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Madrasa reform in India is a deeply contested issue. While the state has from time to time attempted to introduce various policies for madrasa reforms, its attempts have been, at best, half-hearted. Moreover, the state and the pro-reform voices have been uninformed about the deeper complexities within the madrasa system. For example, in treating madrasas as a homogenous entity, the reform policy has singularly failed to target the most deserving. There does exist a case for madrasa reforms, however, given that there are clear correlations between Muslim educational lags and contemporary madrasa education. A passionate defense of madrasas as being cultural institutions might therefore be counterproductive to the educational futures of children studying in these institutions. A certain a-historicity associated with the madrasa reform project has meant that the political economy that sustains this kind of education has largely escaped the attention of policymakers in India. It is equally true that the Muslim community has not been supportive of any such state policy. Owing to a number of factors, Muslims, led by the ulema, have been deeply suspicious of the state intruding into their religious space. Following a modernist logic, they argue that matters of religion, including the question of madrasa reform, should be left to them. This, however, is not to say that they blindly oppose any madrasa reform whatsoever, but they have their own notions about what constitutes “proper” madrasa reforms.

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Tahraoui Ramdane and Merah Souad

Conceptually, the notions of Islamic education, Islamic curriculum, and the nature of the Islamic faith are inseparable. Islamic curriculum in particular is based on what the Islamic world views as coherent and fixed divine verities, values, and criteria. This complex intertwines with mutable human experiences, mediums of learning, and skills. A Muslim teacher is one who integrates all this and delivers it to learners in order for them to attain the degree of perfection with which Allah is affiliated. In this manner, the Islamic curriculum transcends the limitation of space outlining the pure religious knowledge to embody every useful knowledge. These principles can be considered in their strictly puritan and ideal Islamic terms but may also be expressed in terms of more realistic historical application. There are three main periods of Islamic curriculum: the stage of formation and standardization coeval with Prophet Muhammad’s message and his first four successors (609 ce–661 ce); the stage of diversity in the post-Classical era (661 ce–1450ce), which can be divided into pre-madrasa and madrasa eras; and the stage of regression and reform, which stretches from the 10th century ah (1495ce–1591ce) to the present day. With regard to the latter, a number of historical, cultural, social, and political developments in the Muslim world have contributed to the decline of the Islamic model of learning. By the end of the 19th century efforts were being made to revive and reform the Islamic curriculum. However, this model continues to be plagued by various challenging issues, such as the dualism of curriculum in many parts of the Muslim world, as well as the rigidity, passivity, social alienation, and irrelevancy of present variations of the Islamic curriculum.