Icame to Kerala in 2001, my first visit to the state. I had come to search for work, the sort of work that I had been doing in Assampainting on cloth. One of the things that struck me first and most strikingly in Kerala was that the Kerala Muslims are far ahead of Muslims in other parts of India, in terms of both secular and Islamic education. I felt that I could learn and grow in Kerala, and that this was a good place for me to work. So, I decided not to go back to Assam, but to stay here instead.
I decided to give up on cloth painting, and to engage in some form of social work. In 2003, I began working with a few Muslim organisations in Calicut. In association with them, I arranged for a large number of children from very poor families, many of them orphaned, from Assam, Manipur, Bihar and West Bengal, to be sent to orphanages and hostels run by several reliable Muslim organisations in Kerala, such as the Huda Trust, the Muslim Cultural Foundation School, the Islamic Cultural Society, the Jamiate Dawate Tabligh, the Muslim Education Society, the Nadwat ulIslam and some orphanagescumschools run by the Kerala Nadwat ulMujahidin. Here these children receive free education, both religious and secular and are also looked after and cared for free of cost. Together, my friends and I have arranged for some five hundred such children to be looked after in various Muslim institutions in Kerala.
Most of these children are sent to Englishmedium schools to study. Some of these schools are run by the organisations where they also live. Others are run by various Muslim organisations and are located in the vicinity of their hostels. We arrange for the children to visit their homes once every three years so that they can remain in touch with their roots. We want them to start similar institutions in their own areas once they grow up. I hope at least some of them will.
I have had the good fortune of interacting with many Muslim activists and ulema here in Kerala and have learned a great deal from them. Unlike in my part of the country and in much of the rest of northern India, I find that in Kerala the ulema are also very socially engaged. It is not that just poor families send their children to madrasas to study, as generally in the north. Almost every Muslim child in Kerala, rich or poor, girl or boy, simultaneously studies in a madrasa and in a regular school. How well organized, how professionally run Muslim organizations here are How clean they keep their institutions What a contrast to north India
I have helped some local Muslim organisations interact with north Indian ulema, hoping that in this way we can spread the news about the Kerala example and that Muslim organisations in north India can learn from it. We have, over the years, arranged for over five hundred ulema and Muslim social activists from north India to visit Muslim institutions in Kerala and interact with Kerala Muslim activists and religious scholars and also to participate in conferences here. We thought that in this way they might be encouraged to go back to their areas and help promote modern, in addition to religious, education, to set up social work centres and so on.
(Muhammad Iqbal can be contacted on iqbalcalicutgmail.com)