Reasons to be optimistic

about the state of current and future of religious harmony in india from an Outlook India article forwarded through a mailing list.

At a time when stereotypes about madrassas, especially those in eastern UP, as breeding grounds for terrorists have been gaining currency and every succeeding terror attack has boxed Indian Muslims further into neat categories as either educated, patriotic liberals or misinformed, misled fundamentalists, these madrassas are a powerful rejoinder, a heartening testimony to the unspoken, uncelebrated, broad-mindedness and inclusiveness of the common, faceless Muslim. The madrassas we visit have a sizeable number of Hindu students. Salfia currently has 475 students, of whom about 225—almost 45 per cent—are Hindus. In Azizia Islamia, 35 of the 143 students are Hindus. The newly set up Madrassa Faizul Quran operates out of a small makeshift building in an obscure corner of Amari village in Azamgarh district. The maktab has 100 kids, of whom 20 are Hindus. At Arbiya, 22 of the 374 students are Hindus.

There is little to distinguish students. You know Vinky and Reena Yadav from Soni and Rehana Banu only by their names or in the way they wear their head scarves. “We don’t believe in bhed bhav,” says Salfia’s Jalaluddin. “Tameez and tehzeeb are the same in every religion.” And though the madrassas do teach hifz, or memorisation of the Quran, all have a progressive vision too. “You can’t move forward with religious education alone, our students need to be taught everything: science, geography, maths, English,” says Salfia principal Muhammad Saikat. It is the only school in the village which offers high school education for girls, or else they’d have to walk 10 km to the next school. The aim now is to start computers and electronics classes.

while it is admirable that madrassas are playing such an important and beneficial role in educating those otherwise disadvantaged, it is also a damning indictment of the various state governments/bureaucracies that handle rural education so indifferently.