An inside look into the elusive world of girl madrasas
Some six million students attend Quranic schools, both private and government-sponsored. Educating orphans is one positive aspect of madrasas. However, the "sanctification of the Quran” without “real theological explanations” is a risk. Graduates tend to become wives who are "docile” and “conservative in how they live their beliefs."
Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Madrasas for girls are an “elusive, underground reality” that is growing but is little talked about, this according to a local Christian source.
“These are actual Quranic schools where Islam is learnt mostly by heart,” the source explained. “Arabic is also taught even though teachers are not fluent in the language. What happens in essence is a sort of sanctification of the Quran, which is memorised without any real interpretation or exegesis."
In Bangladesh, girls used to study at home. In recent years, up to six million students attend madrasas, a contributor to The Guardian newspaper wrote.
What pushes families to choose this kind of schooling "is that they are free and recognised by the government,” said a Dhaka merchant. “Certainly, the quality of teaching is not the same, but these schools are the best solution for many needy families, who otherwise might not have the money to send their children to school."
Bangladesh has two kinds of madrasas: private Quomi madrasas and state-sponsored Alia madrasas. There are an estimated 6,500 Quomi madrasas in the country, with almost 1.5 million students. By contrast, there are 7,000 or so Alia madrasas, which follow a standardised curriculum that includes English, Bengali, science, and mathematics.
About 30 per cent of the country’s university teachers come from Alia madrasas, whose graduates tend to seek higher education.
“The main difference between the two is that Quomi schools are supported by private donations whilst Alia schools are certified and supervised,” explained the source. “The curriculum followed by the former is hard to understand and may not meet government standards, whilst in the latter, religion is included but the quality of education is good and students can further pursue their studies.”
Overall, "in a country of 160 million people, 1.5 million girls attending Quomi madrasas is a small number. On the positive side, these schools take care of orphans without parents or relatives who can support them.”
However, in the case of madrasas, for both boys and girls, “we must look at how the Quran is taught. The sacred text is memorised without understanding its meaning. This raises an educational issue, namely that mere memorisation can lead to the sanctification of the text without understanding it.”
After this kind of schooling, “young people assume they know the Quran and Arabic, which they simply memorised without any real theological explanations.”
The risk "is that ensuing interpretations will be influenced by context, friendships and dangerous assumptions based on feelings of social marginalisation and the presumption of being knowledgeable about religion.”
“The danger posed by this type of schooling is that it does not preclude possible behavioural radicalisation as a result of the influence of Wahhabism on Bangladesh’s Islam, running counter to the country’s older Sufi traditions.”
Ultimately, the girls who graduate from madrasas “tend to be socially docile towards their husband,” noted the source. “From a religious point of view, they tend to be inflexible and conservative in how they live their beliefs."