The role of Madaris

The Quran schools in children’s religious development and the proposed government legislation  

Dr Musharraf Hussain al-Azhari OBE, DL (Chief executive officer Karimia Institute)

123The Karimia Institute welcomes the proposed legislation for regulating and registering Quran schools in mosques and other community settings. This will ensure child safeguarding, improve the quality of teaching and learning and will hugely benefit our children. Whilst we welcome this new government initiative we are perplexed and saddened that very little consultation and focus group work was done with the Muslim community. We believe that legislation will have a positive impact on standards of teaching and learning in the Quran schools. In this article I discuss the role of the Quran School in the Muslim community, the likely impact of the new legislation and how the community should prepare to meet the legislation.

What is a Madrassa?
Madrassa is an Arabic noun which means a place of learning, in particular learning the Quran and basics of Islam, its plural is Madaris. Another name for it is the ‘Quran School’. It is an international institution found in every Muslim country, it has historical roots in the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) mosque where people used to come and learn the Quran. British Muslims have established Quran schools in their mosques since the 1960’s.
One fifth of the 3.6 million British Muslims are under the age of 15 (Census 2011). Many, possibly 750,000 attend the local Madaris. All of the 1600 mosques in Britain run these Quran schools. It is estimated that there are nearly twice as many Quran schools being run in homes and community settings mainly in the evenings, although some are open on the weekends.
This is a remarkable institution, which plays an important role in the development of a Muslim child. The Madrassa education primarily focuses on teaching children to read and memorise the Quran. It also teaches translation of Quran, the basic beliefs and practices of Islam, this curriculum is underpinned by an Islamic ethos, which aims to develop moral, social and spiritual values. This helps in raising self-esteem and self-confidence and developing the identity of the child. It is an important institution for nurturing good citizens. In most cases children spend 7-12 hours per week. The warm caring, educational and learning environment contributes to the Muslim child’s educational achievements at state schools too.
Parents pay for this service, perhaps it’s true to say that this is a model of parental involvement in the education of their children. The Madrassa education plays an important role in a Muslim child’s educational and social development. These schools vary enormously in size from as small as 5 to as large as 500 children. The organisational structure varies too, whilst some are well established others are just finding their way through the system. Despite all the variations they share commitment, dedication and the belief that they are serving an important community need and helping to build a better society.
Regrettably, despite their contribution over the past five decades, little is known about the work of the Quran schools. Consequently, they have received little support and little is expected from them.
Possible impact of proposed legislation on Madaris governance and functioning
We believe that the proposed legislation will have serious consequences for the current governance of mosques and Quran schools. The Muslim community needs to be transparent in all its activities, this legislation will allow this to happen and remove any suspicions and misgivings people may have about mosques and Quran schools.
We believe that this will also raise the standard of teaching and learning in Quran schools since safeguarding measures will improve not just the physical settings but ensure that all the teachers meet the standards and fulfil DBS requirements. I believe that the registration process complies with Islamic theology and Islamic way of life, traditionally no one was allowed to teach theology without the ‘Ijaza’ literally this means ‘giving a licence’. In other words traditionally in Muslim societies only people with a licence from qualified teachers were allowed to teach. This is the only way to ensure standards. Therefore it is surprising to find some Muslims objecting to the legislation. However there will be other repercussions of this legislation on the running of British mosques:

  1. The current elderly guardians of the mosques need to understand and implement the changes otherwise risk the closure of mosques and Quran schools. They will be responsible for depriving their future generations of learning the Quran. We suggest that younger members of the community should be encouraged to come forward and take the responsibility.
  2. The new legislation will possibly lead to closure of the small Quran schools run in homes by local Aunties. Where will these children go? They will turn to the mosques. If the mosque structures are not in place then children will miss learning the Quran and future generations will never be able to recover from this downfall.
  3. Capacity building in mosques will be needed to allow for more children to join. We need to start training staff to be qualified Quran Tutors and have enough of them to cater for at least a 20% increase in children.
  4. If the mosques are not ready then some children will start taking lessons online from people we don’t know and who have not been vetted. Our children will be more at risk from radicalisation than currently is the case.
  5. The Quran school education is not only about reading the Quran but actually interacting with the teacher to learn from his/her character and manners. Our children need to attend the mosques to learn the Quran from the teachers and not online.

What will be the new requirements?
We believe that the new legislation will expect the following changes:

  1. DBS checks for all staff. We can do this straightaway. They can take many weeks in some cases and staff should not be working with children until they have these certificates.
  2. Safeguarding children. It is a legal requirement to have the following policies and procedures in place for educational institutions:
  • Safeguarding, there are so many risks for accidents during arrival and leaving times outside the Masajid
  • Health and Safety
  • Fire and Safety
  • First Aid
  1. Professional management and administration. All Madaris should be properly registered as charities or limited companies or societies so they have a legal status. They should have a proper governing procedure and set of policies. We need to train people who are suitable to run the mosques and Quran schools.
  2. Clear strategy to counter extremism. The main reason for this new legislation appears to be prevention of radicalisation and extremism. Therefore we need to create resources to combat extremism, narrow-mindedness, prejudice, discrimination and unfair treatment of others. Islamic teachings are a rich resource for combating and tackling these evils.
  3. An opportunity to adopt an agreed syllabus. This is an opportunity to upgrade teaching and learning in the Quran schools, to provide high quality Islamic education. We propose to set up systems for:
    • Self-Evaluation of the Madaris
    • Developing Islamic Ethos
    • Recording and Reporting children’s progress
    • Qualified Quran tutors course
  4. Toilets and wudu place for children should be separate from worshipers, at least during the Quran class times.