The Council for Islamic Education and Research (CIER) is a wing of one of the largest Islamic movements in Kerala, the Kerala Nadwat ulMujahidin (KNM). The KNM runs some 350 parttime coeducational madrasas across Kerala, and the CIERs work is to prepare books for these schools and to train their teachers. Established in 2002, the CIER is headed by Dr. E.K.Ahmad Kutty, former Head of the Department of Arabic in Calicut University. Other senior members of the CIERs governing board include Saeed Faruqi, chief instructor of the Governmentrun Arabic Language Teachers Training Institute, Calicut, and N.P.Abdul Ghafoor, member of the Kerala Government Textbooks Committee.
Our major achievement so far, explains Abdul Jabbar Thirupanachi, a member of the CIERs governing board, is a set of new textbooks for our madrasas which are probably one of their kind in the whole of India. The madrasa texts used previously, he says, were at least half a century old and badly need to be reformed. We retained the basic content of the earlier curriculum as it broadly was, he relates, but made major changes in style and presentation, drawing on modern, childcentric, activitybased and storytelling teaching methods that encourage students to think for themselves rather than simply bombarding them with information.
Thirupanachi proudly displays a set of the CIERs new madrasa textsbrightly coloured cartoons and pictures displayed on every page, the Malayalam and Arabic lettering large and bold and readerfriendly for children, each chapter ending with a set of questions, puzzles, fillintheblank exercises and so on.
Learning should not be a drab affair. It should be fun, he says as he flips through the texts. The old books were somewhat drab and boring and very preachy, he goes on. Some conservatives elsewhere might have problems with the pictures that our new books use, he says but in Kerala this is a nonissue really. The pictures and cartoons that fill the books are the work of a noted Hindu artist from Calicut. In many Arab countries, too, they have books like this. In fact, weve borrowed quite a few ideas from their books as well, he adds. In addition, Thirupanachi says, the CIER has prepared a set of audio CDs of rhymes contained in its new textbooks, and plans to prepare visual CDs of lessons as teaching aids for madrasa instructors. Half of these instructors are women.
Thirupanachi translates excerpts from the texts. One chapter is about zakat, the poordue. In the texts we earlier used, children were simply told about zakat, he says. But in these new books, he explains, children are asked to count the number of members of their family who are eligible to pay zakat, to discuss with their parents the assets they have and to calculate how much zakat they should pay on them and whom they should pay it to and so on. In this way, he points out, they learn what zakat is in practical terms. Besides, it is also a mathematical exercise for them and a way for them to discuss what they learn in the madrasa with their parents.
The classes conducted by the KNMs madrasas are held for two hours a day, either in the early mornings or in the late afternoons, thus allowing their students to attend regular school simultaneously. These madrasas are till the seventh grade, and so far the CIER has produced new madrasa texts for students till the fifth grade. These include books for the teaching of basic Arabic and Islamic Studies. The CIER is presently working on texts for students in higher classes, which will be used once the KNMs madrasas go beyond the seventh grade. In the meantime, for these senior students it has prepared a curriculum to be used during their summer vacations.
Another area in which the CIER is doing pioneering work is that of madrasa teachers training. It conducts madrasa teachers training courses, of one month for new madrasa teachers and twoday refresher courses three times a year for existing madrasa teachers.
The KNM runs almost 100 Arabic Colleges or higherlevel madrasas across Kerala that are geared to training ulema or Islamic scholars. Students join them after finishing at least their tenth grade, which means, Thirupanachi explains, that all of the KNMs ulema are also at least matriculates. Of the KNMs Arabic Colleges, three are affiliated to Governmentrun universities, and use the syllabus prescribed by these universities. The others are autonomous, their syllabus being framed by the KNM authorities. Students in most of these colleges also appear as private candidates for universityconducted examinations for the Afzal ulUlema degree, which is now recognized as equivalent to a Bachelors of Arts degree.
The CIERs new madrasa books are now also being used in institutions other than the KNMs madrasas. Some Englishmedium schools are now using their texts for teaching Arabic, and the CIER is translating its Malayalamlanguage Islamic Studies texts into English so that they have a wider appeal outside Kerala as well.