The third part of a six-part series which takes an in-depth look inside Bangladesh’s madrasa education system
Despite having two kindergartens near his house, Mohammad Moshiur Rahman, a 33-year-old madrasa teacher in Gazipur, sent his elder son to the same Islamic seminary where he works.
His two other children – a boy and a girl – are also awaiting admission to the madrasa.
“My son is completing his Nurani course (taught at the Ebtedayee or primary level) and in future, he will be enrolled in the Hifz course [for memorizing the Quran],” Moshiur said.
He says he believes that the recommendation by a Hafiz (one who has learned the Quran by heart) will earn a Muslim a place in heaven.
When asked why he chose madrasa education for his son, Moshiur said: “I sent him there so that he is rewarded by the grace of Allah. Moreover, traditional education will be useless in the afterlife. That is why I chose madrasa-based education.”
Many people associated with madrasas and mosques hold the same perception as Moshiur, particularly in the rural areas.
Also Read- Why are madrasas mushrooming?
The number of parents linked to mosques and madrasas, who send their children for general education at the beginning of their academic life is small.
Other than religious motivation, one of the reasons why people choose madrasas is because they cost less compared to schools.
Professor Abul Barkat, the author of Political Economy of Madrasa Education in Bangladesh published in 2011, says that more than half of the students come from poor and lower-income families.
According to the research presented in the book, 44% of madrasa students came from middle-income families and the rest from upper middle class and affluent families (5.2%).
At least 10 people, interviewed by the Dhaka Tribune, defended their decision to send their children to madrasas but said that in most cases madrasa graduates struggled to earn Tk5,000 a month.
Apart from the monthly wage at the mosque, madrasa graduates usually make up to Tk500 by teaching Arabic and Quran, conducting a special prayer ceremony, or reciting the Quran.
Leading Taraweeh prayers during the Ramadan is another way of earning some extra money for the Imams, they said.
But the money is usually not enough to maintain a family with children.
A handful of children from such families, however, get the scope to go to high school after passing their Ebtedayee (primary-level madrasa education) exams and then on to colleges.
Students from these families are rarely seen studying at universities.]
All the interviewees said they sent their children to madrasas to save educational expenses.
“At boarding madrasas education is free. Madrasa authorities charge a minimal amount for food and accommodation. For the orphans, it is free of cost. Other kids also get discount — maybe half of the fees,” said Mawlana Rafiqul Alam, principal of Gazipur’s Monshipara Hafijiya Madrasa and Etimkhana (orphanage).
Prof Barkat’s research showed that larger families tend to send their children to madrasas. These big families want at least one of the children to receive education in the religious stream.
There is also a common belief among the majority of the low-income families in Bangladesh that madrasa teachers are more caring. These families also have negative or misconception about the secular education system.
This encourages them to send their children to the madrasas.
Another reason the interviewees gave for choosing madrasa education was to send mischievous sons to residential madrasas to help them become ‘good human beings’.
“My parents were frustrated as I was not the obedient type. My mother suggested enrolling me at a nearby madrasa. They thought teachers there would bring me under strict control,” said Abdullah, now a Dhaka University student.
He said he found the madrasa teachers more caring about the students.
“This is particularly true for the boarding madrasa teachers,” Abdullah said. “Most of the teachers have families in their village home. And so, the teachers spend most of the time with the students. Their guidance is strict, according to my experience.”
In some cases, madrasa teachers also influence the parents to send their children to their educational institutions.
“Those who want to work for Allah, generally send their children to madrasas,” said Mawlana Rafiqul Alam.
Hailing from Mymensingh, Rafiqul said: “Parents contact me when their children continue to disobey them. So, I suggest them to get their children enrolled in madrasas in order to guide them properly.”
Community ties among the residents of a certain locality also promote madrasa education, he observed.
There are also some exceptions where affluent and educated families plan madrasa education for their children, the reporters’ findings show.
Various types of madrasas, currently operating in Bangladesh, actually impart modern education alongside the Arabic lessons and religious subjects, thanks to the timely measures by the madrasa authorities.
Cadet madrasas, kindergarten madrasas, and even separate girls’ madrasas are among the more progressive types.
“I wanted my child to start his education amid religious spirit. So I sent him to a madrasa,” said a guardian of a student at Muhammadia Makjunul Ulum Madrasa in Uttara.
They teach not only Arabic but standard English too.
“From here we may shift him to an English medium school,” the parent said, adding the expenses at the madrasa was almost same as an English medium school.