Khan Sarifuzzaman and Sima Islam
The role of madrasa education from the Muslim ruling time, during independence movement of India-Pakistan and in independent Bangladesh is very much noteworthy till today in our political, social, economic and cultural aspects. Ignoring a statement of Rashed Khan Menon, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina commented on March 11 that madrasa education is not a ‘factory of militancy’ and some of the madrasa students can be used by others.
She said this during her valedictory speech on the thanksgiving motion on the President’s speech in the maiden session of the 11th parliament. Pointing to Rashed Khan Menon’s remarks, Prime Minister said, “A few people say that madrasa is a factory of militancy, I don’t agree with this stance. Who is involved in Holi Artisan attacks? They are not educated from any madrasa. Every one of them belonged to a highly educated family and they are educated from English medium school and private university”.
On March 3 speech of Rashed Khan Menon, president of Bangladesh’s Workers Party and former Minister, compared Qwami madrasa education as ‘Poison Tree’ which has an aim to establish theocracy (in Bengali ‘Mollatontro’). He criticized the recognition of the Qwami madrasa certificate as well. In reaction, Hefazat-e-Islam chief Allama Shah Ahamd Shafi has asked Rashed Khan Menon MP to apologize publicly for making derogatory remarks about Qawmi madrasas in parliament. In his statement, Hefazat Ameer said, “Qawmi madrasas have set a unique example of building a society free from corruption and drugs by providing education without any assistance from the state. It is a rare incident in the history�.Menon has demonstrated his anti-Islamic attitude by giving such remarks about qawmi madarasas.
In post 9/11 era, militancy and Islam have become a focal point in international arena and in the Muslim world (Rahman, 2016). After the series bomb attack throughout the country in 2005 it has become a matter of concern to the security officials, politicians, administrators and academicians. There are different causes of producing militancy are explored by researchers and security forces. Soci-economic condition, family background and faulty education system or curriculums are prominent of those (Dhaka Tribune, 21 January, 2018). Both national and international researchers have explored the relationship between Islamic education system and militancy in Bangladesh.
A few politicians, academicians as well as national and international media often argue that the Madrasa system is a breeding ground of Islamic militants. The most growing up (with around 15 lakh students) and the most influential Madrasa is Qwami madrasas on which our government has very less control though recently government has recognized its highest degree Dawra Hadis as equivalent to master degree on Arabic or Islamic Studies (Daily Star, August 14, 2018).
According to the report prepared by Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics (BANBEIS) in 2015 a total of 1.4 million students have been studying in 13,902 Qawmi madrasas across the country. Of them, the highest 4,599 madrasas are located in Dhaka division while the lowest 1,040 are in Barisal, says the report. According to BANBEIS report, off all the Qawmi madrasas, 12,693 are for men while 1,209 belong to women. As many as 10,58,636 male and 3,39,616 female students have been studying while 73,731 teachers teach in these institutes ( Prothom Alo, May 24, 2015). Hence, this unfocused people have a great role in our socio-political arena.
Some ex-ministers, MPs, and high ranking officials, security forces and academicians have been delivering contradictory comments and information for last 10 years about the role of Qwami Madrasa about creating militancy. In the same line with Menon, Ex-Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu on July 7, 2016 said, two of the seven militants involved in the café attack that left 20 people dead were students of madrasas. In an interview with India’s influential daily The Hindu, Inu said, most of the militants involved in recent attacks in Bangladesh are from madrasas, not from elite schools.
Contrary to popular perception, people with a background in general education are more likely to become involved in militancy than those from madrasas, law enforcement officials claim (Mahmud & Shaon, 2018). Militant leaders such as Shaykh Abdur Rahman, Siddikul Islam alias Bangla Bhai, Ansarullah Bangla Team’s Jasimuddin Rahmani, among others, are from madrasas. Militant recruiters are usually from madrasa background. Police Bureau of Investigation chief Deputy Inspector General Banaz Kumar Majumder says, the environment in which a person grew up is important. “People from conservative social background are easy prey for the militant recruiters,” he noted (Dhaka Tribune, 21 January, 2018).
The picture has become clearer after police interrogated arrested militants, spoke with their family members, and checked their family income and educational backgrounds. Sources at Police Head quarters said that the environment, friends, and acquaintances influence the youths more than any other thing to turn to extremism. And education – be it general, English medium or madrasa – plays a minor role. Of the arrested militants, nearly 35% are from general education background, 30% madrasa dropouts (how many are only from Qwami madrasa is a question), 20% from English medium and 10% are illiterate, counter-terrorism officials say (Dhaka Tribune, 21 January, 2018). According to DMP Counter-Terrorism chief Monirul Islam, English medium schools and madrasa where the practice of Bengali culture is least, are most prone to radicalization (Daily Star, 1 September, 2016). The issue of English medium school is added after the July 1 Dhaka attack (Holy Artisan attack).
Education minister Nurul Islam Nahid said several times in different programs, “Madrasas never creates militants” (Bangla tribune, 23 March 2016). He further clarified that till today we don’t have this types of any information that madrasas are breeding grounds for militancy rather militants are found in the institutions (University and English medium Schools) where the rich people send their children (Parsatoday.com). Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal on November 26, 2017 said that university and college students become militants while those have no such recent record from Madrasa. The countrymen are religiously devoted, but they are not fanatic.
On January 27, 2018 the UNB reports, speakers at a discussion stressed the need for modernizing madrasa education, mainly the Qawmi one, with its integration into the mainstream education as 75 percent students of such educational institutions remain jobless for lack of expertise. “Around 75 percent madrasa students now remain unemployed in different forms as they have no opportunity to engage in jobs based on their education and skills,” said Professor Abul Barkat of Dhaka University. Barkat and others wrote the research based book titled ‘Political Economy of Madrasa Education in Bangladesh’ based on their thorough research findings. He said, “Madrasas have failed to provide quality, non-communal and realistic education and produce skilled human resources.” He claimed in his book, “There is absolutely nothing in madrasa curriculum that can be deemed as promoting or encouraging militancy, not to mention terrorism” (pg- 265).
Professor Ali Riaz and Barkat is the most prominent and have the most comprehensive research on madrasa education system. None of them think that madrasa or Qwami madrasa is the breeding house of militancy. Professor Ali Riaz (2019) has written in a comment reviewing a writing on madrasa education, “the overall point is that a different approach to understanding madrassah is warranted rather than trying to find a non-existent link between militancy and madrassahs.”
According to Riaz, Islamist militancy and terrorism is a complex and multidimensional problem for Bangladesh since no single explanation can be applied to understand the roots of Islamist militancy and terrorism there. Professor Ali Riaz conducted a study by 2008 on Islamic militancy in Bangladesh which was published as two books named “Islamist Militancy in Bangladesh: A Complex Web” as well as “Faithful Education”. It is one of the most important academic studies on the growing Islamist militancy in Bangladesh. Riaz (2008) views Islamist militancy as caused by the complex web of domestic, regional and international events and dynamics in Bangladesh.
Riaz (2008) argues that Islamist militancy is the result of both errors of omission (the state, politicians and the civil society failed to do things that could have stemmed the rise of militancy) and errors of commission (the state, politicians, and the civil society did things that worsened the situation). His study showed the experience of Afghan war by the ‘Volunteer Crops’ in 1984 is the main cause of triggering the militancy in Bangladesh but not the ideology of Madrasa education which is found also in the research of professor Barkat.
According to the majority of the experts, the madrassa style education system has been in vogue for thousands of years in the Indian Subcontinent, and terrorism or militancy did not appear until the 2000’s. Quamruzzaman (2010) refuted the allegation against madrasas and pointed out that the major causes of radicalization are unregulated money flow, lack of freedom, democracy and political space, poor governance, and the politicization of Islam. The traditional madrasa curriculum focuses on religious education, and does not include modern subjects like science, maths, etc. The labor market finds that madrasa students lack knowledge, skills and competence compared to non-madrasa students. As, the Qwami madrasa education is not integrated to the mainstream education system, thousands of these are beyond the state regulation for the syllabus, pedagogy, and teacher recruitment.
The participation in militancy by the students sometimes may be part of local and international political trap. Some local and international media sometimes exaggerate the engagement of the madrasa students in militant activities whereas most of the terrorist and murderous activities are accomplished by other secular political parties. Most of whom are educated from secular or national educational institutes but Madrasa or Qwami Madrasa is blamed without proper study. Above references proved that there are different political, social, economic and geo-strategic causes behind the rise of militancy.
Accordingly, madrasa or Qwami madrasa do not bear the sole agency of the birth of militancy. Moreover, with a partial perception of some intellectuals and media propagate same type of incidence in indifferent brands. Such as, if an Islamist or Islam related any organization accomplish any violence then they brand it as militancy but whenever the same violence is done by any member or organization having secular ideal, then it will be called clash, fight, violence or political violence.
Actually, Menon or Inu blame religious education for their materialistic socialist ideological thought because Marx (1843) referred to religion as “the opium of the people’, something that promised illusory happiness by disguising the realities of the real world”. Hence, to call madrasa or Qwami madrasa ‘poison tree’ or ‘breeding house of militancy’ is the part of their ideological political campaign and fully a political comment not a research or security study based comment which has empty factual basis. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s comment and initiatives about Qwami Madrasa are very timely and significant. In her march 11 speech she said, “We cannot boycott madrasa because it is also part of this society. We cannot keep any one out of the society�.the students of madrasa are also sons of this soil; we cannot throw them away. We are trying to correct the curriculum and standardize the education system to create employment for them. Keeping this idea in plan we have recognized Dawra Hadis” (Prothom Alo and Jugantor, march 11, 2019).
Though prime minister’s comment is also political comment but it supports the studies and researches. Moreover, it includes plans and activities to form an inclusive society. Only palatable debate will not solve the problems rather than to create working field for this ethically enriched huge manpower is more significant. Arranging short and long term vocational training they can be utilized for our national development inside of the border and outside especially in Middle Eastern countries as they are good in Arabic, Farsi and Urdu language.
First author is a Ph. D. researcher on madrasa education in Dhaka University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Second author is an assistant professor of Graphics Design Department of Dhaka University.