The knowledge imparted in Madrassah has been an important constituent of Islamic Education all over the world. This education has equally been a target of censure and critical appraisal from time to time. It has been argued that this type of education is structured to take the young minds back to more than 1500 years. The objective, according to strategic experts, is to land them back psychologically and emotionally in those very social and cultural settings that existed at that time.
It is an interesting psychological, emotional and political game. The case studies reveal that terror tactics tethered with this type of education have produced radicalized cadres and their allies to either be engaged directly with the state in the armed conflicts or get involved with low key proxy wars. The engagement of so-called ‘foot soldiers’ from some poor third world countries is a global menace. This threat is generally supported by affluent and influential countries to achieve their strategic objectives. Two instances from the recent history provide an illustration to the point.
One instance is the formation of Daesh or ISS in which women from far off countries including Europe joined this group to fight Jihad. After some time, after participating in the fighting, these people realized that they were engaged in a futile exercise and hence, they should quit.
In Pakistan, when Military dictator, Zia-ul-Haq assumed the reins of power, there were less than 200 Madrassahs working under the patronage of government. And by the time he left the power (when he died in a mysterious air crash), the number of these schools rose to 800. All the radical outfits in that country are running Madrassahs and they draw their cadres from these very institutions selling the dream to establish an ‘Islamic State’.
It may be relevant to delve deeper to decipher the concept of a Madrassah and its relevance – socially, politically, economically and religiously. In fact, the history of Madrassa education dates back to the Arab Society with the onset of Islam. Since the teachings of Islam were rarely written and a great need was felt to preserve this huge corpus of knowledge. There was equally a need to familiarize the neo-converts with the behavior patterns, way of living, dealing with the public affairs of Prophet Mohammad and his revered companions. Thus, the Hadith literature, with due scrutinization which provided guidance on these issues was developed and became part of Madrassah education so that all this knowledge is passed on to new converts to Islam. This formed the basis of Madrassah education.
In the compilation of Hadith Literature, proper care was taken to utilize the scientific research methodology in recognizing and accepting such Hadith. In case the chain was broken by one reference or a fake reference was sought to be brought in, the Hadith was declared to be unauthentic. It is in this manner that authenticity of Ahadith (pl.of Hadith) has been maintained for a long period of time. It is in this regard that Madrassah education needs also to be re-examined. The looming threat of extremism and terrorism makes it all the more expedient to undertake this re-examination.
Madrassahs are usually affiliated to one or the other branch of Islamic society. This raises the issue that in case Islam is the fountainhead, how can the branches exist differentially and be allied to one or the other school of Islam. And yet there are scores of such cases which do not restrict themselves to adopt a wholistic approach. Therefore, Madrassahs may be classified firstly on the sectarian basis, like Sunni and Shia sects.
It follows that their socio-political and cultural requirements are also different and the functioning of their Madrassahs will be naturally different. The same pattern is followed by the Madrassahs who follow the eminent theologians and interpreters. Thus, over a period of time, numerous interpreters have emerged and have succeeded to launch their own Madrassahs. It is significant to underline that during the last one hundred years, a large number of Madrassahs have been astute enough to make jihad as the central point of their curriculum. In this selective approach, killings, assassinations, kidnappings are projected as the methods to deal with the ‘oppressor’. Ironically, the ‘oppressor’ is defined by those who recommend and adopt these methods. In Islam, Jihad has been defined in 13 different ways and ‘Qataal’ (massacres or violent means) are the last methods to be indulged in when all other approaches have failed. Since, violence and violent eruptions attract attention and perhaps have larger returns, this approach is preferred and remains central point of large number of Madrassahs.
Generally, Madrassahs maintain their autonomy and individual identity. However, sometimes there are reports about confrontation among Madrassahs. Of late, the patronizing attitude of some states to protect and use this phenomenon is a dangerous trend which should be curbed. In case of dealing with Madrassahs, if they are operating in a Muslim Country, the State should actively intervene and bring about changes. In case of multi-religious countries, community leaders need to be prodded, even pressurized to deal with this phenomenon.