Women’s Islamic Education: In Discussion with the Director, Al-Hidāyah Academy, Bangalore
Good Madaaris for young women – which have a rational approach and have English as the medium of instruction – is a crying need within our Muslim society today, writes AMATUL HAKEEM, who recently caught up with UMM FARAH of the Al Hidayah Academy for Women, in Frazer Town, Bangalore, with whom she had the benefit of a detailed conversation that provides for an understanding of the vision and method of the Academy that is, today, fast becoming a convenient centre for Islamic studies for Muslim women in the vicinity.
“Indeed the world is cursed and cursed is what ever in it, except the remembrance of Allah (swt), and what is close to it, and a scholar and a student.” ~ Prophet Muhammad (saws) as reported in Sunan Tirmidhi
This a hadith on the virtues of Ilm or knowledge, and the Ilm emphasized here is the knowledge of deen that includes the study of Qur’an, hadith, principles of jurisprudence, proper articulation of Arabic reading, Islamic history and Qur’anic commentaries by renowned scholars. These are just a few disciplines from the vast and deep ocean of Islam. However, quite unfortunately, this knowledge of Islam is not being transmitted systematically and continuously to our youth, as it is supposed to be. One of the primary reasons being our shying away from the madaaris, which, until the pre-colonial era, were epitomes of Islamic knowledge. The amount of time spent on acquiring the required knowledge in a common Muslim household in the present times can be judged from the following scenario:
It is 5:00 PM, six-year-old Fatima and seven-year-old Umar are back home from school and are waiting for their hazrath (respectful title for tutor) who teaches them the Arabic recitation of the noble Qur’an. Their tutor has to cycle up all the way to their neighborhood and has to teach the same to about five or six children living in the vicinity. Moreover, this task has to be accomplished before Maghrib (or the sunset prayer) because the kids get busy with their regular school studies later on. The tutor thus spends hardly 15-20 minutes in each house, teaching just the reading of the Qur’an without even caring for the proper articulation of the letters.
Often times, this process of acquiring Islamic knowledge is truncated when the children, especially girls, enter into their teen, thus leaving the parents anxious and worried about their daughters, hoping they will not end up getting influenced by the un-Islamic culture around them. Clearly, therefore, good Madaaris for young women – which have a rational approach and also have English as the medium of instruction – is the need of the hour.
One such which is located in one of the by-lanes of a famous boulevard of Bangalore city – Frazer Town – is the Al-Hidayah Academy for Women. On my recent visit to the Academy, I had a chance to converse with its Director, Umm Farah. The excerpts from our conversation are presented below:
Q: In recent years, numerous programmes in Islamic Studies as an exact discipline have come up at the international, national and even at our own respective regional levels. How have you viewed this trend, particularly in the context of women (who seem to be embracing Islam faster than men from other communities)?
A: Alhamdulillaahi Rabbil ‘Alameen was Salaatu was Salaamu‘ ala Nabi (sallallaahu ‘alaihiwassalam), Amma ba’ad. Certainly by the Will of Allah (swt),a lot of awareness of Islam has come about and more and more people are embracing the knowledge of the Qur’an and Sunnah. What has been attracting women to embrace Islam? To the best of my knowledge, it is the rights that Islam offers Muslim women and then the Worship of One Lord, Allah (swt).
Q: More specifically, could you please elaborate on what led you to conceive of – and lead – a project like the Al-Hidayah Academy for Women? In other words, what has been the vision and objective of the Academy?
A: We had a summer programme – ‘Qalb-un-Saleem’ classes on Aqeedah and Good Character Building – for sisters in the year 2010. And when that programme was coming to an end, we (a group of sisters and myself) wanted to study the Qur’an in depth, understanding every Word of Allah (swt) and try to follow it as much as we could. And what could be a better way to study than to teach! Besides that, we wanted to have the classes in our neighbourhood so that many sisters could benefit from it, by the Will of Allah (swt).
Q: How does Al-Hidayah Academy set itself apart from other Muslim Women’s Academies? Is there any specific approach which the Academy has adopted and which, perhaps, gives it an original touch?
A: Alhamdulillah, yes, by the Will of Allah (swt), we do put in a lot of effort to present the Deen of Allah (swt) in a simple, practical and easy manner. Our objective lies in getting the sisters to study the Qur’an with the right Aqeedah, practice it in their lives and get trained to teach. We also make special attempts to make the sisters feel at ‘home’ and try to give them confidence by the Will of Allah (swt) in facing and solving the trying situations they face in everyday life.
Q: What was the initial reaction of the local Muslim community when you started out with the Al-Hidayah Academy since there were already other well-established ones in the same vicinity?
A: Truly speaking, we never felt anything of that sort. Alhamdulillah, Allah (swt) just paved an easy path for us.
Q: Is the Al-Hidayah Academy affiliated to any higher academic body, university or council? If not, is there an ongoing effort to secure a respected affiliation, and if so, what is the current status of this effort? If possible, could you please elaborate on how the expenses involved in running the Academy are being met (fees, rent etc.)?
A: No, it is not affiliated to any other academic body. At the moment nothing is on the scene. We are in the process of setting up such Islamic classes in, and around, the area of those sisters who are interested in starting classes; by supporting them with teachers, administration, funds and whatever the need be by the Will of Allah (swt). With regard to our Academy, like I mentioned before, Allah (swt) has paved an easy path for us: all the expenditure is met by the fees collected, though occasionally we do receive some funds.
Q: What are the courses offered at the Al-Hidayah Academy? Is there a particular syllabus which the Academy follows for any, or all, of its departments or subjects?
A: We have short and long duration courses. For short duration courses, there is a variable duration of anywhere between two to six months, depending on whether the course undertaken is for Tajweed, word-to-word meaning of the Qur’anic text, recitation of the Qur’an, or short/ basic Arabic grammar courses. As for long courses, then we have Qur’an Tafseer courses of four batches of varying timings, Seerah course, 40 Hadith, Kitaab-ut-Tawheed, intermediary and intensive Arabic grammar courses. Besides these, we have children’s evening classes of Tajweed and Hifz and, of course, “Kids’ Korner,” a weekend class which is activity-based Islamic Studies. Apart from these courses, we have presentations, talks by scholars, and workshops for teens and ladies.
Q: What is the average total student strength of the Academy as a whole? Which departments under the Academy have the highest consistency in terms of student strength?
A: The strength depends on the time of the year and the courses offered. Usually, summer courses are so full that we run short of space and, hence, have taken up an [additional] place close by during that period. The other time the place is full is in the month of Ramadhan when ‘Daur-e-Qur’an’ course is quite popular where a Qur’anic Para a day is covered: this is, in fact, a very brief study of the Qur’an. Short courses are very popular like Arabic Grammar and Tajweed courses.
Q: What has been the feedback of the Academy’s students who have moved out after completing their respective courses? Have they proceeded on to higher studies or, perhaps, teaching jobs elsewhere, when not volunteering or working with the Academy itself?
A: Alhamdulillaah, we seem to be getting a positive feedback from them. The students themselves would answer you better.
Q: What is the average number of people who currently volunteer to help teach the students of the Academy? What qualifications do you look for in applicants or volunteers who wish to join as teachers?
A: Alhamdulillah, we have a teaching staff of 10–12 sisters. We have some very enthusiastic youth who are into volunteering as well. Let me inform you that none of our staff members are paid; all the sisters here are volunteers. We select the teachers from our students: the ones who are keen in studies, have spent a minimum of a year at the Academy as students, and the ones known for their hard work, dedication and humbleness.
Q: In your own opinion, how has Al-Hidayah Academy helped in bringing about positive changes within the local Muslim community in Bangalore and elsewhere?
A: Alhamdulillah, a lot of awareness has been created by the Will of Allah (swt) in their Aqeedah and implementation of the teachings in their lives and, of course, they are in a better situation to face the day-to-day challenges with a positive attitude.
Q: What is the Academy’s stand, if any, on the debate between the conservative, traditional Ulema and other reform movements like the Ahl-e-Hadith? More precisely, does the Academy follow any of the four Muslim schools of jurisprudence exclusively in designing its courses and teaching methodology? In either case, is there a set way, if at all, in which the Academy trains its students in its worldview?
A: This is too high a knowledge for me to discuss about. Nor should we get into such debates. Our policy is to just stick to the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
Q: I’m sure you would have faced many hindrances on your path to establish this Academy, especially in this day and age. Could you please share some of your experiences with us?
A: Alhamdulillah, by the Grace of Allah (swt), we never faced any hindrances in setting up this place. This question reminds me of a hadith of Prophet Muhammad (saws) where he said: “Whoever follows a path to seek knowledge, Allah will make the path to Jannah (Paradise) easy for them.” [Sahih Muslim 2699; SunanTirmidhi 2945]
Q: Are the courses at Al-Hidayah Academy open to interested students from other communities? If not, why? If yes, why?
A: We have classes for reverts, who have just come into Islam and we provide them with the transliteration of Qur’an and other books on Islam, free of charge.
Q: What is your vision – or definition – of an ideal educational institution dedicated to Islamic Studies? How do you plan to improve the Al-Hidayah Academy itself further?
A: Our vision is to reach out to as many sisters as possible, by the will of Allah (swt), educate them in Aqeedah, Qur’an and Sunnah teachings, their implementation and teaching it to others. We would like to help out sisters in establishing such classes in their neighbourhood and give them support in whatever way we can by the will of Allah (swt). We would also like to open up a crèche and playschool for little ones where the kids are taken care off, while their mothers attend the Islamic classes.
Q: How would you like to briefly sum up your guidance for the next generation?
A: It is our youth that is our big concern. Alhamdulillah, we have youth who are smart and very intelligent. We want to assure them that, by the Will of Allah (swt), Islam is a very beautiful and practical religion. And their true source of happiness lies in studying the Qur’an, Tawheed, Seerah, implementing its rulings and passing it on to the next generation.