Madrassas and Muslim Militancy in Bangladesh

Professor Dr. Golam Hossain Department of Government and Politics Jahangirnagar University Savar, Dhaka, Bangladesh E-mail: Introduction

The most important issue that has governed the political discourse of Bangladesh in the recent years is the Madrassa education and its alleged connection with the militant activities. Madrassas (1) occupy a dominant position in socio-religious and political life of Bangladesh as well as in the Islamic world. Indeed, Madrassas have been central to Islamic educationand religious imagination of the Ulemas (2) and Islamic political activism in the region of South Asia. The origin of Madrassas go back as early as to the emergence of Islam and continued to grow for centuries to teach and spread Islam in the Arab and non-Arab lands, and throughout middle ages offered enormous contribution to the preservation of ancient thoughts as well as to the promotion of philosophy and sciences. Madrassas were, therefore, not just centers of religious teachings, but also a happy blending of different branches of knowledge. In the history of Islamic education, Madrassa based traveling scholars have played a vital role in preserving Ancient thoughts, training generation of Islamic scholars, reawakening the consciousness of Islamic solidarity during the colonial and post colonial period as well . Madrassas, therefore, have emerged as the most powerful instrument for teaching Islam as well as influencing the political direction of Bangladesh, neighboring Pakistan, and Afghanistan and in the Muslim world. In this order, Bangladesh is a case in point to be researched. Indeed, Bangladesh is the third largest Muslim country after Indonesia and Pakistan and ninety percent of her Muslim population is religious, God fearing, peace loving and begin early schooling in the Masque based Maktabs or Madrassas. It is, therefore, remarkable to see a Madrassa attached to a Mosque (3) everywhere although the country has a long record of secular social trait. In the recent years, the powerful democratic wave that swept almost every corner of the globe also accompanied an Islamic resurgent movement, the Iranian revolution being considered as the first case of success. While the Iranian revolution gave a new impetus to the resurgent Islam, it was an `image-loss for the United States. However, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan opened the opportunity for the United States to find a new front of political Inter-play in the region. Meantime in Pakistan, General Zia-ul-Haque`s military regime also needed the full support of the United States for power consolidation, internal legitimacy and a respectable image at home and abroad. Therefore, a marriage of connivance between the US and Pakistan encouraged and supported the growth of Taliban resistance movement against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Since Islam was convincingly found as the most effective instrument against the non-Muslim Soviets, the US-Pakistan backed Taliban choose the

Indeed. the terrorist attacks here and there. however. The US policy makers also found the Madrassas as the potential breeding ground for “soldiers in the global Jihad”. an eminent scholar on Islam. the ideological base of cold-war was replaced by a new ideology – “Islam”. . Moreover. The Taliban’s relied on the Madrassas for their political strength and support base. training and orientation. transfer of knowledge. This US support opened all avenues for the birth of Madrassa based militant.war. disliked by the US for fear of the spread of Islamic fundamentalism in the region. Uzma Anzar. the increased involvement of human societies in debates on this problem deserve special academic attention and an in depth survey. however. Madrassa education since then became the center of political focus. The involvement of Islamic militants from different countries in the Afghanistan resistance movement and the rise of Madrassa based Talibanism was considered by the US as threat to its interests in the Islamic world. and a serious concern to the US foreign policy makers toward the Islamic world. loss of lives. What is a Madrassa? What is its origin? What do they teach? What is the role of state in the growth of Madrassas? How do they connect to the rise of Islamic militancy? These are some of the questions and many more need to be studied from academic as well as political point of view. and further threat of attacks created serious problem for free mobility of human resources. Hundreds and thousands of Muslim youths from different parts of the world including Bangladesh participated in what they called the “holy war against the infidels”. democratic governance and an overall insecurity that the global society can not ignore. Much efforts have been paid to the study of Madrassas in Pakistan and Afghanistan although the silent birth of militant Islam in the Madrassas in Bangladesh remained unnoticed until attack started in the recent years. wrote: “---as most of the operatives of the Taliban government in Afghanistan were educated in the religious school system.”(6) The rise of militant Islam in Afganistan and the simultaneous collapse of the Soviet Union that led to the end of cold. goods and commodities. There are. ‘Socialism‘. Taliban governance was. but scant effort has been made to undertake research on Madrassas and their connection to militancy. added new dimensions in global political discourse. studies on Islam. (5) The Soviet defeat led the Taliban’s to take control of the state power in Afghanistan.Madrassas as the main ground for support base. assets and properties. and in Pakistan too. the education in Madrassas in Muslim countries has gained special attention---.”(4) The Islamicists also took the full advantage of the political play of the “super powers” and that for all practical purposes encouraged the unlimited growth of Madrassas in Afghanistan. The US support to the Taliban Mujahedin could be 1 nicely understood in the words of the then US President Ronald Reagan that he praised Mujahedins Madrassa students as “the moral equivalent of the founding fathers of America. recruitment.

Islamic scholars claim that Prophet Mohammad himself established the first Madrassa. . Since origin. the traditional Madrassas used to offer two major courses of learning: firstly. entails and engenders a number of academic and political questions of practical importance. political activism.Arab Muslim lands. militancy and terrorism . It could be compared as parallel to the Hebrew ‘Midrasha’ which also have similar meaning i. This is one of the main reasons as to why the Madrassas became popular from the very beginning and spread throughout the Magreb and in the non. secondly an ‘Alim’ means an Islamic scholar accepted in the community. Medreseh. Even in the later history of Islam. taught about Islam to their tribes-men and community people. but Mosque based discussions on religious issues. international connection and so on. the Madrassa system received a multifarious student enrollment including orphans and poor. a school or place for learning. a ‘Hifz’ course to memorize the Qur‘an and the person who memorizes the Qur`an and recites it is known as a ‘Hafiz’. funding. is ‘Jami´ah’. Medrusha 2 or Madressa – to mean a school at primary and secondary.This. Madrash. food and lodging. or even at advanced levels for both male and female students mainly to learn Islam. The word Madrassa has been transliterated in different spelling-Madrasah. private or public. origin and historical growth. role of the state. the most important aspect of a Madrassa is its free education. The early spread of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula was followed by innumerable growth of Mosques and Madrassas. It may be noted here that the Arabic meaning of a university. Madrassas have continued to grow to teach and spread Islam. social background of teachers and students. and sent Masaab Ibn Umayir to teach Qur‘an and Hadith in Medina . The present study aims at focusing on the entire Madrassa system : its meaning. for Muslims or non-Muslims. Nonetheless. salaries of teachers. It could be secular or religious. Medresa. however. curricula. tuition fees. Many Muslims from different places visited these Madrassas for knowledge on the new faith and at returning home. and supported them with education and training for betterment of life. degrees. but also in the development of thoughts and sciences. and its origin goes back as early as to the emergence of Islam. and not madrassa/s. therefore.e. Dar-ul-Akram at the Safa mountain near the City of Mecca where he taught the revealed messages to his close associates. the Madrassa is century old. Therefore. Historical Growth of the Madrassas As a center of learning. and at times offered enormous contribution not only in theology. Some others argue that those schools or Madrassas were really not Madrassas in literary sense. Meaning of the Madrassa Generally the Arabic word Madrassa(7) means the centers/institutes or schools for learning Islam or any other subject.

Madrassas became the potent 3 . Through the Waq’f. Based on the informal Majalis. Jami’at al Qarawiyyin established in 859 in the City of Fas or Fez in Morocco. the Abbasid Khaliph . the Seljuk vizier called Nizam-al-Mulk Hasan Bin Al Tusi founded in 1067 al-Jamia-al-Nizamyia. philosophy and public administration that produced government servants to run the empire.During the early Islam. It was. Some of the most famous of those Madrassas were the Baitul Hikma established in Baghdad in 830 by Khaliph Al. The Madrassas established by Nizam-al-Mulk provided education both on scholastic theology to produce spiritual leaders as a result of which the Sufi movement spread as well as earthly knowledge focusing on sciences. people also sought knowledge to socially accepted `Alim` or knowledgeable person’s on Islam as teachers. the Mosque based Madrassa established in 972 in Cairo by Commander in Chief Zaohar of the Fatimayed Caliph Al-Moizer that finally developed itself to present day’s famous al-Azhar University.Mamun. The unique personality and statesmanship of Nizam-al-Mulk encouraged the introduction of the system of ‘State Madrassa’ in different cities during his reign in the eleventh century and flourished later on. Majalis were indeed the predecessor of Madrassas. the first major official academic institution known in the history as the Madrassa Nizamiyyah. the Madrassas started to grow during the second and third centuries of Islam. however. Many of the Fatimid and Mamluk rulers and their successors in the medieval Arab world created Madrassas through a religious endowment known as the `Waq`f`. These teachers later became known as the Shaykhs who used to hold regular session on religious education called ‘Majalis’.