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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More