How Madrasas Can Reform their Curriculums to Promote a Broad Worldview in Place of Extremist Thoughts?
By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam
February 28, 2015
Recent urging of Shaikh of Al-Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayib for reform in the Islamic education to contain the spread of religious extremism came as a welcome sign of introspection. Significantly this admission of a link between Islamic education and terrorism and the suggestion for change in madrasas curriculum was made in Saudi Arabia, a country that is the source of madrasa text books inspired by its Wahhabi-Salafi ideology that indoctrinate pupils into hate, intolerance and xenophobia. More significantly, it was made at a counter-terrorism conference at Mecca.
This should have stimulated a critical, candid and healthy debate on the curriculums of Islamic studies in madrasas as well as other seminaries and centres of Islamic education. But it seems we Muslims will continue to live in denial. What we need is to critically examine the theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches employed in the study of Islam as a faith, culture, civilization and history in all seats of learning, both of religious and secular nature. Keeping this objective in view, we should objectively and critically debate the text books of theology literature taught in the madrasas. Of course, we also need to critically examine, analyze and overhaul the systems and curriculums adopted in the departments of Islamic studies in secular colleges and universities.
As a pressing need of the time, all references to extremism, exclusivism, supremacism and violent jihadism must be removed from madrasa curricula and replaced by universal messages of Islam fostering global peace, religious harmony and brotherhood of mankind. But more important is the question as to how should we go about re-educating the clerics who control most of our madrasas and are vehemently opposed to any paradigm shift or radical reform in their systems ad curriculums.
After an objective study and rigorous analysis of the mainstream Madrasa curriculum known as Dars-e-Nizami, the conclusion is that Indian madrasas need to be worked upon in the following areas of study in respective subjects which are now included in most Madrasas’ curricula:Qur’anic Sciences:
In this subject, madrasa students must be given well-reasoned explanation of the so-called militant verses of the Quran, particularly the 24 verses related to jihad or defensive wars fought during the Prophet’s lifetime (Aayat al-Jihad). Students should also be convinced and taught rational arguments and responses to the doubts raised by the orientalists, Islamophobes and western writers about the contents of Quran held objectionable in their views.
However, there must be critical study of all the Qur’anic exegesis (Tafsir) and the classical Arabic Tafsirs (Tabari, Zamakhshari, Razi, Ibn Kathir, Baidhawi and Jalalain) which are essential part of the traditional Islamic education curriculum. They should be analysed and critically examined in view of the present situations. Special focus must be given on the Indian Ulema’s Tafsir literature in Urdu which play pivotal role in shaping the Indian Muslims’ doctrines and theological worldviews. They are, to name a few, Bayan Ul Quran by Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi, Tafheemul Quran by Syed Abul Ala Maududi, Tadabur-e-Quran By Maulana Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tafsir‑al‑Qur'an Wahu‑wa‑al‑huda wal‑furqan by Syed Ahmed Khan, Tarjumdn ul Qurr'm by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad etc. It is alarming to note that some Salafi Madrasas in India have incorporated chapters from the foreign radical Quran exegeses such as “Fi Zilal al Qur'an (In the shade of the Qur’an) by Sayid Qutub. It does not augur well for the future generations of Indian madrasa graduates.
Moreover, issues related to Fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence must be in sync with the Quran and should be taught in consonance with the present requirements and changes of the time. An introduction to Modern studies on Qur’anic sciences will help madrasa students to understand different and harmonious dimensions of the universal Qur’anic messages.
Hadith Literature (Prophetic traditions):
An objective, open-minded and critical study of orientalist writings on Hadith and Sirah literature must be carried out in madrasas with an aim to provide the students with clear-cut answers to the questions on hotly debated Hadith contents. The rules of co-relating contradictory or paradoxical Hadith texts and preferring one Hadith over the other should be taught to them so they may have clear viewpoints regarding acceptance and rejection of particular Hadith texts. Assessment of Hadith should always be in a wider and critical perspective in the light of the principles of checking and scrutinising the authenticity of Hadith texts, which are taught in the classical Islamic science of Hadith criticism known as Riwayat and Dirayat. Madrasa students should taught the rules of hadith criticism in a way that they can rationally address the doubts raised by orinetalists as well as Muslim critical scholars against particular Hadith contents.
Islamic Jurisprudence (Fiqh)
Madrasas students should be provided with comprehensive study of the background which led to the evaluation of different schools of thought. The philosophy of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) can only be rationally understood by conducting a detailed and critical study of the four schools of thought (Hanafi, Maliki, Sahfa’i and Hanbali). A study of the verses of the Quran which are related to modern jurisprudential (fiqhi) issues must be held in a broader and logical perspective.
Ilm-e- Kalam (Muslim Philosophy)
Use of reason along with revelation should be the prominent feature of Islamic theology propounded in the madrasa curriculums. We should try to comprehend and interpret religious doctrines on rational grounds. In the 21st century, we must put our emphasis on reason along with divine texts. We doo need a rational movement in the theological domain of the Madrasa curricula. Brushing aside theological polemics grounded in the outdated philosophy (qadim ilme-e-kalam), Madrasas students desperately need to be anchored in the Modern Philosophy (jaded ilm-e-kalam) which is taught in many mainstream universities. It will greatly help them in theological discussions and debates on basic principles, doctrines and roots of Islam. The following themes of the subject can be incorporated in the curriculum:
· Origin and development of Qadeem Ilm-e-Kalam with particular reference to Ilm-e- Kalam in India.
· Modern Philosophy which is taught in mainstream universities and is popularly known in madrasa circles as jadeed ilm-e-kalam
· Basic issues and problems discussed under Ilm-e-Kalam.
· Dissent in Islam: Theological, Ideological, Political, Religious and Social causes.
· The Emergence of Mutazilitie, Asharites, Maturidites Qadrites, Jabrites, Murjites.
· The ideologies of modern Kharjites and other extremist cults in the Muslims world; their theological refutation and rational retort to them.
Madrasa students must be introduced to all world religions like Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and modern religious currents and spectrums. They should also be made aware of modern approaches to study religions as well as different and myriad interpretations of religion. A comparative study of major religions and their holy scriptures will broaden their worldview and mental horizons. A study of reform movements in Islam and other religions will help them develop scientific and progressive temperament for Islamic reformation.
In view of the wider acceptance of the Islamic banking systems, madrasa students should also be taught the theories and concepts of Islamic finance. They should be enlightened on the functionalities of Islamic financial institutions. It is deeply felt that the importance of this subject in Madrasas will increase when the governments will allow their banks to start Islamic banking system. If madrasa students are taught the Islamic principles of investment and their application in the present financial market, they will avail job opportunities available in the market. Thus, they will come out of their narrowed zone of shackled thinking.
Besides the radical change and paradigm shift in the existing madrasa curriculum, modern and mainstream sciences and all lawful academic pursuits should be given good space in the curriculum. At least essential secular subjects such as history, geography, sociology, economics, physics and political science and administration must be taught to the madrasa students to broaden their worldview. It would be wonderful if Madrasa students are also anchored in the soft behavioural skills to groom and upgrade their personality.
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a classical Islamic scholar. He has graduated from a leading Islamic seminary of India, Jamia Amjadia Rizvia (Mau, U.P.), acquired Diploma in Qur'anic Arabic from Al-Jamiat ul Islamia, Faizabad, U.P., and Certificate in Uloom ul Hadith from Al-Azhar Institute of Islamic Studies, Badaun, U.P. He has also graduated in Arabic (Hons) and is pursuing his M. A. in Comparative Religion from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.