First Person | The Battle has Come Home

Madrassas cannot provide a balanced world-view

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

Kaifi Azmi, the Urdu poet who passed away a few years ago, had a single line solution to the communal problem in India. He used to say that if every Hindu has two to three Muslim friends and every Muslim has six to seven Hindu friends their understanding about each other would increase so much that they would never think along communal lines. As the media attempts social and religious profiling of the people accused of carrying out the terror blasts in Delhi and else where, Kaifi Azmi’s solution came back to me. Ironically, Kaifi Azmi, hailed as being one of the torch-bearers of progressive (read Leftist) poetry in India belonged to the Mijwan village of Azamgarh district, now in the news for reasons that would have been anathema to the dead poet.

Like others in the media, even I have been trying to profile the terrorist: the person who does not shiver before throwing a bomb in the public place, who does not die of remorse when he sees the images of the carnage wrought by him, who does not worry that one of his own could be the inadvertent victim. What drives him? What could be his motivation? The police have spoken of wads of money that the suspect Atif who was killed in the Batla House shoot-out used to dole out. But can money be enough motivation for young boys to take such chances with their lives and those of their loved ones? Indoctrination by the ISI-run modules has been put forward as another reason for young people to barter regular life for that of a fugitive.

But how can a person get so susceptible to indoctrination unless there exists a void in his brain that just needs filling up.

I think the problem is much deep-rooted than this. It lies in the upbringing of these people. Going through the profiles of the suspects held by the police, one common thread that stands out starkly is the exclusivist nature of their education and upbringing. All of them went to either a madrassa or an Islamic school and subsequently a Muslim-run college. This is not to suggest that these educational institutions teach terrorist violence, but they do not give them the right exposure to the world that they live in. Consider this. You are born in a particular religion, not only your immediate family but even the extended one is from the same religion. You live in an area where only people from your religion live. Then you go to the school with fellow religionists and subsequently college of the similar nature. No doubt you acquire professional knowledge, you may even become an engineer, but what is your world view. In your most formative years when you make friends, form opinions, develop a personality you have not even met a person from another religion. You neither know the facts about them, nor understand why they do what they do. All that you have picked up about them are rumours repeated ad nauseam by various people at home and in your friends’ circle. Your friends are also not different from you because they all come from the same stock.

It is easy to generalise about the Muslims with frog-in-the-well-like upbringing because I have come across many Hindus with similar kind of attitude. They believe the most ridiculous stories as facts about Islam or even Christianity. But what makes such Muslims more susceptible to bad influences is that they also live and grow with a sense of victim-hood and injustice. And because they only interact and socialise with fellow Muslims this feeling only get more aggravated. Such youngsters, brimming with the recklessness and immaturity of youth combined with a sense of persecution are easy targets for exploiters. If only they had non-Muslim friends their discourses could have gone beyond their religion and community. And they could have developed a balanced world-view. This is the reason why Kaifi Azmi’s solution should be taken seriously. Policing and even better intelligence gathering have their limitations. Eventually, we will have to address the root.

There is no doubt that madrassas have their merits. They are a source of free education for those who cannot afford to pay for their children’s education. But despite introduction of subjects like computer science and mathematics, madrassa cannot provide learning that a regular school can, simply because it is too closely linked with religious education. Non-Muslim children will not come there and Muslim children will be at the mercy of half-literate mullahs who in any case have a skewed world-view. Besides, most madrassas get developmental funding from outside the country. Maybe, there is a need to not only monitor the source of this funding but also audit their balance sheets to see how the money is spent.

There is no point now in complaining about the excesses by the police or the non-implementation of the Sachar Committee report. Religious profiling is the price we have to pay for ignoring these subversive elements over the years, for denying our children the right to balanced lives. If we seriously want to save our children from further harm we will have to be in the forefront fighting terrorism. And this time, the battle begins at home.


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