The majority of madrasa graduates, who belong to the Qawmi madrasa stream, believe that they do not need much education applicable in this life and what they learn is oriented to the hereafter.
As a result, their career path is also exclusively connected to the religious teaching, preaching and rituals.
This core religious population come from 39612 Qawmi madrasas across the country, with 5,247,660 students studying at different levels, according to a research published in 2011 by Professor Abul Barkat.
As the career path of this large number of students are limited to religion based professions as a whole, the job field for madrasa educated students is narrower comparing to that of the general education students.
The main reason behind the narrow career opportunities is that they are not taught the basic skill set needed for mainstream jobs.
The other portion of population in madrasa education are exposed to a blend of religion and general education which may provide students with both religion-based and general career opportunities. These are the Alia madrasas. Those students have better career prospects, but not as good as the general education students.
The government recognized Alia madrasa system has approximate 20,000 institutions of four million students while the government itself runs six of them. These madrasas follow the curriculum and syllabus framed by an education commission constituted by the government.
The Qawmi madrasas, which have the largest number of students among the institutions of religion education streams have their own syllabus, books, which are not recognized by the government. They do not offer government recognized degrees, except the 'Dawra-e-Hadith' which has been given equivalent status to a post graduate degree very recently.
In the past, Quami students could switch to the Alia system or the general system in secondary level to get access to the general field's job. But, after the government introduced the PSC/PEC and JSC/JDC examination, they lost the chance of switching after class five.
Professor Dr. Abdul Kadir of Arabic department of Dhaka University observed that the Qawmi syllabus could not be transformed into a time-appropriate one as the authorities of the madrasas, which have been run privately, do not want their system to be reformed or interfered with by the government.
“As a result, over the years, this system has remained untouched and unrecognized”, he said.
Career options for Qawmi students are limited
The philosophy of Qawmi targets life after death. They gather thorough knowledge on Quran and Sunnah to lead life accordingly and get peace in heaven. They believe in living a simple life on earth with minimum requirements, and thus education and skills which are useful on earth is vastly neglected there.
“The objectives of Qawmi madrasa education and general education system is totally different. The people who want to do the work of Allah learn at the madrasa education system,” said Mawlana Rafiqul Alam, principal, Monshipara Hafijiya Madrasa and Eyatimkhana, Gazipur.
Students may earn a livelihood by providing home tuition to students of general stream, or adults who lack fundamental knowledge in Islam like the five-time prayers, reading Quran etc, he said.
“They want to serve Islam and live Islam. After finishing a number of stages, they start teaching at the madrasas, preaching Islam or conducting prayers at the mosques,” said Abdullah, once a Qawmi madrasa student, now a graduate of the Dhaka University.
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Photo: Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune
He said that when he was a student there, he saw a small portion of them opting to enter the Alia madrasa.
A few of the Qawmi students after finishing madrasa education go abroad for higher degrees in Middle Eastern countries. They become Islamic scholars. Some stay abroad and others come back.
“This number is low as in the Qawmi system as students find it hard to complete all classes. It is not easy to become a full-fledged scholar. A larger portion of students stop education before they finish even the secondary level,” he said.
What do the Qwami students do for a living?
Teachers and students said, working as an imam, muezzin or a khadem at mosques or teaching in madrasas is common among them. A small number of them switch to small businesses for a secure source of income, as religion-based jobs are very poorly paid.
For example, the duty of an Imam is to lead namaz and the muezzin is to recite the call to prayers five times a day. Apart from a profession they do this out of religious duty.
These people are paid from the mosque's fund which is raised by pious Muslims and influential people.
In cities and towns on average, Imams' and Khatibs’ monthly remuneration is between Tk five to 15 thousands. Muazzin get a maximum Tk ten thousand and Khadems Tk four to five thousand.
In the villages they are even lower paid as the mosque committees' fund is small. In some villages they are paid a maximum Tk1,000 monthly. Some Imam and Muazzins just get paddy which are collected from the villagers. However, most mosque committees there provide them with three meals a day. They live at the mosque free of cost.
In city areas Khatibs at big mosques may earn an additional Tk four to twenty thousand a month by conducting Jumma prayers.
As a result, to meet the expenses of their families many of them are engaged in tuition, conduct milads and doa mahfil, speaking at waz mahfil as religious preachers etc.
“As their housing and meals are free of cost they can survive. Besides, they do not pay much attention to life on earth,” said Mawlana Rafiqul Alam.
Jahirul Islam, assistant professor of Arabic department, Dhaka University said that Imams are associated with the madrasa and the mosque to perform the Sunnah of Allah's Messenger. “As a result, they are not vocal for a salary hike. Many of them keep silent out of shyness,” he said.
Alia madrasa opens doors, sometimes
Degrees offered by the Alia madrasas are equivalent to the degrees offered by the general education system. But Alia madrasas also run into problems when trying to get their students into the mainstream job market.
The government has planned for Alia madrasa students to join the mainstream workforce after completing their Alim degree, equivalent to an HSC.
The number of students coming from the madrasas to general education and specialized sectors like medical and engineering institutions, and applied and theoretical science departments of the public universities are still few.
Previously, Alia madrasa students took a 100-mark Bengali and a 100-mark English exam at the Dakhil and Alim levels. Recently they have introduced 200 marks course for the subjects to make them eligible for university admission tests. But their curriculum has not been reformed, said Jahirul Islam, the Dhaka University teacher.
The madrasas which were once breeding ground of scholars, with leaders like Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy and scientist Muhammad Qudrat-I-Khuda among their students, are now struggling to produce good students.
Now, students from these madrasas are not focused on building a career in Islamic education. Many of the students switch to general education after Alim examination and get admitted to universities. But a big portion of them choose subjects like Arabic, Islamic studies at the university. Religious customs play an instrumental role in their day-to-day life. However, there are instances that ex-students get detached from their religious customs while at university or professional lives.
At public universities' admission test, Alia madrasa students now-a-days perform quite well. A good number of university teachers are from madrasa backgrounds.
Those, who wants to be Islamic scholars get admitted to Islamic universities and take leading roles among the religious-minded communities.
Many public universities have some departments for madrasa students like Arabic, Al-Quran, Daw'ah and Hadith, Fiqh for madrasa students. Thousands of students gain their degree in these subjects every year.
Asked about the job sectors in which Alia madrasa students are doing well, Madrasa Board chairman professor AKM SaifUllah told the Dhaka Tribune that their students are doing well in Public Service Commission exams and in other jobs.
“At present we have seen a number of students enter BCS cadre service like administration and police cadre. We are now giving emphasis on sciences, which is helping to produce experts in IT sector too.”