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Culture of Arbitrariness in Madrasah Education System

U S Rokeya Akhter  

PhD Research Fellow, Department of Sociology, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh

Online Version Published: 1 July 2016

© 2016 South Asian Youth Research Institute for Development. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CCBY).


In recent decades, several Madrasahs in Bangladesh have been marked by media for being involved with training young students into militants. A number of print and electronic media reported its alleged connection to fundamentalist in Bangladesh. In this concern, understanding institutional influence on Madrasah students has been undertaken to analyze through Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of cultural arbitrariness. The discussion has focused on the practice of abusing students and its reaction on young minds. No direct connection was found between Madrasah student’s involvement with religious extremist groups, but one Madrasah funded by one leader from Jamaat e Islam has indirect commitment to be part of its student wing called Islamic Chhatra Shibir. Overall there is significant ignorance of Madrasah students regarding democratic political consciousness in the country. On social and political issues, the rational interpretation is always superseded by purified conceptualization of religious principles.

Keywords: Madrasah Education System, Social Group, Cultural Arbitrariness, Habitus

1. Introduction

Parallel to the mainstream education system two other basic education systems prevail in Bangladesh1, one is Madrasah education under government approved madrasa education board and the other one is English medium international education system, (though not recognized nationally). Differences between these education systems lie on the preference of language Bengali, or English or Arabic), as a medium of instructions regarding lessons and education materials in schooling, though the basic difference is rooted in the thematic priorities of curriculum designs. Such as the mainstream education based within a national context, English Medium education conceptualized over an international context and Madrasah Education outlined solely with religious values. The mastery of language skills in the education system and use of legitimate language in schooling are the pivotal concepts to analyze the reproduction in school culture, the processes in forming new social groups in the society.

This paper will especially focus on sociocultural orientation of Dakhil2 students that is shaped by the institutional practices within an education system. According to the special survey of BANBEIS,3 the enrollment in 2010 shows a total of 1266255 students in Dakhil Madrasah, which is quite a huge number to ignore, while analyzing the changes in social structure. To be more specific, this is one-sixth of the enrolments in the mainstream education system at the school certificate level (special survey, BANBEIS 2010).

The public sector support that the Madrasahs receive in today’s Bangladesh is transformed from the Madrasah established by Warren Hastings, Governor General of India in the British period in October 1781. Hastings’ concern for Madrasah education was a long-term plan based on political interest for peaceful governance through making scope of minimum education to the Muslims who became shattered by the fall of Muslim rule, to serve in the lower level positions in the Government as well as in criminal court, particularly as interpreters of Muslim law. Besides the Government Madrasah, other forms of Madrasahs have been continuing operations in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Quomi4 or the Khariji Madrasah, do not have governmental endorsement but run with funds from the wealthy Islamic States and local community donations as well.

Under the global focus on western education policy, more emphasis was given on English in the Education System of India and so Madrasah education was reorganized with new schemes. The major characteristic of the new scheme was to discard Persian and make English compulsory. During this time Bangla, mathematics, geography, history, English drawing, handicrafts and drills were included in the syllabus. After the partition of the sub-continent, the Calcutta Aliya Madrasah was shifted to Dhaka. Only a limited number of Madrasah were established under the Aliya system before 1971; instead, expansion came after 1979 when the state initiated a formal Madrasah reform program and gave systematic incentives to a Madrasah to modernize (Asadullah and Chaudhury, 2006).

In 1985 for the first time, Madrasah qualification level (Dahkil) was recognized as equivalent to the senior secondary certificate and in 1987 Alim (the next level) was given the status of the higher secondary certificate. The purpose of establishing the Board was to prepare Muslim students to excel in all fields. In 1978, a Qomi Madrasah board was set up in Bangladesh with the name of Wafaq ul Madaris al Arabia, Bangladesh. It was a continuation of the process that had already started in West Pakistan in 1957 with the establishment of Wafaq ul Madaris Al-Arabia, Pakistan. Unlike the Aliya Madrasahs, whose degrees are recognized by the government, but the degree is issued by the Qomi madrasa boards are not recognized by the state. Thus, they cannot be used for securing a government position. There are thus two parallel systems of madrasa education operating in Bangladesh today. What has made the state invest seriously in the Madrasah modernization programme, and what has made some Madrasahs accept state money, leading to the increased size of the Aliya madrasa tradition, is an interesting puzzle, given that similar measures in India and Pakistan have met limited success in the former and tough resistance in the latter.

In 1999 an attempt to update the Madrasah curriculum in Bangladesh was undertaken by the ministry of education. Diversified syllabus for Dakhil level education (general, science, Mujabbid that is for specialization in reading Quran correctly, and Hifjul Quran) was improved the standard by reviewing the syllabus and adopting a curriculum by the Madrasha Education Board in 2000 (Sattar 2004). Besides, the following objectives are found for the BMEB5’s textbooks: develop students in performing Ibadat, help the students study the content of Holy Quran, Hadiths, and Fiqh, help the students to use (reading, writing, and understanding) Arabic language in daily life, Acquire knowledge of Islamic tradition and culture, and Strengthen bonds of brotherhood with Arab countries (Sattar 2004).

2. Methods and Materials

The research covered four Madrasahs, which are registered under Aliya Madrasah Board; two best performing (only residential and separate campus for girls and boys) huge Madrasahs located at the outskirt of Dhaka City and two co-education Madrasahs (residential accommodation for few), located in the heart of Dhaka city. 120 Dakhil students aged from 14 to 19 years old were chosen randomly from class X and IX (in case not available from class X), for survey interviews with individual questionnaires and conducted FGD (each covering at least 8 students from those who participated in the survey), one from each Madrasah. Also, interviews with individual students, teachers, and management personnel and ex-students, who were enrolling in higher education in Public Universities, were taken for this research. This study has undertaken two Madrasahs located in the heart of the Dhaka city; Shahjadpur Najar Mahmud Alim Madrasah, located in Shahjadpur, Gulshan and Baitul Fazal Islamia Madrasah in Nurjahan Road, Mohammadpur. Both the Madrasahs have provision for Girls and Boys students sitting in the same classroom. But girls’ enrollment is fewer than boys. Two big Madrasahs were undertaken from the outskirts of Dhaka city; Darrunnajat Siddikia Kamil Madrasah located in Demra and Tamirul Millat Madrasah in Tongi, Gazipur, because inside the city no big Madrasah is established. In this research findings, two cases found who have had primary and secondary education in Madrasah system and currently studying one in Arts faculty and the other in social Science faculty of Dhaka University were intervened for in-depth interviews.

3. Results

3.1 Socioeconomic Status of Madrasah Students

Mosque based Madrasahs provide accommodation, food, and education for free, for the orphan children and also children from impoverished families. Dark classrooms and filthy toilets in old abandoned building or in the tin shed construction is a common poor condition of Madrasahs. In Dhaka city, many of those Madrasahs cannot provide a separate room for classes and night accommodation for the residential students. Girls in hijab6 sit on one side and boys on the other side and at the back wall clothes of residential boys’ are hanging is not a surprising picture there7.These Madrasahs are running on community donations and at the Dakhil level get a little subsidy for teachers’ salary from Government. The well-off Muslims donate in the Mosque as part of wasiyah8.The quality of education environment and standard of the education system depends on the fund flow and fund management. For instance, Darrunnajat and Tamirul Millat are well established Madrasahs, running for long years and the performance in Board examination is also good, in average they score second and third highest. Darrunnajat showed their fund situation and budget items for the academic year 2013 which is quite sound and they already have constructed four storied academic building with library, computer and science lab facilities though differs from mainstream education.

Mohammed Ashraf 16 years’ old boy, a student of class IX in Baitul Fazal Islamia Madrasah located at Mohammadpur, Dhaka, wishes to be a cricketer but his mother wants him to be a Maulana. It was her pledge to Allah since he was in the womb if almighty bless her with a son she will teach him Quran E Hafez. Considering mother’s emotion Ashraf could not carry out cricket practices rather trying hard to compromise with his dream and sacrificing own choice. Like Ashraf, many of the Dakhil students didn’t go to mainstream education because of their parents’ wish. With this religious devotion, children are sent to Maktab9 and Madrasah for Hefzi10 in common, which is a long traditional practice of the Muslim spiritual families. Maulana or Principal of a Madrasah is the most prestigious profession in rural areas. Rural people trust them and recognize decisions from the religious leader as the best solution for either the domestic or social challenges in reference to the Holy book of Quran and Hadith of the Prophet Mohammad PBUH.

The below table shows families by father’s occupation and income, who prefer their children, enroll in Madrasah education. It followed Bourdieu’s work for class analysis through the occupation of the father in 60s. In the FGD also maximum boys and girls, mentioned government service, accountant, peon or mechanic for the occupation of father, and few girls told their uncle or brother serve in the fourth class of the government bank. Few mentioned driving as father’s current profession. Madrasah students belong mostly from income earner group taka 5000/ to taka 30000/ per month and a few families have a monthly income up to Taka 50000/; and who are from the occupation groups either of simple services like clerks, accountant or small business and entrepreneurs of grocery supplies or agricultural products. Nonetheless, the occupation group labor, driver, and farmer who belong to the low-income group might get it convenient. This data perfectly complies with the BANBEIS guardian profile socio-economic analysis, special survey. As per the survey findings, education level of the father, uncle or brother as the family income earner has the qualification of 23% HSC level, subsequently on graduation and post-graduation has almost similar qualification 20% and 19 %, nevertheless 10% and 8% parents have up to Primary and junior level education. Khatibs, have good enough educational qualification, i.e. post- graduation or graduation and their children also have the same vision to be Alem in future. These families have prestigious status; people consider them for wisdom in Islam and also follow their leadership in religious practices for generations in the locality.

Table 1: Family income and Father’s /Family Occupation
Family income and Father’s Family Occupation

3.2 Pedagogic Practice, Legitimate Reproduction, and Culture of Arbitrariness

There were three questions about ‘what students like most of the school system’, ‘what they miss very much’ and ‘what they don’t like in the school’, asked in the survey interview; naturally many were hesitant to tell against the authority. 42% respondents dropped it, might because they misrecognize the true arbitrary culture of the pedagogic authority, though the rest 58% replied with ten significant causes against the school system. Torture, class routine, strict rules, teaching method, exploitative language, lack of facilities are the causes mostly mentioned by the boys which are related to pedagogic action and whereas co-education system, dirtiness, indiscipline are the concerned points raised by the girls, which are the practical issues and have mostly been ignored by the Madrasah authority. Let us see how students responded to the questions.

Figure 1:

Figure 1: What Pupil don't like in the School

What students like most of the school system?’

Students from each and every Madrasah interviewed are found proud to be part of religious education; they believe that they are getting the best education than the students in other education systems. They think being a Muslim this is a must to learn Quran and Sunnah correctly. Their teachers have vast knowledge on Islamic history and on the Quranic analysis both for worldly life and eternal life. In Baitul Islamia Madrasah students were found collected money voluntarily to organize a Milad Mehfil to get dua11 from the respected huzurs for the upcoming examinations. They wrote an invitation card in nice handwriting then photocopied and were planning for a fist after the Milad, which was an exciting event for them. In few Madrasahs, especially residential Madrasahs, students are encouraged to read those newspapers which have a chief editor from Islamic group or critic of non –communal group. In the survey findings, the show 18% students read Noya Diganta and 38% students read Amar Desh. Whereas only 13% reads country’s most popular newspaper Prothom Alo, who campaigns for the consequences of the Independence of Bangladesh and committed to establishing non-communal democracy as well. Darrunnajat Madrasah organizes seminar and speech competition every Friday followed by Jumma Prayer. During the FGD with Darrunnajat Madrasah, few students were found remarkably smart in arguments and conversations as well. They were too much decisive to oppose the Government initiative to reform the women’s advancement policy to establish women’s rights, referring it to every issue of focus group discussion. Even they supported the movement of Hefazat E Islam12 in 2010 with 13 points charter by giving reference from Sunnah. The summary of the charter was to stop any secular activities and to protest against the policy of equal rights for women. Similarly, FGD with Tamirul Millat Madrasah revealed that it has been funded by the political foundation of political party Jamat E Islam. That foundation has an objective to fund Madrasahs for forming student’s wing called Chhatra Shibir, under Jamat e Islam.

‘What pupil misses very much in Madrasah’

The Madrasah authority follows hard discipline and strict rules in the everyday lifestyle to establish religious belief sustained for long. Children has to wake up early in the morning to do morning prayer (Fazar namaj and then recite from the Holy Quran, in fact they are bound to pray five times), wear long Panjabi (Jobba), pajama, tupi for boys and hijab for girls but girls are not allowed to go to the Mosque. During FGD several students (boys) mentioned that they are waiting for leaving Madrasah after Dakhil exam and dreaming of getting admission in general college so they will switch over to fashion wear from jobba. Residential Madrasah students suffer from the very simple daily menu being usually provided in the dining. There in a week provides meat only ones or twice, the routine food is monotonous, boring and contains low nutrition too. The authority doesn’t allow any kind of entertainment TV, radio, and music, and mobile are prohibited in the madrasa premises. Besides the textbook lessons Madrasah authority allows only Milad and debate, at best Darrunnajat Madrasah has provision for participating in a speech on current issues in the light of Quran and very rare cases boys get the opportunity for a football match in co-curricular activities. Madrasah students would like to have all co-curricular activities those are a regular program in the general schools. The figure below shows the things Madrasah students don’t like.

‘What pupil don’t like in Madrasah ‘

Boys told that they are being tortured mercilessly; hujur (teacher) uses special sticks on boys for any silly points, sometimes even for no reasons. In Chittagong, a special kind of solid bamboo grows in the forest that is processed to make stronger unbreakable sticks for beating students in Madrasah. Students are beaten up for breaking discipline, if dress code, five times namaj, and study instructions, memorizing stuff etc. are not followed properly. Beating starts most of the cases along with exploitative language. That language is humiliating since most of the time insults parents or family, saying “your parents are Kafer13, so they haven’t taught you how to behave with huzur and could not give Quran education”. Girls are not usually beaten up or shouted at so they don’t have complaints against teachers; on the other hand, they are not much concerned about teaching method, education facilities, and career. In the FGD, boys told that girls don’t do well in the exams because they have less access to education facilities than boys get. Girls under the hijab remain shy, quiet and cornered in the classroom; few girls said that they are not comfortable with the boys who seem indecent for their approach in communication, hair style, dress up and movements. A number of girls don’t like the dirt and mess in the Madrasah premises. A good number of students avoided to say the specific issue they don’t like but told that there are other issues they don’t like.

4. Discussion

Shahjadpur Najar Alim Madrasah students raised a question, why Madrasah students are treated differently in every sphere of life? Students in Madrasah learn three languages and have an additional mastery in Arabic but in the job market preference for Madrasah qualification is poor, within the boundary of Madrasah they follow so many restrictions again in the family, parents and relatives prevent them from watching movies, listening music and easy going life unlike other siblings and relations. Sometimes they are frustrated by all these inequalities. Though NCTB14 had targeted to disseminate the basic knowledge of civics, geography, and history of Bangladesh as compulsory for all (Madrasah and mainstream) students, a competence test15 on these subjects, conducted specifically on class IX / X students scored very poorly. Basic Mathematics and social sciences are not taught in Mujabbid and Hifjul Quran groups. Science students do not have adequate scope for experiments and practical classes. A number of subjects are included in the syllabus, which has no significant outcome at this level. Both in the marks distribution and subject contents Madrasah education has given less priority in Bangla 50% and English 40% syllabus than mainstream education system (CAMPE 2008)16.

According to Bourdieu every institutionalized educational system owes the specific characteristics of its structure and functioning to the fact that, by the means proper to the institution, it has to produce and reproduce the institutional conditions whose existence and persistence (self- reproduction of the system) are necessary both to the exercise of its essential function of inculcation and to the fulfillment of its function of reproducing a cultural arbitrary which contributes to the reproduction of the relations between the groups or classes, Bourdieu& Passeron, 1990, 54.

There are many prison-like Madrasahs (school system with Islamic religious curricula) in Bangladesh. Children in a number of Madrasahs are often chained—even for slightest offenses. The Daily Janakantha of 15 March 2005 published a news reporting a 13-year old boy’s escape from Madrasah with feet chained, and hands tied up with a piece of wood. On 25 April 2005; UNICEF, Save the Children and the Bangladesh Government jointly published a survey result. The survey shows that children suffer from crueler punishments in schools and madrasas as than at home (The Daily Janakantha. 08 July 2005).

In August 2010, under the order of the High Court, Bangladesh officially banned all forms of corporal punishment in schools. The ministerial guideline came into effect from April 2011. Yet then Bangladesh newspapers reported 63 incidences of corporal punishment at the time of the observance of one year of Bangladesh’s banning of corporal punishment in August 2011. The prohibition is enacted in legislation from March 2012. Corporal Punishment in Bangladesh School System: An Analytical Appraisal of Elimination Strategy Directions, ASA University Review, Vol. 6 No. 2, July–December 2012.

Bourdieu argued that the experience- as a pupil – of pedagogic work is the objective condition which generates the misrecognition of culture as arbitrary and bestows upon it the taken for granted quality of naturalness. Pedagogic work legitimates its product by producing legitimate consumers of that product. Pedagogic work has the function of keeping order, through linked processes of self- limitation and self-censorship, children stop asking ‘why’? Exclusion works so powerfully as self-exclusion. The theory of “Symbolic Violence” by Bourdieu and Passeron was an attempt to ‘apply to any social formation, understood as a system of power relations and sense relations between groups or classes. Symbolic power is that invisible power which can be exercised only with the complicity of those who do not want to know that they are subject to it or even that they themselves exercise it (Bourdieu, 1992; 164). This invisible symbolic power lies on symbolic forms like the myth about religion, language, and art as to the neo-Kantian tradition as instruments for knowing and constructing the world of objects. Thus, symbolic invisible power is recognized as Marx notes in his Theses on Feuerbach, the ‘active aspect’ of cognition. Again Durkheim counting himself in the Kantian tradition lays the foundations of a Sociology of Symbolic Forms. With Durkheim the forms of classification cease to be universal forms and become social forms, that is, forms that are arbitrary and socially determined. As to religious system faith-based Islamic institutions, Madrasahs avoid morning assembly and ignore National Anthem that` is common in the general education system. Through the news published in Amar Desh on newly formed secular education policy in 2010 of the country, many Madrasah students got grievances, came out to protest.

Again in 2011, this newspaper published on the country’s women advancement policy with a misinterpretation of the clause on women’s equal rights that is a violation of Muslim law. And the 13-point charter to the Government, published in 2013 by Hafezat E Islam, an Islamic association, was an event brought out in capital city gathering a huge number of Madrasah students from Chittagong. Since then Madrasahs everywhere are being engaged against the secular thoughts and writings. This is apparent in social media especially Facebook and blogs leaders of the Islamic associations and political party who has the mandate of Islamic Fundamentalism, Jamaat e Islam has an influence on the Madrasah education system. They disseminate the message of denial against the policies and legislations to establish equal rights, irrespective of any religion and gender. For instance, Jamaat e Islam announced ultimatum to stop Shahbag protest17 for hanging war criminals (who later formed the political party Jamaat e Islam in Bangladesh). Jamaat e Islam leader Delwar Hossain Sayeedi’s posts of all about fundamentalism on his official Facebook are acknowledged by students at Tamirul Millat Madrasah Facebook.

This situation also can be referred to Bourdieu’s focus on historical generalizations, a particular Education System structured and functions to produce the habitus18 for the social condition. In this regard, he referred Durkheim, who tried to explain, at the beginning how the French Education System was structured and functioning to produce Christian habitus and he put efforts to integrate Christian faith with the Greco-Roman Heritage. Bourdieu recognizes Weber’s analysis of trans-historical characteristics of every church to influence all institution to structure and function to produce religious habitus, as more generic condition of the society.

Qomi madrasas are often associated in this debate, as groups involved in religious militancy have been argued to have links with Qomi madrasas. Islamic Oikya Jote, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), the Jihad Movement, Arakan Rohingya National Organization and Rohingya Solidarity Organization are the prominent Islamic groups blamed for Islamic militancy (Lintner, 2004). The main jihadi organization in Bangladeshi, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, has an estimated strength of 15,000 and is argued to be sympathetic to Al-Qaida and the Taliban (Lintner, 2004). Established in 1998, Arakan Rohingya National Organization is a platform of Rohingya migrants from Burma fighting for an autonomous Muslim region in Burma’s Arakan state. The Jihad Movement is another platform for several of these Islamic groups in Bangladesh. The biggest Islamic political party in Bangladesh remains Jamiat-e-Islami which, after a chequered history, has now become a prominent political force. Jamiat-e-Islami has also been blamed for supporting militant groups and so has its student organization, Islamic Chhatra Shibir (ICS), Bano, 2008. Daily Times Lahore published in Bangladesh Madrasahs Following in The Footsteps of Pakistan Madrasahs? The Harkatul Mujahedeen al-Islami (the one called HUJI in Bangladesh) is the outfit whose leader was a graduate of the Banuri Mosque seminary in Karachi. The Hizb-al-Tahrir, which Pakistan banned only after Yuldashev’s discovery, worked in tandem with him in Central Asia and is now clearly working in tandem with HUJI in Bangladesh. An increasing number of Bangladesh’s Madrasahs are now following the pattern of the study of the Madrasahs in Pakistan and have become Deobandi in their worldview. The Hindus have been targeted, aided by the widespread belief that they should be expelled from the country. The jihad in Afghanistan brought in Al Qaeda money, and the training camps in Bangladesh have since begun to turn out warriors for the Taliban and AL Qaeda. Madrasahs have sometimes been labeled as “weapons of mass instruction” or “factories for global jihad”, and as such have been perceived as a threat to the West and for individual countries hosting them (Rashid, 2000; Stern, 2000; Malik, 2008; Rahman, 2008; Ali, 2009). But in a similar behavioral study19 on Madrasah students published in 2011, Delavande and Zafar concluded that the distinct behavior of Madrasah students cannot be wholly attributed to selection.

In particular, they provide evidence that rules out Madrasahs playing a role in promoting distrust and anti-social behavior. This casts doubt on the general perception that Madrasahs teach hatred and ideological extremism – at least with regards to groups within the Pakistani society – and is consistent with Madrasahs promoting religious teachings and offering an environment that emphasizes selflessness; Delavande and Zafar; 2013.

The issue of sexual abuses was strikingly come up during a conversation with ex-students of Tamirul Millat Madrasah who are now the graduation level students at Jahangir Nagar University. This is even worse because it happens not because these young boys make any mistake rather they are victims of violence conducted by the Madrasah staff or anybody related to Madrasah authority20. This remains top secret, no one questions or claims against these religious institutions. Why parents and teachers keep all these misconducts hidden and allow continuing these offenses inside the religious education institutions might be an interesting analysis in Gender perspectives!

In the FGD with Tamirul Millat Kamil Madrasah, boys informed that 60 percent or above students in many Madrasahs are being sexually abused by the Madrasah super or huzur. This is a violation of the faith of the religion and also the trust of the parents who put their son to Madrasah, believing to get their children a spiritual foundation, a childhood safe and secure for their children. Though same-sex relationship and sexual relationship beyond marital relation, are prohibited in Islam, boys are being sexually abused by the teachers or staff in Madrasahs. They are treated as “Gilman”, young slaves, who were bound to serve the wishes of soldiers during the war when a part of the world was being conquered by Ottoman, Persian and Mughal Empire. The concept of Ghilman has been almost a granted practice in central Asia, which is followed by sinful Moulana’s in Madrasahs in Pakistan and Bangladesh, as legitimate as holy men in the paradise will be surrounded by Houri and if wishes will be provided with Ghilman. Sexual abuses of young teenage boys are much safer than to girls because these young boys do not have the courage to say no or they don’t even know what is happening by the respected person and how to make a complaint about this unusual and uncomfortable incidence.

5. Conclusion

Muslim families especially from the village or having a close connection to village life are more devoted to religious faith, so most Madrasahs are located outskirt of the city and in villages. On the other hand, very few Madrasahs found in the heart of the city, low-income families living in the city, who do not have enough resources to take competitive education, rather get relieved by putting children in Madrasah. And another group of families found who are worried about proper guardianship; either families of orphan (children of a single mother or no parent) or children living with mother and relatives because father migrated for work, also prefer residential Madrasah education for children as convenient, where food, shelter and education are merely free of cost. Traditionally the religious teachers (Hujur) have been acknowledged to be strict as long as religious lessons and practices are concerned. But few Hujurs take it as granted for whatever they would like to do. Beating for silly excuses and using any exploitative language is the common practice in all Madrasah institution only differs in limit depending on the whole management system. But the unfortunate and very alarming point is this sort of torture often turns into a harsh masculine abusive trend that also includes sexual abuses. This approach cause disrespect, hatred and urge to be set free in the soft mind of the pupil but they remain quiet so long they enroll in Madrasah system. To some extent a mal-orientation on sexuality might have long effects afterward in the family and society as well. Madrasah education system develops a sense of ethnocentric understanding among the students that is a feeling of oneness in one religious custom of lifestyle which is totally different from society out of the wall of Madrasah. The students grow up with a pride that they have the best knowledge about Islam and Quran. They believe another education system has to lack in knowledge on Islamic history and Quran education that must be the only education for life and so they feel superior to the group from another education system. Though Madrasah students grow within an ethnocentric domain due to living maximum time in the confined lifestyle inside the wall of Madrasah they also develop a double identity in oneself. Regardless of right or wrong of religious faith, maximum Madrasah students enjoy an opposite personality in secret where they are free from the legitimate culture of Madrasah environment. Sometimes this opposite identity is contradictory to the religious values, faith, and thoughts.

Due to strict rules, merciless punishments, unethical and unfair demands from socially respected religious personalities, the Madrasah teachers develop a sense of deprivation and aggressiveness which leads to an abnormal outbursts approach. In this circumstance they are misguided and joined political groups in the name of Jihad21. Many Madrasah students are mobilized to take part in vandalism and political protests. Jamaat e Islam, a religion based political party formed Chhatra Shibir by giving shelter and all types of supports to the vulnerable students from Madrasah. If this practice continues young generation might be divisions and a large portion of our young generation will be involved with socially disruptive activities, especially from the residential Madrasahs funded by Islamic Fundamentalist Groups from home and abroad. An urgent and drastic movement is required to stop engaging young Madrasah students in activities for the sake of creating political unrest. Besides, there are lots of stories available on ‘Bachha Bazi’, sexual abuse of young boy. It will be imperative to analyze in greater details the issue of sexual abuse and its impacts on the behavior of Madrasah students in the light of the theoretical concept “Habitus” that is the disposition of oneself and structuring of structures.


1 In Bangladesh, the system of education is divided into three different branches. Students are free to choose anyone of them provided that they have the means. These branches are: The English Medium, The Bengali Medium, and The Religious Branch. In the English Medium system, courses are all taught in English using English books with the exception for Bengali and Arabic. English medium schools are mainly private and thus reserved for the wealthy class. O and A level exams are arranged through the British Council in Dhaka,
2 Madrasah Board Exam after level ten
3 Bangladesh Bureau of Education Information and Statistics
4 Community funded Madrasah, trains pupil on the Holy Quran and Islamic History
5 Bangladesh Madrasha Education Board
6 Hijab is for girls covering body, mainly with two pieces of clothes; a scarf that covers from head down through the neck
and chest and only eyes remain open.
7 See the picture of this classroom in the Annex
8 Contribution to the institution to run Islamic Education
9 Informal academic institution for young children to learn Arabic
10 Memorizing the whole book of Quran
11 prayer
12 In January 2010, Hefazat-e-Islam was formed, comprising the teachers of more than one hundred Kawmi madrasas at
Chittagong, Bangladesh. The formation was triggered by the 2009 Women Development Policy draft, which would have given women equal rights by inheritance. Ahmad Shafi, the director of Hathazari Madrasa and Mufti Izharul Islam, the chairman of the Islamist party Islami Oikya Jote, are regarded as the founders of Hefazat-e-Islam, Bangladesh. The group was formed to protest the government’s secular policies in education and politics
13 Who doesn’t have faith in Allah
14 National Curriculum and Textbook Board
15 A competency test multiple choice question paper is attached in the Annex
16 Education Watch 2007
17 Jamaat-e-Islami’s ally Hefazat-e-Islam has announced it would hold mass rallies in all Upazila headquarters on March 1 if the government does not stop the Shahbag movement and free its detained leaders and activists by Feb 2013, claiming that the Shahbag movement was against Islam.
18 Bourdieu’s (1968: xx) earliest definitions of habitus once again:
A system of lasting, transposable dispositions which, integrating past experiences, functions at every moment as a matrix of perceptions, appreciations, and actions and makes possible the achievement of infinitely diversified tasks,
thanks to analogical transfers of schemes permitting the solution of similarly shaped problems.
19 Stereotypes and Madrasahs: Experimental Evidence from Pakistan
20 On 22 Oct 14, Daily News Observer reports “The police have unearthed the mystery over the murder of Keraniganj
madrasa student Abu Raihan, confirming that he was killed for refusing a homosexual advance from a Madrasa staff.”
21 Protest against any attack on Islam


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Author (s) Biography

U S Rokeya Akhter is a Ph.D. Research Fellow in the Sociology Department, University of Dhaka. Her dissertation Language, Culture, and Schooling; A Sociological Study in Bangladesh has applied French Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s theoretical concepts. She has vast experience in big data surveys and impact research working with International NGOs.

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Culture of Arbitrariness in Madrasah Education System by South Asian Youth Research Institute for Development is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.