As an insider and a graduate from one of the prestigious female-only madrasa, the researcher began her work with no unfounded assumption but rather with a strong feeling that there were some serious flows in the madrasa system. It was in fact the personal predicament of the researcher that led her to take up this issue for research. However, in my new role as a social scientist I knew that mere strong feelings or personal experiences were not enough ground to come to any conclusion. Hence my personal feelings had to give way to empirical findings.
Hence onward I started asking myself if my feelings about female-only madrasas in India are really based on facts and if so what facts are they? As a researcher trips to girl’s madrasa campuses in Bijnore, Delhi, Azamgarh and Rampur where I travelled as an activist, and in some cases to speak on some special occasions, acquired new meanings for me. To me the madrasa girls are a potential research subject and reading their minds held promise of cracking the nuts, or so to say, peeping right into their minds; understanding their hopes and aspirations. Even my participation in national seminars in Aligarh, Delhi and other places where I took up the Muslim women issues during the informal discussion that usually follow such programs – went through a radical transformation. Instead of talking to my female colleagues in burqa in more general terms as to what ails the Muslim woman, now I would have copies of questionnaire handing them out. My new role, as a researcher as compared to my previous studies as a madrasa graduate, I felt, was more fulfilling and rewarding. Most of them received the questionnaire with smile on their faces eagerly promising to help me in this venture. Although not more than fifty questionnaires have come back to me out of five hundred or more that I disseminated so far, some of their comments have enriched my understanding and opened new avenues of future researches. Each questionnaire, I feel, introduces me to a unique experience of a unique madrasa girl. Although I spent my school days on a similar campus, I never imagined that there were so many small worlds living side by side, each girl student living on different mental plane. I never knew that the female mind was so rich in imagination and feelings and that the girl living next to me had such big dreams.
Big dreams beget bigger frustration and anger if remain unfulfilled. This is a dangerous aspect or fall out of the madarsa system so far gone unnoticed. Recently, some of the respondent from Mumbai wrote to me about her shattered dreams that sum up to a great extent the agony and disillusionment of women Maulanas:
They say that the world is now a global village, full of new dreams and newer opportunities. The time is running fast and the people are faster than time. A lot of windows are open for those people who want to do something great both for themselves and for the nation. But it is also a wired fact that the women madrasa graduates who spend formative years of their life in madarsas are not aware of the side effects of this lame education system. True, they get education and in their own opinion, they get the best education as it has a religious value, a key to success in the life hereafter. In their own right they become God’s missionary divinely ordained to set things right. Yet it is not the whole truth. It is only one side of the picture and the other side of the picture is not bright. When we madrasa graduates enter the practical, mundane world we feel that our share in the new global village can only be on the margin. Here, the rules of the game are different and we have not learned them at our religious seminaries. In the job market our qualifications do not carry any weight. We are completely at a loss. Where can we go and what can we do? Probably, we cannot do much except begging. But that too is no easy task especially for those who carry big dreams of changing the world as God’s female soldiers yet lacking even basic skill of bhikshus to beg for sustenance. Why the madarsa did not offer us a course in begging if not equipped us with courses relevant for the job market? .... I know, I am rather harsh on my own alma mater but how can I describe my deep pain and anguish?
۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔ Feelings of madrasa graduate, Mumbai, February 18, 2013(translation mine)
Such painful stories are piling up as my encounters with respondents are growing. Sometimes I feel like crying when on the other end of the phone a respondent recounts her agony and misadventures in the practical world. Things get out of hand and passions run high when the respondents realize that what they got in the name of Islamic education was a mere sectarian perception of Islam and in their zeal to become God’s missionary they have ended up as exponents of certain sects. I have encountered many women who started their education afresh, appearing for one examination after another. And it has been arduous journey. An analysis of their personal narratives can brighten many lives.
Survey of Literature:
As no significant study is available on female-only madrasa except a few stray articles and a full-scale book by a Dutch woman Mareike Winkelmann (From Behind the Curtain: A Study of A Girls’ Madrasa in India), not to mention a number of classic studies on madarsa system in general, the search for helpful material in Arabic, Urdu, and English only reinforced my feeling that I was doing something new and hence all care should be taken in collecting the empirical data.
This study will employ a combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods. Primary data of the study is based on field work; questionnaires, visits to relevant institutions, arranging the meetings with the women madrasa graduates in the modern universities and institutions and also listening to their personal stories, often charged with emotions and commotions. The questionnaire is also given to those madrasa graduates who could not make their way to modern institutions for further studies. The questionnaire is also made available in Urdu for better outreach and response. The questionnaire intends to explore:
To examine the above mentioned research methodology, a survey pilot study will be carried out first to examine the viability and effectiveness of the questionnaire prepared and the responses received from the beneficiaries.
So far, what I have gleaned from the respondent’s data can briefly be summarized as follows.
These premature findings apart, the survey has also brought a new phenomenon to the notice of the researcher. One knows for certain that some boys madrasas like the Jameatul-Hidaya of Jaipur was in the process of reinventing itself. For example, JameatulHidaya has a proper computer education and also a polytechnic on its campus. I was also aware of the MarkazMa’arif of Mumbai and DarusSuroor of Bangalore that offer bridge courses to male graduates of madrasas. But this is mainly because there is no confusion about the social roles of male maulanas. But what surprised me during this survey was some good news coming from girl’s madrasas as well. In recent years there have been some shifts in emphasis on the core syllabus. For example, the Jameatus Salehat of Rampur itself, from where I graduated, had introduced NCERT text books up to VIII standard.Jameatul Banat in Hyderabad also deserve mentioning. It has managed to prepare their candidates for school examination simultaneously. Here school curriculum (NCERT) has been accommodated within the madarsa syllabus. And the end result is that students appear for +2 examinations and also later write BA examination from Osmania University. It offers the girls to choose from a number of courses offered in Humanities and Social Sciences.This is a welcome change and more such surprises are in the air.
It is not probably out of context to mention here some of the pointers that have been guiding me during my research.
Changing of madrasa curriculum is the need of the hour. Change or perish, the Madrasa pass out have no other option. And why not change when what we teach today is not Islam per se but Islam as understood in feudal India. Our respondents have equivocally voiced their opposition to Ashraf Ali Thanvi’s vision of Islam, the famous author of BahishtiZewar. MaulanaThanvi advises Muslim women to be meek and submissive housewives, be obedient to their husbands no matter even he indulges outright violation of Islamic norms. Thanvi’s ideal Muslim woman has no self, no heart and no feelings. The Muslim community must be made aware if madarsas intend to produce a whole new brand of such meek women, it has no place in Islam nor there are many takers in the modern world. I think, the BaheshtiZewar kind of books that propagate a flawed vision of Islam and snatch from us our God-given rights should be dropped from the bridal gift package.