InEbrahim Moosa’s book “What is a Madrasa?”he talks extensively about his journey with religion, politics and law.Starting in his early years of life alongside his family in Cape Town, SouthAfrica and his journey to Mumbai, India in search of religious teachings, tohis older years showing how the Qur’an, andclassical theological, and legal texts are taught. He also clarifies thehistory and politics in the madrasa system. He compares different politicalscenes in a more contemporary manor and addresses how madrasas embody thegreatest desires and needs of traditional Muslims still to this day.

He toucheson a few important topics in this book. Such as, the main challenges thatmadrasas face in a 21st century society. For example, whether or notthe changing in curriculum of orthodox studies in an ever growing, greatly changing,and technologically advancing world is needed to properly equip students of certain madrasa education for the challenges ofmodern life. Additionally, he talks about what the major franchises of madrasasin South Asia are as well as what they teach. When on the topic ofreligion in society today, it is crucial to reflect on how to resolve thetrends in society’s development with religious beliefs. The importance of education in society cannot bedenied, as an educational structure is an essential component in a socializedsociety.

But canreligious institutions still play a role in instilling education and morals insociety in the 21st century?This is a challenge for madrasas that has led to disagreements and debates for decades. Arguments over whether the old madrasa coursesshould be retained, improved or blended with a curriculum that consists ofmodern specialties. The traditionalist thinker Shibli Nu?mani believedthat the best way to an efficient educational system is by combining the old andthe new. He thought that by reforming both the traditional and moderneducational systems, it would preserve Islamic values and enable Muslims to beself-sufficient and allow them to flourish in the modern world.

Uniting the twodifferent systems in order to be more effective and allow Muslims to experienceboth modern secular and religious education is imperative.1As long as the five cardinal pillars of Islam are unchanged and enforced, therecould possibly be room for further expansion of learning. Although some madrasas embrace aspects of modern technology whileothers resist cultural modernity in order to follow their own way of life,Ebrahim Moosa suggested that a progressive, cosmopolitan, andknowledge-friendly movement within the madrasa-sphere is the best hope in orderto effectively transform and rejuvenate Islamic thought. Whether or not Islamicorthodoxy can provide substantive religious advocacy in terms of the place offaith in a world driven by scientific prowess, democratic politics, and runawaycapitalist economics remains to be seen.

2Another challenge that madrasasface in the 21st century is Western imagery. This is the interpretationand understanding of madrasas and of Islam in general from western countries. Thesesentiments have sparked political and governmental actions from countries allover the world. Since September 11th, 2001, The United States ofAmerica and many countries in Europe have associated madrasas with words suchas “terrorism,” and “Islamic fundamentalism”.3This is due to a lack of understanding and a vast misinterpretation of whatIslam really is.

Whilemadrasas such as al-Mukmin,Lukman al-Hakiem and al-Islam have been vitally important in furthering themission of some of the most volatile terrorist groups, such as Jemaah Islamiyahin Indonesia and Malaysia, in efforts to attack Americans; most madrasas are peaceful and servea constructive role in societies where education is often a privilege ratherthan a right. As in Pakistan, where the state has increasingly released masseducation and student welfare to madrasas.4Due to anti-Muslim propaganda, the word “Madrasa” hasbecome synonymous with the “Taliban” and “Bin laden”. In 2005 the New YorkTimes published an op-ed stating,  “While madrassas are an important issue ineducation and development in the Muslim world, they are not and should not beconsidered a threat to the United States. The tens of millions of dollars spentevery year by the United States through the State Department, the Middle EastPartnership Initiative, and the Agency for International Development to improveeducation and literacy in the Middle East and South Asia should be applauded asthe development aid it is and not as the counterterrorism effort it cannot be.”5The word madrasa is Arabic for any type ofeducational institution whether secular or religious.

The word derives from theSemitic root ‘to learn, study’, through the wazn, meaning”a place where something is done”.6Therefore it literally means “a place where learning and studying takeplace”. Madrasas are a substantially important tool in teaching young people both the knowledge and the practiceof a moral life is the fundamental purpose of the madrasas of South Asia. Justlike any western schooling, the Madrasa has an established curriculum for allof its students. Although there are a few different groups of madrasas, theyare more or less structured the same. Starting in primary education from thetime they’re around 6 years of age, the students are taught about the Qur’an,how to speak and write in Arabic, as well as a variety of practical skills.

Theythen move on to secondary education at the age of 14, where they read literature, practice preaching,learn about medicine, geometry and any other subject or profession they would be interested inpursuing for a future career. They also spend this time preparing forhigher education; predominantly law school. After all the schooling is complete, the hard part is finding acareer. This is because all the years of training have taught them thatknowledge of faith is sacred and taking reimbursement for anything related toknowledge or faith is not admissible. To serve the faith-tradition in thesphere of knowledge therefore requires sacrifice. Poverty is the ideal.

Oneshould adopt a lifestyle of frugality, self-effacing modesty, and reliance onGod and shun materialism if one is to become a devout servant of the faith.7So in that lies the dilemma for virtually every student trying to survive inlife post-madrasa. Many inquire about possibilities to serve Muslim communitiesin the West or they prepare for thepossibility of becoming a Faquih (jurists) or a mufti (Muslim legal expert).Nevertheless, finding a career deems difficult due to the fact that many madrasas decline the opportunity to have their degreesrecognized in the national education system. Even with a higher education, thismakes their graduates unable to pursue advanced studies at secular universities.1Moosa, Ebrahim.

 What Is a Madrasa?.The University of North Carolina Press, 04/2015. Chegg.

2 Moosa, Ebrahim. What Is a Madrasa?.The University of North Carolina Press, 04/2015.

Chegg.3 Moosa, Ebrahim. What Is a Madrasa?.

The University of North Carolina Press, 04/2015. Chegg.4 Combating Terrorism Center atWest Point. (2017, November 15).

Retrieved January 31, 2018, from Pandey, Peter Bergen and Swati.

“TheMadrassa Myth.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 14 June2005, www.nytimes.


(2018). Madrasa. online Available at: Accessed 31 Jan. 2018.

7 Moosa, Ebrahim. What Is a Madrasa?.The University of North Carolina Press, 04/2015. Chegg.

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