Maududi on Muslim Educational Reform: By Yoginder Sikand


Syed Abul Ala Maududi (1903-79), founder of the Jamaat-e Islami, is regarded as one of the chief architects of modern-day Islamist revivalism. He was a profuse writer, and is credited with literally hundreds of works on a diverse range of issues. Although he not a graduate from a traditional madrasa, he wrote considerably on the subject of madrasa reform. His reformist educational views are summed up in a book recently published by the Jamaat-e Islami Hind, titled `Islami Nizam-e Talim` (`The Islamic System of Education`). The book is actually a document sent by Maududi to the Pakistani Educational Commission, probably sometime in the 1950s. Although thus considerably dated, its relevance in terms of contemporary debates about madrasa reform is obvious.
Maududi begins by noting the existing dualism in Muslim educationâ€"between madrasa-trained ulema, on the one hand, and university-trained graduates, on the other, who have almost nothing in common between them. He argues that Islam does not countenance any rigid dualism between `religious` and `secular` knowledge, and, therefore, that this dualism must be bridged.
Maududi then goes on to critique the existing system of traditional madrasa education. He writes that it is incorrect to claim, as many ulema do, that it represents the Muslims` traditional system of religious education, which, therefore, should remain untouched. Instead, he writes, it is actually a remnant of the system of education of the medieval ages, of the period of Muslim rule, that was geared to the training of civil servants. This is why he refers to the existing madrasa system as `the old system of education` (qadim nizam-e talim), rather than as the `system of religious education` (dini talimi nizam), which is how most traditional ulema describe it.
"The usefulness of this system", Maududi opines, "was finished the day British rule was established in India", because, as a consequence, its graduates were unable to gain a place in the new administrative set-up under colonial rule. "Because this system contains our centuries`-old cultural heritage, and it contributed in a limited way to fulfilling our religious needs", Maududi notes, "many Muslims think that it should be preserved as it is so that Muslims` don`t loose their ancestral heritage and maintain their cultural identity".
That, however, so Maududi argues, is not the right attitude to adopt. Today`s rapidly changing circumstances have led to what he sees as the `rapid decline of the usefulness of the system`, its graduates being `unable to cope with the demands, conditions, problems and needs of the times`. Today, he notes, the overwhelming majority of madrasa graduates have no option but to take up careers as imams in mosques, teachers in madrasas, delivering public lectures and even `fanning all sorts of religious conflicts so as to impress upon their audience that they are indispensable`. Consequently, Maududi adds in a bitter critique of the traditional ulema, `Although they do some good, spreading a bit of religious knowledge, this is far outweighed by the damage that they do, because they cannot properly represent Islam or guide the community on the lines of religion or solve its problems`. `In fact`, he goes on to add, `I would say that instead of working for promoting the glory of Islam, the opposite is happening, for the way they are today representing Islam is causing people to increasingly distance themselves from it`. `This`, he laments, `has led to a decline in the honour of Islam, and due to them sectarian conflicts continue to thrive`. He explains this by arguing that `the necessities of life of these people forces them to keep these conflicts alive`.
A second reason for the urgent need for reform of the existing system of madrasa education, Maududi writes, is that, contrary to common perception, its specifically religious component is `very limited`. This is because when it was formulated, in the medieval period, it was not intended to produce religious scholars, although this is how it is generally perceived today. Rather, its purpose was essentially to produce civil servants to man the administrative apparatus of Muslim-ruled states. The main reason for having a limited religious component in the curriculum was that Islamic jurisprudence was administered by medieval Muslim rulers in some spheres, and, therefore, civil servants needed to have a basic understanding of the subject. They also needed to learn subjects such as philosophy, logic, etiquette and grammar, and, in fact, Maududi says, these subjects are given more importance in the madrasa curriculum than the Quran and the Hadith, the traditions attributed to the Prophet. This, he claims, continues even today in many madrasas.
Although several madrasas now give more attention to Hadith than in the past, Maududi writes, they unfortunately give `particular importance to those Hadith reports related to sectarian conflicts, and to the nitty-gritty and minor details of jurisprudential rules`. Little attention is given to the history, development, principles and methodologies of Islamic jurisprudence or fiqh. However, Maududi stresses, these neglected subjects are essential, for without them it is not possible to engage in ijtihad or creative and independent articulations of jurisprudential responses concerning a whole host of issues, particularly those of contemporary concern which are obviously not directly dealt with in the works of traditional fiqh. In this way, Maududi argues, `it appears that the existing madrasa syllabus perhaps reflects an understanding that ijtihad is a sin`. Yet, he adds, without ijtihad, Muslims cannot progress. `Consequently`, he says, concluding his sharp critique of the existing madrasa system, `the madrasas are unable to fulfill even those religious functions for which they were retained`.
Maududi is equally critical of the existing system of secular or Western-style education, or what he describes as the `modern system of education` (jadid nizam-e talim). Introduced in South Asia by the British, it was geared not to promote Islam or the interests of the Muslim community, but, rather, to rear a class of servants to staff the lower orders of the British Indian administration. Consequently, Maududi says, the system had no place for Islam. The various subjects that were taught in the system, such as the natural and social sciences, were framed in such a way as to exclude God and His existence completely, having been developed by people who were anti-religious. Not surprisingly, most of those who studied in this system also lost their faith in religion. Furthermore, Maududi adds, this system `is bereft of even basic moral values`, as it encourages fierce competition, selfishness and individualism, and is concerned only with the promotion and fulfillment of worldly desires.
Maududi thus sees both systems of education as being desperately in need of reform, and so calls for a `revolutionary change`, to replace both of them by a single system that, he says, should aim at promoting `a free and progressive Muslim community`. Such a system should produce pious, practicing and committed Muslims who excel in all fields, and who see God`s existence and purpose in all that they study. This system would end what Maududi describes as the `un-Islamic` division between `religion` (din) and `this world` (duniya). It would, in fact, be `completely religious and worldly at the same time`, for Islam, far from preaching renunciation of the world, sees the world as the `field for the hereafter` (akhirat ki kheti). This ideal Islamic educational system, Maududi explains, `should enable Muslims to understand the world, make them capable of properly conducting their worldly lives, but training them to see the world through the lens of Islam and inspiring them to work run its affairs in accordance with Islam`s teachings`.
This means, therefore, that religious education cannot be a small supplement tagged on to a basically secular syllabus. Instead, Maududi calls for what he describes as the `Islamisation of all social, natural and physical sciences`, cleansing them of their atheistic assumptions. They should, instead, he advocates, be based on the teachings of the Quran, and those who study thus Islamised subjects must be encouraged to `implement` Islam in their respective fields of study and expertise. Further, rather than focusing on the accumulation of bookish knowledge, this system, Maududi proposes, must seek to promote `character-building` on Islamic lines.
Maududi provides a brief blue-print of the new, uniform system of education that he proposes for Muslims to follow. At the primary stage, the usual subjects that are taught in schools today would continue, although suitably `Islamised`, along with basic Islamic education. This would carry on in the secondary and high school stages as well, with the addition of Arabic and more detailed learning of Islamic beliefs, teachings and practices, seeking to relate Islam to daily life concerns. Thereafter, students would be able to specialize in one or other branch of learning, be it the Quran, Hadith or Islamic jurisprudence, or (suitably Islamised) History, Politics, Chemistry and so on. Specialists of all these subjects would be considered as ulema and would have the same employment opportunities.
Girls`s education is as important as that of boys, Maududi writes. `No community can advance if its females are ignorant`, he says. He recommends that girls learn the same subjects as boys, but he opposes co-education. The medium of instruction, for both boys and girls, he writes, should be the mother tongue, and English should be taught just as any other subject, rather than being privileged as the medium, as is the case in most elitist schools and colleges.
In this way, Maududi suggests, the rigid dualism that characterizes contemporary Islamic education would be ended, and what he sees as Islam`s holistic philosophy of education could be put into practice.

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