Muslim educationists hail SC stay on Allahabad High Court order affecting madrasas

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By Anwarulhaq Baig

NEW DELHI—Muslim leaders and educationists have welcomed the Supreme Court’s interim stay on the Allahabad High Court judgment striking down the UP Board of Madarsa Education Act.

While delivering the stay order, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud observed that the High Court prima facie misinterpreted the provisions of the Act, which are regulatory in nature. The Supreme Court has postponed the matter for final disposal until July 2024.

On March 22, the High Court ruled that the UP Board of Madarsa Education Act 2004 was “unconstitutional” because it violated the principle of secularism. The court also directed the state to integrate madrasa students into mainstream schools. This decision impacted the education of 1.7 million students enrolled in madrasas and jeopardized the future of 10,000 madrasa teachers.

However, despite the ongoing Supreme Court case, the UP government surprisingly announced the de-recognition of over 16,000 madrasas affiliated with the Madrasa Board just hours before the Supreme Court order.

Uttar Pradesh Board of Madarsa Education Chairman Dr. Iftikhar Ahmad Javed welcomed the Supreme Court’s stay order. He expressed his appreciation to everyone involved in the case and those who fought against the High Court order in the Supreme Court. Dr. Javed congratulated all the students, teachers, and staff associated with madrasas.

Talking to Indiatomorrow.net, Syed Tanveer Ahmed, secretary of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind’s Markazi Taleemi Board (central education board), welcomed the apex court order.

Mr. Tanveer Ahmed expressed hope that the final decision will benefit minority students who receive their education in madrasas.

Asserting that the entire issue seems to be driven by political motives, Syed Tanveer stated, “If there are any weaknesses in the board, it is the state government’s responsibility to address them and develop standard operating practices that will improve the madrasas.”

Pointing out that similar challenges exist in the state education system and other departments, the MTB secretary said, “Therefore, shutting down the entire system is not a wise approach. Instead, efforts should be focused on reforming it.” He also appealed to madrasa management to improve the quality and academic standards of their institutions. He vowed that the MTB is ready to offer all possible assistance in this regard.

At a recent meeting, the Markazi Taleemi Board (MTB) convened educationists and legal experts from across the country to discuss their disappointment with the Uttar Pradesh High Court verdict concerning madrasas. In his opening remarks, Syed Tanweer Ahmad stated the MTB’s vision: “We aim to establish an education system that comprehensively improves the educational experience for the nation’s people. The Board currently operates on 14 key fronts.”

Syed Tanveer Ahmad further elaborated on the MTB’s role, emphasizing two critical functions. Firstly, the Markazi Taleemi Board actively works with the government to develop strong educational policies. Through this collaboration, the MTB helps identify areas within the education system that require improvement. Secondly, in states where established Madrasa Boards exist, the MTB integrates affiliated madrasas into its wider network of activities. This allows the MTB to offer valuable guidance and collaborate with madrasa authorities to address any challenges they may face.

The MTB secretary, highlighting the Markazi Taleemi Board’s legacy of supporting madrasas, recounted how they stood in solidarity with the Madrasa Board in Assam when the state government created difficulties.

Outlining the MTB’s ongoing efforts Syed Tanveer said, “We are actively reviewing the functioning of madrasas to identify areas needing improvement. Besides, we are also consulting with legal experts to explore legal avenues for safeguarding madrasas.

JIH Vice President Professor Salim Engineer, in his presidential address, called the high court verdict not just an attack on madrasas, but on the entire minority community. He emphasized the need to counter the propaganda tarnishing the image of madrasas by educating the public with facts. Professor Salim further urged introspection within the madrasa system itself, acknowledging the need to address any weaknesses or shortcomings.

Speaking on the occasion, Shaikh Mujtaba Farooq, former Chairman of the (MTB) who runs several educational institutions in Maharashtra, accused the BJP-led Union government of considering Muslims a threat to their religion. Asserting that the government is seeking to weaken the religious education of Muslims and distance them from their religion, he said, “The government has first targeted madrasas that receive government assistance or funding. In the future, it may take further steps. Muslims need to be prepared and move forward with a strong strategy to prevent the government from making any adverse decisions against their educational institutions.”

Farooq’s remarks come amid the ongoing debate over the regulation of madrasas. The government is taking steps to bring these institutions under the purview of the mainstream education system. However, he asserts that the “thinking of troubling minorities” is prevalent among a handful of people in the country who make constant attempts to harass them while the majority of the population supports them.

Aurangabad-based educationist, Dr. Badr-ul-Islam criticized targeting of madrasas. He fears the closure of madrasas will worsen educational backwardness among Muslims and urges collaboration with other institutions for improvement.  Dr. Islam emphasized the need to take up the matter with the government to share it that Muslims already face educational backwardness, and shutting down madrasas would only worsen the situation. “In this regard, the MTB should move forward in collaboration with other institutions of the country.” He added.

Reacting on the issue, Advocate Fawaz Shaheen stated that the Constitution protects the right of minorities to establish religious institutions and provide religious education, but there is no compulsion to receive such education. He identified a lack of clear communication regarding the type of education and teaching methods used in madrasas, which fuels misconceptions. Shaheen emphasized that Article 28 allows religious education within educational institutions, and it does not contradict the principles of national secular education. However, Shaheen suggested that targeting madrasas exposes the current government’s potential motives: seeking justifications to abolish these institutions, restrict minority rights, and limit access to education for minority communities.

Reacting over a similar issue in Assam, Advocate Abdul Razzaq from Assam explained that the tradition of madrasas in Assam stretches back to the British era. He said, “Back then, there were no specific laws governing these institutions. After India’s independence, minorities were granted the right to establish their own educational institutions. In the case of government-affiliated madrasas, the state government covered teachers’ salaries. However, building maintenance and administrative affairs remained under public control. A non-governmental committee managed each madrasa’s day-to-day operations. When the BJP government came to power in Assam, they introduced and subsequently amended an act that aimed to convert madrasas into schools. This legislation is currently being challenged in the Supreme Court.”

Expressing concerns over the Allahabad High Court’s verdict, APCR Secretary Nadeem Khan strongly advocated for presenting this case in the Supreme Court. According to him, its outcome could have a significant impact on madrassas not only in Uttar Pradesh but also across the country.

Speaking about the Allahabad High Court verdict, Dr. Sadat Husain associated with the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA), explained that a petition a few months back, challenged the UP Madrasa Education Act putting questions about the Act’s lack of emphasis on secular education, the exclusion of minorities from its board, and the misalignment of the madrasa system with national educational standards.

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