Debates and discussions on the curriculum of Madrassahs (religious seminaries) are not new. This debate was at its peak during the movement of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in the sub-continent.
The scholarly papers written in this connection by revered ulamas (religious scholars) belonging to Madrassahs have also put forward excellent suggestions for improving this curriculum. Some Madrassahs have also taken praiseworthy steps in this regard. Establishment of modern Islamic universities in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran, etc are promising developments. In addition, the setting up of special departments of Usul-e-Fiqh (Fundamentals of Islamic jurisprudence), Islamiyat (Islamic studies) and Seerat-e-Nabawi (Prophet Muhammad’s biography and his way of living) in many universities can be termed as part of efforts to promote research and study on these topics on modern pattern. Painstaking work in Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), Tafsir (exegesis), Hadith (tradition or narration or action or silent approval of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)), Tareekh (History) and Adb-e-Islami (Islamic literature) by those ulamas who don’t belong to traditional Madrassahs can’t be denied. Moreover, there is a significant number of students from typical religious schools who have used authentic scholarly endeavors to introduce religious teachings keeping in view the need of their times. These students have also given reasonable and logical answers to the questions arisen in contemporary minds. But despite all these positives, the fact can’t be denied that overall depleted thoughts and stagnant minds are emerging from the Madrassahs owing to the present curriculum. On the contrary, good examples that can be mentioned about the Madrassahs are mere exceptions.
Perhaps a general reader can’t believe what is not hidden from the pundits and knowers that the Quran as a subject is not included directly in the curriculum of Madrassahs. The Quran or Tafsir Quran (exegesis of Quran) is not included as complete subject even in those Madrassahs where series of other contemporary subjects are taught in full. The Madrassahs where Tafsir is taught are first of all very rare and secondly it is taught as an additional subject only and not as being permanent part of the curriculum. Similarly the subject of History is not included in the curriculum. Most of the Madrassahs have not deemed it necessary to even include Seerat-e-Nabawi in the curriculum. Ahkaam (Islamic commandments) is being taught but no arrangements are being made to teach Falsafa-e-Ahkaam (Philosophy of Islamic commandments). Religion is meant for humans and belief in it is part of human nature. But, no book has been included in the curriculum of Madrassahs to help understand the nature of humans. How can a student of a Madrassah or an alim (religious scholar) be given authenticity to guide humans when he has not thoroughly studied what Islam and Quran says about human beings. Need of religion, appointment of prophethood, philosophy of finality of prophethood, the greatness of the Noble Qur'an and its comparison with other religious books, comparative study of other religions and analysis of the teachings of these religions with the teachings of Islam and what are the similarity and dissimilarities between them and so many other important topics on which discussions are not usually held in Madrassahs.
In addition to this, proficiency and expertise in Arabic language is undoubtedly must for gaining access to and understanding various Islamic sources. But, there are no arrangements in Madrassahs for teaching the language or languages in which a student has to convey the message of religion. The tragedy in this regard is that generally no system has been evolved by Madrassahs in Pakistan to teach Urdu language in these institutions. Scientific revelations and ideologies have changed the whole world. New discoveries and inventions have altered the meaning of life. Communications has become a separate field of study. How can we properly present our religion before the world while remaining ignorant, uneducated and dumb about these realities as well as not knowing about the changing demands of the changing world? Religious scholars and the managers and administrators of religious institutions need to reflect seriously on this subject.
The above mentioned points and so many untold issues can be tackled by turning to ijtihad (effort or endeavor undertaken to form an independent judgment on a legal question). The contemporary understanding and sense of the need of Ijtihad can provide solution to this basic dilemma as far as the religion is concerned.
In the meantime, the federal cabinet, in principle, approved an ordinance on 19 June 2002 regarding religious schools in Pakistan. The most important of the points of this ordinance is the addition of some subjects in the curriculum. According to the statement issued by Federal Minister of Information and Broadcasting Nisar Memon these subjects include English, Urdu, Science and Math, whereas Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Mahmood Ahmed Ghazi mentioned the name of Pakistan Study instead of Urdu during his press conference.
In principle this decision ought to have been praised although there is room for further discussion. In particular, the way English is being forced into the general education system and the whole of Pakistan is questionable. Instead of giving patronage to English at the state-level, it was better to incorporate in the curriculum any foreign language including English as an additional language. However, by and large this decision can be termed as a positive development. The fact that the Govt has left it to the discretion of the seminaries to take measures for reforming the curriculum should be acceptable to the management and administration of the Madrassahs. However, the respected and revered ulamas must develop a system on their own to review the curriculum of Madrassahs on permanent basis so that non-significant part of it can be winded up and its drawbacks and flaws can be gradually corrected. Holding consultations with contemporary education experts in this respect will prove to be handy and useful.