15 August, 2020

Blog

Madrasas Need Reforming & Not Closure

By Ameer Ali

Dr. Ameer Ali

In a short piece titled, “Modernising Madrasas for New Paideia”, (Colombo Telegraph, 6 February 2019) this author brought home the need for reforms in this historic institution of theological learning in order to make that learning relevant to modern context, and pointed out the obstruction from orthodoxy to bring any changes to a fossilised curricula and teaching. Once again, on the eve of a General Election and as part of a wave of anti-Muslim hysteria, populist demagogues in saffron robes are calling the President and his government to ban the madrasas, Qazi courts and the burqa within one week or, face a renewed campaign to boycott Muslim businesses. So far, and sensibly, nothing has eventuated. However, this politico-clerical demagogism arises from a Buddhist supremacist fringe that not only wants to downsize the Muslim community in number, but also to destroy its economy and craves to homogenise the cultural landscape of this country – all on the basis of a narrowly conceived sectarian virtuosity and ethno-religious hegemony.  

One wonders whether these firebrands have any knowledge about the history and development of madrasas, a unique institution in Islam, whose origins, according to one source, goes back to the days of the Prophet, when the first madrasa was founded on an estate belonged to one of his followers, Zaid bin Akram, near a hill named Safa in Medina. Over the centuries, as Islam spread to the four corners of the world, the number of madrasas multiplied and quite a few among them became world famous and produced a galaxy of intellectual savants and great scientific minds whose thoughts and writings set the edifice for a rationalist wave of thought, which later led to the European Enlightenment, from which modernity was born. Had the saffron clad ignoramuses studied that part of history, they would be agitating not for the closure but for the recreation of madrasas of such quality and prestige.

Yet, they cannot be blamed for the current disrepute into which madrasa education had fallen. True, madrasas have earned a notoriety in the 21st century and are viewed as centres of religious extremism and violent jihadism, thanks to Ronald Regan’s war against the “evil empire”, and US’s lackey Saudi Arabia that wanted to spread its Wahhabism. These two, with weapons and training from the first and petro-dollars from the second, entered into and converted many of the then existing Pakistani and Afghan madrasas, but also established hundreds of new ones to produce not learned scholars in Islam, but mujahideen or freedom fighters to drive away the Soviet Communists from Afghanistan, and make US the only remaining super power. Today’s Taliban with whom Trump is trying to negotiate are the product of US-Saudi “eternal friendship”. Unexpectedly, when the same mujahideen forces, elated by a shared victory against Soviet troops, turned their weapons and training against the original sponsors, the entire institution of madrasa came to be portrayed by US and its allies as manufacturers of terrorism and terrorists. Madrasas suddenly became institutions preaching Holy War, enemies of world peace, hotbeds of Islamic religious extremism and therefore demanded to be shut down.      

It is the same sentiment and misconception that is now being articulated in Sri Lanka by maverick Buddhist monks. They are indeed a minority. However and sadly, the Easter Sunday infamy of April 2019, engineered by a lunatic bunch of murderers led by their leader Zahran – a madrasa dropout, and members of his Wahhabi National Tawheed Jamaat, has given these saffron warriors a powerful ammunition to attack not only the madrasas but along with them the entire Muslim community and its other identity markers. It should be reminded that Zahran was not the product of any madrasa, but a contumacious truant thrown out of a madrasa, who tried to become an autodidact in Islam, went on the wrong way, dragging along with him a group of misguided youngsters some of whom were quite affluent and Western educated, and ended up as a mass murderer.   

Madrasa education in Sri Lanka is more than a century old, and, over that period, they have remained as centres of hardened orthodoxy refusing to undertake changes both in techniques of teaching and content of syllabus so that, like in the glorious days of Islamic civilization, they could produce generations of scholars and critical thinkers, who would be multi-skilled, remain economically independent and knowledgeable enough to respond to a myriad of challenges emanating from a rapidly changing world of science and technology.  

Unfortunately, with impressive buildings and uniformly attired staff and students, madrasas today have become institutions of transmission centres of yesterday’s knowledge and not laboratories of modern research and knowledge creation. With rare exceptions, madrasa products in Sri Lanka are pious agents of orthodoxy rather than creative interlocutors with modernity. They summarise, memorise and regurgitate rather than innovate, interpret and improvise. Critical thinking is not a discipline taught in any of the madrasas. In short, what they produce are religious functionaries, officiating as imams in the mosques delivering sermons with illogical and non-contextual content, and teachers and trainers of religious rituals. Hardly any of them today are able to have access to the rich and growing source of multilingual output in Islamic history, philosophy and critical ideas that are pouring out from modern research centres.  Pathetically, in one of the madrasas that I visited in Sri Lanka, its principal did not even allow his students to read newspapers, let alone books outside theological texts of yester decades if not centuries. 

This does not mean that madrasas should be banned. Even with the prevailing drawbacks, there is a positive side that justifies their continuous existence. The piety, discipline and morals imparted through madrasa education are a counterweight to a number of social evils that had crept into our schools, colleges and universities of secular education. Moreover, quite a majority of madrasa students like Buddhist kids in pirivinas come from poorer economic background and without the madrasas the chances of these kids becoming misfits in society and falling on the wrong side of the law is quite high.      

Reforming madrasa education should not be a piecemeal affair, but part of a systemic overhaul of Islamic education imparted in elementary maktabs, Muslim schools and even universities. It should be undertaken not by politicians but by Muslim intellectuals and academics who understand the need of the time and the environment in which Muslims live. Once the scheme of reforms is worked out and drafted, it should then be submitted to the government in power through political leaders for approval and implementation. This is the only way to keep at bay the howling voices calling for the closure of this historic institution. In the meantime, an organization like the ACJU, which is part of the problem, should either cooperate or stand aside.    

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 20
    12

    The fact that madrassas permits only boys tells it’s own story. The ratio of men to women in any country is 49/51. Meaning that there more women in the world that men. The fact that Islamic doctrine enslaves women to the role of cook, house keeper , wife and mother reflects the backwardness of muslims. There are 54 nations professing Islam. Yet no one wants to migrate to Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Bangladesh, Turkey, Algeria or somalia, or Tunisia. Even ameer Ali has fled to Australia. A country that was unknown to Muhammad when he wrote the Koran in the 7th century. We live in the 21st century where you can earn a living from your phone, learn any subject and earn a degree from the internet. The madrassa system is going to produce even more backward muslims.

    • 14
      8

      I wonder if Daham Pasalas, Sunday schools etc. have helped to produce wiser people?

      • 0
        3

        SJ,
        .
        ‘I wonder if Daham Pasalas, Sunday schools etc. have helped to produce wiser people?’
        .
        They may not produce wiser people but they don’t produce suicide bombers and terrorists either.

    • 3
      7

      not only madrassas but Muslim international schools also need to be stopped to avoid mono-culture.. most such schools in dehiwela and suburbs are not even staffed by qualified teachers..

      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/fundamentalism-creeps-into-muslim-international-schools/

    • 10
      0

      “The madrassa system is going to produce even more backward muslims.”

      What has the Sri Lankan Education system produced with its thousands of Schools, Universities, Law Colleges, other Professional Bodies and various Institutes of Learning?

      The Schools in the North which boasted of a large number of entrants to Universities and also supplied a large number of Office employees produced Terrorists who plunged the country into a 3 Decade war. Before that, it was the the Sinhala Educated youths who engulfed the country in fear and death for a few years.

      During the time when there was No Terror but Peace and Normalcy, the country has been led by qualified PMs and Presidents and many Old Royalists. Thomians, Anandians and from other top schools being Cabinet Ministers and holding other Top Posts. Where have such Qualified people produced by the Education System taken the country 7 Decades after Independence? And is there any glimmer of hope for the future?

  • 14
    12

    Madrassas will never be reformed. The only alternative is to close them. If they are not shut, growing Arabisation of Islam in Sri Lanka will lead to conflict on a huge scale. http://www.sundaytimes.lk/190505/news/unravelling-growing-arabisation-348076.html

  • 11
    14

    There is a news in today’s BBC web. A Thunisian Girl(woman) wrote a poem about Covid-19(Corona Virus). The poem asking public to follow the usual precaution of Covid-19, like washing hands, Blah, Blah……. To write the poem, she used Koranic Language style. Thunisian court convicted the girl & sending her to prison. Is that because of she is girls or using any language is in any way blasphemy? Come on man! Give me a break! Kany Ayatollahs’ Sinhala Buddhism is better that Thunisian Islam.

    • 4
      3

      Could the link to the BBC web story be provided to know more details?

      • 7
        5

        This is the story:
        A blogger in Tunisia has been sentenced to six months in prison after sharing a satirical post about Covid-19 written in the form of a verse from the Koran.
        Emna Charqui, 28, was arrested in May for sharing a message on Facebook urging people to follow hygiene rules in the style of Islam’s holy book.
        Charqui said in a recent interview that she had no intention of provoking shock, but found the post amusing.
        She was found guilty in a Tunis court of “inciting hatred between religions”.
        She is not yet in custody as she intends to file an appeal.
        *
        Any intelligent reader can notice the stark difference between the BBC text and its rephrasing above. There is mischief.
        *
        Importantly, BBC story said nothing about a sentence; and she has not gone to prison yet.

        • 5
          6

          ” A blogger in Tunisia has been sentenced to six months in prison after sharing a satirical post about Covid-19 written in the form of a verse from the Koran. “ – BBC
          That is the heading itself.
          “Importantly, BBC story said nothing about a sentence; – Jobless Corona Virus commentators

          Does that mean Thunisian government reversed the Islamic provision the court used to send the girl to prison?

          What is the stark difference you found?
          Do you read English?
          Stupid!

        • 4
          4

          “The prosecution of Emna is yet another illustration of how, despite Tunisia’s democratic progress, the authorities continue to use repressive law to undermine freedom of expression,” Amnesty’s North Africa director Amna Guellali said.

          Ms Guellali said the right to freedom of expression extended to what “some might consider shocking or offensive” and called on the Tunisian government to amend the law “so they are compliant with human rights”.

          • 7
            3

            You had cheated, not unusually.
            Just compare the two texts referred to.

            • 1
              3

              Are you such an idiot and always or usually you are getting fooled by ordinary person like me?
              Or do you mean that your dope is coming down now and read BBC’s news again; you could not see any stark difference that hope to create.
              ” intelligent reader can notice the stark difference If you have learned English at any level in any time in your life, can you write down the meaning for the word stark and substantiate the use of it comparing my summary of the news with the news itself? If you try to be slippery king, you think people going to believe that you are not a Badiyudeen’s standardization PhD.
              Check your venomous tongue before you call somebody a cheater! It is very bad you used that to say me.

        • 4
          2

          On 2 May, Charqui shared a post on social media mimicking a Koranic verse. In it, the text called for people to wash their hands and observe social distancing in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

          The image was reportedly designed and originally shared by an Algerian atheist who lives in France.

          Charqui’s post appeared during the fasting month of Ramadan and while Tunisia was still largely under lockdown.

          Charqui is not the creator. She is only blogged some others creation, who are not within the reach of the hand of Tunisia(Like CT commentators to Appe Aanduwa) to crush so it crushed Charqui.

          • 4
            0

            Do not beat about the bush
            Compare the two texts and say if there is a serious difference or not.

          • 4
            0

            Thunisian court convicted the girl & sending her to prison (BBC as retold)
            She is not yet in custody as she intends to file an appeal. (BBC as accessed direct)
            Scream and shout as much as you need, but the distortion stays

            • 0
              0

              “Scream and shout as much as you need, but the distortion stays
              There is no distortion; neither distortion is justification or substitution for “stark difference”. Your extreme deficiency to understand English or law is not going to clear her and keep her out of prison.

              You can frame anyway you want. But, now she is guilty under the Tunisian court verdict. There is no other verdict available for her in Tunisia. Tunisians court is sending her to prison. That is the wording BBC using. Read the news. BBS is not trying to misrepresent the court verdict like your fraudulent argument. There is no injunction to stop the court from sending her to prison either. She is not yet picked not by prison department (Neither that can reverse her guilt). It could be because the pressure of the involved NGOs. That is absolutely undue influence on court, like in Lankawe all criminals go to Hotel Hospital, not to prison. That is called impunity.
              Appeal verdict a matter for the future. Until that she should wait in prison unless court grants a stay on prison. Court has legal basis to convict. It is extremely any appeal verdict come out as lower court judges made mistake on law. If appeal goes against verdict it is on technical grounds so the appeal doesn’t set precedent, only lower court guilty verdict.
              NOW SHE IS GUILTY”

  • 5
    4

    This raises the general question how a non Muslim unable to read Arabic can differentiate between a moderate Muslim and an extremist? I mean how do WE know it is Zahran or Dr Ameer Ali who is interpreting Holy Quaran correctly.? While Dr Ameer Ali is an English educated person living in Australia Zahran at least is a dropout from a Madrassi. I believe this probably is the reason why our Police officers were not very enthusiastic in arresting him though some Muslims had complained about him. While for some Muslims Zahran was not a proper Muslim for Zaharan these Muslims are not interpreting Islam correctly. Our Police officers are unable to decide between the two.
    WE HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL A BOMB IS EXPLODED TO IDENTIFY AN EXTREMIST.

    Soma

    • 1
      2

      ” I believe this probably is the reason why our Police officers were not very enthusiastic in arresting him though some Muslims had complained about him.
      Somu,
      You still have not found out the correct reason why your police don’t arrest the criminals but arrest the innocents Tamils and keep them inside without any case for 25-30 years? That is because your police’s racism and Arabian money that buys and sells your donkey ministers.

  • 7
    7

    There are 54 nations professing Islam. Yet no one wants to migrate to Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Bangladesh, Turkey, Algeria or somalia, or Tunisia. Even ameer Ali has fled to Australia.

    Australia and All other coutries are accepting muslims is proof that islam is peace, and George W Bush has placed a quran in white house means it is introduction of islam to Americans, are living in Afganistan Iraq
    Like brithish lived in sri lanka.

  • 6
    6

    My observation is that since the advent of Madrasa’s in SL there has been a push among followers of the Islamic religion to create a separate new identity for themselves based on the Arabic culture. This has led to a new dress code,Arabic lessons,street signs in Arabic etc etc ., culminating in the senseless slaughter of hundreds of innocents in April last year .

    Little wonder then , that Madrasa’s have been banned in many non Islamic countries of the world. Sri Lanka should look at this phenomenon as a potential threat to the peaceful co-existence of her citizens and its’ national security .

  • 8
    2

    Ameer Ali

    “Reforming madrasa education…………..” . “It should be undertaken not by politicians but by Muslim intellectuals and academics who understand the need of the time and the environment in which Muslims live.”

    When are you coming to Sri Lanka to do the job? You should KNOW that it is Your job to implement your ideas and Nobody will bother about doing that for you. STOP Wasting time by lecturing to Sri Lanka

  • 8
    2

    Ameer Ali

    “Reforming madrasa education…………..” . “It should be undertaken not by politicians but by Muslim intellectuals and academics who understand the need of the time and the environment in which Muslims live.”

    When are you coming to Sri Lanka to do the job? You should KNOW that it is Your job to implement your ideas and Nobody will bother about doing that for you. STOP Wasting time by lecturing to Sri Lankan Muslims from Down Under. Either come to Sri Lanka to implement your ideas or just Shut Up.

    • 0
      0

      M
      One has every right to comment on any public matter.
      There are polite ways to say that an idea is impractical or even absurd.
      Even Ameer Ali should avoid terns like ignoramus to refer to persons who are ill informed on a specific subject.
      To ask people to ‘shut up’ is not very civilized. In fact it can mean an inability to meet an argument.
      You are among sober commentators despite expressing string views.

  • 1
    0

    SJ

    Thanks for your observations. I have commented several times about Ameer Ali’s lecturing to us from Australia. Being a highly qualified man, he should have paid heed to my comments. But, he continues regardless without even bothering to reply to the comments, not only about his lecturing from Far, Far away, but also on other matters. More over, through his writings, he also creates the opportunity for some Islamaphobes to attack Islam and Muslims Needlessly which also I have pointed out.

    Therefore, I used the two words you complained of, partly in desperation and partly as an alternative for him without his needlessly letting down the Community as a whole. I hope you will understand.

  • 0
    0

    Ameer Ali

    I just learnt that a group of Muslim Professionals and Academics, including Professors, have already gone through the subject of Madrasah Education, prepared a Report and submitted it, in February last, to the Dept. of Muslim Affairs and relevant Authorities including the ACJU. That should be some consolation to you, though the local Professionals and Academics have finished the job even before you could think about it.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 7 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.