was a general feeling of despondency and fear of being discriminated against. This was a great psychological disadvantage to them. Still they dared to take up the challenge and made their mark in time to come. It was just their merit and dogged determination that eventually helped them. The odds faced by that generation of young Mulsims were tougher than what is being faced today. 

In the whole of Delhi there is just one good school run and managed by Muslims. New Horizon School, New Delhi is a fine example that needs to be emulated by the eighty percent of the Muslims in the country. The students are drawn from the other communities and weaker sections as well but the teachers are mostly non-Muslims. While the credit for good results goes to the teachers, the management deserves a pat for selecting the right teachers in non-partisan manner. Sadly there is a village at a stone’s throw from Delhi called Pasonda. Its population by a rough estimate must be above twenty five thousand. Muslims constitute about ninety percent of the population. But modern education seems to have left them completely untouched. They are petty traders, farmers and dairy owners and they have the means to educate their children in good schools but quality education is not a priority there. One of the lame excuses is that their wards will never secure a good job because of the prejudice against the community. Who is going to tell them the importance of modern education? Surely the community can take up this responsibility.

The Forum while diagnosing the ill had also suggested some immediate measures that seemed to ignore the ground realities. It also observed that very often Muslims were not aware of the facilities created by the government and could not utilize them fully because of their lack of education. The Muslim organizations that take so much pain to collect statistics can surely undertake the task of dissemination of the information which will benefit the community. Among the long-term measures the report suggests promotion of elementary, basic and advanced education among the Muslims. It further observes that if the State can perform its constitutional obligation to introduce compulsory and free education at the elementary level, the Muslim community along with the other weaker sections of the society would be a major beneficiary. Even if that happens the question is: will it give the Muslim youth a winning edge? Very unlikely indeed. The remedy lies in self-help. Truly, what Muslims need is A Maulvi Shabbir in every locality. 

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