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Madrassa that arouses suspicion, inspires awe

Madrassa that arouses suspicion, inspires awe

Author: Manjari Mishra & Binay Singh
Publication: The Times of India
Date: September 25, 2008
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/Madrassa_that_arouses_suspicion_inspires_awe/articleshow/3524068.cms

The tall, stately structure in pristine white with its imposing domes and minarets springing out of paddyfields on Azamgarh-Varanasi highway looks surreal.

But the fact is Madrassa Jamia Islamia in Brinda Bazar has always evoked the curiosity of passersby. In neighbouring village, Than-auli Muzaffarpur, 25 km from the district headquarters, the madrassa inspires awe if not fear.

Stories abound about how no Hindu has ever been allowed to set foot in Jamia's precincts. People here claim a top Congress leader wanting to visit it was denied permission. When asked by TOI, this leader skirted the question. The madrassa's landline telephone, it appears, never accepts calls, as the TOI team discovered. Its photographer was denied entry at the gate.

With secrecy as impenetrable as its high boundary walls, myths were bound to surround Jamia Islamia - myths that have multiplied over time.

Raghav Ram (name changed), a resident of Muzaffarpur whose relative owns farmland along the madrassa, observed how obsessively stringent the madrassa authorities were about disallowing "outsiders". The place, spread over four hectares, houses more than 2,000 residential students, mostly from Bihar. Food and accommodation is free, he said.

Bankelal (name changed), a UP Electricity Board lineman who frequents the madrassa for billing, says the monthly electricity bill paid by Madrassa Jamia Islamia is between Rs 6,000 and Rs 7,000 per month. "They stop you at the gate and take down your name and address before letting you in," he said. They are prompt with payments.

So what goes on behind the closed gates? BJP's Ramakant Yadav alleges the madrassa is an active centre for indoctrination. Arms training is given inside and its basement stocks weapons, he alleges. But due to "minority appeasement", no government has ever bothered to unravel the madrassas activities, Yadav says.

After the arrest of Ahmedabad blast accused Abu Bashar, a former student of Madrassa-tul Islam in Saraimeer, the mushrooming madrassas are being looked at with greater suspicion than ever by the local people.

Intelligence reports link the spurt in their number with Babri Masjid demolition in 1992, after which Pakistan's ISI is believed to have decided that madrassas with free education, food and books could be made into an ideal training ground.

In fact, intelligence reports say "spotters" of ISI have kept an eye on recruits, particularly from Azamgarh-Mau belt. And the last 10 years have seen a dramatic rise in their numbers. Although officially there are only 177 registered madrassas in Azamgarh, their actual number could be much higher, a district official claimed.

While it would be wrong to suspect all the 177 madrassas of breeding hatred, some unsuspecting poor Muslim families do fall prey to their designs. While parents can't believe that their sons did what they are accused of, the free flow of money, state-of-the-art buildings and facelift of old madrassas does leave people baffled.

Transparency, says D P Upadhyaya, a local lawyer from Azamgarh, would be too much to expect of those who run Madrassa Jamia Islamia. But community leaders say the Jamia, founded by Maulana Taqiuddin Mazahiri, a Abu Dhabi-based cleric and judge, is clean and is funded by religious charity.

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