News / Asia

India's ‘Model Madrassas’ Substitute Tolerance for Orthodoxy

Hindu and Muslim school children offer prayers for peace in Ahmadabad (file photo – 23 Sept 2010)
Hindu and Muslim school children offer prayers for peace in Ahmadabad (file photo – 23 Sept 2010)

Multimedia

Audio
Kurt Achin

Traditional Islamic schools, known as madrassas, have gotten some negative attention in recent years. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, some madrassas are accused of stoking Islamic fundamentalism and militancy. In India, a new kind of madrassa is emerging – where tolerance and secularism are valued over orthodoxy. One such "model madrassa" is in the state of West Bengal.

A school in Orgram, in the Indian state of West Bengal, has something unusual to boast about.

It is the only Islamic madrassa in India – and probably in the world – where Muslims are in a minority.

More than 60 percent of the students here are Hindus. Parents from the surrounding village say they prefer the school to other choices for its moderate, inclusive approach to education.

Educational materials and food are provided to the students free of charge and the co-ed curriculum includes plenty of math, science and practical skills like using computers.

Courses in Arabic and basic Islamic theology are core requirements for every student – but that is about as far as religious instruction goes.

This young student says a lot of his Hindu friends tease him, saying, how could a Hindu study at a Muslim madrassa? He says he tells them they are wrong – that this modern madrassa is meant for students of all religions. He tells them he can study in a madrassa and still remain a Hindu.

A young female student says she has not found Islam to be any different from Hinduism, in that they both preach the same message of peace. After studying here, she says she has come to know Islam closely and it has brought her closer to Muslims in society.

The Orgram madrassa was recognized in 2008 as one of more than 500 so-called "model madrassas" in West Bengal, eligible to receive backing from the government. The schools hope to stand in contrast to more ideological madrassas, particularly in nearby Afghanistan and Pakistan that are often criticized for fueling extremism and militancy.

Muslims make up more than 13 percent of India's billion-plus population. Headmaster Anwar Hussain says his school offers a new tool for teaching Hindus and Muslims to transcend their often violent history.

He says the school sometimes invites Muslim and Hindu parents to seminars to promote increased Hindu-Muslim interaction. Muslims, especially Muslim women, who are known to be more conservative, are encouraged to step forward and interact. He says in that way, the madrassa plays a big role in maintaining communal harmony.

Hussain says the school fosters a spirit of equality – be it religious or economic.

He says the students from all Hindu caste levels attend the school and mingle with no differentiation. He says, if a low caste Hindu student has gathering at his home, often upper caste Hindus will attend. Likewise, high level, or Brahmin, students extend invitations to low caste Hindus and tribal students. Hussain says caste division and untouchability are a thing of the past among the students.

But not everyone is praising the model madrassa.

Sami Mubarak is the Imam at this Calcutta mosque, and the vice chairman of a national Islamic organization.

He complains there is no mosque at all on the premises and Muslim pupils and teachers cannot offer prayers. He calls that utterly wrong and unacceptable.

Conservative Muslims also have a problem with the school's policy of putting boys and girls together in the same classroom.

He says, if boys and girls study together in a class after six years of age, all kinds of troubles arise. He says Islam commands their separation, after they turn seven. He insists co-ed classes for older students are forbidden by Islam.

But teachers at the Orgram Madrassa say both genders have to co-exist in the real world – so students may as well start learning how to do that now. As for prayers, the school says students are free to walk just down the street to the local mosque.

You May Like

Photogallery Strong Words Start, May End, S. African Xenophobic Attacks

President Jacob Zuma publicly condemned rise in attacks on foreign nationals but critics say leadership has been less than welcoming to foreign residents More

Video Family Waits to Hear Charges Against Reporter Jailed in Iran

Reports in Iran say Jason Rezaian has been charged with espionage, but brother tells VOA indictment has not been made public More

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Action to Stabilize Libya

Amnesty International says multinational concerted humanitarian effort must be enacted to address crisis; decrepit boats continue to bring thousands of new arrivals daily More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs