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Madrasah Education: Challenges and Recommendations

With passage of time, the traditional madrasas began losing its effectiveness. The voices to reform the educational system in madrasas are getting louder. There are numerous challenges facing the madrasa education system today. If the efforts are not made to address the challenges effectively, it cannot be ruled out that these institutions soon will become irrelevant.



Islam has traditionally placed a strong emphasis on giving Muslims access to education. Islam’s first Ayat also laid the great importance on education. In addition to being mentioned in the Holy Quran, Prophet Muhammad’s saying (PBUH) also provide insight into its importance.

“Seeking knowledge is a duty upon every Muslim, and he who imparts knowledge to those who do not deserve it, is like the one who puts a necklace of jewels, pearls and gold around the neck of swines.”
[Sunan Ibn Majah 224]

Islamic education placed a strong emphasis on overall building of human beings. The fundamental emphasis of Prophet Muhammad’s teachings was an overall development with special emphasis on character development, or “tarbiyah” in Islam (PBUH).

Islamic (Madarsa) education has received a due recognition in India in every era to provide Islamic education. Thousands of madrasas (Islamic educational institutions) to cater to the need of Islamic education from elementary to higher levels were established in India over an extended period of time.

With passage of time, the traditional madrasas began losing its effectiveness. The voices to reform the educational system in madrasas are getting louder. There are numerous challenges facing the madrasa education system today. If the efforts are not made to address the challenges effectively, it cannot be ruled out that these institutions soon will become irrelevant.

This article will provide an overview of Islamic education, challenges and difficulties associated with Islamic institutions, examine those difficulties, and make recommendations to develop a plan to address those issues to ensure these Islamic (Madarsa) institutions are resilient to change and thrive.

Education in Islam

The first verse of the Quran emphasizes the need of education as follows:

اقرأ باسم ربك الذي خلق

“Read with the name of Allah.”
[Qur’an – Surah Al-Alaq 96]

This verse makes a point about how important education is in Islam. Education in Islam places a strong emphasis on acknowledging the creator. A Muslim learner must comprehend the worth and dignity of his/her creator. Students would be able to comprehend a wider range of concepts if they understand the identity of the universe’s creator rightly. If they do not appreciate their education in Islam, they might continue to be immoral, unjust, unrighteous, disrespectful, and not work for the larger good of the society.

In the context of Islam, a person is said to be educated if he is capable of carrying out all of his responsibilities with honesty in all respects in the light of Islam, such as being mindful of Almighty, being truthful with his relatives, neighbors, and even himself. Along with this, he ought to be able to earn his livelihood honestly.

In Islam, the concept of knowledge (‘ilm) is not limited to a particular subject like it is in other civilizations and cultures. Al-Attas claims that the term “knowledge” (‘ilm) has been used in Islam to refer to all facets of life, including the spiritual, intellectual, religious, cultural, personal, and social. This implies that it has a universal nature and is essential to guide man to his salvation[1].

Nations that firmly hold the source of knowledge are bound to be directed towards progress in the development of humanity, and those who do not possess it cannot be considered equal to those who do. The importance of science and knowledge of what God made is frequently underlined throughout the Quran. “Say: Are those equal, those who know and those who do not know?” (al-Zumar 39: 9), and those who have knowledge will definitely be increased to high ranks, as Allah says in Qur’an, “Allah will exalt those of you who believe, and those who are given knowledge, in high degrees” (al-Mujadalah 58: 11)

Islamic education seeks to strengthen and advance human society in total while also preparing Muslims to live peacefully in this world and to benefit from the eternal blessings of the hereafter as described in the Quran. Therefore, it tries to instill Islamic principles in the minds and hearts of the general populace to accomplish through them Islam’s ideal faith. Education do not serve to fill people’s minds with a single knowledge, but also to prepare people for both the life of this world and life-hereafter. According to al-Ibrashi, “to prepare them for a life of purity and sincerity, this total commitment to character-building based on the ideals of Islamic ethics is the highest goal of Islamic education”[2].

Educational drivers

The primary driver for education is to help children understand their creator, sustainer, and organizer of all the affairs in the universe. The education must guide the children to realize their life objectives. In addition to that, there are certain factors that drive the education in general. They include:

  • Education is a key tool for empowering children with interaction skills and critical thinking. Children who receive an education are better prepared to comprehend the environment they live in and confidently compete for survival.
  • Children who receive an education have the tools they need to support their communities.
  • Education could develop the ability to work in a team.
  • Education could act as a source to gain required technical competencies, professional maturity, communication skills, and social skills.
  • Education could enhance the learners’ physical characteristics and supports the development of learners’ individual perspectives.
  • Aside from enhancing the learners’ physical attributes and fostering their unique perspectives, education could also help them develop their aesthetic sense and allow them to discover their hidden talents.
  • The ability to control one’s life entails fundamental awareness and practical knowledge. Students who receive a quality education are more likely to be economically productive and perform well in real-world situations.

Quality of Education

The outcome of the learning is only determined by the quality of the education in the teaching centers and institutions. The effectiveness of teaching and learning raises the standard of education. The methods used in the classroom are a gauge of educational quality. The quality education in the classroom determines the academic success of the students. Students who receive a high-quality education are better able to meet their future demands. A great education gives pupils the opportunity to compete in a democratic society and establish themselves as contributing members of society.

The standard of education affects a nation’s progress. As a result, developing nations always try to raise their educational standards. The tools for a country’s development are its educated and skilled population. A high-quality education enhances people’s social and personal lives.

Goal of Education in Islam

Islam places a strong emphasis on the following goals of education:

  • To create a good human through education;
  • To develop the spirit and intellect of the Man for the sake of overall growth;
  • To recognize Allah as the Creator of the Universe and that all livings are created and controlled by Allah;
  • To train the main and shape one’s nature and character in such a way that one can demonstrate the true Islamic values;
  • To equip the people with systematic learning and soft skills.

An overview of Islamic education

In response to changes in the world over the past 200 years, there emerged varying models of Islamic education. They include:

  1. Purely Islamic studies and theology: Educational institutions established and designed to provide merely the subjects related to Islam to children belonging to underprivileged segments of the society. They are community-based centers which caters to the need of basis Islamic education at elementary level. Driven by the compelling demand of English and modern education, these centers are fast turning to public schools.
  2. Islamic education with less focus on general education: This type of institute aims to provide minimal general education with strong emphasis on Islamic education. This educational model has been adopted in most of the educational institutions called madrasah, in response to the demand of incorporating modern subjects into the syllabus.
  3. Islamic education with strong emphasis on general education: This emerging model is fast growing model and appeals middle and upper classes. The example of this type of model is found in Bangladesh, Egypt, Turkey, and Pakistan.
  4. General education with less emphasis on Islamic education: This is most prevalent educational model in almost entire Muslim countries. This type of institution adopts the general education curriculum and attracts students from almost all segments of the society. These types of institutions are found in Bangladesh, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Nigeria.

Given the above description of Islamic education, the following describes the key components of Islamic education curriculum. Such curricula are supposed to exist in institutions that provide only Islamic education or in those that combine a general education curriculum with a significant amount of Islamic teaching:

  1. Quranic Interpretation (Tafsir): This topic examines the traditional readings of the Quran as interpreted by a number of early scholars, including Ibn Kathir, El- Tabari, and Ibn Taymiyya and other contemporary modern scholars.
  2. The Sayings and Practices of the Prophet (Hadith): This topic examines the procedures used to ensure the veracity of stories and statements related to the Prophet Mohammed, as well as an examination of the collections gathered by earlier scholars like Bukhari and Muslim.
  3. Islamic Jurisprudence (Fiqh): This topic includes the approaches taken by different scholars, particularly those who represent the major four schools of jurisprudence in Sunni Islam (Shafi’i, Hanafi, Maliki, and Hanbali), as well as their decisions on a range of topics, which are typically cataloged under categories like prayer, marriage, divorce, charity, and jihad.
  4. Islamic Basic Beliefs (‘Aqaid): This topic addresses the basic Islamic beliefs, including the unity of God, the existence of angels and the devil, the Day of Judgment, heaven, and hell.
  5. Arabic Language: Since Arabic is the language of the Quran, nearly all academic institutions that specialize in Islamic studies offer instruction in Arabic. Arabic proficiency is typically highly valued in such institutes.
  6. Islamic Rituals: This topic discusses the proper way for Muslims to carry out their rituals, such as fasting, prayer, and pilgrimage to Mecca.
  7. Islamic History: This topic covers mainly Islamic history from the time of the Prophet Mohammed to the current era.
  8. Islamic Manners and Values: This subject focuses on teaching children, in particular, the correct Islamic manners that were preached and upheld during the early days of Islam, which most Islamic scholars consider having been a golden age from which many valuable lessons and role models can be drawn. Islamic manners and values are typically covered in the subject of religion in educational institutions that focus mostly on general education.

The role of Islamic Institutions (Madrasas)

Madrasa is where knowledge is imparted, character is built, and true life objective is defined. Madrasa plays a pivotal role in producing eminent scholars who dedicate their lives to serving Islam, promoting and preaching Islamic teachings. Madrasas are viewed to serve as a vehicle for conveying the Islamic culture and heritage as well as the universal values that are firmly embedded in Muslim tradition, perception, and identity. Madrasas are regarded the guarantor and the “fort” of Islam in India, and effective “weapons against un-Islamic forces”[3]

From the standpoint of education dissemination, curricular practices, and architectural functionality, the modern madrasa’s role does not adequately integrate with the local communal residents.

Many people believe that traditional madrasas are disadvantageous because they have a limited curriculum that only includes classical disciplines, no assessments, or assessments that are poorly designed, an excessive emphasis on information retention and memorization, little attention paid to research skills and critical thinking, are not part of the structured and formal educational system, and do not recognize students’ accomplishments through credentials, accreditation, or awards.

Challenges of Islamic Education

Islamic education today suffers significantly from centuries of stagnation. Islamic scholars are in agreement that Islamic education has been dominated for centuries by memorization, imitation, and a lack of originality. As a result, the madrasas were not offering the Muslim community the relevant education.

How the Islamic education is positioned inside larger educational systems? Different growth processes in each nation since the time of Western colonialism led to disparities in the position of Islamic education in various nations, as well as in rules, integration with general education, and degrees. But the challenges arise when Islamic education yields unfavorable results. There are adverse impacts being noticed and challenges being faced by madrasas due to their refusal to adapt to the changes.

Let us talk about some of the challenges Islamic education is facing internally as well as those the system poses to Muslim communities and societies. 

a. System

Islamic educational institutions place their students in dead-end sub-systems. It offers primarily religious knowledge that is based on memorization. This occurs more frequently in the early years of development. Such sub-systems have the drawback of limiting students’ knowledge to a specialized form of religious education, which restricts their opportunities for professional growth and career options. Many children are forced to drop out of school after that crucial memorization-based stage because of poverty. As a result, they fail to take chances necessary for educational, occupational, and professional growth opportunities.

The educational system either limits the value of degrees from Islamic educational institutions or does not recognize them. Graduates from various Islamic educational institutions often find themselves forced to pursue only religious education or end up with enrolling in linguistics centers in universities with no/or limited options to choose other fields of study, careers, or professions.

b. Administration

Ineffectiveness of madrasah management is regarded one of the primary reasons for deteriorating situation of the education at madrasas. The head of Madrasa has a pivotal role to improve the quality of the education. Unfortunately, the ground reality is that they have been unable to improve the quality of the madrasa because they lack the leadership skills and often recognized with no relationship with education. Their selections are not based on their potential to become professional leaders. And, therefore, they strive to server their invested interest at the cost of the institutions and future of the students. And eventually the selection process is jeopardized resulting in unqualified staff with no or limited skills to teach.

c. Curriculum

Advocates for reform see the present syllabus used in the Indian madrassas—generally some variant of the Dars-e-Nizami—as stagnant, in many respects no longer in tune with the demands and needs of the times. Because the syllabus has remained largely the same for the last three centuries, with only minor modifications, the ulema are seen as rapidly losing their relevance for Muslim society, isolated as they are in a world that has long since passed[4]. [Muhammad Arshad, “Azad Hindustan Mai Musalmano Ki Ta’limi Surat-i-Hal” (The educational conditions of Muslims in independent India), in Parwaz Rahmani and Muhammad Arshad, eds., Hindustani Musalman[5]

d. Lack of quality

The quality of education has fallen in madrasas like other educational institutions. The quality, once considered the prominent features of the madrasa, is now being questioned. The graduates from madrasas are seen incompetent and unqualified. They are not able to compete in their own domain and are hardly able to justify their long stay in madrasas. Gone are the days when these madrasas used to produce the Islamic scholars capable to solve the issues being faced by the community. With few exceptions, majority of madrasa graduates find themselves unqualified and irrelevant. Take example of Arabic language. Having studied many years in the madrasas, a great number of madrasa graduates are hardly able to communicate professionally in this foreign language.  There are many factors incorporating to the decline of education quality. Low quality education is caused by various sources, including inappropriateness of building management, poor curriculum design, detrimental work environment, unsuitable procedures, management systems, and a shortage of human resources.

e. Teaching method

The teaching methods used in Islamic educational institutions have remained unchanged for decades. Teachers are not encouraged and trained to use the modern teaching techniques and skills. Students are not encouraged to ask questions and rationality behind what they are being taught. Curriculum does not include the training of students on hard and soft skills that are essentially needed in professional lives. Most of the teachers do not bother themselves to prepare the lessons they are supposed to teach in the class while some of them are too burdened with additional activities to dedicate efforts to the preparation and thus lose interest in teaching. Student punishment in Islamic educational institutions is almost a chronic problem throughout the institutions.

f. Common perception

A key challenge facing the Islamic education is the general perception that students learning just Islamic sciences are incompetent and unskilled to face the real-life competition or challenges; this misguides the elite people in the society and consequently they refuse to admit their children into Islamic institutions.

This perception potentially impacts the minds of the guardians and drives them to believe that it is not necessary for students to gain the mastery on all Islamic topics particularly when they are also taught modern subjects which is far more important as it helps them succeed in their professional careers. Thus, it is widely believed that only basic knowledge of Islamic topics is sufficient for Muslim students, and it is not wise to gain mastery on both disciplines since they are supposed to heavily focus on mastering modern education.

g. Spiritual Decline

Nurturing the spirituality among the students had been at the center of core objectives of these institutions. There is no denying that graduates from Islamic institutions are enriched with a certain degree of spirituality, and skilled with morality, etiquette and enjoin many good qualities and relatively better from students of general schools. However, a look at the current situation for students from Islamic institutions reveals that there is a danger when it comes to spiritual growth. Graduates from such institutions have become too attached with worldly affairs that often it becomes difficult to make a distinction between graduates from both the streams, Islamic and general. This is particularly true for those who enroll in universities and pursue higher degrees after graduation from madrasas. A number of such students fail to demonstrate the application of hard-earned attributes in real life and unable to leave any impact on their fellows in central universities. What is more disturbing is that some of them are found uncommitted to performing the prayers (salat).

This puts a question on tarbiyah system in madrasas. How a Muslim student who was trained on practicing these rituals over years and found punctual suddenly decides to leave it without regret when he is out of madrasa climate? This must alert the guardians and those responsible for running the Islamic institutions to wake up and introspect the tarbiyah system, assess the underlying reasons and chart out a plan to fix the issue to improve the spiritual aspects.

h. Funding

One of the challenges that requires immediate attention is funding Islamic institutions. Majority of these institutions’ financial demands are met by donations from well-wishers. Almost all the madrasas are solely dependent on such donations. If these sources are impacted, the institutions are affected. The adverse impact of this dependency was clearly observed during Covid-19 when the volume of donations was decreased substantially. This led to laying off teachers from madrasas and has created a hue and cry in the society. The decision of madrasa authorities to terminate or reduce the salaries of staff were widely criticized and often they were termed to be authoritative.

i. Resistance to reform

Reform is the guarantor of success. If this practice is ignored, there is bound to be detrimental implication. The call for reform in madrasa has been around for quite a long time now. Introducing modern disciplines in Islamic institutions is considered to be important steps in reforming the madrasa. However, it is confronted by radical scholars where they seem to be in disagreement of the idea that both Islamic and moderns sciences can be taught together as, in their view, it violates the very idea and objective of Islamic institutions and they fear that introduction of modern subjects will undermine their position and authority as interpreter of faith.

j. Hate and enmity against Islam and its followers

Misconception about Islamic education is one of the great challenges being faced by Islamic institutions. There is a well-planned game to create doubt into the minds of the students that Islamic teachings and principles are outdated and cannot solve the problems of current era, and hence the parents, influenced by the doubt thus created, hesitate to send their children to Islamic institutions.

The non-Muslim nations developed an incorrect perception of Islamic education; they believe that it trains terrorists. There seems to be deliberate attempt from the radical Hindu organizations in India to defame the Madrasas. Given the propaganda campaign by the government and Hindu radicals against the madrassas, the authorities of madrasas and guardians are convinced that there is a conspiracy to destroy the identity and faith of the Muslims. The hate machinery leads to corrupt the minds of people and motivate the personnels in government institutions to exercise the discrimination when it comes to a particular class. This biasedness is intensified by September 11, 2001 incident. Subsequently, it led to a substantial increase in the population of people who are susceptible to radical, intolerant, and violent religious teachings.

Government policies are posing a huge challenge to madrasas in India. It is only recently that the government in Assam has passed a bill in the assembly to convert all state-funded madrasas to general education.

Article to be continued.

[1] Al-Naquib Al-Attas, S. (1979). Aims and Objectives of Islamic Education. 

[2] Ibid

[3] Sayyed Hamid, “Dini Madaris Ka Nizam-i-Ta’lim” (The system of education in religious schools)

[4] Muhammad Arshad, (2001) “Azad Hindustan Mai Musalmano Ki Ta’limi Surat-i- Hal” (The educational conditions of Muslims in independent India)

[5] The Indian Muslims, 2001, Rawat Publications