MUMBAI: There is no board outside this modest bungalow in Malad (W) to announce the nature of its inhabitants. But as you enter the three-storey building, the sight of adolescent children clad in blue kurta-pyjama and skull caps, rocking back and forth and learning by rote strikes you. These are students learning to be hafizs (those who memorize the Quran and recite the divine verses from memory). But this is not any other madrassa which produces hafizs, maulvis and imams. Here, every student who completes the hafiz course also has to clear the SSC exams. When the SSC results for 2014-2015 came a few days ago, five hafizs from here too cleared the exams.
As Maharashtra government has revived the madrassa modernization scheme launched by the previous Congress-NCP government in 2013, it is worth understanding how city-based businessman Syed Ali Hussain has achieved what many others only debate. By creating a module where students attend both madrassa and school in the course of a day, Hussain is silently mainstreaming the madrassa education. Establishing two institutions—Madrasa Jamia Tajwidul Quran and Noor Meher Urdu School under the Noor Meher Charitable Trust, Hussain has created a facility where boys learn to become hafiz and also give SSC exams as private candidates once they attain the age of 14-15. “Why should a madrassa student should be deprived of opportunities to learn maths, science, social science and English? If a child can grow to memorize the complete Quran, he can study secular subjects too,” reasons Hussain who first experimented it in 2012- 2013 when 13 students— nine of them hafizs—cleared the SSC exams.
Beginning with just two students in 2001, today the residential institution has 125 students, mostly from deprived background. They are first generation learners in their families. For the hafizs who have also cleared the SSC exams this year, it is a leap of faith. “Everyone is excited as I am the only one to have passed 10th class in my family,” says Shaikh Ghufran Islam who is the youngest among five siblings and whose father is a marginal farmer in Sitamarhi (Bihar).
“My elder brother, who works as a mechanic in the city, admitted me to this madrassa,” adds Islam who wants to study further and also plans a daura (repeat) of memorization of the Quran every year, especially during Ramzan when hafizs are required to lead special congregational prayers at night where Quranic verses are recited. Why has Hussain restricted himself to producing hafizs and helping them clear SSC? “I cannot handle a madrassa which produces religious scholars like alims, fazils and muftis as it will require a bigger infrastructure. I may lose focus too,” says Hussain who has earned accolades from many in the community. “This is a novel concept to empower madrassa products and others should emulate it,” says career counsellor Akhlaq Shaikh. “I am quite amazed to see many hafizs who recite the Quranic verses and can speak English fluently. This is called blending of education of deen (religion) and duniya (world),” says Maulana Bunai Hasani Noimi, president, All India Ulema Board. The five hafizs who have just crossed the first major hurdle (SSC) to modern education cannot agree more.