By Vidhyapati Mishra
For Sagir Khan, 22, a student pursuing his four-year Electronic and Electrical Engineering under graduation degree from International Islami University in the Bangladeshi city of Chittagong, madrasa education has enriched his thinking and understanding.

Also see :

Pursuing Madrasa Education in Nepal (Nepalnews.com, Oct 1, 2010)
Originally from Gaur of Rautahat district, Khan shifted to Kathmandu for his education with one of his brothers 12 years ago. His brother was unable to support his education in private schools. So, he spent six years learning Arabic, Urdu and Quran besides English, Mathematics and Science at Madrasa Islamiya School, Bagbazaar.

“I have nothing to regret for those years I spent in that school,” he recalls his days at the Madrasa, “I learnt immensely from there. Now, I can read, write and understand Arabic quite well.” When his brother started making good money from his poultry business, he got an opportunity to enroll in Morning Glory High School from where he completed his School Leaving Certificate (SLC) in first division.

Considering the backwardness in his village and family regarding education, he finds himself to be one of the luckiest Muslim guys to avail educational facilities. “Each time I visit my village, I find youths of my age passing their golden days without education and I feel pity for them,” he shares.

He wants to explain to others that, although, Nepali Muslims are marginalised and backward, there are good opportunities for those who demonstrate educational skills. When Khan completed his higher secondary from Xavier’s International College at Kalopul of Kathmandu, Students Education Foundation (SEF) Nepal, which looks after scholarship for Muslim students, decided to fund for his Engineering degree in Bangladesh. “So, I am proud to be from a Muslim family,” he explains. SEF Nepal, in collaboration with the Islamic Development Bank of Jeddah, provides scholarships to deserving Muslim students each year.

Contrary to Sagir, ninth-grader Sana Khan, 14, regrets not joining Madrasa during her childhood. She says she feels awkward whenever she finds her contemporary girls and boys conversing in Arabic. She says, “I can read and write, but I don’t understand what I write.” It is her mother who taught this soft-spoken girl, who was waiting outside the Masjid for her Friday Namaz.

But, I am proud too, she explains. “I have got a chance to understand the modern world with the system of schooling I am attending.” According to this student, she has several relative girls who have simply attended madrasa education for some years and decided to discontinue due to various reasons. “These girls carry traditional ideas and need to open themselves up at lot to reach my level of understanding,” she makes it more clear.

An educationist, Alauddin Ansari, who has translated the holy Quran from Arabic into Nepali, admits that majority of those who can read or write Arabic do not understand their stuff. “Such a trend is more in districts and villages as teachers in madrasas are incapable of explaining in Arabic language.” He estimates the number of those who write, read and understand Arabic language fluently number not more than 500 in Nepal. “I spent seven years in India and next eight years in Pakistan to study Arabic language,” says he.

Unlike Alauddin, Sabiya Parween Ansari claims that her students are able to handle Arabic language quite well. “Since Arabic and Urdu go parallel in their studies, students do understand Arabic,” she opines. Besides teaching at Madrasa Islamiya School, Bagbazaar, Sabiya, who is an MA in Political Science from Tribhuvan University, has been actively involved in the party politics of the CPN-UML.

Challenges

The main cause behind lack of access to education for Muslims in Nepal is ignorance. Nepali Muslims, whose population is dominant in some Terai and Mountain districts, consider that they have always remained far from educational opportunities as proper awareness programmes have not reached them. They blame the government for failing to bring a package programme to promote their educational standards, encourage all young men and women to join at least madrasas if not the modern education and empower them with various opportunities.

According to Al-Hira Educational Society Nepal, there are many madrasas, which not only gives priority to religious education and Arabic language, but also offers various subjects as fixed by the District Education Office (DEO). And, there are some Islamic schools that provide higher secondary education, too. The society manages 12 madrasas and schools having around 5000 students.

Woman activist and chairperson of Nepal Muslim Welfare Society, Seema Khan, is of the opinion that teaching of Indian books and curricula in madrasa is not unusual given the lack of serious initiative to bring all Islamic educational institutions under one banner with same level of educational facilities, government grants, experienced teachers and standard curriculum.

“I accept that we haven’t reached to several Muslim villages to inform them about importance of education,” she narrates, “Muslim leaders desire to make career in politics than developing and educating their own community.”

On the other hand, the ministry of education has been urging all madrasas to obtain legal registration from the respective DEOs.  However, a Muslim scholar maintains this is not a convincing attempt to make madrasas survive well and recognise Islamic education. “Products from these schools are never recognised as other degree holders,” he narrates. He expresses that the government must issue equivalent status for these Islamic students besides forcing madrasas to get registered.

Several Muslims complain that not only those who educate in madrasas in Nepal, but even those who complete their madrasa education from noted Islamic institutions abroad are also not recognised in Nepal. However, the MoE attributes this to the absence of a single body to look after these institutions and the government is not in a position to prioritise this issue.

Issuing operation license to unregistered madrasas will simply not fulfill the state’s responsibility to ensure the rights of the citizens to education, which is recognised as basic right in the interim constitution, but a strong commitment to promote such institutions financially is a must as madrasas are run with contributions made from the community itself. Such contributions come from Jakat, Fitra, Udra Muthiya, Atiya and Qurbani skins. Madrasa operators are even sending their representatives to various Gulf and other Muslim countries to collect donations to run Islamic schools, informs Alauddin Ansari.

Secretary of Islami Sangh Nepal, Faizan Ahmad, says majority of madrasas lack the basic infrastructure. According to him, those who attend madras have to sit on the floor and school buildings are old and the roofs leak during rainy season. “They lack trained and perennial teachers as the intuitions are unable to pay them for their service or hold them for longer time,” Ahmad says.

In villages, the number of girl students is much higher than boys in madrasas as Muslims are clearly firm on not sending their girls to modern schools. Usually boys get such a chance for modern education in a private school when education is financially affordable or at least in public schools. However, majority of Muslims students cannot afford the expensive education in private schools. Even government schools are at traces in Muslim localities.

Govt initiative

According to Islami Sangh Nepal, there are over 2000 madrasas in Nepal. However, the ministry of education disagrees with this figure as not even 1000 Islamic institutions are registered so far. However, the ministry accepts operation of several madrasas without legal registration and uniform curriculum in the country.

Secretary of the Sangh, Faizan Ahmad, says attempts are being made to standardise the curriculum taught at madrasas nationwide. “Some of them impart simply the religious education, while some have adopted religion, language, science, mathematics and moral education as well.”

Education secretary Dipendra Bikram Thapa explains that the ministry is coordinating with District Education Offices across the nation to mainstreaming all religious educational institutions including madrasas. According to his claim, the government has taken such steps to protect and guarantee citizens’ right to education, regarded as a fundamental right by the present interim constitution.

“The state is obliged to ensure citizen’s right to education,” he maintains, “So, we are trying our level best to bring all those religious educational centres such as gumbas, madrasas and others into legal set up.”

According to Thapa, the government has been providing educational materials and teachers in registered madrasas as in public schools up to grade five. However, Muslim leaders don’t agree on this as they say no such facilities are provided so far since only a few madrasas have received the government supports.

“We have always been considered as second class citizens of this country by the state authority,” says Seema Khan. She is of the opinion that madrasas must be recognised as other schools to value educational standard of Muslim children in Nepal. “But, I am against those who are making madrasa education as a begging tool for earning in the name of education. Mushrooming madrasas is not good since we are simply adding burden to the state,” she said.

The ministry of education is waiting for a detailed report on madrasa education from the government-formed Madrasa Board. Secretary Thapa makes it clear that once the report is submitted, the ministry can implement various plans based on the board’s recommendations to bring madrasa education into inclusion education system. But, Muslim educationists say the board lacks visionary experts to given good suggestions to the government.

The Al-Hira has felt the need of restructuring madrasa into modern schools to standarise Islamic education with modern school education with the uniform curriculum. It blames the government of turning deaf ears to demands the society has been making. “Muslims of Nepal have never been treated equally as other citizens in terms of education. It has always failed to support and promote madrasas education,” the society’s secretary expressed.

Ahmad agrees that 29% of literacy rate of the Nepali Muslims is due to ignorance and poverty. Explaining the need of a powerful and well equipped Islamic University in the country, he says, “Government support is more important here since it is aware on such an alarming level of ignorance to education among the Muslims.”

If we rely on the verse of secretary Thapa, the education ministry has done a lot after the restoration of peace process in the nation. “We have achieved significantly on inclusive education plan,” Thapa claimed, “Mainstreaming madrasas into national education policy requires sufficient effort, budget and courage, but we are hopeful to achieve our target as per our plan.”

State minister for agriculture, Karima Begum, has different views to promote education among Muslims of Nepal. She says that Muslim community is bit conservative in sending girls for attending schools, and even madrasas.

She thinks if girls are provided free education up to college level, the current literacy rate of Muslims would go high. She tells, “The state has already accepted Dalits and Muslims as marginalised citizens. There are fixed quota for Dalit students, but such a provision isn’t there for Muslims. So, the state should be held responsible for ignoring Muslims.”

(Rajendra Pokhrel contributed to this story)

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