In Jamia Nagar, the sprawling Muslim heart of Delhi, students of the little-known Islami Academy — a centre for Islamic higher education — are learning a classical language that goes back 4,000 years. Not Arabic, but Sanskrit.
That’s not all. This religious school, meant to prepare the ground for mainstream students for Islamic research, has blended modern education with a religious curriculum like no other.
The entrance test is in English. There are compulsory courses on pan-Indian culture, Indian history and comparative religions, such as Christianity and Sikhism, which a special focus on Hinduism.
“The idea was to have a very scientific and holistic curriculum in the study of religion,” says the academy’s Harvard-educated director, Abdul Haq Ansari.
While traditionally, most madrasas have spurned efforts to modernise syllabuses, the Islami Academy has undertaken a much-debated course correction. And since it is a centre for higher learning, the eligibility being a bachelor’s degree from a recognised university, it offers two main postgraduate courses in research and Islamic preaching.
The academy also functions as a “complimentary madrasa”, one that caters to those Muslim students, who missed out on religious education because they went to regular, mainstream schools.
The turning point came when the academy felt its research students needed to learn Sanskrit so that ancient Hindu texts could be studied. It got in touch with the Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan under the HRD Ministry and a Sanskrit teacher was provided.
Fahimuddin, a student from Karnataka’s Shimoga, says his lessons on Islamic history have been “so enriched by those on Hinduism”.
Clerics have often resisted attempts to bring madrasas into the mainstream, with the 2003 “Scheme of Assistance for Infrastructure and Modernisation of Madrasas” making little headway.