Islam like many other religious traditions has an inherent struggle with modernity since its anchorage lies in historical traditions at various levels. The infallibility of the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh) for Muslims leads to a tendency for temporal nostalgia.
Educational reform faces tremendous challenges that are not new to Islamic scholarship as the struggle between those who have advocated taqlid (following tradition and precedent), and those who have advocated ijtihad (individual reasoning).
Contrary to popular opinion, modest reformations have occurred throughout Islamic history and have usually come from within rather than being prompted from the outside.
In the Medieval period there were reform efforts within various caliphates by scholars such as Ibn-Rushd/ Averroes. These reform efforts have been more pronounced within the last two centuries by notable activist scholars such as Jamal-
uddin-Afghani or Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in South Asia or Rifa’a-al-Tahtawi and Muhammad Abduh in Egypt or Ali Shariati in Iran.
In the case of Shariati, despite his modernist views, he came at a time of intense secularisation under the Shah and was thus perceived as an Islamist despite his relatively moderate vision of Islam.
Within the Indian subcontinent, Islamic educational reform in Kerala was led by Moulavi Chalilakath Muhammad Haji.
In this case it may be argued that the reform efforts was prompted by the British since Malabar was under British control at the time.
What is remarkable is that all of these efforts have met with such intense resistance that their impact on mainstream Islamic theology has been limited.
Conservative ulema are quick to credit the resilience of Islamic tradition in this regard while many contemporary commentators are now beginning to consider if this inertia is symptomatic of structural issues within Muslim societies that must first be addressed.
Madrassahs are clearly an important social institution across the Muslim world and are often described by proponents as the Muslim world’s largest network of NGOs.
However, the noble purpose of education and enlightenment for which madrassahs were originally intended, has been challenged by various sectarian elements within Pakistan.
This study finds evidence of linkage between a large number of madrassahs and sectarian violence, particularly in rural Punjab.
It was also found that the number of madrassahs has increased over a 10 year period and that in some areas they are competing with government and secular private schools for enrollment.
Many madrassahs are residential and cater to relatively poor students in these areas.
However, in urban madrassahs, this pattern is not always followed as affluent families may also send their children to madrassahs for disciplinary and theological reasons.
[Courtesy Dawn, Sunday 27 September 209]