Madrasas Must Weed Out Violent Passages from Islamic Books before they ask for ‘Sovereignty’

Muslim students in a Madrasa. (Photo for Representational Purpose Only)

“An attack on the sovereignty of madrasas” is how the All India Muslim Personal Law Board secretary described the suggestion to bring the Muslim religious schools under the Right to Education (RTE) Act. Madrasas’ autonomy and independence guaranteed under Articles 29 and 30 of the Indian Constitution will be threatened, Khalid Saifullah Rahmani said.

But, the question is what have Indian madrasas, where more than seven million children go for basic education, made of their autonomy? Even if one concedes that it is okay for them to teach just Islamiyaat, they must be asked what brand of Islam are they teaching these impressionable children?

The concern was also flagged by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights when last year it proposed bringing madrasas under the RTE to ensure that the children didn’t miss out on their right to education. Children going to madrasas were “as good as out-of-school kids”, the panel said.

I will give just one example and ask madrasa authorities if they are in right minds to be imparting such incendiary ideas to our children and that too in the 21st century. That these teachings cannot be directly linked to any violence yet is beside the point – a ghettoised mind is more toxic than a ghetto. Something that hasn’t happened yet can happen tomorrow.

There is a book called Islami Akhlaq-wo-Aadaab (Islamic behaviour and good manners) for teenage students and part of the course for Aalimiyat (an equivalent of Class 12). Written by Maulana Amjad Ali Azmi Rizvi, this is actually a simplified and summarised version of the 16th volume of Bahar-e-Shariyat, a book of Islamic jurisprudence that is a required study for every Aalim, a scholar trained in Islamic law.

The book claims to seek reforms in the Muslim society. In its chapter on an Islamic dictum Amr bil Maroof wa Nahi anil Munkar (Enjoining Good and Forbidding Evil), it says:

“In attacking mushrikeen (polytheists, usually and wrongly translated as idolaters) all by oneself, there is a possibility that one will be killed but if there is a greater possibility that one will kill their man or injure or defeat them, there is no harm in attacking alone; but if there is a greater possibility that they will not be harmed or defeated, then one should not attack. If there is a possibility that when one stops fasiq (depraved) Muslims from committing sins one would get killed and will not be able to harm the debauched Muslims, still it is best to stop them from sinning, (although not stopping them is also permitted, (Fatawa Alamgiri), because getting killed in this venture does not go in vain. It may not appear to be fruitful at this time but in future it will bring good results (Page 268).”

 [I have tried to be as close to the Urdu text as possible in this translation, even at the cost of some clarity]

This is so utterly senseless that anyone reading this might wonder if I am quoting it out of context. There isn’t any context. This is the last paragraph of the chapter and the one before it gives advice on reporting a theft.

The religious ruling is given as if Muslims regularly need advice on whether, and under what circumstances, it is worth risking life while trying to kill a mushrik or stopping a “wicked Muslim” from committing a sin. This would make sense if one were to assume that Muslims risk their lives in these pursuits, as routinely as, say, they go out to buy vegetables.

Fortunately, that is not the case. But, that is no argument for complacency. Islamic theology, as it is taught unabashedly and senselessly, is full of violence, most of it against Muslims who dare to think a new thought.

Fresh thinking was banned in the 9th Century CE. There are thousand and one grounds for declaring Muslims kafir (infidel) or murtad (heretic, apostate) and sentence them to death. This sentence can be carried out by any Muslim in the absence of an Islamic court.

As for non-Muslims, including those whom Quran considers Ahl-e-Kitab (People of the Book) and deserving the most intimate relations with Muslims, theology considers them permanent denizens of hell. No wonder most religious Muslims conversant with their theology feel nothing but contempt for non-Muslims and can have nothing but reverence for those who are engaged in despatching them to their permanent abode.

A distinction should, however, be made between Islam and Islamic Sharia (laws) or Islam and Islamic Fiqh (jurisprudence) or Islam and its understanding or Kalam (theology). If Muslims want to live honourably in today’s closely connected world, they have to work towards evolving a new jurisprudence and theology of peace and pluralism and gender justice to replace the theological texts that encourage violence, supremacism, xenophobia, intolerance and gender injustice.

At the very least and as an urgent measure, I would request madrasa authorities to weed out from textbooks passages like the one above that beget murderous violence as well as irrelevancies like how to treat female prisoners of war and concubines, etc.

Our ulema cannot be unaware that Muslim youth in large numbers are joining jihadist groups around the world today. We should have been deeply worried when the first time a Sunni Muslim went to a Shia mosque in Pakistan, blew himself up to kill fellow namazis, considering them apostate, and thinking he was doing a pious act for which he will be rewarded by God with a place in heaven. This was several years ago. Today, we have become a society which can produce a whole army of suicide bombers practically anywhere in the world. The blame lies squarely with the kind of education imparted in our madrasas.

RTE will ensure a modern curriculum so that children are more attuned to the world around them. They will study what students in other schools are being taught and will not feel left out once they leave madrasas. A modern education will equip them to a world where technology is shaping lives and changing it at a breath taking pace.

Madrasa education is a serious violation of the human rights of Muslim children. Our children and the world at large deserve better. We simply cannot live in the 21st Century with a 7th-Century mindset.

(This article was first published in New Age Islam)

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