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Madrasa Reforms and Islamic Modernism in Bangladesh


The old project of modernizing madrasas has acquired a new zeal in South Asia after September 2011, whereby madrasa reform programmes became an acknowledged soft tactic of the war on terror. With 9000 Aliya (reformed) madrasas, the Bangladesh madrasa modernization programme has been identified as a potentially useful model for the neighbouring states of Pakistan and India who have made slower progress in implementing similar programmes. In this paper I argue that, although the Aliya madrasa system in Bangladesh has succeeded in integrating secular subjects in the madrasa curriculum, in reality this modernization project has failed in its underlying ambition to generate a ‘modern discourse’ on Islam—a discourse that is compatible with the demands of western modernity. The right to speak for Islam is still primarily exercised by the ‘ulama and graduates of the Qoumi (unreformed) madrasas. Aliya madrasas today compete with the secular schools not with Qoumi madrasas. The growth of the Aliya madrasa system in Bangladesh, instead of bearing testimony to the popular appeal of the modernization agenda, demonstrates the preference of Muslim parents for increased Islamic content in the school curriculum

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F. Osella and C. Osella 2008. ‘Introduction: Islamic Reformism in South Asia’, Modern Asian Studies. 42 (2/3): 247257

T. Andrabi , J. Das , A. J. Khawaja , and T. Zajonc 2005. Religious School Enrollment in Pakistan: A Look at the Data, Working Paper Series 3521, The World Bank

M. N. Asadullah and N. Chaudhury 2009. Religious Schools, Social Values, and Economic Attitudes: Evidence from Bangladesh. World Development. 38 (2): 205217

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M. J. Nelson 2006. Muslims, Markets and the Meaning of a ‘Good’ Education in Pakistan. Asian Survey. 46 (5): 699720

M. Bano 2007. Beyond Politics: Reality of a Deobandi Madrasa in Pakistan. Journal of Islamic Studies. 18 (1): 4368

M. Huq 2008. Reading the Qur’an in Bangladesh: The Politics of ‘Belief’ Among Islamist Women. Modern Asian Studies. 42 (2/3): 457488

E. Shehabuddin 2008. Jamaat-i-Islami in Bangladesh: Women, Democracy and the Transformation of Islamist Politics. Modern Asian Studies. 42, 2/3: 577603

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Modern Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0026-749X
  • EISSN: 1469-8099
  • URL: /core/journals/modern-asian-studies
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