“The integrated development of the principles of Islam and of scientific knowledge (tertiary education) must be achieved irrespective of gender”
~~ King Mohamed VI of Morocco (UNESCO Conference, 2000)
The book ‘A literary history of Persia, 1902)’ quotes Edward G. Browne from one of his speeches delivered in India in 1890 AD saying that- “when Caliphs of Baghdad and Cordova fostered education amongst their subject to the extent that every boy and girl of twelve could read and write, Barons, Lords and their ladies in Europe were scarcely able to write their names!” The Muslims however, distanced themselves from knowledge after the 15th century and therefore lost their dominance in world affairs. Literacy languished in all parts of the Islamic world. According to historian Donald Quataert, Muslim literacy rates were only 2 to 3 percent in the early 19th century. Even during the mid-20th century the situation was not satisfactory. Only few countries like Egypt, Tunisia, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Syria, Turkey and Albania had an average literacy of more than 30 percent.
The Muslims did excel in Poetry, music, painting, ceramics, architecture, metal work, etc. but very little interest was shown to the fast-developing modern education coming from Europe. However, after a long spell of slumber, Muslims all over the world have started to understand that, without modern knowledge and higher literacy, their exploitation by the inimical forces can now be checked. Fortunately, education has been remerging in the Islamic world during the recent past. Muslim countries are taking significant steps, largely because of the economic strength of oil, for the eradication of poverty and illiteracy. The effort is still not enough and needs an exponential jump. It is an irony that a religion whose Prophet was revealed the first verse as ‘Iqra’ which means ‘to read’ is having followers with highest illiteracy rate.
Higher education in all the disciplines of knowledge in the Islamic world needs serious attention. The global literacy rate (2017) is 82 percent (men, 87 percent; women 77 percent). However, this percentage falls drastically when Indian Muslims are taken into consideration. Indian Muslims have the highest proportion of youth (age 3-35 yrs) who had never enrolled in formal educational programmes. About 17% of Muslim men in this age group had never been enrolled for education. Similarly, for Muslim females, this ratio was 21.9% which is much lower than women of other religious groups. In contrast, Female enrolment in higher education is more than male enrolment in many Islamic countries, including Tunisia, Malaysia, Lebanon, Jordan, Bahrain and Libya.
Indian Constitution allows equality in terms of receiving education. There is no difference between a Muslim kid and a Hindu kid receiving education from any educational institution. In this scenario, a serious thought must be given about the unsatisfactory rate of literacy amongst Indian Muslims. There is no doubt that the Muslims are taking necessary steps, largely because of the level playing field provided by the Indian constitution and implemented by the sheer will of the government. However, to compete with the non-Muslims and for the eradication of poverty and illiteracy, a lot needs to be done. They must remember that education is fundamental for the development of any community, and higher education is a powerful tool for the eradication of poverty, boosting shared prosperity and making society strong enough to face challenging times.