What Is a Madrasa?

What Is a Madrasa?

What Is a Madrasa?

What Is a Madrasa?


Taking us inside the world of the madrasa--the most common type of school for religious instruction in the Islamic world--Ebrahim Moosa provides an indispensable resource for anyone seeking to understand orthodox Islam in global affairs. Focusing on postsecondary-level religious institutions in the Indo-Pakistan heartlands, Moosa explains how a madrasa can simultaneously be a place of learning revered by many and an institution feared by many others, especially in a post-9/11 world.

Drawing on his own years as a madrasa student in India, Moosa describes in fascinating detail the daily routine for teachers and students today. He shows how classical theological, legal, and Qur'anic texts are taught, and he illuminates the history of ideas and politics behind the madrasa system. Addressing the contemporary political scene in a clear-eyed manner, Moosa introduces us to madrasa leaders who hold diverse and conflicting perspectives on the place of religion in society. Some admit that they face intractable problems and challenges, including militancy; others, Moosa says, hide their heads in the sand and fail to address the crucial issues of the day. Offering practical suggestions to both madrasa leaders and U.S. policymakers for reform and understanding, Moosa demonstrates how madrasas today still embody the highest aspirations and deeply felt needs of traditional Muslims.


One spring morning a few years ago, I walked through the town of Deoband, home to India’s most famous Sunni Muslim seminary. A cleanshaven man, his face glowing with sarcasm, called out to me. “Looking for terrorists?” he asked in Urdu. Swiftly and instinctively I protested and yelled back at him, “I have every right to visit my alma mater.” With a sheepish, almost theatrical grin, he turned and walked away.

I shouldn’t have been so annoyed. The century-old seminary in Deoband came under intense scrutiny after the Taliban leadership claimed an ideological affiliation with similar institutions in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Since September 11, 2001, journalists, politicians, and diplomats have descended periodically on this town near Delhi in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. This state is one node, along with the province of Pakistan’s Punjab, with Lahore as its capital, in what might be called an extended intellectual and spiritual heartland of Islam that spreads across the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent.

However, Muslim seminaries, or madrasas, everywhere became stigmatized once the Taliban was linked to the terror mastermind Osama bin Laden. Everyone conveniently ignored the history of the special . . .

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