The Prime Minister at a recent meeting with teachers of privately-managed Qawmi Madrasas declared Certificate of Dowara Hadith as equivalent to Master's degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies. As a move, it is commendable. So long these certificates, given by the Qawmi Madrasas' own board, remained unrecognised by the government. As a result, students of these madrasas could not apply for suitable jobs anywhere, not to speak of those under the government. Qawmi madrasas number in hundreds and had their roots in our country decades ago.
The word 'Qawmi' means national and madrasa means 'school'. In Arabic the word 'madrasa' means school. But over the years madrasas became religious schools. Whoever wanted to know and study the religion of Islam turned to these as the first choice. The madrasas or the religions schools were founded by the Muslim religious institutions in India. Darul Ulm Dewbond, situated in the northern part of India, was the leading one. After losing to the British in the struggle to keep India independent, some Muslim scholars thought that it was their primary duty to keep their 'iman' or faith intact through studies on religious aspects of Islam.
The colonial British set up modern English high schools and colleges and many Muslim scholars established madrasas for purely religious studies. Madrasas are of two types. One is patronised by the government and these follow the government-prescribed academic syllabus. These madrasas are known as 'Alia madrasas' and underwent reforms over time of what they follow as the academic syllabus. Side by side, there are other madrasas which were first started as the Qawmi madrasas and then were fully or partly nationalised. The government now pays teachers' salary there. But privately-managed Qawmi madrasas remain as important institutions of education for students coming from the relatively poor background. The religious persons very liberally donate to these madarasas.
Now in Bangladesh, one finds three types of schooling existing side by side. These are government-funded schools, government-owned or partially-funded schools and madrasas, and purely Qawmi madrasas. Qawmi madrasas do not accept any donation or funding from the government nor do they follow the government-prescribed academic syllabus. But many people in society believe these are madrasas which are imparting truly religious education and send their wards to these madrasas only to study religion. In his pre-boyhood period, this author also studied for three years in a 'maqtab', a primary Islamic school located in the same compound of a Qawmi madrasa where he learnt how to read the Quran. That learning seemed, to this writer, invaluable now.
The Qawmi madrasa students number more than 1.8 million and many people earn their livelihood by being involved in these madrasas. In short, Qawmi madrasas are now an important part of society. These are running because there is a demand for them. The Prime Minister has just recognised what the reality. Those who are opposing and criticising the move are apparently pursuing a path of divisiveness.
In the world, there is nothing called one type of education. Education as a product comes from demand. This country has a strong demand for English-medium education which is producing students for 'O' and 'A' level examinations being conducted by foreign academic institutions. Similarly, there is a demand for religious education.
The PM's stand is that of inclusiveness. She has taken a step to bring the Qawmi madrasas to the mainstream of the educational system. If the Qawmi students and teachers feel that they too belong to the mainstream society, this will also help the economy.
The writer is Professor of Economics, University of Dhaka.