Madrassas are a threat to liberty: Tufail Ahmad at India Ideas Conclave 2015

On the third and last day of India Ideas Conclave 2015, Tufail Ahmad not only raised many thoughtful questions but also gathered a huge applause from the crowd. Tufail was one of the speakers for the topic ‘Semitic Ideas –Orthodoxy, Modernity & Reform’

After briefly talking about his educational journey from a Madrassa student of Champaran, Bihar to a journalist who now addresses distinguished crowds in many nations, Tufail advanced to the core of the topic by floating following two serious questions:

  1. Is peaceful Islam compatible with the 21st century’s ideas of liberty?
  2. Since the Koran and the Hadiths are not going to change, is there a way to introduce change among Indian Muslims? He further added that by 2050, India will have the world’s largest Muslim population, about 311 million. Therefore, the modern democratic Indian state must undertake some concrete steps now.

Tufail drove the discussion forward through his second question first and emphasized the weakness of the Right to Education Act, which is often superseded by all other rights. His principal concern around the education of Muslims in India was primary education through madrassas, for the reason that madrassas are not exposed to science and other material sciences which students from mainstream schools study.

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Tufail Ahmad

Tufail argued that the phase between the age group of 6-14 years is a very crucial phase of life, and if during that phase students are asked to study religion instead of mathematics and science, they can’t be empowered. He further added that if people in India are not allowed to vote before the age of 18, are not allowed to have sex before the age of 18, why should they be allowed to study religion – a subject which required more maturity than what a 6-14 year-old group is supposed to have?

Tufail expressed his dismay against those secular Hindus who tell the Muslims that they will provide them secularism and 5% quota. He requested such secular Hindus to promise him that Muslim kids will be taught mathematics and science. His question to Muslim parents was:  If you can teach the Koran from LKG [lower kindergarten, two years below Grade 1], why cannot you teach mathematics from Grade 1?

To answer his first question, Tufail suggested that until there is a proper education, reformation can’t find a space. He said that the argument for compatibility must stay within the ambit of the Right to Education Act. To support his point, he stated that the Arab Spring failed because there was no infrastructure of liberal democratic ideas in Muslim societies. The Islamic State, or ISIS, gains support globally because conducive ideas already exist in our societies.

His suggestion to the government was: The Indian government must introduce three textbooks from Grade 1 through 12: One on Indian classics such as Upanishads, Mahabharata, Gita and classical Indian thinkers; a second primer on the Constitution’s ideals; and a third primer containing good points from all religions.

While expressing his concerns regarding Islamic Reformation, Tufail asked:

Is it possible that an entire generation of Muslim youths can abandon ideas inherited from their parents and Islamic clerics? Fortunately, history gives us hopeful lessons: In Italy and Germany, a generation of youths abandoned their parents’ beliefs in Nazism and Fascism. In India itself, Hindu youths abandoned castes and Sati. Christianity and Judaism went through their internal conflicts; the Bible and the Torah are removed from public life. In India itself, the Manusmriti has been abandoned. Since Islam is the youngest of the Middle Eastern religions, there is hope. The role of the Koran must be limited to mosques. We must study peaceful Islam, and the cause of Islamic Reformation in India must begin in the age group of 6-14 years.

During the question-answer session, when someone asked about the role moderate Muslim, Tufail took a jibe and said, “A Moderate Muslim is one who is sleeping all the time. A Moderate Muslim wakes up just in time, to criticize both the Liberal Muslim and the Extremist Muslim when a Liberal Muslim takes up a fight with an Extremist Muslim”

Note: The speech can also be read at: http://www.memri.org

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