Archive for the ‘Education-madrasa’ Category

Religious schools can be modern too

Posted: জানুয়ারি 26, 2009 in Education-madrasa

TODAY’S subject is modernism and religion, and how we perceive and handle the two in this country. Can the two live in the same room as room-mates? Or should they treat one another as perennial enemies? The subject is complex and demands greater insight.

Some quotable quotes that have been immortalised by some great men in history can help us acquire that insight we may lack. As one will go deeper to discern the meaning of these words one will never cease to be in awe. Now, let us see what these great men had said decades ago about their concept of religion.

Albert Einstein had the following two views to offer: “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.” Elsewhere, he bracketed religion and science within clever words that continue to amaze thinkers today for their profundity. He said: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

Now, coming back to Bangladesh, we think there are many hazy spots as far as these two are concerned. These hazy spots are creating conflicts and slicing our society into many fragments. Many of us cannot decide or determine what we want to be — a modern man or a religious man. We suffer from an inner conflict — a clash of concerns — but there can be no conceivable clash between modernism and religion.

One can be religious and at the same time a modern man. There is no universal dress code to follow to identify one with any particular religion. There is no universal hairstyle to follow. There is no universal food item to consume to prove one’s level of piety as a member of a particular religion. In fact dress, hairstyle or food habits are determined by one’s socio-economic and cultural background.

Therefore, a religious man following certain habits or codes cannot and must not coerce others to abide by his standards. His standards are not followed by the pious people of the same religion in other countries. Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Buddhists in Bangladesh dress and cook in ways that differ in many ways from what Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Buddhists do in other countries.

There is no clash between modernism and religion in Bangladesh in broader terms. If we look around in our society we will see both a modern man and a religious man using modern gadgets like air-conditioned cars, room air-coolers, cellular phones, computers etc., to the best of his advantage. A modern man wearing a three-piece suit to dinner may be a religious person inside, who says his prayers at home or in a mosque or church or temple. He does not have to wear any special kind of dress or headgear, or move in a group to have a conspicuous identity as a religious person.

There is a wrong notion among many Muslim religious people that if they go for modern, science-based education they will become too modern or progressive, and that will clash with their religious beliefs and practice. These men send their sons and daughters to madrasas where more emphasis is given on religious curricula, ignoring mathematics and science education. When madrasa students find maths and science subjects tougher compared to religious curricula they slowly drift towards the latter and become totally madrasa-educated pupils.

In Bangladesh, thousands of madrasa students are graduating every year with little or no knowledge of modern-day science subjects. They also learn very little about Bangladesh because in many madrasas, hoisting of Bangladesh flag or singing the National Anthem is discouraged or even prohibited. And despite the government ordinance, madrasas still do not give appointment to women teachers.

But things are quite the opposite in West Bengal and other Indian states. In West Bengal, for example, madrasas follow the Board curricula alongside madrasa curricula, and students sit for examinations similar to our S.S.C and H.S.C. These students are coming out with brilliant results, competing with students of high-profile schools and colleges and finally entering universities to study economics, social sciences, business administration, or entering medical college or engineering college for higher studies. Many madrasa students of West Bengal have snatched highest positions in their version of S.S.C. and H.S.C. examinations.

But that is not all. The shocking (!) news is, these West Bengal madrasas admit Hindu or Christian students too! Shocking for some, I guess. While non-Muslim students have to learn Muslim history, Muslim students also have to learn Hindu, Christian and Buddhist religious history. And there is no clash there! No doubt, such curriculum is helping in strengthening the inter-religion bond in society. A very recent report says that the Bihar government is going to distribute bicycles among madrasa-going girls so that they do not have walk miles. Imagine, the level of tolerance prevailing in the Muslim community in Bihar for girls!

The bottom line is, can we have a secular, modern madrasa curricula that will teach students how to respect people belonging to other religions, or even their own people who do not follow their dress code or headgear code? The modern curricula would give equal emphasis on science subjects so that madrasa students would be able to meet the demands of the science and technology driven world. They must have to learn to cope in the 21st century, and that cannot be done by following any obsolete curricula designed by some motivated people. The madrasa students must not be brainwashed to become cadres of some political parties and be cannon fodder.

Shahnoor Wahid is a Senior Assistant Editor of The Daily Star.

The daily star 27th january 2009