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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs