I joined the madarssa in 1997 and finished my studies in 2007. For the reason that my Alma mater is not characteristically different from all other institutions of the same ilk, I would not like to mention any name, thereby proving that I am not pursuing any personal vendetta.
Three days after I started learning sarf (mutations and variations in Arabic verb) there were unexpected mutations in my life as well. Far beyond my expectations of its sanctity, the religious school remained a dark corner of vicarious activities. There were pan masala chewing ones, homosexuals, thieves, con artists, and even those who knew prostitutes around there and paid them weekly visits on Fridays on which we were off (And that guy started to lead people in prayer the very next year). Ten years were the duration of my studies. And I felt as if I were locked in a 10-year-custody at a juvenile home.
To go back home was for me unthinkable. My parents were scrupulous and poor. So poor was my performance at school. 'It's better to be a maulana than a porter toiling at the railway station,' my father said concerned over the likelihood of son continuing the same tradition of menial jobs. 'Also, there is a combined education there and you can study from pre-graduation to post-graduation in parallel,' my uncle who took the initiative added.
And that was often the case. Those who perform poorly in schools join madrassas to learn for, and earn a living by, becoming a maulana. Some people who lived in search of petticoats and bars would send, just a few months before their death, their children to madrassas to save them from the same devils who have kept them in thrall. But madrassas are no longer institutions to set behavioural patterns of pupils in order. Here the entrants are considered as fools with not even a speck of Islam, Iman or Ihssan with them. And Islam has been made ready to spoon-feed them. More often than not, the spoon-fed Islam would be bitter and every moral class would end in causing spiritual nausea.
From grammar to the interpretation of the Quran, spoon-feeding was the only method of instruction. This was closely related to the veneration and respect that each student must compulsorily pay to their teachers. If your studies are supposed to be the unquestionable acceptance of what your venerable teachers recited (not read) to you, you will not doubt and question. The venerable teacher is the transmitter of knowledge and guidance and you had better keep mum and take notes. One might complain about the absence of free enquiries in the traditional system of learning. It is not free enquiries, but enquiries themselves, that are stifled. I remember an incident vividly in my mind: the teacher was imparting lessons on Thafsir Bhaydhawi. And while discussing the disease of job, he described nauseatingly, if vividly, how Job came to be subjected to the worst form of illness. I asked him whether the description did have any backing of the Quran. Thafseer Bhaydhawi is not free from the Judaeo-Christian concoctions of history and many exaggerated tales of the Prophets had come into the text. That is why, when the first translation of the Quran was published by Orientalists, they relied on Bhaidhawi. And that text is the gateway of Muslim scholars and thereby Muslims to their holy text! My doubt regarding the condition of Job was basically my doubt regarding Thafsir Bhaidhawi itself and regarding all contents of learning that were spoon-fed to us. 'Get lost, you loser,' Moulana roared.
The next day, during our compulsory morning recitations of the Quran, he spotted me reading Yusuf Ali's Commentary of the Quran. Moulana, who don't know hardly any word of English, imputed my impudence in the class to the book I am reading instead of reciting the Quran! He took grab of the book and tore Yusuf Ali's commentary into pieces. A few weeks later, I remember a protest march in Jammu Kashmir against some thugs in the west who burnt the Quran!
I was fortunate that I could continue my studies up to post-graduation in parallel. Now I am working in the Indian Railways. I was fortunate that secular education, which Muslim educationalists despise, prevented me from being an ignorant moulana. I am not saying that secular education is not flawless; but it is much better than the so-called madrassa education prevalent in India. When sociologists analyse and speak about under-representation and marginalisation of Muslims, I see the solution is either to close down or radically restructure madrassa system. There is no way out for Muslims.
Last week I watched 'The Devils'. A movie produced in 1971, the Devils is about Urbaine Grandier, a domineering priest living venting his vicarious sexual desires on the nuns who have come to his patronage. Parallel to the frames in the movie, I remembered my days in madrassa.
I remember a protest we orgainsed inside the madrassa. It was against Bertrand Russell. We hung the distorted pictures of the philosopher inside the dars hall, where we used to sit for studies. The reason was that a Muslim woman who had recently eloped with a Christian boy was the reader and ardent fan of Russell.
Later, while reading Russell's Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays, I realised that this man has a lot more to say about Islam than my religious teachers.
..Towards the shade of a madrassa-Ayoob Rahman
Everything was beyond my expectations. Looking back, I realize that on March 1st of 1999 on which, we two kids from my little known village in Wayanad got admitted into Imam Gazali Academy, a religious school established on that year as part of the prestigious institution of Wayanad Muslim Orphanage. Now after an academic decade there I’m quiet grateful to IGA for what I have become today, for the achievements in my life so far. And I regret those lazy and irresponsible years there, which I hardly used to explore the horizons of knowledge and life despite every opportunity.
Being the youngest member of a joint family, brought up with much love and care, it was very difficult for me to accept the terms and conditions of a so-called religious madrassa, especially away from my loving parents and sisters and brothers. It was my father’s intense longing to send me to a religious center and make me an aalim (scholar) with many so-called qualities by which he can be proud of his son among others. Besides, He was deeply disappointed by the under achievement of his four other sons, i.e. my elder brothers.
Perhaps I was the gloomiest child of IGA in the early days of our academy life, just like the Todd of the Dead Poet Society. I sat alone away from other children who got on with the atmosphere challenging similar bitter experience. Day by day, I too began to cope up with the life at IGA. I realized and experienced the once-in-a-life time possibilities and advantages of being a member of such a new family including the brightest students of Wayanad, Calicut and Kannur districts as we were admitted after a tough written test and interview. We 60 students got selection from among 500.
I felt dejected to wear jubbah and Pajama, a strange dress code for us kids. And it was very difficult to wash them by ourselves. People stared at us while we walked on road going for Jumua. But gradually this dress became the symbol of pride and achievement.
Our day started from very early morning. Usthads came and called us to perform thahajjud prayer. It was really difficult to wake up on that time as we were fresh to such routine. Classes started from 7.45 am and closing bell rang on 4.00 pm. The time table of the periods was the mixture of religious subjects and so-called materialistic subjects. If the first period was Quran thafseer, the following period was physics. All the subjects were taught by teachers who had religious instructions and were hudavis or rahmanis. The first thing we studied was to question prevailing teachings and priorities of education especially the materialistic aspects. And it is remarkable that from the very early days we got opportunities to interact with many luminaries from various spheres. On these occasions they were excited with the stunning performance of my mates. We expressed our thoughts and ideas in a flamboyant manner. These interactive sessions from preparatory to degree standards helped us create a fresh attitude and perspectives towards all topics and issues. About religious subjects, we were fortunate to study topics in a balanced manner. Teachers emphasized both traditional curriculum and and the contributions of other radical and political thinkers considered as Bidayees. The teachers were generous and tolerant to deal with these subjects. In library we got books for almost every school of thought in Islam.
In madrassa, it is quite remarkable that we got lot of opportunities to develop our skills of speaking and writing. Many well-known writers and speakers who studied in religious madrassas are living examples for this. We too got such fantastic platform to sharpen our skills through the excessive co-curricular activities in our madrassa. Years after years our students participated and attracted scores of people to our campus. The competitions and writing or speech contests were dominated by IGA students. And only the students from other madrassas, not from so-called secular education centres challenged our students in these creative performances. Our management gave much importance for developing language skills. We were taught English, Arabic, Urdu and Sanskrit languages. Still I remember the funny occasions when we by hearted the murmurings of swarf and Nahv (Arabic grammar). In the beginning it was a bad idea. But when we practiced it many times, it became really helpful to understand the Arabic language. Urdu was taught by the native urdu speaking teachers.
Many consider films and other art forms as haram. It was that we studied from the primary madrassa, too. But while we were at IGA, on Friday afternoons (holyday) we got opportunity to watch world classics films in various languages. And interestingly we conducted the screenings and open forums by inviting the students from other madrassas like Rahmaniya, Nandi Darussalam, Darul uloom etc. Day after day we got fresh avenues to understand what education really meant.
The success of IGA is that it created a new culture of learning and sharing, imbibing the aspects of tradition and modernity. It is a good example for how a religious madrassa intervene in the behavioral formation of a community. Almost everybody in my batch is presently engaged with high profile activities. Some of them are professional counselors, translators and even principals of reputed schools; and many do their higher studies in reputed universities across India. Our madraasa became well known in the district and many parents wished to send their children to study there.
The IGA days are undoubtedly the prettiest and precious moments of my life. If I have achieved anything remarkable in my life, it is obviously because of this great madrasa and teachers there. Reminiscing the struggles we faced to follow the rules and routines of that madrasa (like getting up for thahajjud and fajr namaz) , today we are grateful for IGA, if there is any order and system in our day to day activities. Apart from all these the hostel experience with the evening football matches, sports, arts fests….everything has had a great impact in our lives.
While writing this small note on my education in a madrassa, I feel that many people have a bad and stereotypic understanding of religious madrassas, especially the traditional Sunni madrassas. People believe or they or taught by somebody that these cultural centres have nothing to do with the well-being of the society. The critics ridicule the teaching methods and even the dress code of the students here. They consider great scholars in these madraasas as mere Moulanas without any knowledge and sense. The critics are by and large those who have been the proponents of materialistic education and lifestyle.To have a clear picture of what is going on in a religious centre, one must spend a few days in any such institutions. The intensity of discourses in these educational centres is hardly found in a luxurious secular campus.