While educational levels are slowly increasing among the Muslims, continued practice of educating Muslim boys and girls in exclusive Muslim institutions deprives them of an opportunity to learn from multi-cultural traditions and diverse intellectual exchanges as evident in coastal districts of Karnataka.
(Author is a journalist currently working in U.A.E)
Understanding the concept of ‘ilm’ or knowledge, or the lack of it, has played a key role in shaping the destiny of Muslims over the last 15 centuries. As long as Muslims followed the concept in its true spirit, they made phenomenal contributions to such diverse fields as medicine, astronomy, chemistry, physics, philosophy and theology. But the moment ‘ilm’ was segregated into the secular and the religious – in violation of the Islamic concept of knowledge – the downfall of Muslims began, and today, unfortunately they find themselves in the vortex of ignorance, deprivation, backwardness and anarchy.
Sadly the penchant for segregation and failure to develop a holistic approach towards education as enjoined by Islam has given rise to a ghetto mentality among Muslims. Although Muslims in India are slowly realizing the importance of education after decades of slumber, certain archaic and patriarchal approaches continue to weigh them down. One such misplaced notion is the undue emphasis being given to start ‘exclusive’ educational institutions.
The literacy rate among Muslims in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi is one of the very best in the whole of India. But, the Muslims in the coastal districts are yet to build institutions that can match the standards of the institutions set up by Christian missionaries or other linguistic minorities in the region. When you dig into the reasons for Muslims not being able to make it big, one factor that stares you in the face is the undue thrust on segregation.
There is no denying the fact that Muslims under Article 29 and 30 of the Constitution enjoy certain cultural and educational rights as linguistic and religious minorities. But our understanding of the provisions of these articles are so skewed that we have fallen into the trap of ‘our identity is in danger’ bogey raised by certain vested interests while other linguistic and religious minorities – alsobeneficiaries of Article 29 and 30 – have gone miles ahead.
While Christians have made convents synonymous with learning and knowledge, Muslims today find themselves struggling to explain the idea of madrasas, which once upon a time gave birth to scientists and scholars such as Al-Razi, Ibn Sina and Al-Khavarizmi.
In coastal Karnataka the trend of setting up ‘secular’ educational institutions started in early 20th century. The aim was to improve the educational level among Muslim children, who until then had access only to madrasa. Over the last couple of decades, thanks to more rigorous efforts, a number of such institutions have come up. Thrust has also been given to starting schools and colleges exclusively targeted at Muslim girls, who, it is claimed, would otherwise have discontinued education at the post-primary and secondary levels. The reasons for them to drop out can be summarized as follows: 1. Patriarchal mindset — what is the point in educating girls when they are not going to work and earn. Marrying off girls remained the top priority of every parent. 2. Wrong or misplaced notion of pardah. How can girls and boys study on the same campus? 3. Fear of losing ‘Islamic identity’. How can our girls (in some instances boys also) study in a ‘non-Muslim’ school without compromising on their religious identity. Will they excuse us from folding hands during the daily prayer? Will they let us go and attend Jumma prayer, daily prayers, observe fast during Ramadan etc. 4. The identity factor is more pronounced in the case of girls. Will they let us wear pardah/burka, will the uniform comply with the Islamic norm? 5. There are also ideologically inclined institutions which consider that the present education system ruined young minds by inculcating western values and taking them away from ‘Islamic tahzeeb’.
Today our district has nearly a 100 Muslim-run schools and colleges imparting education from primary to degree level. There are also a few medical, engineering colleges run by Muslims, which shed the Muslim tag after securing the licences. In fact they have now outgrown the faith-exclusive character and become more ‘competitive’ and capitalistic with rich and elite from all religious backgrounds sharing the campus.
But, a number of high schools, PU and degree colleges have either deliberately or by default retained their ‘Muslim-alone’ character. Although these schools/colleges do not technically bar the entry of non-Muslim students, they do not encourage it either. In fact some of these institutions have seen a drastic fall in non-Muslim enrollments over the years. Girls’ schools and colleges run by Muslim management have positioned themselves as institutions that will help its wards retain their Islamic identity and modesty. This USP has struck a chord with the middle class Muslim parents who want their girls to be educated in a ‘safe environment’ and thereby brighten their prospects of grabbing ‘good alliances’. Generally they are not bothered too much about the ‘ill effects’ of sending their sons to non-Muslim managed institutions or co-education schools or colleges.
The segregation, especially of Muslim girls, starts post-primary, when their curiosity and zest for learning things new is at its best. Overnight they are pulled out of multi-cultural schools and sent to a campuses where their classmates and schoolmates are from the same faith. They lose out on interacting with classmates from diverse religious and social backgrounds and miss out on the ‘actual learning’ that takes place while interacting, discussing, observing friends in a plural milieu. Sadly the Sameehas and the Fathimas are denied opportunities to understand the cultures and traditions of Saumyas and Stellas, and vice versa. Once these girls are in the faith-exclusive campus, they become a kind of captive learners and seldom get opportunities to pick up diverse cultures and traditions, which is the bedrock of India’s pluralistic heritage. Their understanding of life, religion, culture, and traditions are also curtailed significantly.
As Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, a renowned contemporary Islamic scholar, has rightly pointed out: “The notion of completely separate communal cultural identities has been used as a ploy to keep communities apart from each other and to reduce interaction between them.”
The bar of excellence is also lowered because the campus is predominantly occupied by children of one religion. A good friend of mine, who is a Principal at a Muslim-managed high school and PU collges, which is nearly 75 year old, rues that the performance level has either fallen or remained static because of the fall in number of non-Muslim students over the years “The segregation unknowingly triggers communal and ghetto mindset which goes against the grain of India’s pluralism and democracy,” he had once said.
It is also sad that in their overzealousness to safeguard the identity, Muslim institutions often compromise on quality and tend to hire mediocre teaches and lecturers. There is a greater need to ensure that the people chosen to teach in these centres are chosen on the basis of their capabilities, rather than preference being given to Muslims. One should not lose sight of the fact that there are huge advantages of having a plural faculty.
Muslim organisations and educationists will do a great service to the community in particular and the nation in general by setting up institutions teaching disciplines other than those considered to be ‘prestigious’ (computers, medicine, engineering) There are a whole lot of other disciplines that are very necessary as far as Muslims are concerned: eg. Islamic Studies, Comparative Religions, Media, Social Work and so on. There are very few Muslim institutions (privately-run) doing this. The hard fact is that only a few Muslim students go in for these subjects.
Muslims do well to remember that they have an equal stake in the welfare of the country as their other religious counterparts. Unfortunately, Muslims seldom take interest in causes that has a bearing on the lives of people across the religious and cultural divides such as corruption, environment, bad roads, lack of sanitation, absence of public health system etc.
It is also equally important for Muslims to realize the importance of strengthening government schools, colleges and anganwadis because private endeavors have their limitations and are mostly confined to urban centres. There are about 65,000 government primary and secondary schools in Karnataka and they predominantly cater to the low and middle-income groups of the society, which is the overwhelming majority among Muslims. Therefore any policy changes in this sector directly affects the future of the Muslim community, but unfortunately Muslim leaders and social organisations take any worthwhile initiative to safeguard the quality and standard of these institutions. The community should to take a cue from the legendary efforts of Harekala Hajabba, who did not only show the world the values of altruism and selfless sacrifice, but the importance of working within the system and reaching the welfare benefits of the government to the people. It is high time that Muslims realized the fact that the future of the community hinges to a great deal on the fate of the 65,000 government schools and they have the largest stake than anyone else to stem the rot and make the system efficient.
The segregation also feeds the existing stereotypical image of Islam and Muslims as a regressive community. Opportunities to clear the misconceptions and prejudices are lost in the absence of co-education and mingling of students from diverse backgrounds. One should not forget the fact that the vast majority of non-Christian students who study in ‘convent’ schools and colleges unconsciously learn Catholicism and imbibe Christian values and when they are out of the campus they continue to be respectful of the Christian faith and people. If Muslim institutions take a cue from their Christian counterparts and throw open their institutions to people from across the religious and social barriers it would help in breaking the stereotypes about Muslims and Islam to a great extent.
- Opening the doors to non-Muslim students and if required going the extra mile to attract them to your campus. Excellence, professionalism and merit sometime help break this barrier.
- Muslim organisations/ philanthropists, who are genuinely concerned about the appalling status of Muslims, will do a huge favour to the community if they do not flaunt the ‘Muslim or Islam’ banner and instead focus on presenting a more robust educational model which can compete with the existing models.
- Today Alighar Muslim University and Jamia MIilia have been looked up to as centres of excellence because they follow the principles of pluralism and secularism.
- Those organisations and people driven by the concern of safeguarding the ‘Islamic identity’ should follow the examples of Christian missionaries and convert their campuses into living examples of Islam’s great tradition of peace, harmony and co-existence.