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A madrasa that promises both heaven and earth

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By Moin Qazi

The South Indian city of Bidar -the northernmost part of Karnataka, 145 km from Hyderabad-is a placid habitation where Hindus and Muslims peaceably coexist to the eternal rhythms of sowing and harvest. It is barely known beyond the subcontinent. But in recent years, it has built a great reputation in the field of education. It is drawing students from miles around, and the teaching pedagogy at its largest seminary (madrasa) is delivering amazing outcomes, confounding even seasoned educationists. The madrasa is not just opening the gateway to modern careers but also strengthening the prospects of eternal salvation.
A dignified aura of its rich past cloaks every corner of the town. The crowning minarets that dot the city landscape and the villages around it dissolve into the mist of history as the lavender of the evening glow envelopes the monuments from which writers extract magical romances for their books. Legends abound of the great kings and saints who once inhabited this land. The ravages of time and the passages of history have slowly driven the chapters of glory into bygone memories.
But Bidar has re-emerged on the map .In a narrow alleyway, opposite the 15th-century edifice of Madras a of Mahmud Gawan (1472) in Gole Khana area of Bidar stands Shaheen School, the flagship institution of a vibrant educational revolution whose ripples are touching thousands of lives across the country. Parents seeking a blend of temporal and spiritual education are choosing it over mainstream institutions. The unique offering at this institution is a bridge course for madrasa pass outs that equips them to join the mainstream education system. It is popularly phrased as’ a short hop from madrasa to science lab’.
When Abdul Qadeer, 58, an engineer by profession, began his enterprise in a one room tenement accommodating 18 students way back in 1989 he never imagined that his effort would become e a harbinger of a unique educational revolution. With a mission to “shape an ideal seat of learning that is accessible to one and all”, the movement has mushroomed into a major center of academic excellence and a beacon of modern learning, touching the lives of more than 11000 students supervised by 400 teachers, all of them engaged in creation of knowledge wealth. The network comprises nine schools 16 pre-university colleges and a degree college having its clones in several cities. They have enabled more than 900 students to become doctors in the last 15 years.
Muslims desperately need such institutions. They comprise14% of India’s population but have the highest illiteracy rate(42.7%), the lowest level of enrolment in higher education (4.4%) the lowest share of public(or any formal) jobs, school and university posts including that of government jobs (4.9 %), earn less than other groups, are more excluded from the financial world, and spent fewer years in school. Pitifully Muslims account for 40 per cent of India’s prison population.
Qadeer is one of the many links in the chain of modern liberal Muslim education that was forged by Sir Syed Ahmad who founded the Aligarh Muslim University .Sir Syed found the madrasa syllabus unsuited to the present age and to the spirit of time. He criticized it for encouraging memorising rather than real understanding.
Secular Muslim educationists also tend to agree that curriculum at most madrasas has become fossilized and it cannot be reformed by cosmetic changes, like tweaking a few courses or installing a few computers. Madrasas have to be provided with physical and intellectual resources –and, most important, cultural temperament–to equip their students for the complex demands of a highly competitive modern world.One of the most accomplished modern products of madrasas, Ebrahim Moosa avers: “Few have been able to rebut the charge that the texts used are redundant and at times impenetrable, save to a few scholars who have spent their lives mastering them. Indeed most texts are frustratingly terse, forcing teachers and students to scour commentaries and super-commentaries for help.”
Historically, madrasas were institutions of higher learning until their importance diminished with the onset of Western education. They have played an important role in the history of Islamic civilization. They have been powerful nodes in the learning system and have been harbingers of several revolutionary achievements in fields as diverse as jurisprudence, philosophy, astronomy, science, religion, literature and medicine. It was only when the Golden Age of Islam began to decline that the madrasas lost their academic and intellectual purity, and their vitality and relevance, and ceded prime space to western-oriented education.
Qadeer has spent his active life bridging the divide between traditional and modern education. His schools teach secular subjects like science, medicine, technology, social sciences, and history, in addition to classical Islamic texts. His unique innovation is the bridge course. Those hafizs who are in the age group of 14 to17 years are enrolled in the eighth and ninth standard. They undergo a 10-month bridge course so that they can learn Kannada, English, mathematics, science and social studies. Then, they are ready to face the SSLC board. Muslim who has memorised all 6,236 verses of the Quran earns the right to be called a hafiz.
Abu Sofyan, a doctor and a product of Shaheen, proudly says he can offer both spiritual and physical healing—Dawa and Dua (medicine and prayers) to his future patients.The second year MBBS student at Raichur Institute of Medical Sciences is a ‘Hafiz’, who has memorized the Qur’an. “When I joined high school, I felt transplanted into an uncongenial soil. With great difficulty I could find my roots. But I managed to score good marks. My stay here turned out to be a life-changer,” he says. the ‘disciplined madrasa life’ helped him get good grades in pre- university and a medical college seat “I realise that the basic principles of engineering are about the wholesome study of nature that the Qur’an emphasises” ,he says.
‘The experiences are not isolated. Hundreds of madrasa graduates are in mainstream colleges now. A youth with a wholesome education is less likely to go wayward. A proper understanding of the modern world and exposure to current knowledge equips youth to withstand wrong influences,” Qadeer says. “We encountered a lot of f skepticism from the ulema (clergy), but we persisted, and it paid off .Now, they have all come around as they realized we were training boys to achieve the best of both worlds “ .
Vachana Shree Patil of Shaheen College secured the third place in the Common Entrance Test in the medical stream in2016.She also stood second in the State in the Indian Systems of Medicine and Homeopathy, third in Veterinary sciences, ninth in B. Pharma and 18th in BSc.
More than 300 Shaheen students who cracked the National Eligibility cum Entrance (NEET 2018) have secured admission in different medical colleges of India. Shaheen Group had sent more than 200 students to different medical colleges in 2017, 152 in 2016, 111 in 2015, 93 in 2014, 89 in 2013 and 71 in its first batch in 2012.
One of the 300 eligible students in 2018 is Waheed Abdullah of Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. He is a Haafiz-e-Quran and never went to a school. He got free coaching at Shaheen’s Bidar center and scored 659 out of the total 720 marks to secure All India Rank (AIR) 95..besides him thirteen hafizs have also made the grade. At least 40 hafizs have so far cracked the entrance examination of medical and engineering during the last for years.
Azeem Qureshi’s family is another wonderful example. They belong to the butcher (Qureshi) community of Bidar. His three daughters, Ishrat Fatima, Naziya Sultana and Mehreen Fatima are alumni of Shaheen who ended up securing MBBS seats. Ishrat Fatima has done MS in Obstetrics and Gynecology and Naziya Fatima is doing her MD Pathology. Ishrath Fatima was one of the students from this course. A hafiza (a female hafiz), Ishrath moved to Shaheen and eventually went on to complete her medical specialization. She now teaches in a medical college in Jalna district in Maharashtra. “After completing my Hifz, I enrolled in Shaheen with the intention of just passing matriculation as it was thought necessary to get married.”
. Madrasas and mosques are an important feature of the Muslim community and can reinforce community cohesion and integration. They can be, and have been pivotal in engendering tolerance, mutual respect and integration. To make them relevant to contemporary times we need a choreographed strategy. People like Qadeer have presented In Shaheen a model worthy of replication. Madrasas elsewhere should take a leaf out of Shaheen’s book.
It is true that more than the model it is the charisma of inspirational leaders like Qadeer that infuse institutions with vibrancy .But these madrasas certainly underline that there are silver linings on the otherwise bleak educational horizon of Muslims. The lesson we must learn is that the community’s own shortcomings cannot be easily palmed off on others.
Religion, for Sir Muhammad Iqbal the great philosopher poet, was a dynamic and fluid movement; not a closed theology meant for mere imitation. Islam marked the end of prophecy, not human intelligence. Shibli Nu’mani, a renowned twentieth-century scholar from within the madrasa circles himself noted: “For us Muslims, mere English [modern] education is not sufficient, nor does the old Arabic madrasa education suffice. Our ailment requires a ‘compound panacea’ (ma?jun-i murakkab)—one portion eastern and the other western.”
Madrasas, like those run by Qadeer, can play a vital role in promoting an intellect that is well equipped to face challenges of the modern world. Since the students are schooled in classical and modern science as well as secular and religious thought, they are better able to spot scriptural distortions. They also tend to be more connected to their own communities as well as to the mainstream society and their stable sense of identity, religious and otherwise, shield them against radicalism. These madrasas are powerful allies in India’s transition to modernity.
Here is what the founders of Jamia Millia Islamia wrote for its students to sing as the official anthem:

“ Here conscience alone is the beacon . . .
It’s the Mecca of many faiths,
Travelling is the credo here, pausing a sacrilege,
Cleaving against currents is the creed here,
The pleasure of arrival lies in countering crosscurrents.
This is the home of my yearnings”
This is the land of my dreams.”

 

Let this noble thought remain a guiding credo for every Muslim.

(Feedback at: moinqazi123@gmail.com)

 


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Opinion

Not in the Mahatma’s name

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Apoorvanand

The recent uproar over the glorification of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin, NathuramGodse, by the BharatiyaJanata Party’s Bhopal candidate Pragya Singh Thakur has forced her party to tick her off. It should be a solace for us that there is at least one non-negotiable in Indian politics, that the political cost of the celebration of the murder of the Mahatma is formidably high! But now we would be told to let the matter rest as she has been chided even by her mentors.

Let us look at the implication of this approach, that Ms. Thakur, sans this statement, should be acceptable to us as a potential representative in Parliament. She continues to be the ‘symbol of Hinduism’, as she claimed Prime Minister NarendraModi had said of her. Our satisfaction over the condemnation of Ms. Thakur makes us forget that she is being audaciously presented as the most fitting answer to secular politics, which holds that a person accused of attacks on Muslims cannot be a people’s representative in India.

 

The idea that a Hindu can never indulge in a terror act is, in fact, another way of saying that terror acts are always committed by non-Hindus. Or, by Pakistan, which for BJP leaders is a proxy for Muslims. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, while talking about the Samjhauta Express blast case acquittals, claimed that it was unimaginable to accept that Hindus could be involved in such acts, and that he believed that in all such crimes there was the hand of Pakistan. A crime has been committed, and since the Hindu suspects cannot (being Hindus) do it, it can only be Muslims even if they are not caught — this is the underlying assumption.

It is this theory which is being thrown at us by the BJP by presenting Ms. Thakur as its choice for the electorate of Bhopal. It has another sinister aspect. She was selected knowing well that she could not be a choice for Muslims. Her selection is therefore a message to Muslims that by not voting for her, they disregard the sentiments of Hindus, thus showing intolerance towards the majority.

By supporting her, the ‘symbol of Hinduism’, they have a chance to endear themselves to the Hindus. If they don’t, they would always be a suspect.

This argument is not new. Many pundits, while accepting that Mr.Modi was a divisive figure, urged Indians to choose him as he was the best bet for the economic development of India. So, can Muslims be so sectarian as to think only about themselves while the greater national interest is at stake?

The swift and determined move by the BJP to reject her statement on Godse is a clever ploy to make this issue irrelevant while judging her. It is as if we are asked to judge Godse, setting aside the act of murder of Gandhi by him. There are ‘respectable’ people who feel that Godse spoilt his case by murdering the Mahatma. They regret this folly as they believe that there was strong merit in his ideological stance. According to them, he rightly opposed the Muslim appeasement of Gandhi, his anger at the dangerous friendliness of Gandhi towards Pakistan is correct, and his impatience with the unwise and impractical pacifism of Gandhi is to be understood if we want to make India strong.

We are asked to understand that there was a reason Godse was forced to kill Gandhi. We are asked to not treat him as a simple criminal. He was driven by high ideas. To make him a man of ideas, he is constantly humanised. We have seen over the years people talking about his childhood, his education, his editorship. Gandhi must have done something really horrible to provoke a thoughtful human being to turn into an assassin. If anything, they imply, he was a just assassin!

So, we are asked to move away from the trivia, that is the act of the murder, to the substantive, the issues raised by Nathuram in his ‘brave defence’ in the court, which had moved people to tears even then.

The RashtriyaSwayamsevakSangh (RSS), unlike the Islamic State and the Maoists, understands it well that an individual and identifiable act of violence makes it abhorrent and repulsive for the masses, whereas anonymous acts of violence are always more palatable. It was therefore important for Savarkar to distance himself from his disciple, Godse, to remain respectable. For the RSS it was necessary to disown Godse to be able to keep working on the majoritarian ideas he shared with or had learnt from Savarkar and the RSS. No known RSS hand soils his hands with blood; yet it is the politics of the RSS, not at all different from Godse’s, which makes blood flow.

Gandhi had said again and again that it would be better for him to die if India were to become inhospitable to Muslims. He was talking to those who were objecting to the recitation from the Koran at his prayer meetings. Death he could accept but not the narrowing of his heart! Neither bowing to threats or force! In the same invocation, he said, if you ask me to recite the Gita at gun point, I would refuse to obey you.

Gandhi told his audience, your heart is also large. Don’t constrict it. It is this challenge which needs to be accepted. It requires immense bravery of intelligence and humanity to be able to hear Gandhi. This intelligence would tell us that the distancing from the murder of the Mahatma by the co-travellers of Godse is in fact a strategy to enlarge the space for majoritarian ideas and draw more and more Hindus towards them, thus making Gandhi irrelevant while keeping his facade decorated.

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Opinion

Why I want Pragya Thakur to win

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By Saba Naqvi

Regardless of whether NarendraModi remains Prime Minister or not I want terror accused Pragya Thakur to win from Bhopal. The esteemed leadership of India’s pre-eminent political party chose a terror accused as a candidate and they must endure her tenure as MP.

Pragya may be a poisonous vendor of hate and violence but she is not a hypocrite. Ever since she spoke her mind on describing NathuramGodse, the individual who shot MK Gandhi to death, as a patriot, the BJP national leadership has claimed to be disturbed. The Prime Minister spoke up after her statement, saying, he would never forgive her for what she had said and the party stated that it had initiated disciplinary action against her.

 

But by the time the party took this position, many members of the BJP had come up with twisted arguments somehow justifying Pragya’s validation of the assassin of a figure many revere as a Mahatma or Great Soul. Party members exposed their own problematic ideological heritage that included non-participation in the freedom movement led by Gandhi. Some of them could not help but reveal their own natural impulse to drop the veneer of falsehood and come clean on how they do indeed believe that Godse was a patriot despite having killed Gandhi.

The Godse remark in just two days exposed the ideological underbelly of the ruling party that does indeed have members who believe that Gandhi was a villain who loved Muslims and Pakistan. That’s why Godse, by his own account in a famous trial, shot him. A must-read for those who wish to engage with this debate is the book titled “The Men Who Killed Gandhi” by ManoharMalgonkar.

Seventy-one years after that crime on January 30, 1948, we have come to the point where a candidate contesting in an election for Parliament embraces the Godse world view. What’s more, a member of Modi’s council of ministers, AnantkumarHegde, endorsed her position. The MP from Karnataka had earlier kicked up a storm when he had said that “we are here to change the Constitution”. Yes, the same Constitution he took an oath to protect.

Hegde’s also received a show-cause notice to explain his position and on May 17 BJP president Amit Shah said the party’s disciplinary committee would submit a report on the matter in 10 days, after the election verdict, that is. There was more: the BJP media cell chief in Madhya Pradesh, the state from where Pragya is contesting, was brazen enough to say that Gandhi was the father of the nation of Pakistan. The BJP suspended him.

So how do we read the ideological contortions ever since Pragya uttered the “Godse is a patriot” words? One could say that the BJP is trying to occupy the space of both extreme and moderate in a national ideological pendulum that has shifted right-wards. It’s not a bad ploy—the ideological family plays to the more core beliefs, that are to be revealed step by step, and just in case some voters find them unpalatable, there are the “reasonable” elements as well.

And, voila! Modi becomes a moderate who is being stern with the fringe! That is a useful projection at a time when there is the possibility of needing some allies post-23 May. The BJP has made this ideological journey before, of being all things to all men. Earlier, former Prime Minister AtalBihari Vajpayee was offered up as the moderate to LK Advani, the architect of the Ram temple movement, who brought the BJP to national prominence. Today Modi today is the moderate who is speaking up against the hardliners, who are called “fringe” by those who believe it’s all part of a great national purpose.

It’s not. The “fringe” has been mainstream for some years now. Much before Pragya was presented to the nation as a candidate for parliament, the BJP leadership chose an unabashed Muslim-hating monk of a religious order to be the chief minister of India’s most populous state. All these debates about ‘moderate’ and ‘hardliner’ are a farce designed to make the BJP constituency feel better about themselves. It’s part of the good cop/ bad cop tactic.

To conclude, therefore, I want a terror accused to win, just so that we can, as a nation, get a reality check on where we have landed up. And just in case someone wants to ask me about whether I am afraid, here is my reply: I am so certain about the courage of my convictions, that there is no fear, although I do feel some shame for those who have tied themselves into knots over something about which there should have been no ambiguity. Bring on Pragya and let’s see what happens next.

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Opinion

The ‘unpeople’ of India

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Abdul Khaliq

Muslims now have to live with the bleak truth that the most powerful political party and its ideological parent, with tentacles spread across the country, are pathologically hostile to Muslims.

I fear for our future as a secular, multicultural country that once celebrated a richness of culture and tradition. Till not long ago we affirmed our common humanity even as we celebrated our differences. Our nation represented diversity, kindness, compassion and a revulsion of extremist views. But, over time, our collective souls have been deadened by violence, deepening communal and caste divides and the most perverse thinking. The cosmopolitan spirit has been throttled by hyper nationalism, populism and a deep distrust of the liberal values of tolerance and inclusion. A creeping majoritarianism is spreading across the land.

 

In this overheated, protracted election season, Muslims are up against it, caught between a rock and a hard place. Theirs is an Orwellian world where they are the “unpeople”— a term coined by George Orwell in his scary masterpiece 1984, to define those whose names and existence had been erased because they had incurred “Big Brother’s” ire. Muslims now have to live with the bleak truth that the most powerful political party and its ideological parent, with tentacles spread across the country, are pathologically hostile to Muslims. What makes their plight infinitely worse, is the fact that even the major allegedly secular party has consigned Muslims to social invisibility. Can one trust a party that is afraid to even allude to the Muslims’ problems, let alone address them?

When the PM evoked the 1984 mass slaughter of Sikhs and quoted Rajiv Gandhi’s infamous justification about the inevitable effect of the falling of a big tree, why did the Congress president not hit back by recalling the 2002 Gujarat riots and Modi’s Newtonian observation justifying the killing of hundreds of Muslims as a reaction to an action? He refrained, not for any ethical reason, but simply for fear of being seen as empathetic to Muslims and their problems and of equating the two tragedies. Caught between the flagrant hostility of the right-wing and the fraudulent concern of the secular front, Muslims are India’s outcasts.

In today’s India, where all issues across the political spectrum are seen through the lens of identity politics, Muslims are vilified for their custom, dress and tradition. They are physically attacked for the food they eat, discriminated against in employment, housing, and even civic amenities, and, they are routinely victimised by law-enforcement authorities simply for being Muslim. Social media is awash with the most hateful, stereotypical portrayal of Muslims as terrorist sympathisers, baby producing factories and worse. Although India has been the home of Islam and its adherents for much more than a millennium, Muslims today are constantly pilloried about their loyalty to the nation.

All assessments about Muslims are universalised, in black and white and deeply problematic. In a conversation with two CRPF sub-inspectors who have recently returned from Kashmir (I did not reveal that I was Muslim), I was told that “these Muslims are a nuisance as even their women throw stones at us.” Please note that the stone-throwing by the disgruntled Kashmiris is perceived as a common trait of Muslims — all 190 million of them. Their other complaints were that Muslims support Pakistan and insist on eating only halal meat. When I asked how the civil unrest in Kashmir could be resolved, I got an answer that stunned me: “Make sure that the police force in Kashmir is recruited only from the Shia community and they will teach these Sunnis a lesson!” How well have the British taught us the art of “divide and rule” and of polarising communities! The conversation filled me with anguish at the gratuitous distrust and hatred for Muslims. The animosity runs deep and is expressed by ordinary citizens in a matter-of-fact tone that is unnerving.

I recall clearly the sense of cautious optimism among Muslims when NarendraModi assumed power in 2014. His swearing-in was a strikingly symbolic moment, epitomised by the presence of the Pakistani PM that signalled hope of rapprochement with Pakistan (Indian Muslims know through experience that their well-being is linked to this crucial relationship). The PM represented a more decisive polity that promised an equitable social order expressed most eloquently in the Socratic slogan, “Sabkasaathsabkavikas”. This slogan encapsulated this nation’s foremost mission of fostering social solidarity based on the principle that every human being matters. Minorities felt reassured by the PM’s emphatic assertion in 2015 that “my government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly.” He repeatedly made appeals to preserve our core values of diversity, tolerance and plurality, calling on Hindus and Muslims to work together to fight poverty instead of fighting one another. His stunning embrace of Nawaz Sharif on Christmas Day 2015 filled everyone with hope.

On the ground, however, India began witnessing a deepening cultural mutation as vigilante squads terrorised and lynched Muslims in the name of protecting the cow, launched “gharwapsi” campaigns that have all but ended the freedom to choose one’s faith and used “love jihad” to stifle any kind of solidarity between the two communities. Minorities began to believe that the present dispensation’s aim is to convert India into the Hindu Rashtra of Hindutva where Muslims and Christians would live as second-class citizens. The current election rhetoric has only exacerbated those fears. The BJP LokSabha candidate for Barabanki boasted that “NarendraModi has made attempts to break the morale of Muslims. Vote for Modi if you want to destroy the breed of Muslims.”

We are on the cusp of having a new government at the Centre. Opinion polls and the most reliable — the bookies — predict victory for the NDA, but with a reduced majority. Ironically, the return of Modi as PM is the best hope for peace within the country and the neighbourhood. Imran Khan was right when he said that only Modi could help resolve Kashmir. He is the only leader with the power to rein in the lunatics whose purpose in life is to polarise communities and engage in eternal war with Pakistan. In any case, the new government’s first task would be to combat the overpowering atmosphere of distrust and hate bedevilling society which constitutes the foremost threat to the nation, more so than terrorism. The creation of a truly secular society free of prejudice and discrimination must be the prime mission.

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