Rocking The Madrassa
Who would have thought that in Asia there would be Islamic madrassas (background here) that actually seem to encourage religious tolerance instead of the fanaticism for which they have become notorious:
Indian schoolgirl Julita Oraon, a devout Christian, never misses Sunday mass, but the rest of her week is spent studying Arabic and Sufi literature among other subjects at an Islamic religious school, or madrasa.There's more to read in the whole thing.
Oraon is one of tens of thousands of Hindu and Christian students in the state of West Bengal now attending such schools, considered breeding grounds for religious intolerance and even terrorism in much of Asia.
In this part of India, madrasas are emerging as beacons of tolerance. While a predominantly Hindu state, a quarter of West Bengal's population of 80 million are Muslims and one percent are Christians.
Thousands died in communal violence before and after the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. There was more violence in the 1960s and 1970s after the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Bengali-speaking Muslims and Hindus from what was then East Pakistan and became Bangladesh.
But there have been no major communal clashes for decades in the state, which has been ruled by communists for most of independent India's history, and who have gained at the polls from policies designed to boost Muslim employment.
They have been handsomely rewarded with Muslims overwhelmingly supporting the left at the ballot box.
Community policing and street plays stressing religious harmony play their part as the state's leaders constantly push a message of tolerance.
But in the wake of the violence in the 1960s and 70s, officials also moved to reform the state's schools and especially its madrasas.
In 1977, they started reviewing the Islamic schools, introducing history and social science to the staple of Koranic study.
And after 2002, on the recommendation of a specially appointed committee, students had to study science, geography and computing. There are plans for foreign languages soon.
The changes have been credited with bringing about a change in the social outlook of the state's various faiths, and have attracted both teachers and students from other religions to the madrasas. School boards have recruited non-Muslims in a bid to find the best tutors for their students.
Now about 25 per cent of the 400,000 students who attend madrasas, and 15 per cent of their 10,000 teachers, are non-Muslims, officials say.
I guess this goes to show that positive learning can often be found in the most unlikely of places.