Madrasas at the receiving end of popular misconception
BIRGUNJ, Jan 5: Government apathy, misperception and exaggerated media reports have been taking a toll on Nepali Madrasas and mosques, the traditional teaching institutions and worshiping place of the Muslim minority.
The Muslim community is left to its own devises to promote their region and operate traditional educational institutions. Moreover, the institutions are under constant media scrutiny often being questioned for institutional transparency.
Over a decade ago, some Indian news channels falsely reported that Hussainia Indarwa Puriniya Madrasa, a century-old Muslim educational institution, in Kalaiya of Bara district, had been training terrorists. Following the incident the principal of the Madrasa, Jafir Alam, still hesitates to speak with media persons for fear of being misquoted. Alam said Madrasas in Nepal have long been targeted by various groups though they have no ulterior motives.
"The government can investigate us for wrong deeds on our part, but I request all concerned to drop all misconception regarding the objective of Madrasas, and not to disseminate false information about them," said Alam.
Habib Ansari, former management committee member of Murli Madarsa in Birgunj-15, says people look at mosques, which is built and run with the donation collected from the Muslim community, with suspicion though Nepal is called the country of temples. Habib opined that the Indian media has been spreading false rumors as the government has failed to ensure the rights of this religious minority.
According to Seikh Fakaruddin, secretary of the management committee of Birjung-8 based Madina Jame Mosque, they have been under constant scrutiny of visiting foreign media persons, including those from USA, regarding activities of the mosque.
No one raises questions over temples built at the cost of millions of rupees but look at new mosques warily. The Madina Jame Mosque is being built under assistance from the municipality and donations from the Muslim community. He also clarified that they did not get any financial assistant from any foreign country or agencies.
Situation of Nepali Madrasas
Nepali Madrasa and the mosques established across the Indo-Nepal border has long been the victim of misconception and false media reports. A section of the Indian media has been describing Nepali madrasas and mosques as a platform for terrorist education and that they pose a threat to India´s security.
Despite all these false reports, Nepal government has remained a mute spectator, said Bajujan Ali, central member of Nepal Muslim Ittehad Organization.
Chief of the 600-year-old Pancha Kashmiri Takiya Jame Masjid, situated in Durbarmarg in the heart of Kathmandu, Imam Shekh Ali Manjar said madrasas across the country are in dire straits.
According to Manjar, the Madrasa inside Jame Masjid has been teaching the precepts of Koran, the Muslim holy book.
Established in 1913 AD, the Madrasa Husainia Indarba Purainiya, the biggest madrasa in Bara, has been teaching 500 students. The institution teaches Urdu, Arabic along with the course set by Nepal government up to grade five.
As the government provides no assistance, the community itself has been collecting funds from among themselves to pay 11 teachers in the Madrasa. Around 700 Muslim students including 430 girls are getting education in Madrasa Thauhidul Islam Salfiya Lower Secondary School in Birgunj-17, Bahuari. However, government has provided just one teacher under relief quota for the Madrasa.
Vice-chairperson of Darul Yatama Islamia, a Muslim orphanage in Birgunj-2, Chapkaiya, Seikh Samir said his institution is going through difficult times due to the lack of resources. The orphanage operating with donations from the community has been teaching Arabic, Urdu, and Farsi and school textbooks to 150 students including 10 orphans. Samir also informed that their repeated requests to the District Education Office for help has fallen on deaf ears.
Similarly, Murli Madrasa at Birgunj-15 has been teaching 225 children, including 165 girls. The new building for this Murli Madrasa, which aims to introduce higher education, is being built with 80 percent assistance from government and 20 percent community donation.
The Madrasa managers also complain that the government has discriminated against them in providing any assistance while the students in the government schools are being provided with free books and stationeries.
How Madrasas operate
According to Manjar, every Madrasa teaches the precepts of the Islamic faith as preached by Paigambar Mohammad, the messenger of peace and morality and Islamic faith.
"Contrary to negative perceptions, the Madrasas do not impart any immoral education that might incite violence," said Manjar. “The Muslim community has been contributing funds to Madrasas to save them from moral, religious and cultural degradation in the society."
Seikh Samir says that general perception of people that Madarsas are operated by the fund received from Arabian country including Qatar and Saudi Arabia is completely false. According to Samir, the Madrasas would not have been facing such bad situation, had there been funding from outside.
"Some people just spread rumors about Madrasas but never visit any of these places to know the reality," said Samir.
Reiterating that Madrasas solely rely on the meager donation of the local communities, he also demanded that the government provide assistance for building infrastructure and paying Madrasa teachers.
The Muslim followers are supposed to donate a fistful of rice and flour every day to feed the children and teachers (Maulana and Hafij). They donate seven fistfuls of rice and flour every Thursday, which is called Muthiya.
Similarly, each Muslim follower donates money worth rupees 2kg and 45 gram of wheat or barley, which is called Fitra, on the last day of Ramdan month. The community also donates 40th portion of their annual income, called Jakat. Habib says the guilty minds failing to grasp the Muslim faith are always suspicious toward the community.
(Ansari is a journalist based in Birgunj. He wrote this story under Panos South Asia fellowship)