Role of Madrassa Education in Muslim Empowerment

Dr Fathimath Fouziya. M


Madrassa education system has attained worldwide attention of educationalists, sociologists and historians in recent times, especially after the Taliban’s resurgence and September 11 Twin Tower attack. It has originated as a tributary of the Arabian culture and has contributed significantly to the development of the Arabic language and literature. There is a constructed feeling and observation that madrassas are centres of ‘Jihad’ disregarding its contributions to the mainstream social life. As a result of this constructed ‘Islamophobia,’ the madrassa system in many nations is under close observation of the authorities. In fact, the prominent freedom fighters in India also grew up as part of the madrassa education system that has now been branded as the “centres of terrorism.”

The development of any community depends on its educational system and it is proved that education is the key to human progress and social change. Education is a powerful tool for the empowerment of individuals. It helps in developing confidence in individuals and communities about their own capacities, inherent strengths to shape their lives and thus enhance their inner strength. Education is the means by which the societies in history have grown out of oppression to democratic participation and involvement. Madrassas are an integral component of the education system in India. Historically, the country’s Muslim population has been disproportionately disadvantaged in education. Even as they comprise nearly 14 percent of India’s population, their enrollment rate at the primary school level (Class 1-5) was a meager 9.39 percent of total enrollment in 2006.  More than 90 percent of madrassa students in India belongs to poor families. In some parts of the country, even poor non-Muslims send their children to these schools. Education holds the key to the empowerment of Indian Muslims. Education is one of the most powerful factors for the political, social, economic, or spiritual development of individuals and communities. It helps individuals to acquire confidence and capability to match the levels of the mainstream in society.

Role of Madrassa in Educating the Society

Madrassa education system in India aims at educating Muslim children living in this country. Madrassas were originally established to spread the messages of Islam and impart religious teaching to their followers. The scholars (ulemas), a group of religious specialists, used to perform the role of teachers in madrassa to spread Islam outside the Arabian Peninsula. A madrassa was treated as a high school or college earlier. In the Islamic era, there were thousands of madrassas which were as big as some universities today. They were full of exhibit museums, libraries, and visiting scholars. Great scholars and professors dedicated their lives to the madrassas for learning the philosophy of Islam, the Farsi language, and more significantly, to broaden the knowledge among the ordinary public. Rulers of the country as well as the public were educated in the madrassas in the past. And even today, madrassa education in India is playing a vital role in educating thousands of Muslim children. The importance of madrassas lies in its potential to make education available to the poorer section of society. Education in general and professional education in particular, is in great demand. The common people are aware of the advantages of modern education and even for an enlightened and inclusive democracy. All sections and classes of people should be well educated and intellectually equipped to shoulder the responsibility of a free nation. Education occupies a unique role in the process of empowerment of minorities, especially Muslims in the contemporary Indian context. As the Muslim community has lagged behind in education over the decades, it is necessary to foster and promote the education of this community at a quicker pace and as a matter of priority.

Islam and Education

Islam wants mankind to attain knowledge as much as they can. The first ayah of the Quran revealed to Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was “Read in the name of your Lord who created.” Islam commands us to pray to the Almighty to increase knowledge. We should learn from the words of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) to seek knowledge even if it is found in a place as distant as China. During Prophet Muhammad (SAW), most of the Muslims were illiterate. After becoming believers, they began to acquire knowledge as much as they could. The Prophet (SAW) sent his followers to the Jewish physicians who were arch-enemies of Islam, and asked them to learn medical science from them. Knowledge should be considered as the lost property of a believer and should be reclaimed as their own from wherever it is found.

Madrassas and makthabs are age-old institutions for imparting religious education among Muslims, based on Islamic theology and religious practices. Islamic education has different stages, from the beginner’s stage to the highest level, almost comparable to modern education in terms of levels of education. Almost every mosque has makthabs/madrassas where Muslim children are taught Quran and religious rituals and practices. As the children complete the early stages, there is scope for gaining higher knowledge and degrees in madrassas, based on Islamic theology and jurisprudence. The madrassa, thus, is a well-established institution of imparting Islamic education with strong roots in theology and religious practices. The madrassa education system was started in India after the arrival of Muslims in the 10th century. Makthabs and madrassas were initially established in the towns of Sind, Dabel, Mansura, and Multan. With the passage of time, it gradually spread across different parts of the country, such as Oudh, Multan, Lahore, Khairabad, Patna, Surat, Delhi, and Agra. The British period is generally considered as a period of setback to the traditional/indigenous education system in India. However, the madrassa education continued and survived as there was wide acceptance and support for the madrassa education system among the Muslims. There are different types of madrassas in India (1) Registered madrassas receiving government grants for salaries and infrastructure (2) Community-based madrassas. They are also of four types (a) Makthab – primary level (b) Dursul Qur’an – high school level (c) Madrassa – college level and (d) Jamia – university level. They are run by the Muslim community through donations.[1]

Religious Education in Kerala

The Islamic education system in Kerala is entirely different from the other parts of the country. It is parallel to the mainstream education of the state government. It has undergone rapid scientific changes for the last two to three decades, particularly due to the efforts of Islamic reformist movements, who were instrumental in transforming the Dars system into a modern Islamic education system covering various aspects of educational philosophy.  They adopted educational psychology and incorporated different subjects in the syllabus more scientifically. Reformist movements understood the need to revise the curriculum and started the combination of religious and modern system. They started 5 major madrassa boards like 1. Majlissu Ta’limul Islami Kerala 2. KNM Vidhyabhyasa Board 3. Samastha Kerala Islam Matha Vidyabhyasa Board. 4. Samastha Kerala Sunni Vidyabhyasa Board and 5. Dakshina Kerala Matha Vidyabhyasa Board. These reformist movements conduct different kinds of training programmes for teachers and organise workshops for timely revision of curriculum and syllabus. This system has initiated activities like seminars, debates, literary meetings, student parliaments, sports meets and arts meets for the overall development of the students. Schools supporting the madrassa system is a noteworthy contribution introduced by these movements. Students going to the madrassas get the opportunity to perform in both Islamic and modern education setups. The reformist movements of Kerala also have a roll in streamlining the working time in accordance with the school timing. They have managed madrassas either in the morning or evening or during the holidays. It is only because of this kind of management that the students are coping up with their education properly. In Kerala there are some other unrecognised educational institutions who run their own pre-school madrassas.

Education for girls

Women are an integral part of every society. In the early period, the Muslim community failed to realise the importance of opening avenues of education to girls. The lack of widespread opportunities for education for girls happened due to the negative approach of the traditional schools. If we go through the history of Kerala Muslims, we can see that the traditional ulemas prohibited girl-students attending madrassas and regular schools.  Later, girl students were allowed to attend primary level madrassas along with boys. In the traditional madrassa system, boys and girls attend madrasas at primary levels only. These traditional ulemas, later started girls’ orphanages and now they are being pressurised by the community to start separate Arabic or Islamic and Arts colleges for girls. All these are the impact of reformist movements in Kerala. The lack of vision of these ulemas had played a major role in keeping the Muslim women lagging in the race to progress. Had the residential institutes for girls been started by these ulamas as early as they started it for the boys, it would have helped the girls of the community to see the light of progress much earlier.


Co-education is already there at the primary level. There is no hindrance for boys and girls studying together in an Islamic learning system; but that will not be like the present regular campuses. They have to obey the rules and regulations put forth by Quran and Hadith. Co-education has its benefits and students must get the advantage of it.

The Challenges and Issues Faced by the Current Madrassa System in General

  • Absence of definite aims and objectives
  • In most madrassas, especially outside Kerala, even the basic infrastructure needed for a primary school including proper building and teaching equipment is not available
  • Outdated traditional methods and techniques of teaching and learning. Isolation from modern developments in the area of natural sciences and social sciences and over-emphasis on the traditional subjects, with a negative outlook towards modern subjects
  • Teachers are not trained like regular school teachers
  • Teachers’ salaries are low and they do not receive any government benefits. There is no yardstick set on the qualification of teachers
  • Islamic higher education institutions do not get any kind of assistance from the government; they manage their institutions by themselves and meet the expenses. It affects the quality of education and infrastructure
  • Lack of coordination among various madrassas and organisations
  • These madrassas have an outdated system of examination and evaluation
  • Poor quality of planning and administration
  • Poor financial condition and management. The government has neither recognised these institutions nor their courses. Very few institutions of the country have been affiliated with foreign Islamic universities like Madeena Islamic University, Malaysian University, and Qatar Islamic University for higher academic excellence


  • Enlarge the scope of madrassa beyond the religious education to school, teaching subjects like science, mathematics, English, and computer science
  • An arrangement whereby Muslim students may be able to access both religious and school education is required to ensure their completion of education till eighth standard, the least
  • Infrastructural development like classrooms, furniture, blackboards, etc. is very important for the makthabs and madrassas
  • Quality education should be provided in madrassas with an emphasis on Information and Communication Technology
  • There should be provision for teachers training programme for the teachers who wish to associate with madrassa education. They should be either accommodated in existing training institutes affiliated with the universities, or there should be a separate system of training for them
  • It should be the responsibility of the Union and State Governments to provide adequate grants for these madrassas. Availability of books and teaching-learning materials at all levels of madrassas is necessary to enable Muslim children to attain the standards of the national education system


Muslims in India must realise that they are at the bottom level of development in the field of education in this era of global village. Information Technology and further cultural transmission through electronic media have brought the international community very close to each other. In order to attain integrity, peace and prosperity, and basic security of their life, the Muslim community must concentrate their efforts on the task of restructuring their system of education in general and madrassa education in particular. In respect of the madrassa education, there is a need for the society to preserve the delicate balance between the emphasis on the religious underpinning of the community, on which the Muslim community lays special emphasis; and the need to make education a powerful tool for empowering the community to claim its legitimate place within the educational and developmental mainstream of the country. In Kerala, the community has its own syllabi and curriculum to empower the society. But they are facing so many crises today. Some of these crises are structural while others are content related. The main complaint is that with the advent of English medium schools, there is not enough time for religious studies. To overcome this, some organisations have chosen to conduct madrassas at night, which is a very crucial situation and it is undeniable that children who have to do homework with the help of their parents going out at night for madrassa studies would do more harm than benefit. It can also lead to many behavioural disorders in children. So, the community should find an alternative. Similarly, extreme party austerity and sectarianism have been the mainstay of most madrassa teachers. There is no doubt that madrassa education will be a waste of time as long as the teachings are not practiced in life. The generation must grow up with a clear vision of what Islam is and what it is fundamentally about and how it treats other sections of society.


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  2. Samastha Souvenir, 2002.
  3. Thoolika varshikapathipp, 1995.
  4. Prabodhanam Varika, 2015 April 24.
  5. The Malabar, Journal of Kunhali Marakkar Center of West Asian Studies, University of Calicut, August 2003.
  6. Evaluation of the Implementation of the Scheme for Providing Quality Education in Madrasas (SPQEM) Report, 2018. National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration 17-B, Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi -110016.
  7. Role of Madrasa Education in Empowerment of Muslims in India, IOSR- JHSS, Feb- 2015, Sana Asma and Thasneem Shazli.
  8. Mappila Muslims of Kerala, A study in Islamic Trends, Orient Longman Limited 1992, Rollend E. Miller.


The author is Assistant Professor of Arabic, MES Kalladi College Mannarkkad. Palakkad, Kerala. Email: [email protected]

 [1] Evaluation of the Implementation of the Scheme for Providing Quality Education in Madrasas (SPQEM) Report, 2018. National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration 17-B, Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi -110016.