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Muslim Institutions of Knowledge


Malini Sood

BASTIONS OF THE BELIEVERS: MADRASAS AND ISLAMIC EDUCATION IN INDIA
By Yoginder Sikand
Penguin Books, New Delhi, India, 2005, pp. 358, Rs. 395.00

ISLAMIC EDUCATION, DIVERSITY, AND NATIONAL IDENTITY: DINII MADARIS IN INDIA POST 9/11
Edited by Jan-Peter Hartung and Helmut Reifeld
Sage Publications, Delhi, 2006, pp. 331, Rs. 380.00


Edited by Jackie Assayag and Veronique Benei
Three Essays Collective, Gurgaon, 2005, pp. 135, Rs. 400.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 5 May 2006

Following the events of 11 September 2001, the USA and other western countries identified madrasa education in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia as incubators of Islamic radicalism, militancy, and terrorism. This followed from the fact that the Afghan Taliban are a product of a particular offshoot of Deobandi Muslim scholarship, which emerged in Pakistan in the 1980s during the struggle against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Hence the causal chain leading from Deoband to the Taliban to al Qa‘ida to 9/11.   In India, as in the rest of the world, 9/11 revived older anti-Islamic sentiments, with certain sections of the media and the political establishment leading an ‘organized project of Islamophobia’. The vilification of madrasas was led by Hindutva groups, large sections of the Indian press, and certain officials. They portrayed these institutions as perpetuating Muslim backwardness and separatism, as dens of obscurantism, as breeding grounds of militancy if not terrorism, as obstacles to Muslim integration into the national mainstream, as anti-national agents of pan-Islamism. Even though none of those involved in the 9/11 attacks had attended a traditional madrasa or was a qualified ‘alim (singular of ulama), the madrasa at Deoband (a small town in Uttar Pradesh) was identified as the supposed epicentre of a global Islamic terrorist conspiracy.   The representation of Islam and Muslims in academic and popular discourse in India is based on a lack of accurate information regarding the diversity and activities of Muslim alternative systems of education in the country, argue the first two books under review here. They seek to address the problem of Islamophobia and religious extremism by fostering a multi-faith dialogue and by dispelling essentialized images of Islam and Muslims.   Although about 40 per cent of the world’s Muslims live in the Indian subcontinent, the field of South Asian Muslim studies has been neglected. Yoginder Sikand’s study on the transformation of the madrasa system in postcolonial and contemporary India attempts to bridge this gap. His accessible book aimed at the general reader offers perspectives from history, sociology, political science, and Islamic studies, supplemented with empirical field-based research and secondary sources. In an attempt to understand the inner world of madrasas and the ulama’s self-image, Sikand interviewed parents, madrasa students, ulama, scholars, activists, and critics in various madrasas in different parts of India. He encountered ulama representing a range of opinions and attitudes. Some proved to be defensive, self-righteous, and narrow-minded, displaying a ‘juristic and ...


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