Madrasas and the Rhetoric of Patriotism
By Ali Raihan, New Age Islam
14 January 2016
It is rather rich of the Muslim Rashtriya Manch, an affiliate of RSS to advice madrasas to hoist the national flag on republic day. There can be no disagreement over whether the madrasas should hoist the national flag or not. Whoever wants should be free to do so. But coming as an advice from an affiliate of the RSS, who has always been reluctant to fly the tricolour on its headquarters is rather ironical. The same advice to the RSS should have been better as the Sangh never hosts the tricolour but rather its own saffron flag on important occasions.
But more importantly, this misdirected advice is a product of a typical mind-set which thinks that anything connected remotely with Muslims should be viewed with suspicion. This mind-set assumes that Muslims are intrinsically anti-national and therefore there should be all the efforts to bring them into the national mainstream by inculcating in them a sense of patriotism and nationalism. Nothing can be farther from truth as far as madrasas are concerned. To be sure, some madrasas have harboured anti-national elements but so have some of the affiliated Hindu Right wing organizations. All madrasas therefore cannot be tarnished with the same brush. There can be individuals who are not attuned to the flavours of the country but such individuals need not necessarily come from a particular religious tradition. Thus to paint all madrasas with the same brush and to advice them to hoist the national flag reeks of a deeper ignorance about the madrasa system. It also tells more about the organization making this demand rather than the madrasas themselves.
The truth is that madrasas are more of an internal articulation within Muslim community. This is to say that madrasas are not concerned about other religious traditions like Hinduism and Christianity but rather more about Muslims of other sectarian affiliations. Most madrasas reflect the ideological orientation of the founder. Thus for a Deobandi madrasa, the enemy is not a Hindu or Christian but a fellow Muslim from other sect such as the Barelwi or the Ahle Hadis. Their whole curriculum is geared towards the refutation of beliefs of these other sectarian affiliations within Muslim society. Thus to understand them as antithetical to other religious traditions or being ant-national is deeply erroneous and is reflective of a deeper ignorance about these institutions.
Those who label them as anti-national also do not know the history of these institutions. Madrasas and Muslim clergy were among the first to give a call of jihad against the British. One can argue with regard to the motive behind such a call, but then different organizations had different reasons to want the British to leave India. The point essentially is that if fighting against the British is the benchmark to judge anyone as nationalist, then madrasas and Muslim clergy absolutely qualify as nationalist organization for their fight against the British. Thus to paint them as anti-national is deeply problematic and can only be done by those who do not know of its history. Those who think that they should be imbued with a sense of patriotism and that this can be done through asking them to hoist the tricolour do not know that their target is already awash with a sense of patriotism since very long. The larger purpose behind such a cajoling can only mean one thing: that the RSS and its affiliates want to paint the Muslims as the other, as the exact obverse of what they think nationalism and patriotism should look like. Only through this politics of othering can they succeed in painting the Muslims as the perpetual outsider and through this nefarious politics can they tell the larger Hindu society that Muslims are not fully integrated into the national mainstream. This is a politics which creates national disharmony rather than further any cause of national integration.
There are a lot of things which need to be changed about the madrasa system today. Their syllabus is outmoded and in need of major revision; what they teach millions of Muslim children can only be termed as violence as it does not prepare them to negotiate with the structures of modernity. Their sectarian outlook must change in a way that there is no teaching of treating Muslims of other sects as potential unbelievers. More fundamentally they need to change the very outlook in which they operate and they should realise that texts written down hundreds of years ago cannot be reliable guides for Muslims of today. But to label them as anti-national or to teach them how to be nationalist is something which should be last on the agenda of everyone who want the madrasa system to respond to present day challenges. The sooner organizations like Muslim Rashtriya Manch realise this, the better it will be for all of us.
A New Age Islam columnist, Ali Raihan is a Delhi based writer.