The increasing number of madrasas for girls in India points to the growing aspirations of the community.

The recently-started madrasa for girls in Zakir Nagar, Delhi, is a blessing for 27-year old Mohammad Abbas*, who was sceptical about sending his six-year-old daughter to a regular school. Experts believe that the majority of the close-to-30,000 madrasas in India are for boys. The first madrasa for girls in Delhi — Zayed College — was started only in 1996.

The community’s progress has been hampered by its well-documented low literacy rate. About 25 per cent of Muslim children in the 6-14 age group have either never attended school or have dropped out, says the Sachar Committee Report, tabled in 2006. Typically a Muslim child attends maktab (elementary or primary school for those between five and 12 years) before moving to a Madrasa (age 13 onwards).

Against this background, an increasing number of madrasas for girls is a welcome change and points to the growing aspirations of the community.

“There has been a drastic increase in the number of madrasas for girls today.

About five years ago, there were not more than 10 in Delhi but now the number has gone up to nearly 70 (including both Shia and Sunni),” says Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, Islamic scholar and journalist.

However, this trend is visible not just in Delhi but in other cities as well. “There is a madrasa, howsoever small, even in new and upcoming localities of Delhi, Rajasthan and U.P.,” says Dehlvi, who is associated with Jamia Fatima, an upcoming girls’ madrasa in Okhla, New Delhi, as advisor.

The Jamia Fatima in Khureji, which began around three years ago, started offering hostel facility this year. It has 60 students in the hostel and another 60 who come in the afternoon to study Islamic subjects. “There is no doubt that the number of madrasas for girls has gone up and it is a major boost to the cause of female education in the community. Things are certainly changing,” says Maulana Hamid Raza Barkati, Principal of Jamia Fatima, Khureji.

Only four per cent of Muslim girls enrol in maktabs (according to the Sachar Committee) and any increase in the number of institutes will go a long way in academic empowerment of not just women but also of the community. Increasingly the community has been feeling the need to go beyond the Islamic subjects since the career options are limited after madrasa education.

A significant number of madrasas (at least in major cities like Delhi) now teach non-Islamic or regular subjects. This is reflected in new madrasas for girls as well.

A few years ago, there was no concept of offering non-Islamic subjects. As the community became aware of the importance of regular education, they are demanding that religious institutes provide this facility too. “Parents want to educate their daughters but are scared to send girls to a regular school.

This is why most of the new madrasas offer regular subjects instead of just focusing on Islamic teachings,” explains Maulana Barkati.

Located on the banks of the Yamuna in Shaheen Nagar, Zayed College also offers both regular and Islamic subjects. “We believe that education for girls is very important and we teach both Islamic and mainstream subjects,” says Maulana Muhammad Ilyas, Chairman of Jamia-Tul-Banat Al-Islamia, which manages the college. Jamia-Tul-Banat Al-Islamia also operates English medium school for girls in the same locality.

Experts believe that madrasas for girls are better equipped than those for the boys. One reason is, that in the latter case, most provide free education, while a madrasa for girls charges a nominal amount. Dehlvi explains the reason for this: “Since girls are not allowed to go outside the madrasa, facilities on campus have to be good.”

The growing number of madrasas for girls will definitely boost female education in the community and the fact that most new madrasas offer Islamic and regular subjects shows that the community is ready to adapt to the changing world.

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