You are on page 1of 21

Executive Summary

Madrassas occupy an important place in the education system of Bangladesh. There are over 13,000 government-registered Madrassas at the primary, secondary and higher levels and quite a few thousands unregistered ones. As much as 20 percent of the student body of the country may be enrolled in different types of Madrassas. The rate of increase of Madrassas, their students and government expenditures for them has been higher in recent years than in the mainstream public education system. The academic curriculum of Madrassa education is based on contents first adopted more than 200 years ago. While some changes have occurred in the curriculum of the government-registered Aliya Madrassas, the privately-run Quomi Madrassas have remained virtually untouched. Most Madrassas are located inside or beside Mazars of local saints, wherefrom some donations would be diverted to the Madrassas.

Aliya Madrassa Aliya Madrassa education is divided to 5 stages of 16 years duration. They are Ibtidaia (primary), Dakhil (middle and secondary), Alim (higher secondary), Fazil (graduate) and Kamil (post-graduate). Ibtidaia emphasizes on correct recitation of the Holy Quran. Other basic subjects are also taught at this level. This stage is for 4-5 years. Dakhil and Alim levels are equivalent to secondary and higher secondary schooling and takes around 5+2 i.e. 7 years. According to the New Scheme, both should place emphasis on Science. However, in this phase too, the emphasis is on the correct understanding and recitation of Quran. Students are also taught a number of religious and secular subjects during Dakhil and are divided to Humanities and Science groups during Alim. Fazil and Kamil levels include both Honors and Pass Courses. These emphasize on higher learning of Arabic. However, the Education board does not regard it to be comparable to mainstream degrees of universities of the same age level. Quomi Madrassa Quomi Madrassas are of Deobandi tradition. Befaqul Madarrisil Arabia Bangladesh, more commonly known as the Quomi Madrassa Board. There are seven stages of learning in a Quomi Madrassa. The pre-primary section of a Quomi Madrassa is known as Hifzul Qu'ran, or Qur'an memorizing section. The students would then move to lbtidaia or primary. About ten years of schooling would lead a student to Mutawasita (Secondary School Certificate) and then to Sanubia Ulya (Higher Secondary Certificate) standard. A very small proportion of students would move to the next higher stages of Fazeelat (graduation) and Taqmeel (postgraduation). These students might become Muftis and Dawara Hadith who could give Fatwas or make judgements on disputes involving religious interpretations.

The Madrassa curriculum, especially the Quomi variety, forces very young students to learn as many as four foreign languages, but they are given very limited exposure to Bangla, the national language.

Standard of Education Madrassa education emphasises a conservative Islamic education at the expense of modern subjects of humanities, commerce and science. Teaching standards are not usually up to the mark as the teachers are also usually limited by their previous learning experiences in Madrassas. Any subject is taught with a Muslim slant, thus creating controversies about students being given one-sided view of politics. Social Impact The Muslim way of education has proven to be derogatory to the cultural level of Madrasah students. Students are generally less patriotic and are not interested in regarding national occasions. Nowadays Madrassas represent a fossilized version of Islam that lack vigor and strength unlike previous times where its credibility was based on science. It is not technology-driven or fast-changing with the society. Madrassa lobby have a staunch stand against NGOs, who they think are taking females outside the perimeter of home against their views. Political Impact It is often said that the spread of Madrassa education has fuelled conservatism and dogmatism in the country. Arguably, the rise of militant organisations like JMB and HUJI-B has links to extremist teachings in some Madrassas. Since 9/11, there has been an increase globally in incidences of violence in which young people regarded as Muslim extremists have been involved. Many of them are, or were, students of Madrassas. Recommendations by the Madrassa lobby: o Nationalisation of Ibtidaia Madrassas in the same proportion as Primary Schools o Introduction of same textbooks in Bangla, English and Mathematics as those in primary schools o Provision of the same facilities to teachers and students o Fazil and Kamil stages be declared equivalent to mainstream degrees. o Establishment of a Madrassa Teachers Training College o Setting up a separate Madrassa Textbook Board o Setting up of a Bangladesh Civil Service (Madrassa) o Setting up Government Madrassa in each of 64 districts o Stopping co-education in all oMadrassas after 6th grade and setting up of separate girls Madrassas.


There is a greater interest in what is taught in these institutions and the efforts to bring their curriculum closer to mainstream education. Ensuring that the Madrassa students identify with Bangladeshi nationhood, culture and traditions, and equipping them with some skills useful in the material world have assumed new urgency. Recommendations made for modernization: o Common curriculum and textbooks for core content areas; more modern content such as science and math o Discarding content spreading religious chauvinism, intolerance and obscurantism o Quality control and improvement in Madrassas through registration of all institutions and enforcement of standards and criteria for educational service provisions in the country. o Giving students genuine options by improving access to quality primary and secondary education; combining vocational training with Madrassa education and expanding secondary education. o Improving public examinations in the education system as a whole to establish their reliability and validity; establishing comparability of standards in methods of assessment when equivalence between Madrassa and secular education is demanded.


Table of Contents
Introduction ............................................................................................................................................ 1 Growth of Madrassa Education in Bangladesh ....................................................................................... 1 Current State of Madrassa Education in Bangladesh ............................................................................. 2 The Types and Curriculums of Aliya Madrassas.................................................................................. 2 Ibtidaia (Primary) ............................................................................................................................ 2 Dakhil and Alim (Secondary & Higher secondary) .......................................................................... 3 Fazil and Kamil (Graduate and Post-Graduate)............................................................................... 3 Curriculum of the Quomi Madrassa ................................................................................................... 4 Curriculum and Teaching Methods of Madrasahs .............................................................................. 5 Academic Environment in the Madrassas .......................................................................................... 9 Impact of Madrassa Education on Society and Politics ........................................................................ 10 Social Impact ..................................................................................................................................... 10 Political Impact.................................................................................................................................. 11 Madrassa Education and the Rise of Religious Extremism ............................................................... 13 Reform of Madrassa Education ............................................................................................................ 13 Conclusion and Recommendations ...................................................................................................... 15 Bibliography .......................................................................................................................................... 17


Madrassa, the Arabic word for school, refers to a Muslim educational institution. Its primary purpose historically was to teach the tenets of Islam, besides teaching secular subjects like law and jurisprudence, science and medicine, literature and art. With the decline of the Islamic world since the 13th century, the pursuit of new knowledge and research was abandoned and the Madrassas gradually became schools of religious studies only. During the colonial rule in the sub-continent, while mainstream education became secular with English as the medium of instruction, Madrassa education concentrated on Islamic studies with Arabic, Persian and Urdu as the medium. In Bangladesh, the Madrassas remain a parallel stream to the mainstream education system. There are two types of Madrassas in Bangladesh. While the government regulated Madrassas, known as Aliya Madrassas, put an emphasis on religious subjects along with lessons in sciences and the humanities, the unregulated Quomi Madrassas concentrate on religious studies with very little emphasis on secular subjects. Madrassa education has come under worldwide scrutiny since the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 1996. The Taliban were students of Madrassas who, after coming to power, introduced extremely harsh Islamic Sharia laws. In the post-9/11 world, there is a growing scepticism about Madrassa education. Madrassas or mosque-based religious schools are sometimes used as a platform for preaching religious extremism in many countries. The Lal Masjid incident in Islamabad, Pakistan in July 2007, in which students of the Madrassa based in the mosque fought violently with the government forces leading to many deaths and injuries, was an illustration of extremism and violence arising from religious schools. Madrassa education's link to Islamic extremism was evident in Bangladesh too. Despite long official denial of the existence of religious extremism, the series of bombings across the country on August 17, 2005 and subsequent suicide bombings prompted the government to move into action. During the investigation and subsequent arrests and prosecutions, it was established that many of the activists of the now-banned Jamatul Mujahidin Bangladesh (JMB) and Harkatul Jihad Al Islami Bangladesh (HUJI-B), who carried out the bombing operations were in fact Madrassa students.

Growth of Madrassa Education in Bangladesh

The number of Aliya Madrassas grew at a slow pace in Bengal throughout the British and Pakistan period. During the partition of India in 1947, the Arabic section of the Calcutta Aliya Madrassa was transferred to Dhaka; it has since then been known as the Government Aliya Madrassa, Dhaka. The Government of East Pakistan formed a Madrassa Education Board in 1949 to regulate the course of studies and conduct terminal examinations. By 1957, there were 726 Aliya Madrassas in the then East Pakistan. At the time of the Liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, there were about a thousand Madrassas in the country. However, since the early 1980s, there was a sharp growth of Madrassas in Bangladesh, faster than the growth of mainstream educational institutions. By 2003, there were nearly 13,000 Madrassas of the Aliya variety in Bangladesh. Unlike Aliyas, the Quomis depend on private donations for their operation. Sometimes the Madrassas are co-located with the Mazars of local saints, wherefrom some donations would be diverted to the Madrassas. Many Muslims contribute substantial amounts to the upkeep of Madrassas as a part of their religious duties. Businessmen, industrialists, and politicians often donate generously to local mosques and Madrassas 1

to earn a name for them and influence public opinion. Most Quomi Madrassas are on 'Waqf' land (donated for religious use); but some have sprung up on fallow government land, either without the knowledge of authorities, or sometimes in collusion with officials. Private donors and organisations in the oil-rich Gulf states, notably Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, have been financing the Quomi Madrassas in recent years. Due to poor banking supervision and lax financial regulations, the Arab agencies, NGOs and private individuals found it easy to finance Madrassas and propagate their brand of Islam in Bangladesh. There is no means to record or publish data as to the specific sources, recipients and amount of funds received to support religion-based education. The Government of Bangladesh has recently introduced tighter control on the inflow of foreign donations, banned a number of Middle Eastern NGOs and extradited some foreign nationals for clandestine activities.

Current State of Madrassa Education in Bangladesh

The Types and Curriculums of Aliya Madrassas
Aliya Madrassa education is divided into 5 stages of 16 years' duration from primary to postgraduate level. The stages are: Ibtidaia (primary), Dakhil (middle & secondary), Alim (higher secondary), Fazil (graduate) and Kamil (post-graduate). The stages are described below (Azher, 2001):

Ibtidaia (Primary) After 1915, the primary level maktabs operated as feeders to the New-Scheme Madrasahs. Later, following the recommendations of an Education Commission, the maktabs were transformed into Ebtedayee Madrasahs as feeder institutions. The Bangladesh Madrasah Education Board provided approval to these Ibtidaia Madrassas. There are 18 requirements that the Ibtidaia Madrasahs have to fulfill for approval. The Board investigates whether the community agrees that there is a need for a Madrasah in the locality, that the proposed Madrasah has enough land registered for it, waqf land, the required furniture as required by construction regulations, approval from the Madrasah committee and relevant bodies, a selection committee which includes a government representative formed through appropriate advertisement in public publications, teachers and administrative staff, money in the bank in general fund and reserve fund as per regulations, enough books in the library, enough students and reasonable distance from other Madrasahs before giving approval. However, in most cases, Ibtidaia Madrasahs have mushroomed all over the country without fulfilling all or even the most basic of these requirements. These governments approved Madrasahs are operated through donations from the local community, government grants, and sometimes grants from the local government. Among these, all sources of income, including government grants are more or less irregular. Reliable information regarding the number of Ibtidaia Madrasahs is unavailable. In addition to all Madrasahs having an Ibtidaia section (primary section), there are a number of separate Ibtidaia Madrasahs. According to BANBEIS (Preliminary Report of the National Education Survey, 1999), there are 1,363,572 students in the Ibtidaia sections adjacent to the Dakhil, Alim, Fazil and Kamil Madrasahs. A report in the Daily Janakantha states that there are 10,000 Ibtidaia Madrasahs in the country. Another source determines the number at 9,561. 2

Curriculum: Ibtidaia (4-5 years): Emphasis is put on correct recitation of the Holy Qur'an. Other subjects are: Basics of Islam, Arabic, Bangla, Arithmetic and an introduction to History, Geography and General Science. Dakhil and Alim (Secondary & Higher secondary) The Dakhil and Alim levels are equivalent to secondary and higher secondary school respectively. Dakhil is for 5 years and Alim for 2 years duration. Currently there are four sections in the Dakhil level: Dakhil General Section, Dakhil Science Section, Dakhil Mujabbid Section and Dakhil Hifzul Quran Section. Under the New Scheme policy, both the Dakhil and Alim levels place emphasis on science. However, in reality, the majority of the Dakhil and Alim Madrasahs do not even have a basic laboratory. In fact, in a number of Madrasahs, the position of science teacher often remains vacant . In Bangladesh, currently there are 4,865 Dakhil and 1,090 Alim Madrasahs that are government approved (Bangladesh Education Statistics, 2000). Akin to the Ebtedayee Madrasahs, Madrasahs at these levels have to fulfill 18 conditions before applying to the Board for government approval. These Madrasahs are also operated through government grants, donations from the local community, student fees, local government grants and fees and payments from religious occasions. Almost all sources of income are more or less irregular. The Madrasah Education Board or the Directorate of Higher and Secondary Education do not have any regular monitoring or inspection activities for Dakhil and Alim level Madrasahs. A kind of monitoring does take place however for auditing and for allocation of grants. However, several of these types of Madrasahs are included among the 251 Madrasahs that lost government approval and MPO because of charges of corruption and mismanagement. Curriculum: Dakhil (5-6 years): In this phase too, the emphasis is on correct recitation and understanding of the Qur'an along with its commentaries. At this stage, the students are introduced to the Islamic Creed, Islamic Law and Jurisprudence, Arabic and a number of secular subjects. Alim (2 years): At this stage, students are streamed into two groups - Humanities and Science. Both groups have to concentrate on the Qur'an and Hadith, Islamic Law, Law of Inheritance, Arabic and Islamic History. The Humanities group studies Arabic and Persian in-depth and the Science group studies a number of natural science subjects. Fazil and Kamil (Graduate and Post-Graduate) Fazil and Kamil are the last two levels of the government approved Madrasah system. The Fazil level includes both Honors and Pass Courses. The duration of Honors Course is 3 years and Pass Course duration is 2 years. The Kamil level is 2 years for the Fazil Pass Course completers and 1 year for the Fazil Honors Course completers. There are 1,000 Fazil Madrasahs and 141 Kamil Madrasahs (among which there are 3 completely state owned Kamil Madrasahs) in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Madrasah Education Board undertakes the final exams at Fazil and Kamil level as well as presenting the certificates. Even after the establishment of Islamic University, the Boards authority in this was not curbed by granting this particular responsibility to the University. As a result, it is not possible for the Board to maintain even quality from primary level to Masters Level. It 3

should be noted that the Bangladesh Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Boards have access to more resources and staff compared to the Madrasah Board. Yet the Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Boards do not have the responsibilities of awarding graduate level certificates or of controlling graduate level exams. These responsibilities are taken care of by the relevant universities. But the Madrasah Board, despite its limitations in terms of resources and staff is responsible for all these things (Bangladesh National Education Commission Report, 1988). Both Fazil and Kamil place high emphasis on the learning of Arabic. Completers of these degrees have almost no knowledge of the social sciences or of the fundamentals of science. Hence, it has not been possible to combine these levels with mainstream general education.

Curriculum: Fazil (2 years). The students are again streamed into two groups - Humanities and Science. Like Dakhil, here too both groups have, in addition to common religious subjects, a number of secular subjects. Kamil (2 years). This is the highest stage of Aliya Madrassa education. Here the students study only religious subjects. They specialise in different branches, such as: Hadith, Tafsir (Interpretation of the Qur'an), Islamic Jurisprudence and Arabic Literature. In Bangladesh, Dakhil and Alim degrees from the Madrassa Board are recognised as equivalent to Secondary (SSC) and Higher Secondary (HSC) qualifications. Students passing examinations at these stages can get admitted into mainstream colleges and universities. The Madrassa students and teachers have demanded for some time that the government should recognise Fazil and Kamil Degrees as equivalent to BA and MA degrees. The BNP-led Coalition Government, at the far end of its tenure in 2006, acceded to the demand of the Madrassa lobby despite strong arguments to the contrary from academics and educationists. Like many issues in Bangladesh, this too has taken on a political hue. At the Ibtidaia stage, there is a relatively small difference in the course curriculum between Aliya and primary education, but as a student progresses in either stream the differences grow. Even a cursory look at the Madrassa curriculum and books vis--vis mainstream education shows that although a Madrassa student studies secular subjects, the depth of the content, contact hours in class and the marks allotted in exams are significantly less for these subjects than in the mainstream. An examination of the Bangla, English, History, Geography, Social Studies and General Science textbooks for Dakhil classes of the Madrassa Board and those published by the National Curriculum and Textbook Board shows that the depth and scope of the content in the latter were substantially greater for each grade. The fact is that the two streams cannot be compared; each stands on its own ground in respect of their academic and broader educational purposes. Fazil and Kamil are even more religion centred and cannot be regarded as comparable to mainstream degrees from universities.

Curriculum of the Quomi Madrassa

Accurate information on Quomi Madrassas is not available through the government. Most of the Quomi Madrassas are of Deobandi tradition. Befaqul Madarrisil Arabia Bangladesh, more commonly known as the Quomi Madrassa Board, claims to represent the Quomi Madrassas in the country. In a petition to the government in 2006, the Board claimed to represent more than 15,000 4

Madrassas with about 132,000 teachers and 1,850,000 students across the country. It is difficult to verify the claim, but evidently the Quomi Madrassas have grown in a major way in Bangladesh. There are seven stages of learning in a Quomi Madrassa. The pre-primary section of a Quomi Madrassa is known as Hifzul Qu'ran, or Qur'an memorizing section. Most students would spend 3-4 years memorizing the Qur'an. The students would then move to lbtidaia or primary. By then the student could read and write Arabic, Urdu and Persian, although most of it would be rote learning. At this stage the student is also taught some basic Bangla, English, Mathematics, and Islamic History. About ten years of schooling would lead a student to Mutawasita (Secondary School Certificate) and then to Sanubia Ulya (Higher Secondary Certificate) standard. By then the student would have a good knowledge of the Qur'an and its interpretations and commentaries, memorized hundreds of Hadith and their origins, studied Islamic Law and Jurisprudence, read Islamic philosophy, Islamic History, Logic and have studied a number of old classics in Arabic, Persian and Urdu. A very small proportion of students would move to the next higher stages of Fazeelat (graduation) and Taqmeel (post-graduation). These students might become Muftis and Dawara Hadith who could give Fatwas or make judgements on disputes involving religious interpretations. The Quomi Madrassa curriculum appears to be outdated even by 19th century standards. Students graduating from these Madrassas learn no modern skills and cannot be usefully employed other than in a Muslim religious institution. While some textbooks on secular subjects have been published by the Befaqul Madarrisil for use in Quomi Madrassas, these are not approved by the government. The Bangla, English and History textbooks tell the stories of Jihad against Hindus and infidels - painted as the enemies of Islam. Some of the texts in history books are based on mythology or a biased interpretation of history and can poison young minds with communalism and hatred. In one such history book, Emperor Akbar is described as a heretic and allotted only a few paragraphs, while quite a few pages are devoted to Mujaddid Al-Fisani and his Jihad against Emperor Akbar. In none of the Bangla textbooks is there a single story or poem by a Hindu writer. Even Rabindranath Tagore, undisputedly the greatest of all Bengali writers and a Nobel laureate, has no place in any textbook! Young Quomi students are thus being exposed to blatant communalism. Prof. Kazi Nurul Islam, Head of Comparative Religion at Dhaka University said in an interview, These Madrassas spread hatred. They teach that when someone from another religion dies, one should say in Arabic, 'Let this person be in hell for eternity'. Whereas our Prophet (SM) asked his companion to stand up and pay respect to a coffin of a Christian as it was being carried.

Curriculum and Teaching Methods of Madrasahs

The quality of education that is generated from a particular kind of education system depends much on the syllabus, curriculum, the teachers and his/her teaching methods. The experience of the individuals who develop the curriculum, how well they understand the psychology of students of a certain age, how sincere and committed they are towards the history and tradition of the nation, how well they can comprehend the realities of modern life are issues that need to be taken into consideration. It is unfortunate that the expertise of those who are responsible for developing the curriculum for the Bangladesh Madrasah Education Board is not beyond suspicion. Despite constant revisions of the curriculum, its current state does not ensure mental or intellectual development of the students. In application, Madrasah education is slightly spiritual in nature. In this system, the aim of life is believed to be comprehension of the divine by the individual. Hence, the only objective of education 5

becomes to provide an understanding of the divine. As the practice of religion is the primary objective of Madrasah education, this concept takes precedence. However, it should be mentioned that even this ideology is not properly practiced in the Madrasah system. The intrusion of worldly and material issues makes comprehension of the divine a difficult matter. It should be noted that this syllabus for the Dakhil level is considered equivalent to the Secondary School Certificate. Two important subjects, Geography and Economics, have been given a full 100 marks course. However, instead of including the important topics in the remaining 50 marks, the courses simply teaches a few geographical terminologies and then religionizes the rest of the course material. It should be noted that after introducing the terminology in the first part, the second part focuses on relating to the Kaaba. How a student who studies this Kaaba-centric very limiting course can be considered the equivalent of a student who has followed the general geography course is a valid question. Social Science in the Dakhil level provides an introduction to the political background of Bangladesh with a Muslim slant, which only gives the student a one sided view of politics. A number of important topics relevant to the history of the subcontinent have not been considered necessary to be included. In addition, a number of chapters have been included in this curriculum that may serve to encourage communal feelings and beliefs in a student. A person who takes on the responsibility of teaching should be rich in modern thought and scientific reasoning. It is incumbent upon the teacher to better him/herself by keeping up to date in the various relevant fields of knowledge. Where the teachers themselves are active in the practice of knowledge, it is there that the students can clearly see knowledge itself. However, it would not be inaccurate to say that there are only a few teachers who regularly continue to study even after they have become teachers. This tendency is even less evident among Madrasah teachers. The majority of Madrasah teachers are uninstructed in modern and secular methods of teaching. To their students they impart the same narrow views and beliefs that they themselves hold. These teachers mainly teach their students how to become blind believers without questioning anything. There is no custom to examine, review or discuss facts or theories. Creativity is stifled instead of being encouraged. As the teachers are unable to accept any new scientific discoveries, the students also lack that mentality. This is a lifeless world of rote memorization, restricted thinking, and blind faith. A good teacher should have a pleasant and grave personality, s/he should be lively, hardworking, deft at encouraging enthusiasm and motivation to learn, natural, agreeable and refined in behavior, original, flexible, be a good speaker, witty and decisive. However, it is almost impossible to cultivate these qualities in those who emerge from the closed world of the Madrasah system. Hence, it is not possible for them to become good teachers. It is very natural for a student to become the kind of teacher s/he that they themselves had come into contact with. If, instead of encouraging the curiosity of the students, their minds are set certain boundaries in their road to knowledge, then their intellectual and mental growth is obstructed. This is how Madrasah students are made to lag behind compared to an individual studying under the general education stream. Where, through encountering the ideals of democracy and tolerance, under general education the student has the potential to develop into an individual with humanist values, under the Madrasah system a student learns to stand on the ground of blind religiosity. Hence, a great divide is created between the two in terms of thought, judgment and life values. The thinking 6

of Madrasah students regarding issues such as health, education, family planning, female education, female leadership etc. is strongly negative. They are always against developmental and progressive movements. The cultural level of a Madrasah student is not of the level desired of a citizen of todays world. Living in Bangladesh, they dream of Arabia, proud of the grandeur of Arabia. These rootless thoughts and delusions of inferiority create identity and existential dilemma for individuals. Students fall prey to this dilemma from their very educational institutions. No interest is discerned on their part regarding the occasions and national celebrations so close to the hearts of Bengalis. The First of Baishakh, 21st February, March 26, December 16 none of these days create enthusiasm within them. Many Madrasahs do not even observe these national holidays. Rather students are taught to identify the customs and ceremonies that mark these occasions as Bidaat. They consider music, dance, theatre, and fairs to be inappropriate and stay away from them. In place of the traditional Bengali music and dance, only devotional music such as Gazl, Hamd, and Nat are encouraged. It has been mentioned that apart from the state owned Aaliya Nisaab Madrasahs, the Qawmi, Hafezi and other Madrasahs primarily rely on donations from the populace for funding. Teachers take part in the process of obtaining the money, and it is compulsory for the students to participate as well. Students and teachers of these Madrasahs are engaged in this begging routine almost throughout the year. In the rural areas, during autumn when the farmers begin threshing the paddy, a group of people wearing long robes, panjabis, caps and turbans with receipt books can be seen begging for paddy. Usually these groups comprise one-teacher and three/four students. The culture of dependency and of begging that the students are exposed to at an early stage remains within their minds in later periods of their lives. The Madrasahs promote bans and prohibitions in terms of clothing as well. Even when their student days are over, as in other aspects of culture, the students are unable to express or practice current fashions or even personal taste in matters of fashion and attire. A separate apparel culture develops in the same society. Students are allowed absolutely no flexibility at all in this aspect. In the general education system, some schools have a specified uniform, which is not necessary outside of the school. But the uniform that the Madrasah promotes is turned into clothing for all times. The kind of pressure that students must face in this aspect has made headlines in the newspapers.

According to a report, 12/13 students of the Padmapara Rahmania Dakhil Madrasah of Gabtoli thana, Bogra who dressed in shirts and trousers had their heads shaved and their shirt collars chopped off. Although this Madrasah did not have any official requirements in terms of clothing, it was announced that all male students were required to wear panjabi and pajamas and female students would have to wear scarves to class. When, despite the announcement, several boys came to class in shirts and trousers simply out of habit, an Assistant Teacher, Maulana Rustam Ali, grew angry and initiated this act. The humiliated students complained to their parents and a meeting was arranged at the Madrasah compound where Maulana Rustam Ali was penalized to the tune of Taka 1,000 and fifteen days suspension. A similar incident that happened in the Bhoripasha Syed Murtoza Dakhil Madrasah of Baufol Potuakhali was reported by the Daily Jugantor. A student assaulted an Assistant Teacher of the Madrasah when he was ordered not to wear shirts and trousers to class.

The process of limiting and curtailing the rights of the individual and forcing a foreign culture upon the students discourages the development of a tolerant and open environment. Creativity flourishes in an open environment. As the Madrasah system does not encourage freethinking, it does not produce any artists or creative individuals. There are a few exceptions Shahidullah Kaisar, Dr. Qudrat E Khuda but exceptions are not examples. There is not a single Madrasah teacher who has been able to make a place for himself in mainstream creative literature. The works of those who are working in this field abound with fundamentalist values and are unable to gain acceptance from the mass populace. The few individuals who have studied under the Madrasah system and have earned renown as literary figures have either later been educated under the general education system themselves or at least have been heavily influenced by secular thoughts and ideas of individuals who have been educated under the general education system. The names of Mir Mosharraf Hossain, Nawab Abdul Latif, Syed Aamir Ali, Moniruzzaman Islamabadi, Akram Khan, Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah, Qazi Motahar Hossain, Mohammad Ali, Monsur Uddin, Dr. Enamul Haq, Abul Fazal, Golam Samdani Quraishi can be mentioned in this regard. Sadly enough, a number of Madrasahs in Bangladesh have totally prohibited usage of Bangla; it is compulsory to speak in Urdu within the boundaries of the Madrasah. This practice has not been issued from the Board or from any institution; this is the product of the fertile brains of certain teachers. Noncompliance with this order may result in barbaric abuse of students. The Darul Ulum Madrasah of Rangpur is one such institution. Instead of the national anthem, these Madrasahs teach We will become Taliban, Bangla will be Afghan type of slogans. Instead of nurturing humanistic values within students, they are taught to achieve domination over opponents through any means (including physical attacks) at all. The quality of education currently provided under the Madrasah education system, does not provide much scope for students to develop as modern human beings. The conservative attitudes of the authorities, low quality teaching aids, unskilled teachers, high levels of corruption, fundamentalist and backward looking politics all these factors combine to ensure that a good teaching learning environment does not exist within the Madrasah system. In the Bangladesh period, science was included alongside religious instruction to make Madrasah education more dynamic and relevant. However, in the majority of Madrasahs, the methods used for science and the teachers themselves have no understanding of scientific reasoning or thought. Although the restrictive Madrasah has made space to include science, no steps have been taken to contend with the barriers to developing a rational or scientific mindset. Sections from the Natural Science textbook (Board Memo No. Text/107/S-3, Date 6.1.94) issued under the new curriculum of the Bangladesh Madrasah Education Board may be examined. The book uses quotations from the Quran quite often. Although these quotations are translated in Bangla, in most cases the language is almost incomprehensible, and certainly beyond the comprehension of a Class III student. In addition, the translations are not accurate, and contain serious errors.

Confusions regarding scientific concepts from childhood does not help towards clear thought or understanding in later life. Science education under the Madrasah system actually pushes students towards this kind of confusion, which plays a role in developing unscientific and irrational minds. When these individuals enter the reality of the workplace or mainstream society, they constantly encounter issues and situations that they cannot accept nor do they have the courage to totally reject. This dilemma makes them unable to participate in any forward-looking movement. They merely strengthen the followers of the irrational and involve themselves with anti-progressive activities with an eye looking towards the afterlife. The quality of Madrasah education began this decline with the establishment of the Aaliyah Madrasah in Calcutta in 1780 under Colonial India. In a report made by Chapman after he became the Principal of the Aaliyah Madrasah in 1907, he wrote that the reason for the decline in quality of Madrasah education was that the old school of teachers were retiring and there seemed no possibility of equally qualified teachers taking their place. Commencing in Calcutta, this decline continued even after the transfer to Dhaka after the Partition in 1947. Unqualified teachers, low quality education, no compulsion to improve the situation as the children of the upper class and educated families ignored the Madrasahs all these contributed to crippling the Madrasahs system. The low cultural levels of Madrasah teachers, lack of knowledge regarding Islamiyat or oriental studies have all relegated the modern Madrasah system to such a state that the possibility that this system will be able to develop an individual who might play a strong and positive role in the development of the nation is almost zero. (Umar)

Academic Environment in the Madrassas

Teaching practices in the Madrassas emphasise rote learning and conformity, and do not encourage critical thinking or analysis. Even at the highest level of Madrassa education there is no research; the door of 'Ijtihad' is shut. The depth of knowledge is judged by the number of Hadith and its sources one can memorise. Painting, sculpture, music, drama, and dance are forbidden in all Madrassas. Students in most Madrassas cannot watch TV, movies or even listen to songs on the radio all being considered un-Islamic. The students can only sing Hamd (song praising Allah) and Naat (song praising the Prophet (SM)), and these without any musical accompaniment. Creative talents of the students are thus nipped in the bud. Life in a Quomi Madrassa is one endless cycle of chanting the scriptures, doing the daily chores, saying prayers, more chanting and so on. Sport activities are quite restricted because the students cannot wear pants or shorts and also most Madrassas cannot afford much sports facilities. Girls are barred from any sporting activities whatsoever. Students in Quomi Madrassas are not allowed to sit on chairs, wear western-style shirts and trousers or use cutlery. The living areas and classrooms in most Madrassas are cramped and unhygienic. The teachers use coercive methods including corporal punishment to discipline the students. Cases of child abuse by the resident superintendent and others in the administration are often reported in the press. Many cases of child abuse or sexual harassment might go unreported because of the fear of reprisal from the authorities. The learning environment is so unfriendly, the teaching methodology so archaic, the books so dull, the print quality so poor, that there is little incentive for a child to be attracted to learning. It can, therefore, be concluded that neither the course content nor the academic environment in the Madrassa system is conducive for education. 9

Impact of Madrassa Education on Society and Politics

Social Impact
Madrassa education has impacted Bangladesh society in many ways. The Calcutta Aliya Madrassa was instrumental in producing a good number of educated Muslim men who made contributions to various professional fields. Aliya students like Justice Syed Amir Ali helped raise Muslim consciousness in the sub-continent. The Spirit of Islam, his timeless classic, promoted greater understanding of Islam in the West. With a British Principal at its head and staunch support from the administration, the inroad to modern education could not be stopped. However, till the middle of the 20th century, the door for the Calcutta Aliya Madrassa was open to the children of the elites only; poor peasantry had no entry there. Due to their inclination to reject everything 'western', the Quomi Madrassas in Bengal continued to represent a fossilised version of Islam that lacked vigour and strength. Yet these Madrassas brought some light of education to the poor rural children. Haji Muhammad Shariat Ullah, a Madrassa teacher, not only campaigned to rid Islam of un-Islamic practices and traditions, but he raised his voice against the oppressive measures of mostly Hindu Zamindars of Bengal whose tenants were mostly Muslim peasants. Madrassa education helped preserve and consolidate some of the Islamic traditions in Bengal which were on the verge of being lost due to colonial neglect and the Hindu majority's overwhelming social and economic influence. It can, therefore, be said that the Madrassas have provided an important service to the society in the past. However, as society moved on, the Madrassas were unable to keep pace with the changing times. Madrassa educated youths became increasingly irrelevant in a technology-driven, fast-changing modern society. While the Aliya graduates saw some openings in the job market, those coming out of the Quomis had no other options but to be an Imam, a Muezzin or a teacher in a Madrassa. As a result, a very large number of mosques and Madrassas came into being in Bengal, quite unlike any other Muslim country. Typical Bangladeshi village life was one of a mixture and synthesis of the Hindu and Muslim religion. The Muslim Sufi and the Hindu Baishnab traditions had much in common in their outlook on the world and the hereafter. The Madrassa educated Ulemas, especially the Deobandi and Ahle-e-Hadith variety, appeared to have been able to sow cleavages in the Bengali society. Their continuous attack on the Sufi traditions and other religious beliefs not only created a rift in the minds of the two largest communities of Bengal - Hindus and Muslims but it also created division and tension within the Muslim community. A recent movement by a group of Ulemas to declare the Ahmadiyas as nonMuslims is one such example. These Ulemas are dragging down the image of the country and the religion they represent on issues that are far removed from an ordinary citizen's concern. (Sattar, 2004) The Ulemas have been especially hard on the women and the poor. Their view had always been that a woman's workplace is to be inside the home looking after her husband and children. Females are to be covered from head to toe and always to be in the custody of a male guardian. Madrassa education promotes the idea that women are inferior in intellect and are responsible for many of the ills that have befallen humankind. In recent past, Fatwas issued by Ulemas became quite common and the victims were always the poor village women. In a judgement on 31 December, 10

2002, the High Court of Bangladesh declared the issuing of Fatwas illegal and punishable under law (07Ap). The Pro-Fatwa group moved to the Supreme Court and got a stay order on the verdict. As a result, Fatwa against females and the poor goes on unabated. On 25 March 2006, in a huge gathering of Quomi Madrassa students in Dhaka, one of the Islamic Party Chiefs, who was also in the Government Alliance, openly challenged the High Court verdict and declared that it was their right to issue Fatwa and that they would continue to do so. Declaring one a 'Murtaad' or heretic has been used as a ploy to throttle unorthodox or free thinking in Bangladesh. It was unknown in the past, but now poets, writers, philosophers and lawyers - whosoever challenges the religious establishment might be declared a Murtaad, and the Ulemas would demand his or her death as punishment for apostasy. The Madrassa lobby has been propagating against the NGOs, portraying them as agents of Christian Missionaries, out to destroy Islam by taking the females outside the perimeter of the home. Women have become the victims of tremendous religious pressure. They are under pressure to use the veil or face open censure and threats. The fact that many are succumbing to pressure is evident on the street where increasingly more women are in burqas or hijab. Bengali culture and heritage is also under increasing pressure. Observance of Bangla New Year, paying homage in the Shaheed Minar (memorial site for the martyrs of the Bengali Language Movement), singing and merrymaking during marriage or other social occasions, drawing of Alpana (traditional decorative drawing on floor or walls of a house) all these attract flak from the Ulemas. (Asadullah & Chowdhury, 2006)

Political Impact
As the number of Madrassas kept rising, so did their influence. A big boost came at the time of the government under President Ershad (1981-90). Lacking a popular base, he used Islam as a political tool. The Head of the Madrassa Teachers' Association, a person with a murky past, was inducted as the Religious Affairs Minister. The Dakhil and Alim courses were pronounced as equivalent of the SSC and HSC credentials mainly to please the Madrassa lobby. There was a large increase in the number of Madrassas and public budgetary allocations for them. Subsequent governments found it expedient to continue with the trend. The chart below shows that the government continues to spend as a political expediency more per capita on the Madrassa student than on the equivalent mainstream student.


It should be noted that there are only three government madrassas in the country, which benefited the most from government budget allocation, compared to several hundred government school and colleges. On the whole, it is evident that per student public expenditure in madrassas was higher than in comparable secular institutions. There has been a kind of invidious discrimination between mainstream and Madrassa students in conducting SSC and HSC vis--vis Dakhil and Alim examinations. The chart below shows how wide the difference has been in the pass rates. One Madrassa Examination Board in the country conducts the terminal Dakhil and Alim (equivalent to SSC and HSC in the mainstream) examinations. On the other hand, six boards, one in each division, conduct SSC and HSC examinations. The pass rates for the Madrassa Board have been consistently and substantially higher than in the other boards. The better results of Madrassa students cannot reasonably be attributed to better standards of education in Madrassas or stronger intellectual capabilities of Madrassa students. (Huda, 2009)

Madrassa students, same as the students of secular institutions, have been subject to the influence of the student fronts of national political parties. While the Aliya Madrassas have been generally under the control of Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS), or the Islamic Student Camp, the student wing of the Jamat-e-Islami, the Quomi ones were tied with various smaller Islamic parties such as Islamic Oikyo Jote (Islamic Unity Front) or Islamic Shashontantra Andolon (Islamic Constitution Movement). ICS is the most well-organised and disciplined student party in Bangladesh today. They now control a number of major public universities, besides many colleges and almost all the Aliya Madrassas. From a humble beginning in 1975, the Islamic student organisations have gained great strength in recent decades. The Islamic parties also have become stronger, and for the first time in the history of Bangladesh, the Islamic Parties joined in a coalition to form the government after the general election in 2001.


Madrassa Education and the Rise of Religious Extremism

The rise of religious extremism has paralleled the growth of Madrassa education in the country. Some of the extremist trends have already been noted above. When the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan in 1996, they were heroes to the Madrassa students in Bangladesh. The favoured slogan among them was: We all want to be Taliban, Bangla will be Afghan. After 9/11, there were large demonstrations showing support for the carnage, mostly by Madrassa students, with toy machine guns and picture of Osama bin Laden. Meanwhile, violent attacks on institutions or individuals who differed from the Islamist viewpoint had already started. First was the bombing of a musical programme by Udichi (a cultural organization devoted to promoting the Bengali cultural tradition) in Jessore on March 6, 1999. Since then, there have been a series of bomb attacks on Mazars (tombs of saints), cinema halls, circus shows, Bangla New Year celebrations and opposition political rallies that killed hundreds and injured many more. Fingers were pointed towards the religious extremists, but the government of the day blamed it on the opposition or foreign agents working in the country. However, the spate of bombings on 17 August 2005, when improvised explosive devices burst in 63 locations in the country almost simultaneously, and a suicide bombing in a courthouse a few days later, made it difficult to ignore the pattern of extremism. It became clear that JMB had recruited as suicide bombers mostly poor Madrassa students, incited a state of religious frenzy among them, and convinced them that to kill themselves and other fellow humans was a divine duty. The massive police action that followed the simultaneous bomb blasts netted many terrorists, yet there remained many unanswered questions as to how the group could organize and plan such coordinated attacks with impunity. Could there be other players beyond the reach of the lawenforcement agencies? As reported in the press, many of the JMB activists and leaders were at one time or another involved in mainstream Islamic political parties and then formed splinter groups. While the rank and file of the JMB was composed of students of various Quomi Madrassas, the leadership and ideological inspiration came from the Islamic political parties.

Reform of Madrassa Education

The history of Madrassa education is replete with attempts to bring about reform in its curriculum since the British period. A major reform was initiated in 1851 by dividing the Academic section of the Calcutta Aliya Madrassa into Arabic Section and Anglo-Persian Section (Sattar 2004,138). The next major reform was initiated in 1882 under the chairmanship of W.W. Hunter, a noted educationist and writer (Sattar 2004, p.153). The Commission, which had as its Muslim members, Justice Amir Ali and Nawab Abdul Latif, recommended compulsory teaching of English language in all Madrassas. There were three other major efforts in 1908, 1921 and 1946. There was a gradual modernisation of the Aliya system of education in Bengal and it was reflected in a larger number of Aliya educated Muslim youth joining the mainstream education system. However, throughout the whole period, the Quomi system remained untouched. In 1959, the government of Pakistan formed a National Education Commission generally known as the Sharif Commission (Sattar 2004, p.239). The Commission strongly criticised the existing religious education system in the country as outdated 13

and out-of-step with changing times. It proposed a series of measures to modernise Madrassa education and bring it closer to the mainstream education system. It proposed that the Islamic Studies Department in the Universities produce scholars to do research and develop Islamic knowledge. The first National Education Commission in Bangladesh, headed by Dr. Qudrat-i-Khuda, was formed in July 1972. In 1974, the Commission recommended uniform, free and compulsory primary education of 8-years' duration. It recommended Bangla to be the medium of instruction at all levels of education. Anyone wishing to pursue Madrassa education could do so after the 8th grade, according to the Commission. The implementation of this report would have brought about a major qualitative shift in Madrassa education, but the report was largely shelved after the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, founder of Bangladesh, in August 1975 and the military coup d'etat. In 1978, the Dakhil (9th-10th) and Alim (11th12th) classes were divided into two streams, namely, Humanities and Science. As mentioned earlier, the courses were declared equal to SSC and HSC, and the students could shift to the mainstream education after these public examinations. It became a routine in Bangladesh to set up an Education Commission by a new regime soon after assuming power, but the Commission reports were never fully acted upon. The last commission to make recommendations on Madrassa education was the Maniruzaaman Commission in 2003. The recommendations reflected the increasing influence of the Madrassa Lobby. This Commission was silent on Quomi Madrassas. Some of its key recommendations were (National Education Commission Report, 2003): a. Nationalisation of Ibtidaia Madrassas in the same proportion as the primary schools. b. Introduction of the same textbooks in Bangla, English and Mathematics in Ibtidaia Madrassas as in primary schools. c. Provision of the same facilities to the teachers and students in the Ibtidaia Madrassas as in the primary schools. d. Fazil and Kamil stages to be declared equivalent to the mainstream BA and MA respectively. e. Establishment of a separate affiliating university to handle the Madrassas. f. Establishment of a Madrassa Teachers Training College. g. Setting up of a separate Madrassa Textbook Board. h. Setting up of a Bangladesh Civil Service (Madrassa) cadre (similar to Bangladesh Civil Service education cadre for employment in government education institutions in the mainstream). i. Setting up of a government Madrassa in each of 64 districts (compared to currently existing three government Madrassas). j. Stopping co-education in all Madrassas after 6th grade and setting up of separate girls' Madrassas. If one views these recommendations in the light of the Qudrat-i-Khuda Commission Report, one can discern the direction Bangladesh seems to be taking. Instead of a unified primary education system 14

as recommended in 1974, multiple systems of primary and secondary education have become institutionalized. The recommendation for common textbooks for the primary and the Ibtidaia stage appears to be contradicted by the recommendation for a separate Madrassa Textbook Board. Separate Teachers' Training Colleges for Madrassas and the proposal to create a BCS (Madrassa) Cadre or to open government Madrassas in each district can be seen as an attempt to promote the prominence and distinctiveness of this system. It might be again noted that public expenses per student in a government Madrassa were already higher than at the government colleges or schools.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Although Madrassas were meant to produce educated Muslim youth to provide leadership to the community, it could not do so because of the antiquated academic curriculum and educational practices. Educationists have often argued that Madrassa education needs to be modernised so that it can keep pace with the fast-changing world. Within the Madrassa system, the Aliya Madrassas changed somewhat with time because of government supervision and control, but thousands of Quomi Madrassas remained rooted to a syllabus that is totally outdated. The Madrassa culture appears to have become a force for retarding social progress in Bangladesh, especially on issues such as female education, their participation in the workforce, and the free movement of women. The Madrassa Lobby has taken a negative stand on these and other similar issues regarding the position of women in society. Similarly, the Madrassa community (students, teachers and their protagonists) has often taken a negative position on the cultivation and promotion of Bengali culture and traditions, which are viewed as anti-Islamic by the orthodox Islamic leaders. The rise of religious extremism, including violence in the name of religion, has made it an imperative to take a closer look at what is being taught in the Madrassas, how they are managed and who their products are. The recommendations made in the past regarding modernisation of the Madrassa curriculum and improvement of pedagogical practices has been mostly rhetorical. It appears that the political forces in the country have found it expedient not to take serious steps to reform the Madrassas, and have continued to ignore the growth of the Quomi Madrassas. They have generally appeased the Madrassa Lobby by yielding to its political demands. As indicated earlier, various ideas have been put forward to modernise, improve and adapt Madrassa education to the needs of a modern society. These included: a. Common curriculum and textbooks for core content areas; more modern content such as science, math, Bangla and English; discarding content spreading religious chauvinism, intolerance and obscurantism. b. Quality control and quality improvement in Madrassas through registration of all institutions, and enforcement of standards and criteria for educational service provisions in the country. c. Giving students genuine options by improving access to quality primary and secondary education; combining vocational training with Madrassa education and expanding secondary level education, both from the Madrassas and secular schools. 15

d. Improving public examinations in the education system as a whole to establish their reliability and validity; establishing comparability of standards in methods of assessment when equivalence between Madrassa and secular education is demanded. These reforms and development in Madrassa education can be accomplished only by creating public opinion favourable to reform and generating political will for this purpose. The Madrassa community itself needs to accept that such change is in its larger interest. Public debate and nationwide dialogue need to be encouraged about how best to integrate the Madrassas, including the Quomi Madrassas, into the national education system.


(n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2007, from (1988). Bangladesh National Education Commission Report. (1999). Preliminary Report of the National Education Survey. BANBEIS. (2000). Bangladesh Education Statistics. BANBEIS. (2003). National Education Commission Report. Ministry of Education. Asadullah, M., & Chowdhury, N. (2006). Religious Schools, Social Values, and Economic Attitudes: Evidence from Bangladesh. Oxford. Azher, S. (2001). An Islamic Philosophy of Education and its Role in Bangladesh Education. Dhaka: Hakkani Publishers. Huda, M. N. (2009). The alleged Madrasa Terrorism linkage. Sattar, A. (2004). Madrasa Education in Bangladesh and its Impact on Social Life. Umar, B. (n.d.). The Education Commission Report and Regarding Religious Education.