"Education Is the Main Challenge of Indian Muslims" : Saiyid Hamid
Education Is the Main Challenge of Indian Muslims
Siraj Wahab, Arab News
JEDDAH, 22 February 2006 ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Â? Saiyid Hamid, like many men of letters, is tall, thin and spare. He speaks clearly and softly but with an air of firmness that comes from his having held various public offices. He is a paragon of humbleness. Despite his stature as a towering intellectual, he makes everybody around him feel at ease. He listens to all questions with the seriousness of an enthralled student and then measures his every word in the answer.
Saiyid Hamid has been working with missionary zeal for the last five decades to inculcate the values of modern education into the Muslims of India, especially north India. A retired officer of the prestigious Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and a former vice chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), he is currently the chancellor of Hamdard University in New Delhi.
During a visit to Saudi Arabia over the weekend, Saiyid Hamid spoke at length about modern education, the need for reservation for Muslims in government jobs and institutions, the challenges facing the Muslim community, their representation in the mainstream English media and the introduction of modern subjects into madrasas. Following are excerpts from the interview:
Q: At one time, you floated the idea of launching a modern university for Muslims. It never took off. What happened?
A: The intention in launching the university was to fill glaring deficiencies in the disciplines that we sought to emphasize at the university ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Â? science and technology. In both these areas, Muslims continue to be backward. Unfortunately, the response that we had hoped for did not materialize and we had to give up when resources were not available.
Q: What kind of monetary resources did you need and could the project still be carried out?
A: Let me put it this way: I was not a very good salesman. I couldnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t sell the idea. If I had persisted, perhaps things would have been different. At the time, the total project cost was put at 150 crore Indian rupees (SR125 million). If anybody still wants to try, I think he should go ahead.
Q: It is rather strange that in a country where hundreds of madrasas are being run without any government aid and which are generating enough revenue to sustain themselves, there was so little interest in a scientific university.
A: When the community helps a madrasa, the general impression is that it is doing a charitable and pious work. Also let me tell you that the impression that madrasas get very considerable assistance is not borne out by facts. Usually they are run on a shoestring budget. They depend largely on zakah money. During Eid Al-Adha, they collect the skins of slaughtered animals and sell them, with the proceeds being a kind of charity. The madrasas send some of their teachers on skin-collecting missions from city to city. This is not the best way to finance an academic institution.
Q: You have been, and still are, an advocate of introducing modern subjects into the curriculum of madrasas. How far have you succeeded?
A: For the last 30 years, I have been in my own humble way trying to persuade madrasas to introduce modern subjects into their curriculums. There was resistance initially but it seems to have been resolved at the middle level. Not, however, at the top. The bigger madrasas or seminaries such as the Nadwatul Ulema and Deoband are still resisting. They are resisting because they think the character of their students will be adversely altered. They think that rather than adhering to the basic purpose of education, the students would be dazzled by the glamour of a modern university. Science and mathematics have been mentioned as important but, to my mind, social sciences are equally important. Sociology, psychology and economics are even more important. The resistance is gradually being eroded. I do feel that within 15 to 20 years, this will happen and it will be for the good of both the madrasas and the community.
Q: The federal government once produced a scheme to modernize madrasas but the Muslim community was alarmed because it thought this was an indirect way of government interference in madrasas.
A: Yes, the central government devised a scheme for the modernization of madrasas. But the label itself was not very happy. They could have said supplementing some subjects in madrasas. It would have been more acceptable. At the Hamdard Education Society, with which I am associated, we are conducting programs for madrasa teachers. The program is sponsored by the Human Resources and Development Ministry. The aim is twofold: To strengthen the values of education and to introduce modern pedagogy. Nobody can object to these aims. We are saying that rather than insisting on memorizing ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Â? learning by rote ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Â? it would be better if we stress comprehension and understanding of the subject. I have reason to believe that this part of the program is making a dent. The message is gradually spreading.
Q: You edit the fortnightly newsmagazine ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œNation and The WorldÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â?. The project was started with great fanfare. It was supposed to be a daily newspaper initially, wasnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t it?
A: Our intention was to take the middle road. We thought let us be accommodating, let us be tolerant of the other point of view also. An English daily would have served that purpose very well. Unfortunately, here again it was a failure in resource mobilization. People didnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t realize in the late 1980s that having their own newspaper was vitally important for a community. We then thought we would do the next best thing. We started first a weekly magazine. Subsequently we converted it into a fortnightly magazine. For the last 12 years ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œNation and The WorldÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â? has been brought out regularly.
Q: Do you see enough representation of Muslims in the mainstream media?
A: I have not made a very perceptive assessment. But I do feel that their presence is being noticed. Even in the Hindi press, I find that there are Muslim reporters and correspondents. They are coming up but a greater organized effort is needed to get our share of the media. What Mr. Anwar Jamal Kidwai did in respect of Jamia Millia Islamia Mass Communication Research Center has had a very good effect on the electronic media. In the print media, however, our journalists have not attained a status where people would wait for their columns or writings. I do hope ultimately they will. I do not know about Hindi but in English newspapers, we do not often find very good pieces by Muslim journalists.
Q: You were against reservation for Muslims at one point. You thought it was against the self-respect of a community and then you changed your opinion.
A: Yes, I was against reservation. I had more valor than discretion at that time. I failed to realize that in the situation we were in if we wanted to break the shackles and compete with others who had had the advantage of education for generations that it was simply not possible. I have been trying in various capacities to organize coaching for the competitive examinations and there I discovered that the quality of candidates from Muslim communities doesnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t compare with the general quality of candidates from other communities. The simple reason for this is that the environment in which our children live is not at all conducive to serious study. Not only not conducive to serious study but also there is no atmosphere of awareness at home and that is extremely important for building up the personality and the fund of knowledge of any child. I have come to the conclusion that we have to have reservation for one generation and that will do the trick. Without reservation, no substantial change in the status of Muslims will be possible.
Q: But there is this argument that why should we chase something (government jobs) whose numbers are decreasing?
A: Yes, the intake of candidates, for example, through the Uttar Pradesh Public Service Commission (UPSC) used to be about 800 or 900 every year; now it has shrunk to 300. So the argument is why chase something which is shrinking? The proponents of this argument do not realize that although the number of bureaucrats is growing smaller by the year, the influence and power of the government is increasing. It is a fact that governments now have control over all almost all spheres of life ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Â? either very explicitly or very subtly. And to be in government, therefore, not only gives a boost to the morale of a community but also constitutes a step toward that communityÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s empowerment.
Q: What about the controversy surrounding the minority character of Aligarh Muslim University?
A: Let me confine myself to the recent episode about the high court turning down the reservation made by the universityÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s bodies. In case the judgment of the Supreme Court is against us, then I have reason to believe that the government may intervene by introducing legislation. We recently had a meeting of the university board; and it was almost unanimously resolved that we must first exhaust all legal channels. In case that fails, then we have to approach the government.
Q: What is the most important challenge facing Indian Muslims?
A: Without a doubt, education. Muslims in the south have established very important professional institutions but they have not been able to achieve quality in them. The world is so competitive and educationally our country is so advanced that unless we Muslims attain a similar standard by dint of organized hard work, we have no future. We have proved ourselves incapable of running our educational institutions and maintaining a high standard. That is the biggest challenge. Our dilemma is that people who call themselves intellectuals or who are known as intellectuals cut themselves off from the masses so they have no influence on the masses. And those who have influence on the masses are our ulema, our religious scholars. Unfortunately they have not given any support to modern education. They should have told the people in their Friday sermons how important modern education is. They have not done that.
Q: You mean both the ulema and the intellectuals are responsible for this sad state of affairs?
A: The two groups have kept themselves apart ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Â? those who have had the benefit of mainstream education and those who have been educated in seminaries. They should meet. Some feeble attempts have been made from time to time but no significant endeavor has so far been made. People who are considered intellectuals and people who are ulema are both at fault. The ulema fail to guide the people because they are unaware of modern issues and those who are aware of modern issues have no impact on the masses. This is the dilemma on which our educational ambitions are being wrecked.