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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: [email protected])

 


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Opinion

Why EVMs must go

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By G. Sampath

The recent Assembly elections — the last major polling exercise before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls — were not devoid of Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) malfunctions.

Though the discourse at present makes no distinction between a ‘malfunction’ (which suggests a technical defect) and ‘tampering’ (manipulation aimed at fraud), there were several reports of misbehaving EVMs. Alarmingly, in Madhya Pradesh alone, the number of votes polled did not match the number of votes counted in 204 out of the 230 constituencies. The Election Commission’s (EC) explanation is that the votes counted is the actual number of votes polled — a circular logic that precludes cross-verification.

 

A discrepancy of even one vote between votes polled and votes counted is unacceptable. This is not an unreasonably high standard but one followed by democracies worldwide. It might therefore be helpful to briefly look beyond the question that has hijacked the EVM debate — of how easy or tough it is to hack these machines — and consider the first principles of a free and fair election.

The reason a nation chooses to be a democracy is that it gives moral legitimacy to the government. The fount of this legitimacy is the people’s will. The people’s will is expressed through the vote, anonymously (the principle of secret ballot). Not only must this vote be recorded correctly and counted correctly, it must also be seen to be recorded correctly and counted correctly. The recording and counting process must be accessible to, and verifiable by, the public. So transparency, verifiability, and secrecy are the three pillars of a free and fair election.

Regardless of whether one is for or against EVMs, there is no getting away from the fact that any polling method must pass these three tests to claim legitimacy. Paper ballots obviously do. The voter can visually confirm that her selection has been registered, the voting happens in secret, and the counting happens in front of her representative’s eyes.

EVMs, however, fail on all three, as established by a definitive judgment of the German constitutional court in 2009. The court’s ruling forced the country to scrap EVMs and return to paper ballot. Other technologically advanced nations such as the Netherlands and Ireland have also abandoned EVMs.

If we take the first two criteria, EVMs are neither transparent nor verifiable. Neither can the voter see her vote being recorded, nor can it be verified later whether the vote was recorded correctly. What is verifiable is the total number of votes cast, not the choice expressed in each vote. An electronic display of the voter’s selection may not be the same as the vote stored electronically in the machine’s memory. This gap was why the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) was introduced.

But VVPATs solve only one-half of the EVMs’ transparency/verifiability problem: the voting part. The counting part remains an opaque operation. If anyone suspects a counting error, there is no recourse, for an electronic recount is, by definition, absurd. Some believe the VVPATs can solve this problem too, through statistics.

At present, the EC’s VVPAT auditing is restricted to one randomly chosen polling booth per constituency. In a recent essay, K. Ashok Vardhan Shetty, a former IAS officer, demonstrates that this sample size will fail to detect faulty EVMs 98-99% of the time. He also shows that VVPATs can be an effective deterrent to fraud only on the condition that the detection of even one faulty EVM in a constituency must entail the VVPAT hand-counting of all the EVMs in that constituency. Without this proviso, VVPATs would merely provide the sheen of integrity without its substance.

The third criterion is secrecy. Here too, EVMs disappoint. With the paper ballot, the EC could mix ballot papers from different booths before counting, so that voting preferences could not be connected to a given locality. But with EVMs, we are back to booth-wise counting, which allows one to discern voting patterns and renders marginalised communities vulnerable to pressure. Totaliser machines can remedy this, but the EC has shown no intent to adopt them.

So, on all three counts — transparency, verifiability and secrecy — EVMs are flawed. VVPATs are not the answer either, given the sheer magnitude of the logistical challenges. The recent track record of EVMs indicates that the number of malfunctions in a national election will be high. For that very reason, the EC is unlikely to adopt a policy of hand-counting all EVMs in constituencies where faulty machines are reported, as this might entail hand-counting on a scale that defeats the very purpose of EVMs. And yet, this is a principle without which the use of VVPATs is meaningless.

Despite these issues, EVMs continue to enjoy the confidence of the EC, which insists that Indian EVMs, unlike the Western ones, are tamper-proof. But this is a matter of trust. Even if the software has been burnt into the microchip, neither the EC nor the voter knows for sure what software is running in a particular EVM. One has to simply trust the manufacturer and the EC. But as the German court observed, the precondition of this trust is the verifiability of election events, whereas in the case of EVMs, “the calculation of the election result is based on a calculation act which cannot be examined from outside”.

While it is true that the results come quicker and the process is cheaper with EVMs as compared to paper ballot, both these considerations are undeniably secondary to the integrity of the election. Another argument made in favour of the EVM is that it eliminates malpractices such as booth-capturing and ballot-box stuffing. In the age of the smartphone, however, the opportunity costs of ballot-box-stuffing and the risk of exposure are prohibitively high. In contrast, tampering with code could accomplish rigging on a scale unimaginable for booth-capturers. Moreover, it is nearly impossible to detect EVM-tampering. As a result, suspicions of tampering in the tallying of votes — as opposed to malfunction in registering the votes, which alone is detectable — are destined to remain in the realm of speculation. The absence of proven fraud might save the EVM for now, but its survival comes at a dangerous cost — the corrosion of people’s faith in the electoral process.

Yet there doesn’t have to be incontrovertible evidence of EVM-tampering for a nation to return to paper ballot. Suspicion is enough, and there is enough of it already. As the German court put it, “The democratic legitimacy of the election demands that the election events be controllable so that… unjustified suspicion can be refuted.” The phrase “unjustified suspicion” is pertinent. The EC has always maintained that suspicions against EVMs are unjustified. Clearly, the solution is not to dismiss EVM-sceptics as ignorant technophobes. Rather, the EC is obliged to provide the people of India a polling process capable of refuting unjustified suspicion, as this is a basic requirement for democratic legitimacy, not an optional accessory.

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Opinion

Doctor to serve the Humanity but ……….

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By Sheikh Umar Ahmad

Doctors profession is regarded as a noble profession world over and is given due dignity and honor in global community for their selfless service to humankind.Every educated person aims to become a doctor in order to serve humanity in best and better of their capacities, but as it is, everybody can’t become a doctor and there are other professions as well to serve the humanity in general. Among all other professions, the medicine is regarded as one of the coveted both in terms of requirement of its service as well in terms of monetary benefits. This profession is only among existing ones that cater to global community involvement as well as service dissemination. Every person has expectations from doctors to deliver in close coordination anytime, rather 24*7 when the need arises without any internal or external excuses, including personal ones. There is a deeper dissatisfaction & grudges when any person from medicine community refuses any other person of consultation when it is time for them to serve. If they are unable to deliver to society with utmost satisfaction, then their purpose of serving the society through this profession only does not hold any merit. A similar kind of episode some days before than happened at state’s premier maternity hospital, so called as Lal Ded has shaken the whole Kashmiriyat that is otherwise known world over for their hospitality and generous behavior but some doctors who in literal sense are there to grab the greater public shearing and for their mere monetary benefits, have deceived and decimated the expectations of one of economically, socially and educationally backward section of our society who yet hold equal weightage at the measures table when it comes to Kashmir diversity and harmonious ethnicity.

Their refusal to admit a women in labor pain and then her parturition at a roadside, has shackled the immediate conscience of whole educated lot of Kashmir who now think that there should be a humanity course for every doctor before only he is allowed to practice medicine. A doctor in true essence should be ready to work in any society, with any person, and to serve any other person in need irrespective of his caste, creed, colour, religion, sect and above all ethnicity. If a doctor is unable to work in any multi-cultural society, he loses his position in the eyes of society to be called as a doctor. This person dashes the hopes of weaker section of society as they think that such persons can never pay attention towards them being economically and culturally senile. The death of a newborn on the roadside at Srinagar area speak volumes about those gross irregularities that still exist in best of our essential & emergency services. This should not have been the case and nothing such things happen in world over but are common in Kashmir only and there is a greater need to overhaul the whole system so to debug these bogus and nefarious elements in society that tarnish the whole image.

 

There should have been a commission in place to look at those gross malicious activities thatdiscord the whole organisational setup. Now as we know, the enquiry will be put in place and at the end what will be seen, nothing but the ball will be put in the court of victim by falsifying & negating the whole episode. The little one has gone now and no one on earth can bring him back. This episode brings this message forth, that doctor being the representative guardian of life our earth, protect lives every day in every part of world and there is a greater sense of satisfaction and this dealing makes the person feel happy internally & eternally for this greatest benefit to mankind. But for us, it is high time now, that we repent of our past sins and relook at our duties to disseminate it properly at every time it is required. Every person will be suitably rewarded for his good deeds and kind gestures that he has done on humanity and doctors are none as exception.

They are the best representatives of selfless service and moral attitude, and kind reflection of ultimate hope. State administration in Kashmir at the helm of affairs need to reaffirm their responsibilities and duties, so that utmost discipline is maintained in hospitals both from public & doctors end. If public outrages over anything that may be the reflection and agony of intermix of pain and grief. It is the responsibility of doctors on duty to deal with those situations quite humbly and morally, so that the professionals deliver their duties in its true essence and totally error free. There should be limited biasness in dealing with culturally and economically down-centric groups of society. We need to be first ambassadors of humanity before guardians of life through practising medicine to protect the lives of people. We need to safeguard the hopes and expectations of our ethnic groups before we deliver our best to save the lives.

These episodes nevertheless should be repeated in the times to come, else this profession will loseits dignity and honor world over for not withstanding with the requirements of and fulfilling the criteria of being a doctor humanely. There are doctors who treat animals even, this never mean that we need to make an animal human first to be treated by a human doctor as animals are animals, rather we need to be real doctors to understand the physiology of animals before only we can treat them. This is the only message I can conclude with… ! Hence a change is imperative.

(The author is Doctoral Research Scholar, currently working as DST INSPIRE Fellow at CSIR Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine Jammu)

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Opinion

The angry Pakistani

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By Arifa Noor

IT takes an outsider to point out the anger within us. Last week, a former US ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, spoke at an event, arguing that our anger prevents us from telling the good story about Pakistan to the world.

It reminded me of an interaction that took place nearly 20 years ago. Back in 2000, a soft-spoken Indian professor from Delhi had asked why the Pakistani people were always so pessimistic about their country — present and future — despite the fact that till the 1990s, Pakistan had always enjoyed better social and economic indicators (including a higher growth rate) than India. It was a question I had no answer to. The hostile questions about Kargil and military rule were easier to answer during that trip to India than this gentle insight and a sense of bewilderment about our state of being.

 

But since that morning in New Delhi, there have been so many moments when the professor’s question has come back to mind. Countless memories that came spilling out echoed what former ambassador Munter said. Some as clear as the question asked by the Indian professor; some a little less sharp. But each one testifies to our despair, anger or lack of confidence in what is known as Pakistan.

We have been living in an age of anger, decades before Pankaj Mishra wrote about it.

Fast forward from 2000 to the last months of 2007 or the beginning of 2008: a faded memory, I am unsure of the exact month, but it was during the days of that heady yet difficult transition from dictatorship to democracy. Musharraf was fighting for his survival. Benazir Bhutto and the Sharifs were clawing their way back to relevance (followed by the devastating assassination of the former). A lawyers’ movement had caught Pakistan’s imagination. And there were terrorist attacks galore.

In the midst of these trying yet hopeful times, an op-ed had discussed Pakistan as a possible failed state. I was told that the writer had gotten a call from an amused friend in Afghanistan who said that despite all that had happened in and to Afghanistan, no Afghan would ever call his country a ‘failed state’.

We, of course, have used this term so often for the country that many of us believe it is a failed state — despite the term’s problematic origins as one used by Washington to describe countries it ‘disapproved’ of rather than an empirically established concept.

Then there are jumbled up memories of various track II dialogues. Each such seminar or conference is coupled with at least one discussion (on the sidelines) of how the Indians (and more recently the Afghans) present a united stand unlike Pakistanis. There is always a sense of frustration at how we end up helping ‘their’ cause rather than supporting our interest.

Why do we do this, as the professor asked?

Perhaps it stems from our long bouts of dictatorships. Denied their due and rightful say in policymaking has made entire swathes of the populace angry, hostile and critical of the state. They are angry at being left out: it’s an anger that is accompanied by a sense of helplessness at the direction that the country and society have taken. And in recent times, too, there is a sense of outrage because course correction (if there is any in their opinion) has not included their input. Hence, many refuse to believe that there has been any course correction, or criticise it for moving too slowly.

This is why perhaps the anger is most palpable when it comes to foreign policy, especially relations with India, and the radicalism that has engulfed state and society.

Being denied a voice, there is little left to do but express rage at the state, what it has come to stand for and to also conclude that there can be little hope for the future. (Pakistan has not just been at the crossroads ever since I can remember, it has also forever been in danger of being torn apart).

The rage has gotten worse post-2008, for the hope that accompanied the transition then has turned bitter. We thought that the worst was over, that ‘true’ democracy had returned to Pakistan and politicians would now rule — fixing all that had gone wrong. The 10 years of exile and powerlessness had also given the politicos a sheen of competence and maturity. But it was yet another shab gazida sahar (night-bitten dawn).

Ten years later, the anger has grown for it seems that decision making was never transferred. But because the hope this time was greater, so has the rage been too. And perhaps because the urban middle class fought for this transition in greater numbers than before, the disappointment is greater. They are angry for they cannot see the change they had fought for or protested against.

The judiciary turned out to have feet of clay. The military didn’t really share as much as they had promised. And the politicians didn’t deliver the reform or show any inclination for democratic norms once in power. And we continue to rail, against all of them or the one we had placed most hope in, or the one we hated most.

In addition, the rage has turned into hatred of the institution that has disappointed us the most. Indeed, the anger is expressed with malicious glee at times: the Sahiwal incident is a case in point, as was the controversial statement by a former high court judge, Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, or any terrorist attack which reveals chinks in the armour of the security forces. And, of course, the various JITs revealing the shenanigans of our political ruling class.

It is as if we have no option but to express our rage, so all energy is poured into it.

But expressing outrage, however cathartic it may be, is not a strategy, which is what Cameron Munter was trying to say.

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