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Modern Islamic education system & Kerala community progress

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Impact of modern Islamic education system on the progress of the Muslim community of Kerala: An Interaction with Moulavi Jamaluddin Mankada of Palayam Mosque

Sushma Jaireth & Shiraz S

The Palayam Mosque of Thiruvananthapuram, an important mosque of southern Kerala situated in the heart of the city, flanked by a temple and a church, is an icon of communal harmony. This mosque has played a pivotal role in shaping and moulding the culture of Kerala Muslims.  This was the first mosque in the state which created history by opening its doors for women, a unique experience for southern Kerala Muslims. This daring step of opening the doors of the mosque for women was indeed the rare and a bold initiative, moved by one of the former imams of the mosque, Ahmed Kutty Moulavi.

Moulavi Jamaluddin Mankada is the present Imam of the Palayam Mosque. He was appointed by the State government.

Instead of confining within the four walls of the mosque, he kept himself active amidst the Moulavis and people of the society. He has been constantly working for the welfare of the society and teaching them the actual principles of Islam. He is not a  ‘cleric’ in the traditional sense but a religious scholar, speaker and an ardent preacher of principles of Islam, and a known figure amongst other religious leaders. He also shares stage with bishops and Hindu scholars for religious unity in the state.

Moulavi Jamaluddin is the lone representative of the Muslims in ‘World Without War’, a body which is formed to spread communal harmony and amity amongst the people of different religions; Dr. K.J. Yesudas and Rtd Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer are the two other members from the state. People from different parts of the state approach him for seeking answers to their queries.

The research team from the Department of Women’s Studies, NCERT, during their field visit to the Madrasas of district Thiruvananthapuram of Kerala also met the different Imams and Khatibs working for the cause of Islamic Education, to know their views and the works being carried out for the community of the state. The focus of this study was the education and empowerment of Muslim girls in particular and the community in general.

Jamaluddin Mankada interacting with Prof. Sushma Jaireth

The interaction with Moulavi Jamaluddin Mankada, presented in the following pages, was important and informative. He talked about the different issues of Islamic education system and various issues related to the Muslim community of Kerala.

Q. What kinds of changes have occurred in the field of Islamic education system in Kerala in the last few decades?

R. Islamic education system in Kerala has undergone rapid scientific changes for the last two-three decades, particularly due to the efforts of Islamic reformist movements, who were instrumental in transforming the Dars system into a modern Islamic education system covering various aspects of educational philosophy. They adopted educational psychology and incorporated different subjects more scientifically. Reformist movements understood the need to revise the curriculum and started the combination of Islamic and modern education system. This system has initiated activities like seminars, debates, literacy meetings, student parliaments and sports meets for the overall development of students. The privately started Madrasa boards like Majlissu Talimul Islami Kerala and KNM Vidhyabhyasa Board managed by these reformist movements conduct different kinds of training programmes for teachers and organise workshops for timely revision of curriculum and syllabus.

School supporting Madrasa system is a noteworthy contribution introduced by these movements. Students going to the Madrasas get the opportunity to perform in both Islamic and modern education set up. The students of the institution like Al Madrassathul Islamiya, Kunnakkavu of Malappuram district are known for their higher ranks in the regular schools. Even the traditional organisations are also changing themselves with time.

Q. What are your views regarding girls’ education and why are girls not equipped well?

R. Women are an integral part of every society. The orthodox Muslim community failed to realize the importance of opening avenues of education to girl child. The lack of wide spread opportunities for education for girls happened due to the negative approach of the traditional schools. If we go through the history of Kerala Muslims, we can see that traditional Ulama prohibited girl-students to attend Madrasas and regular schools. Such kind of social situation prevailed about 25-30 years back. Women had to stay in their homes and were not permitted to move out. Later on girl students were allowed to attend primary level Madrasas along with boys. In traditional Madrasa system, boys and girls attend Madrasas till primary levels only. Due to the establishment of English medium schools in a big way even girl students got opportunities too. Later these traditional ulema started girls’ orphanages and now they are being pressurised by the community to start separate Arabic or Islamic and Arts colleges for girls. All these have happened by the impact of reformist movements.

The lack of vision of these Ulema had played a major role in keeping the Muslim women lagging behind in the race of progress. If the residential institutes for girls had been started by these Ulama as early as they did for the boys, it would have helped the girls of the community to see the light of progress much earlier. Shortage of Muslim women scholars in Islamic institutes can be attributed to the lack of vision and stereotypical perception.

Another important issue is that these traditional organisations don’t have women’s wings and institutions for such movements. There is no collective effort from their part to meet the challenges confronted by the Muslim women. Muslim League, a regional Muslim political party which claims to be the representative of all the Muslims of Kerala has its women’s wing, but it faces resistance from the orthodox organisations, due to the 50% reservation for women in local bodies. Most of the members and leaders of the League challenging the system are associated to these traditional religious organisations. The sway of these traditional Ulema comes on the community. The reformist movements are widely accepted by the Muslim society particularly in the educational and cultural spheres. These organizations have recognized the importance of guiding the womenfolk of the community, so they have formed women’s wings. Women’s magazines like “Aaramam” were introduced by these progressive organisations immediately after the women’s wings were established.

They have opened doors of the mosques to the women of the community, tried to bring them into the mainstream of the society and involved them in social service activities also. Women’s Conference organized by Jamaat-e-Islami Hind Kerala chapter in the month of January 2010 at Kuttipuram of Malappuram district is one of the glaring examples of channelizing women’s creativity for the progress of the society. The Muslim community including women progressing faster than these so called Ulema, is the reality of the day that can be observed from the inner zeal of the young Muslim boys and girls participating whole heartedly in the conferences and meetings being organized within the community.

Q. What are your views on setting up of a Central Madrasa Board?

R. Initiative taken by the Central government to form a Central Madrasa Board is appreciative. Providing grants and facilitating adequate infrastructure to improve the quality of education is necessary. At the same time institutions should also be given autonomy as to what values would they like to impart to their students through teaching and other co-curricular activities.

Q. Most of the Madhya Pradesh Madrasas are affiliated to State Madrasa Board, then why is it not happening in Kerala?

 Participation of the community is the basic factor. Madrasa students in Madhya Pradesh get more emphasis on religious education in their institutions. But in Kerala they get equal emphasis on both the kinds of education, i.e., religious and secular.  In the mornings or evenings the students go to Madrasas and later attend to the regular schools. If, for instance Islamic higher education institutes like Arabic/ Islamiya colleges or Islamic Universities, both Islamic and modern education is being imparted. The Madrasa systems in both the states are different, which may not get success in Kerala situation.

Q. What is your opinion about the burden on students attending morning and evening Madrasa and a regular school?

R. In a traditional Madrasa System, the students are burdened considerably. But reformist movements have managed Madrasas either in the morning or evening or during the holidays. It is only because of this kind of management that the students are coping up with their education properly.

Q. What are your views on Co-education in Madrasas?

R. It is already there at the primary level. There won’t be a hindrance if boys and girls study together in an Islamic learning system but that will not be like contemporary regular campuses. They have to obey the rules and regulations put forth by Quran and Hadith. Co-education has its own benefits and students must get advantage of this. Group works and group projects are also possible, but accommodation facilities should be separate. In other words all the activities are not prohibited by the religion and the rules and regulations of the Islamic teachings can be well maintained.

Q. What are the challenges facing our current Madrasa system?

There are few issues of primary level Madrasas. Firstly; teachers are not trained like regular school teachers, secondly; teachers’ salaries are low and they do not receive any government benefits. Thirdly; there is no yard stick set on the qualification of teachers.  Islamic higher education institutions do not get any kind of assistance from the government; however they manage their institutions by themselves and meet the expenses. It affects the quality of education and infrastructure.

Government has neither recognized these institutions nor their courses. Some of the institutes have been affiliated to foreign Islamic universities like Madeena Islamic University and Qatar Islamic University for higher academic excellence.

Q. In your views what are the problems facing the community?

R.  Community has certain reservations with regard to their major festivals like Eid-ul-fitar and Eid-ul-Zuha. Ten days are permitted for Onam and Christmas celebrations but in the case of Eid, the students get only one or two holidays. Muslims and other downtrodden groups like Dalits and Harijans neither are aware of all their rights nor there is full justice. Sachar Committee recommendations have not been implemented. Government's intervention in the recent Mafta (scarf) incident, wherein a Muslim girl was expelled from a Christian management school for covering her head with the scarf (Hijab), did not seem very favourable. Justice has to be ensured in imparting public service to the community.

Q. What are your expectations from Madrasa pass outs?

R. They should be prepared to be self sufficient to meet the challenges of the community.

Q. There was the issue of hand chopping of a college professor sometimes back in Muvattupuzha of Ernakulam district. What is your opinion on this?

R. Such kind of inhuman activities are cruel, horrible and un-Islamic. My views on this have already been put forth in one of the article published in Malayala Manorama daily. One of the paragraph says, "Didn't you study the lessons of love and compassion in your school days? You have forgotten the immortal truth that all the men and women are the sons and daughters of the same parents. By this heinous act you have cut off the hand of our social relations. We have to re-stitch it. Do not convert the temples of worship into centres of weapons. They are the last resorts for us when the last lamp of love is lost".

Above views have been expressed by Moulavi Jamaluddin Mankada of Palayam Mosque, Imam of southern Kerala. The team felt that some of the good practices of Kerala Islamic education model could be followed by other institutions of the country. This may help their institutions to be progressive and empower the girls and women of their community.

Prof. Sushma Jaireth is with the Department of Women’s Studies , NCERT, New Delhi

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-28 February 2011 on page no. 12

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