Qawmi leaders who successfully convinced the government to recognize the Dawra-e-Hadith degree as equal to a postgraduate degree have said they are actively opposed to the government acknowledging their other qualifications from the primary to honour's level.
As the privately-owned and operated Qawmi madrasa education system is not recognized by the government and does not follow any government guideline, it functions outside of the Alia madrasa or general education system.
As a result, Qawmi students have been unable to switch to other institutions but the recognition of more of its degrees will open up this path.
The leaders have also expressed their fears over a possible creeping influence of the government on their education system, either by accepting state financial support or enforced syllabus changes.
“If our secondary certificate had been recognized, many of the students may switch elsewhere after completing up to that stage,” said Mufti Mehfuzul Haque, principal of Jamia Rahmania Arabia Dhaka, which is one of the largest Qawmi madrasas of Bangladesh.
“In the Qawmi system, students of upper classes cannot leave the system even if they want it.”
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made the announcement of recognizing the Dawra-e-Hadith degree in April last year, following a meeting with Bangladesh Qawmi Madrasa Education Board and Hefazat-e-Islam leaders at Ganabhaban.
The Qawmi madrasa leaders now claim they will not accept a broadening of the move even if the government recognizes the degrees, and instead wants a separate law to be formulated for them.
Retaining an idiosyncratic education system
Mufti Mehfuzul is also the joint secretary of Qawmi Madrasa Education Board (Befaqul Madarisil Arabia Bangladesh) which regulates about 9,000 Qawmi madrasas – almost half of the country’s total.
The other half fall under six separate boards which also carry a conservative attitude towards recognition.
The Qawmi madrasas run on donations from the public and well-wishers. Their main goal is to promote Islamic education in society and spread the number of people educated in Islamic curricula.
They want their students to hold and propagate the ideas and ideals of Qawmi madrasas in their professional life.
“We want our students to become proper scholars in Quran and Hadith,” Mehfuzul said. “These people will give instructions to the Islamic society in the light of Quran. For this, we want them to do jobs at mosques, madrasas as teachers and preachers.”
‘Unnecessary' syllabus changes not allowed
Speaking with the Dhaka Tribune, several Qawmi leaders claimed that their syllabus is being revised, and that they do not need further reform in any class of the madrasas.
Following the recognition of Dawra-e-Hadith degree, Hefazat-e-Islam chief and also Befaqul Madarisil Arabia Bangladesh Chairman Shah Ahmed Shafi claimed to have “made no compromises” with the government to get that recognition.
Explaining the necessary reform, Mufti Mehfuzul Haque said: “Until Class VIII, we teach Bangla, mathematics, geography, and sociology on a limited scale, which was not a part of our syllabus 25 to 30 years ago. If necessary, we may keep the subject until Class 10 on a limited scale, but not in the higher classes.
“Our main syllabus is Quran and Hadith, which is unchangeable. We have considered revising the other subjects in the syllabus, as the society has been witnessing constant change. We need to keep up with the modern-day society to spread the message of Islam.”
The Qawmi leaders also want some job-oriented training on technology and technical subjects on a limited scale, but do not plan on including them in the syllabus.
Fear of government interference
Qawmi leaders do not want to follow any of the government guidelines, as they think that it could gradually lead to losing control of the Qawmi madrasas. For this reason, they also do not want financial support.
Besides, they fear that the government changeover may also change its policy towards the madrasas.
“If we start taking government support, we might become dependent on it. In that case, we will not be able to avoid any of its decisions in the future,” Mufti Mehfuzul Haque expressed his concerns.
Qawmi leaders only obey the Darul Uloom Deoband of India, which has not taken government assistance since 1866.
Now they want a separate law
The Qawmi leaders have already made significant progress in making the government formulate a separate law.
A delegation of several Qawmi leaders met the prime minister earlier this year with a demand for enacting a separate law for the Dawra-e-Hadith degree.
The Prime Minister's Office sent their proposal to the Ministry of Education, which then forwarded the letter to the University Grants Commission (UGC) to prepare a draft of the law.
The UGC then formed a nine-member committee comprised of three representatives from the Arabic University, Islamic University and Dhaka University's Arabic department.
The UGC committee later held a meeting, inviting 12 of the Qawmi leaders for a talk, and inviting them to submit a suggestion on the draft of the law.
The Qawmi leaders have already formed an authority named Al-Haiyatul Uliya Lil Jamiyatil Qawmia Bangladesh, comprising six existing Qawmi madrasa boards which will issue the master's equivalent certificate.
“We chose representatives among them and held a meeting with the UGC committee,” Mufti Mehfuzul Haque said. “From the meeting a nine-member sub-committee was formed with representatives from the UGC and us.”
Mehfuzul, who is also a member of the sub-committee, added that they will make a final draft, which will be sent to the Ministry of Education through the UGC.
The Qawmi leaders have proposed to keep Al-Haiyatul Uliya Lil Jamiyatil Qawmia as the certificate-issuing authority, but it will not have any control over their six boards.
Will Dawra-e-Hadith boost employment opportunities?
The Qawmi leaders wanted their master's degree to be recognized as it would give their students access to the job sector, but uncertainty still looms over the concept as a majority of employers in Bangladesh ask applicants to submit their GPA scores in SSC and HSC examinations.
As these stages are not recognized by the Qawmi education system, their school and college-level degrees have no value in the professional sector.
Addressing the issue, Mehfuzul Haque said: “We have demanded the government keep a provision in the law so that students who have the master’s equivalent degree in Qawmi education system are able to apply for jobs that requires education based on Quran and Hadith.”