Published: 30th April 2019
I was a Madrasa student and I'm not an extremist: Meet the JNU grad who cleared UPSC and wants to bust myths on Islam
Shahid Raza Khan is a PhD researcher in JNU's Centre for West Asian Studies. Having studied in a Madrasa as a child, he talks about the wrong interpretation of Islam and Jihad
Did you know that Madrasas and Mathas were always regarded as excellent centres of education in our country, asks Shahid Raza Khan. "The modern education system in India developed only after the British invasion. Even today, we have a lot of prodigies coming out of our Madrasas," he tells us. A Madrasa alumnus himself, this JNU researcher cleared this year's UPSC examinations, bagging the 751st rank. Someone who's been researching and working towards busting the myths surrounding Islam, Shahid says, "I was a Madrasa student and trust me, I'm not an extremist."
Shahid's family, which consists of his mother, father, seven brothers and four sisters, hails from a small village in Bihar's Gaya district. He spent the first 15 years of his life there. Initially, he was enrolled in a government school, but the school eventually closed down. Following this, his father sent him to a Madrasa nearby. "I studied there for 2-3 years, primarily learning the Quran and Islamic history. In 2007, I appeared for the class X board exam privately. Later, I went on to study in Aljamaitul Ashrafia in Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh, which is among the best Madrasas in the country," says Shahid. In 2011, he was enrolled in JNU for BA (Hons ) Arabic Language, where he also did his Master's and his MPhil.
It was during his time in the Madrasa that Shahid developed an interest in the Civil Services. "I'd often contemplate what career path to choose. At one point in my life, I badly wanted to be the District Magistrate. I didn't know that I had to clear the UPSC exams for that. All I knew that was the exam to become the DM is quite difficult. I'd even read books on General Knowledge inside the Madrasa and my friends would remind me that it is not part of our course," he says.
He says that the reason he joined JNU was to prepare better to clear the exams. "'I wanted to be in a place where academics is given prime importance. During my first two years there, I'd study on my own. In the third year, I attended UPSC coaching," he says. But despite intense preparation, Shahid failed to clear the exam in both 2014 and 2015. But he wasn't ready to give up. "I knew that something was wrong with my study strategy. So, I took a two-year break from giving exams and started preparing better. Meanwhile, I qualified for JRF in JNU and that funded my studies. I then went on to join the Jamia Residential Coaching Academy," he says. This was a gamechanger for Shahid. "I used to get individual feedback from my fellow students. That is where I learned the need for writing specific answers and drawing diagrams. Two months of training later, I cleared the mains," he says.
Shahid now plans to write the exam again, this time with better preparation to obtain a better rank. At the same time, he needs to work on his dissertation and research too. He also talks to us about his area of research, through which, he wishes to bust a lot of existing myths about Madrasas and Islam. "My MPhil dissertation and PhD is on Jihadism and Islamic extremist thinking. I am working to find the reason behind extremism and its perceived relation to Islam," he says.
He also observes how Jihad essentially means a struggle against the evil inside oneself. "Because of the terrorism in West Asia, a perception has been formed that Madrasa students are extremists, conservatives and fanatics. This is a myth. The way religion is used for political gains is what is giving Jihad a wrong perceptive," he says, adding that extremism can occur anywhere and can be independent of religion. "It isn't necessarily related to ideologies. There are chances that specific groups can use ideologies to attract people towards extremism," he says.