Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Schools of Religion and Science

By JS Rajput
14 July 2015 |
Large numbers of students and teachers associated with madrasas are in favour of having subjects such as science and maths alongside religious texts as part of the school curriculum. Only vested elements are opposed to it
Once again, the education of Muslim children in madrasas has triggered a debate, this time because of an avoidable and unnecessary step of the Government of Maharashtra, reported in media as: Children in madrasas and Vedic schools that do not teach subjects like science, mathematics, social science and English, should be considered as non-school going. Most of the madrasas do not fulfil the Right To Education stipulations. The fact remains that around 90 per cent of the recognised schools funded by State Governments also do not fulfil the RTE norms! How can a Government school run by a ‘Shiksha Karmi’ claim the status of a recognised school? But they do.
The main issue is widely different: What is being taught in madrasas and does it really respond to the spirit of universal elementary education contained in constitutional stipulations, delineated in the National Policy on Education, regularly reviewed and re-emphasised by bodies like the Central Advisory Board of Education?
Most of the madrasas function as islands of isolation and autonomy, accountable to none, not even to their products after they complete their ‘education and training’. During the last couple of years, I have visited several States including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. Practically, all the teachers would like to receive Government grades, would like to persist with Deeni Talimbut have no compunctions on the teaching of science and mathematics. It was also revealed that most of the madrasas are managed by ‘families’ and they would not like the Government agencies to get any foothold, as that may lead to waning of their ‘total control’.
Schools received whole-hearted support and patronage during the Mughal period. Things changed when Christian missionaries and British authorities brought their own education system and tried to annihilate all that was indigenous in the systems of teaching and learning in India. Madrasas proliferated as a result of the community’s desire to ‘protect and preserve the Islamic knowledge’ under the alien rule. Proselytising activities of Christian missionaries under state patronage made the Islamic clergy come to view the Western knowledge with grave suspicion and apprehension.
They declared science and mathematics as un-Islamic! As there was no question of state support anymore, madrasas turned to community support. It was the right step at that time but, unfortunately, it has not kept pace with times. Madrasas need to be aware of how they came to their present impasse, and how urgent it is to take a fresh look on the needs of children under their charge.
Emphasis on the acquisition of knowledge in the Quran can be visualised by the occurrence of the term Ilm, (knowledge; Gyan), 800 times in its original and derivative meanings. The term madrasa is derived from the root word Darasa, which means to study and seek knowledge. The Quran also says that knowledgeable and ignorant can’t be equal. Islam acknowledges the dependence of excellence of man on knowledge. Contemporary scholars acknowledge that “Science and the Quran are two aspects of the same truth and there is no contradiction between the two.” It is this emphasis that led to magnificent contributions of the Islamic civilisation to human knowledge of the forces of nature.
The exhortation, “The word of wisdom is a believer’s lost capital, so, wherever he finds it, he is most deserving for it.” It implies that wherever one finds opportunity to gain intelligence and wisdom, the opportunity should never be missed. In other words it is also popularly recalled: ‘Seek knowledge even if it is (available) in China!’ Such a strong tradition of knowledge quest can just not think of imparting the knowledge of science and mathematics, including information and communicating technology, to its young children and deprive them of being partners with the other religious traditions?
In 1991-92, under a Ministry of Human Resource Development project, 18 Deeni Talim madrasas were approached to impart separately, and additionally, education in science and mathematics. All of these, without any hesitation, welcomed the initiative enthusiastically. There could be several such initiatives.
A two-pronged strategy could bring encouraging results. First, the state must extend its outreach to see that children from deprived sections of the Muslim community have easy access to ‘functional’ schools that have the necessary facilities. Second, the community is to be convinced of the education being really ‘free’ and of good quality that shall open up wider avenues to the child.
The school shall not interfere with the Deeni Talim and shall be ready to make necessary logistic adjustments. No community can deprive its children of the constitutional guarantee of getting education as per the state prescriptions. At the same time, no community can be restricted from imparting its religious education to its children through its own resources, again, within the confines of the Constitution.