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Allah ke bande

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LOOKING BEYOND: Several madrassas in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar now admit students of other religions. Hindu children are a majority in four madrassas in West Bengal.

The controversial remarks of Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi, newly-appointed VC of Darul Uloom Deoband, recently put the seminary in the spotlight for reasons other than its frequent - and much-debated - fatwas. The demand for Vastanvi's head from a section of clerics and students for his "modern" views illustrates a major malaise most madrassas - moribund factories which churn out an army of unemployable and unemployed graduates unfit for the mainstream job market - are afflicted with.

The madrassas affiliated to Deoband follow medieval syllabi, especially on Islamic philosophy and jurisprudence. They vehemently oppose modernisation attempts, either by the government or Muslim NGOs.

However, a few madrassas have lowered their guard and incorporated secular subjects like English and computer science in their curricula.

Though a miniscule minority of Indian Muslim children - the Sachar Committee report said only 4 per cent - attend madrassas, the number is critical as they grow up to become imams of mosques, teachers and influential preachers. Unlike madrassas in Pakistan, Indian madrassas mercifully don't fuel anti-West frenzy. But mostly run on the community's charity, madrassas need to be funded adequately in order to develop better infrastructure, including faculty, trained in subjects other than Islamic Studies.

The regimented life in madrassas where students are made to slog - from mandatory participation in the pre-dawn prayers to studies well into the night-needs a fresh wave of change. And a seminary like Deoband and its head like Vastanvi, many believe, can set a template for others.

TOI-Crest goes to a few of India's important madrassas for glimpses of the lives the students and teachers of these institutions lead.

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