In the last 60 years of independence, no madrassa - including the great Darul Uloom at Deoband - has produced a single scholar, says minority education body chief M.S.A. Siddiqui underlining the need to modernise madrassas in India.
"I wonder whether these maulvis ever ponder over this. These people have a vested interest in keeping the community backward," Siddiqui, chairman of the National Commission of Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI), told IANS in an interview.
"Every year they pack their bags during Ramzan/Bakrid months with photographs of beggar children in tatters, take off for Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia and collect zakat (alms) to the tune of Rs.20 billion.
"They pass a fatwa, whereby they retain 40 percent of that collection - working out to nearly Rs.8 billion - for their personal use."
Siddiqui, a retired judge of Delhi High Court, was explaining the necessity for the commission to recommend the enactment of a Madrassa Board Bill to register, finance and regulate madrassa education in India.
"The idea of setting up a madrassa board is not to influence religious education but to enable children studying in these madrassas to join the mainstream as educated young men and women," he said.
"The board will help prepare modern curriculum, standardise non-religious teaching and introduce science, mathematics and English to enable them to compete with the world outside.
"This would also help prevent the recurrence of a Lal Masjid type incident in India," said Siddiqui referring to the siege of the Islamabad mosque by madrassa students and militants that led to a bloody confrontation with the authorities.
Hitting out at the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), he said, "Its sole concern is to somehow circumvent due legal process, create shariah courts, whereby the Muslim community will be beholden and bonded to them and discouraged to seek normal legal course of justice.
"And with a huge cash surplus, they further their political ambitions, buy up memberships of parliament and legislatures and strengthen their stranglehold on the community."
The idea of funding and modernising madrassas in the country is not new. Earlier the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government of former prime minister Atal Bihar Vajpayee had also conceived funding madrassas to modernise education in these institutions. The then human resource development minister, Murli Manohar Joshi, even sanctioned a substantial amount for disbursement to madrassas all over the country.
Education is a state subject. "These funds have to be routed through the state minority welfare board to the district minority welfare officer," said Siddiqui pointing to corruption in the process.
"There anybody with a beard and a skull cap lands up with a madrassa receipt book, gets the funds from the department, gives half the booty to government officials and takes away the loot. Many of these so-called madrassas exist only on these false receipt books," said Siddiqui of past attempts to fund and modernise madrassa education.
Siddiqui also spoke of the vested interest of maulvis.
"Most of them are upper caste, whereas the majority of the poor illiterate Muslims under their influence belong to the backward castes. There is no caste system in Islam but it is happily practised in the Indian subcontinent," he said.
"The Personal Law Board forbade Muslim girls from studying in co-educational schools without bothering to reveal how many of them have sent abroad their sons and daughters to study in British and American universities. Do they wear a veil to study there?" wondered the NCMEI chairman.
"When it comes to their lifestyle or the priorities of their immediate family members there is all the flexibility in Islam, and all the rigours are there to be imposed on others."
That is where a law to register, fund and regulate madrassas would come in handy, he said. "Every time anyone tries to question these maulvis, they raise a hue and cry, describing it as an interference in religious affairs," said Siddiqui.
(Faraz Ahmad can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)