Written by Tabassam Hamid
The channel 4 Dispatches programme has exposed some Islamic educational establishments as places where violence and hatred is taught. Whilst we may be sceptical about much of the allegations, it is essential that the inherent failings of Madrasah education be addressed.
The first word revealed to our esteemed Prophet, peace be upon him, was ‘Iqra!’- ‘Read!’ It is not befitting of the majesty and pre-eminence of that message for the educational standards in our community to have plunged to the depths portrayed in the recent Dispatches programme. The Qur’an is infused with hypnotic rhythms; it is poetry to stir the soul. But more than that, it is a book that appeals to the intellect, asking mankind to reflect, to ponder, to exercise the rational faculty- because that faculty has not been granted to us without reason.
Yet here we have evidence of instructors at some of our educational establishments failing – quite appallingly – to do justice to the essence of that message. These children aren’t being taught, they are being instructed: in dogma, intolerance, and violence. The segments concerning Hindus are alarmingly crude, and those concerning the ‘kuffar’ are similarly distasteful and misconceived. Then there is footage of children being pummelled by a teacher, followed by children meting out similar treatment to younger children: violence perpetuates violence.
With respect to corporal punishment, in my view it stems mostly from the fact that the teachers we have at these madrasahs come from a vastly different cultural environment, where such practices are acceptable and uncontroversial. Most (if not all) of the individuals featured in the Dispatches programme are of South Asian origins, and have a radically different conception of discipline. That is the way they were taught, and it is the way they were disciplined at home, and it is the way misdemeanours of any kind are generally dealt with in much of the Indian sub-continent. But that is not Islamically acceptable: the Prophet (peace be upon him) never hit a child.
Secondly, when it comes to the instruction of the children, we have footage of quite inarticulate young men making foolish and crude remarks. They keep blathering on about imitation of the ‘kuffar’ etc, clearly missing the irony that they are conveying their message in the ‘kuffar’s’ very own language. There is also footage of a ‘maulana’ who delivers a speech in Urdu which is translated into English – to what degree of accuracy remains unclear. But what is clear is that his audience have not grown up learning Urdu in Pakistan. They were born in Keighley and Birmingham, not Karachi and Baluchistan, and they are not imprinted with all the cultural associations that living in such radically different societies would entail. They are British children, and their experience of the world could not be more disconnected from the maulana’s. The Qur’an issues a command to ‘read’; to read is to be educated. Education has reason as it chief persuasive force, not the lash of the stick or the pounding of fists.