Darul Uloom Deoband VC Maulana Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi tells Kunal Majumder that education is the biggest hurdle facing Indian Muslims
You have spoken about the need for Muslims to embrace modern education. Even the Sachar Committee report says that economic backwardness and low education levels of the community are connected. What is your solution?
It is quite simple. Parents must give complete attention to children from primary school onwards. The high dropout rate is directly linked to this lack of attention. It is every parent’s duty to make children realise that a good future depends on good education. They will then concentrate on their studies on their own.
Seeing that much of the education takes place in madrassas, how does one strike a balance between modern education and religious teaching?
For one, religious education is not compulsory, nor does anyone need to spend a lot of time on it. For a basic education on Islam, one just needs to spend an hour or two at a madrassa every day. Not all children who enter madrassas become Alim or Hafiz. Only 2 percent of the children at madrassas go for a complete religious education, the others only study the basics. It is the duty of every Muslim parent to send their children to a regular school.
Do you think there is a need to change the syllabus of madrassas to modernise it?
There is no need to change the syllabus. Those studying full time at madrassas are not interested in regular jobs, so they don’t require modern education. However, education at madrassas are equivalent to the level of a BA degree. Even at Deoband, the certificate we issue after completion of the full course holds the same value as a bachelor’s degree. After becoming Alim or Hafiz, a student from Deoband can easily pursue his master’s from any university.
What is the biggest hurdle for the welfare of the Muslim community in India?
Lack of education. The day Muslims become educated, they will have an equal part to play in the development of our nation. I run 20 colleges and 50 primary and high schools, but you will be surprised to know that only one receives grants from the government. I run the rest on my own.
What do you suggest the government should do?
I have only one request from the government. It must recognise our schools and offer us grants. With civil society and the government with us, we can improve the education level among Muslims. The government must also offer reservations to Muslims in the way it has offered reservations to backward castes and helped them improve their socio-economic status.
In the past few days, we also saw calls by a section of Muslim clerics to pray for Osama Bin Laden. Doesn’t such action paint a negative image of the community across the country?
The media has asked my opinion of Osama in the past few days and I have always said — please don’t ask me about Osama, I’m an Indian and he was not an Indian. How can I comment? My stand is clear. Bin Laden was not from India and I had nothing to do with him. I am an Indian, if you ask me about any Indian, then I can comment. To ask me about Bin Laden is absolutely wrong.
Your call asking Muslims to look beyond divisive issues like the Gujarat riots was not taken very well. Are Muslim leaders failing to see the larger picture?
I can’t comment on what others are saying. But I can assure you that as far as I am concerned, I come from an academic background and I will support all activities, by both Hindus and Muslims, that promote education.
Kunal Majumder is a Correspondent with Tehelka.