Article by David Emmanuel Singh
In recent years Madrasas have attracted immense attention in India, more so than Mosques and other endowed institutions of Indian Muslims. This has partly been on account of the general perception that fundamentalism (ideology under-shoring the need to recover the traditional Islam), Islamization (process of establishing traditional beliefs and practices among ordinary Muslims) and extremist violence stem from the Madrasas. The part played by ‘Deobandism’ in Pakistan and Afghanistan is perhaps responsible for this image of Madrasas in South Asia. Islamization in itself is not problematic. It becomes a problem when fundamentalism (and the intra and interreligious fault-lines it accentuates) and violence (inter-faith conflicts leading to symbolic or actual suppression of diversity or bloodshed) come to be linked to the Madrasas.
There is no space to go into details. Scholars and journalists alike may be able to garner evidence for Muslim efforts at recovering or maintaining medieval Islam, or an effort at Islamizing Muslim masses perceived to be erring from orthodoxy, or even some evidence for the ‘proliferation of separatist attitude’ among the impressionable youth of the Madrasas, but is this view of Madrasas entirely right?
Madrasas of India do not form a single system. There are Shi‘a Madrasas3 and Sunni Madrasas. The Sunni Madrasas themselves are divisible into, at least, three different streams: Those that are endowment (waqf) board-run; the government of India keeps a close tab on such Madrasas, since their funding is controlled by boards acting under the government supervision. Although not managed centrally, ‘the Deobandi Madrasas’ are the largest independent group of Madrasas dotting the entire subcontinent; they are inspired by one of the premier traditional Muslim Seminary, Dar al-‘Ulum at Deoband in North India. A relatively smaller number of Madrasas are inspired and run along the line of Nadvat al-‘Ulama’ at Lucknow in North India. Both of the latter two types are managed independent of the Government.
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