In a recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, its authors combined random evaluation, game theory, identity economics etc to conclude that the madrassas or the Muslim religious seminaries do not foster terrorism. The findings of the study go against the inferences of several earlier studies including the 9/11 commission, which portrayed the madrassas to be problematic. We will examine the findings of this study with available empirical information on another day.
For today, let us turn our attention to something that makes madrassas appear perfectly normal, so much more useful than the normal educational centres that even the non-Muslims are flocking to join them.
Sounds strange? Yes, but that’s what has been actually happening in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, for at least the past decade. And opportunity to find a lucrative job in the Gulf among other reasons is pushing even the Hindus to admit themselves in these madrassas.
This isn’t limited to the lower or the middle caste Hindus, but even the Brahmins, considered to be at the top of India’s complicated caste system, too are lining up to admit their children in these seminaries.
Compared to the private colleges, where the free structure is prohibitively high for a lot of Indians, education in madrassas is dirt cheap, with the additional possibilities of getting free books and food. Moreover, madrassas too have remodelled their courses to suit to the needs of the aspiring students. Knowledge of Arabic, Persian, Islamic traditions along with other modern subjects in the syllabus, madrassa education comes handy, especially when looking for jobs in the Gulf and in the Embassies of Muslim countries located in New Delhi.
Under the modernisation of madrassa program introduced by the Indian Government in 1994, courses have been revised to keep in tune with the curriculum prescribed for the normal schools. Students are taught all modern subjects- physics, chemistry, social science, computer applications and mathematics.
Some madrassas have even opened up their curricula further. For example, a madrassa in the state of Uttar Pradesh, abutting Bihar has a Hindu Yoga teacher. Shortly after reciting “Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim” from the Holy Quran, students fall in line for their first lesson of the day – Yoga.
Differences between a degree from a government or private school and a madrassa are gradually coming crashing down. It has opened up avenues for students passing out from madrassas, in stead of limiting their future professional options.
Not surprisingly, this has led to an increase in the enrolment of Hindus at madrassas in Bihar. In 2011, 40 odd Hindu students cleared the Fauquania (class 10) examination and another 16 students cleared the Maulvi (Class 12) examination. Under the Bihar Madrassa Education Board, the nodal body for the madrassas in the state, Hindus can qualify for these degrees under the non-Muslim category. The highest degree granted here is that of Alim, equivalent to the graduation degree.
And successful students, who still can not land up in the Gulf or even in the Embassies in New Delhi, can still look forward to becoming teachers in the schools or even in the madrassas. Bihar has about 4500 madrassas, including over 1110 state-run Islamic schools, whose staff is paid by the government. The state also has over 3000 maktabas or centres for teaching Arabic or Persian.
And for those who still cannot find a job, there is at least a life-long conviction that these centres of learning are not really the factories for mass production of Jihadis, much against the conventional wisdom.
(Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray, a former Deputy Director in India’s National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) is an independent analyst based in Singapore. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @BibhuRoutray)