By M Abdul Fathah
Recovering from colonial subjugation, marked by its antagonism toward Muslims, the situation of Muslims in Kerala during the 1970s was dismal. Migrations to the gulf countries, which benefitted Muslims in Kerala, were at its earliest phase. The Muslim community in Kerala was plagued with poverty, hunger, and lack of education. On the religious front, the Wahabis tried to deepen their roots in the company of traditional ulama. Overall, the situation of Kerala Muslims was hopeless.
Sheikh Aboobacker, a robust scholar, though without an international stature at the time, was engaged in thinking about finding a solution to the dismal social and education state of the community. Since his student days in the 1960s at Vellore Baqiyath, he had been toying with the idea of building a top notch institute for Kerala Muslims. After persistent efforts and reflections, his dream reached fruition, when on 18 April, 1970, he along with Sayyid Alavi Al Maliki, Mudarris of Mecca Haram and a prominent scholar, laid the foundation for the institute at Karanthur, Calicut. Thus, Markaz initiated a global connection with Muslims from its very beginning. Markaz went for an overhaul from the conventional practices in the realm of education. It sought educational resurgence of communities marginalized for multiple reasons. Many of the educational institutions in Kerala were solely suited to economically well-heeled people, capable of paying high fees for pursuing study. Markaz committed itself to the educational advancement of the economically marginalized.
Markaz, which has reached great heights in the 21st century, embarked on its journey by adopting 25 orphans. The institute fed them, clothed them, and above all educated them. Till date, 3500 orphans have graduated from the institute and held positions in India and across the globe. The students from the institute still fondly remember how Markaz shaped their life and how Sheikh Aboobacker acted as a father-figure actualizing their dreams.
At different times, Markaz has joined hands with other premier educational institutes worldwide and initiated educational projects suited to the demands of the modern world. With the launch of Markaz Shariat College in the 1980s, a more intensive study into Islamic theology by buddy scholars was made possible. Markaz’s fame and prestige soon reached other states of the country and hundreds of students came to study at the institute. To meet the requirements of these students, the syllabus in Urdu and Arabic languages was tailored for out of state students. More than 2500 students coming from out of Kerala have completed their courses at Markaz and played no small part in steering the religious and moral life in these states. The deep Islamic knowledge of these students has spurred ripple effects in social and creative domains.
At odds with the prevailing traditional institutes and liberal initiatives, Markaz went for an innovative blending of traditional wisdom and modern trends. Markaz Boarding and Hifdhul Quran College, which was built in 1986, embarked on this particular journey. When migration to the gulf countries intensified, the children of migrant workers appeared to be in need of a disciplined life and quality education. By gauging this prevailing situation, Markaz Boarding was initiated with the intention of meeting the moral and academic requirements of these children. In the past two decades, 700 students have come out of Markaz boarding and have played pivotal roles in dictating the course of contemporary establishments. Along with this, Markaz has also instituted aided and unaided schools, which offer quality education. Most of Markaz’s schools run in places considered to be backward in regard to education.
Since Kerala lacked a Quran study centre, the Markaz Hifdhul Quran College started a process that has produced numerous hafez, who have memorized the holy text by adhering to strict rules. These hafez groomed in Markaz lead imamates at global locations and keep the fire of faith burning in different parts of the world.
Over the years, Markaz has kept pace with the demands of the modern world. In the 1990s, Markaz made a foray into technical education by launching an Industrial Training Institute (ITI). This created employment opportunity for hundreds of students.
From its inception, Markaz has been committed to women’s education. It has provided ample educational opportunities for women, while keeping Islamic values intact. So far, 3000 girls have completed studies at Markaz Banath College, founded in 1992. Taking the educational institutions of Markaz as a whole, girls make up almost half of the total number of students.
Markaz believes in values of pluralism and patriotism. The schools run by the institute accommodate students from all walks of life cutting across religions. It has taken tough stands to preserve the integrity and unity of the country. The work of Markaz is not confined to Kerala. Sheikh Aboobacker’s insight into the social and educational condition of other states prompted him to spread the institute’s educational and humanitarian work to states such as Jammu & Kashmir, Gujarat, and West Bengal. Markaz does social work in places which are extremely backward in terms of opportunity for education and thousands in each state are beneficiaries of its educational ventures. The diversity of language and culture is encouraged without any attempt at homogenization. Forty years of social service has lessened the scale of marginalization and poverty for many. Markaz has constructed drinking water projects in rural pockets, supplied food and clothes in remote places, distributed boats to local fishermen, provided assistance with marriage, initiated development-oriented projects in villages, and generated employment opportunities for ten lakh people, including widows. Around one crore people across the country are beneficiaries of its services. Markaz has also emerged as a model for many other similar institutions in Kerala.
Markaz’s latest avant-garde educational project, the Markaz Knowledge City, aims to employ ultra-modern techniques. The planned knowledge city will be built over 125 acres in Puthuppady, Kozhikode district, as a replica of classical Islamic knowledge hubs. A Unani Medical College, Law College, and the Malaibar Institute of Advanced Studies now operate in the knowledge city. A cultural centre and an international school are also under construction. The Markaz Knowledge City is a good example of the educational and intellectual brilliance that Markaz professes.
Markaz recently celebrated its Ruby Jubilee on 5th, 6th, and 7th January, 2018. The three-day event drew a huge number of participants from India and abroad. The anniversary was celebrated with a Peace Conference, sessions tailored for various segments of society, and the convocation ceremony of its graduates, who are expected to champion its noble global vision and scientific knowledge.
P.S. Special thanks to Roshan Nurani for furnishing valuable information.
M Abdul Fathah is a freelance writer based at Madeenathunnoor College of Islamic Science, an autonomous unit of Jamia Markaz, Calicut, Kerala. His areas of interest include Indian Muslims, political terrorism, subaltern studies, Muslim cultural studies, etc.
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