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Madrasa Reforms and Islamic Modernism in Bangladesh

  • MASOODA BANO (a1)
Abstract

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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1 Robinson, F. 2007. Islam, South Asia, and the West. New Delhi, Oxford University Press.

2 Osella, F. and Osella, C. 2008. ‘Introduction: Islamic Reformism in South Asia’, Modern Asian Studies. 42 (2/3): 247257, 247.

3 Hefner, R. W. and Zaman, M. Q. 2007. Schooling Islam: The Culture and Politics of Modern Muslim Education. Princeton, Princeton University Press; Starrett, G. 1998. Putting Islam to Work: Education, Politics, and Religious Transformation in Egypt. Berkeley, University of California Press.

4 Blanchard, C. M. 2005. Islamic Religious Schools, Madrasas: Background. CRS Report for Congress: Order Code: RS21654.

5 Ibid.

6 Asadullah, M. N. and Chaudhury, N. 2008. Holy Alliances: Public Subsidies, Islamic High Schools, and Female Schooling in Bangladesh. In Tembon, M. and Fort, Lucia (eds). Girl's Education in the 21st Century: Gender Equality, Empowerment and Growth. World Bank: Washington DC.

7 http://probenews.com/ [accessed 17 June 2013].

8 Alternative platforms for the exercising of religious authority, such as Islamic TV or radio programmes hosted by Islamic scholars trained in universities, have indeed emerged in Bangladesh as in other countries. However, the mosque and madrasa based authority still remains important, as these platforms are central to imparting Qura’nic and Islamic education to Muslim children.

9 Hefner, R. W. and Zaman, M. Q. 2007. Schooling Islam: The Culture and Politics of Modern Muslim Education. Princeton, Princeton University Press.

10 Robinson, F. 2007. Islam, South Asia, and the West.

11 Nizami, F. A. 1983. Madrasahs, Scholars, Saints: Muslim Response to the British Presence in Delhi and Upper Doab 1803–1857. D.Phil. Dissertation: University of Oxford.

12 Ibid.

13 Robinson, F. Islam, South Asia, and the West.

14 Nair, P. 2009. The State and Madrasas in India. Working Paper 15. DFID Religions and Development Research Consortium, University of Birmingham.

15 Robinson, F. Islam, South Asia, and the West.

16 Zaman, M. Q. 2002. The Ulama in Contemporary Islam: Custodians of Change. Princeton, Princeton University Press.

17 Robinson, F. Islam, South Asia, and the West.

18 Metcalf, B. 1978. The Madrasa at Deoband: A Model for Religious Education in India. Modern Asian Studies. 12 (1): 111134.

19 Robinson, F. 2008. Islamic Reform and Modernity in South Asia. Modern Asian Studies. 41 (5): 123.

20 Ibid.

21 Amin, H. 2010. From Islamism to Post-Islamism: A Study of a New Intellectual Discourse on Islam and Modernity in Pakistan. Ph.D. thesis. The Hague: International Institute of Social Studies.

22 Zaman, M. Q. 1999. Religious Education and Rhetoric of Reform: The Madrasa in British India and Pakistan. Comparative Studies in Society and History. 41 (2): 294323.

23 Amin, H. From Islamism to Post-Islamism.

24 Asad, T. 1986. The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam. Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. Washington, DC: Georgetown University.

25 Ibid, p. 16.

26 Bano, M. 2007. Contesting Ideologies and Struggle for Authority: State-Madrasa Relationship in Pakistan. Working Paper 14. DFID Religions and Development Research Programme, University of Birmingham.

27 Malik, J. 1997. Dynamics among Traditional Religious Scholars and their Institutions in Contemporary South Asia. The Muslim World. LXXXVII (3–4).

28 Ibid.

29 Nair, P. The State and Madrasas in India.

30 In Bangladesh, Qoumi madrasas are often implicated in this debate. Groups involved in Islamic militancy, such as the Islamic Oikya Jote, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami (HUJI), the Jihad Movement, Arakan Rohingya National Organization and Rohingya Solidarity Organization, have been argued to have links with Qoumi madrasas. See, Lintner, B. 2004. Religious Extremism and Nationalism in Bangladesh. In Limaye, S., Wirsing, R., and Malik, M. (eds) Religious Radicalism and Security in South Asia. Honolulu, Asia Pacific Centre for Security Studies.

31 Ahmed, S. 2005. Testimony of Samina Ahmed to U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee: Combating Terrorism through Education—the Near East & South Asian Experience. Washington DC, 19 April 2005; Embassy of Japan. 2005. Message from Ambassador Horiguchi Rebuttal Against Islamic Fundamentalism in Bangladesh. Japan-Bangladesh E-Bulletin, Making a Bridge Between Japan & Bangladesh, Issue 28/June 27, 2005. http://www.bd.emb-japan.go.jp/en/eBulletin/28e-bulletin270605.html [accessed 22 May 2013]; Singer, P. W. 2001. Pakistan's Madrasahs: Ensuring a System of Education Not Jihad. Analysis Paper No. 4. Washington, Brookings Institute.

32 Ministry of Education, National Education Survey 2006.

33 Andrabi, T., Das, J., Khawaja, A. J., and Zajonc, T. 2005. Religious School Enrollment in Pakistan: A Look at the Data, Working Paper Series 3521, The World Bank; Bano, M. 2012. The Rational Believer: Choices and Decisions in the Madrasas of Pakistan. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

34 Sachar, R. 2006. Prime Minister's High Level Committee on the Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community of India. New Delhi, Government of India.

35 See Bangladesh Madrasah Education Board website for details: http://www.bmeb.gov.bd/ [accessed 22 May 2013].

36 Ministry of Education. 2006. National Education Survey (Post-Primary) 2005: Final. Dhaka: Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information & Statistics (BANBEIS).

37 Ahmed, S. 2005. Testimony of Samina Ahmed to U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee: Combating Terrorism through Education—the Near East & South Asian Experience. Washington DC, 19 April 2005.

38 Both Qoumi and Aliya madrasas mainly belong to the Deoband tradition.

39 During interviews, this madrasa was identified by everyone as the most influential, followed by Al-Jamia Al-Islamia Pattia and a few others.

40 Asadullah, M. N. and Chaudhury, N. 2008. Holy Alliances: Public Subsidies, Islamic High Schools, and Female Schooling in Bangladesh. In Tembon, M. and Fort, Lucia (eds). Girl's Education in the 21st Century: Gender Equality, Empowerment and Growth. World Bank: Washington DC; Asadullah, M. N. and Chaudhury, N. 2009. Religious Schools, Social Values, and Economic Attitudes: Evidence from Bangladesh. World Development. 38 (2): 205217.

41 Asadullah, M. N. and Chaudhury, N. Holy Alliances.

42 Huque, A. S. and Akhter, M. Y. 1987. The Ubiquity of Islam: Religion & Society in Bangladesh. Pacific Affairs. 60 (2): 200225.

43 Ibid.

44 Ibid.

45 Bano, M. Contesting Ideologies and Struggle for Authority.

46 Lintner, B. Religious Extremism and Nationalism in Bangladesh.

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

48 M. Bano, Competing for Authority.

49 Ministry of Education. 2006. National Education Survey (Post-Primary) 2005: Final. Dhaka: Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information & Statistics (BANBEIS).

50 Asadullah, M. N. and Chaudhury, N. Religious Schools, Social Values, and Economic Attitudes.

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

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

53 Froerer, P. 2007. Disciplining the Saffron Way: Moral Education and the Hindu Rashtra. Modern Asian Studies. 41 (5): 10331071.

54 Asadullah, M. N. and Chaudhury, N. Religious Schools, Social Values, and Economic Attitudes.

55 Huq, M. 2008. Reading the Qur’an in Bangladesh: The Politics of ‘Belief’ Among Islamist Women. Modern Asian Studies. 42 (2/3): 457488; Shehabuddin, E. 2008. Jamaat-i-Islami in Bangladesh: Women, Democracy and the Transformation of Islamist Politics. Modern Asian Studies. 42, 2/3: 577603.

56 Hefner, R. W. and Zaman, M. Q. Schooling Islam; Starrett, G. Putting Islam to Work.

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Modern Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0026-749X
  • EISSN: 1469-8099
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