By Shaik Zakeer Hussain, TwoCircles.net,
Bangalore: A recent announcement on a Facebook timeline goes like this: "A wonderful opportunity for sisters to work in an Islamic environment, we are hiring for the academic year 2014 - 2015." And then emphasizing the eligibility criteria, it ends with this fervorous clause, "NOTE: Sisters with a zeal for working for Islam will be given preference."
The post is a communique of sorts from Ashraf Ali Khan, Director of one of the growing number of Islamic schools seeing a developing trend in the city. Khan, a businessman by profession started the school with a small group of friends and family in February 2013 with only Montessori and Kindergarten, today his Al-Burooj International School is expanding, and he is planning to extend classes till 5th grade with an intended intake of up to 200 students both boys and girls.
Students of Al-Basheer International Schools
Muslim children, he says go to schools mostly run by non-Muslims, and are detached from the religion as a result. "What they learn there, are concepts which are totally alien to Islam, and to top that, there is a dangerous tendency towards atheism witnessed among many in the younger generation," he declares. And according to Khan, it is to combat these 'alien concepts,' and to inculcate Islamic studies vis–à–vis secular education among them that he started his experimental school.
The idea of an Islamic school, says Khan lies in what is being taught there. While most schools who call themselves Islamic, restrict the religious part of instructions to general information on the belief system or to rote learn few chapters from the Quran, he says that Al-Burooj, is a class apart. "We want to include everything that a madrasa teaches as part of its curriculum, along with general subjects taught in regular schools," the intention he clarifies, is to make an Aalim (one who furnishes knowledge of every area of the Islamic field) out of every child who steps out of Al-Burooj.
It's 12.30 PM on a bright sunny Friday, and as it is witnessed among Muslims around the world, here too, preparations are full fledged for the mandatory weekly prayers, and the muezzin, a 12 year old boy gives a call to the faithful. Within minutes the uncarpeted, plain white washed room is filled with boys of more or less the young muezzin's age, sporadically accompanied by a few male adults. The Khutba then starts off in Arabic for a brief five minutes, before the Khateeb switches to English. The topic of the sermon is 'Etiquette of Conversation', and the Imam speaks for fifteen minutes, explaining what makes a conversation good. The speech is brief and curt, it is more of an instruction, than mere rhetoric, and the underlying message is clear - to please Allah is the most essential duty of a believer, and whether the act is a conversation or something else, to attain His pleasure is of the utmost priority.
This would have passed off as a routine mechanism in a normal mosque, but this is no mosque, this is a school, a 21st century madrasa to be precise, which combines Islamic studies with secular subjects, just like in the old days.
Al-Basheer International School, like Al-Burooj is a co-ed Islamic school. It was started in 2007, and is a brainchild of Umar Sharief, who is also its CEO. Sharief is the president of Discover Islam Education Trust (DIET), and is a ubiquitous name in the city's Islamic circles, especially popular among its English speaking youths.
His school is located half hour away from the city in a village. Spread out in a spacious 1.5 acres land, and surrounded by thick wood forest and villages, it has every facility that a modern regular school has. When I walked into the school, apart from some Muslim parents, which I had very much expected there were also some non-Muslims parents, waiting outside his office. They wanted to get admissions for their children in the school, and brother Umar, as he is affectionately called by everyone who know him, said in an aside that "we make it very clear that ours is a madrasa".
The Quran and the Sunnah (path or way of the Prophet) says Adam Ansar, Manager of Al-Basheer, are the basic guidelines of their school, "these are the two sources, upon which the school is run, be it be management, education or absolutely anything." He says, what an Islamic school does is, it provides an Islamic perspective to every subject, or to borrow his words, it "Islamises the academy."
Giving an example of how science is taught at an Islamic school, Ansar says that the Quran describes mountains as having "pegs", and correlates that with what scientists today have discovered as the existence of "thick roots of crust projecting downward into the mantle beneath mountains". This type of correlation, says Ansar, increases the conviction of students in God, and it also makes very clear the functions of every created things.
Al-Basheer and Al-Burooj are both associated with NIOS or the National Institute of Open Schooling. While there are other Islamic schools in the city, who impart ICSE, CBSE and state syllabus at their institutes, the reason behind choosing NIOS say both Ashraf Ali Khan and Umar Sharief, is that it gives their schools a lot of space and time to include their own curriculum apart from what the board prescribes. NIOS, says Umar Sharief "is successfully implemented in many schools across the country, and not just in Islamic schools".
While parents of children who attend schools like these feel elated with the education imparted here, but its opponents say that this sort of education, narrows down a child's mind. Adam Ansar however, disagrees. "We don't teach things outside the prescribed syllabus, what we do is relate science, social studies and other subjects to what Islam says." He says his teachers spend only a few minutes giving examples from the Quran, as and when necessary, and not deviate from the core matter. "We even teach the theory of evolution here, but we, unlike other schools don't teach it as a fact, but merely as a theory," he adds.
Islamic education began in the home of the Prophet Muhammad sometime after the commencement of his prophet hood. As persecution against the followers of the new religion intensified, the Prophet moved the place of meeting and instruction to Dar Al-Arqam or the House of Al-Arqam, a young convert and companion of his.
Education during the early years of Islam, was largely informal. Interested individuals, irrespective of age would gather around a single or different number of scholars, attend lectures and/or study books under them. But as Islam and the Islamic state grew, Maktabs or primary schools and Madrasas (Arabic for schools and/or universities) began to stem up attached to mosques. Resident scholars would impart religious and secular subjects to their pupils, where topics ranged from Arabic and other languages, religious sciences, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, history, geography, and many others. In fact for Muslims in those days, until the colonization of their lands by European powers and the subsequent destruction of the Khilafa or the Caliphate, the concept of education was pretty much this way. Today, though madrasas exists across the Muslim world and beyond, however, its role, and function, without the backing of the state, has lost all its relevance, and is seen today by many, including some Muslims as vestiges of the past.
The reason behind the rise of Islamic schools now, says Muhammad Faraz, Associate manager and Co-ordinator of Islamic studies at Al-Basheer, is because of a growing number of Muslims, who have began to identify themselves with the religion. "There is a realization among Muslims today about their purpose of life, many of who are educated people," he says. According to Faraz, who did his graduation in Islamic studies at Chennai's Preston International College, what they and schools like theirs is doing is preparing a new generation of Muslims, who are not only educated in their religion but also in the matters concerning the world. As a matter of fact for schools like Al-Burooj, Al-Basheer and their likes, there is no separation in religion and other worldly affairs, and it's this concept of life, which is comprehensive, which has rules and regulations concerning every essential aspect of life, which they currently find dismembered from Muslims, that they want to bring back into practice.