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Victimization of Madrashah Students

Edit Date:12/30/2010 12:00:00 AM




Madrasa education is an integral part of the national education system of Bangladesh. Students in Bangladesh have been studying Islamic knowledge in Madrasas for hundreds of years.[1] Bangladesh Madrasa Education Board is established under section 3 of the Madrasah Education Ordinance, 1978. Under two circulars of the Government promulgated in 1985 and 1987, Dakhil and Alim examinations held under the Bangladesh Madrasa Education Board got the equivalent status of Secondary School Certificate (SSC) and Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) examinations respectively.

Madrasa students study Bangla and English consisting of 100 marks each instead of 200 marks as the general students do in secondary and higher secondary levels since some Islamic subjects including Arabic, Quran, Hadith etc. are taught in Madrasas besides other general subjects. This syllabus of Madrasa is prescribed by the government under the existing law. Accordingly Madrasa students have been studying in various Universities after completing higher secondary exam (Alim).

But the departments of Bangla and English of Dhaka University, for around ten years, have been requiring admission seekers to complete a course of 200 marks on the relevant subject at the higher secondary or equivalent level, making the Madrasa students ineligible. From 2007-2008, Department of Mass Communication and Journalism and in 2008-2009 session 4 other departments of Dhaka University imposed the same condition that an admission seeker must complete English and Bangla courses of 200 marks each at the higher secondary or equivalent level to be eligible to get admission to these departments.[2] As a result Madrasa students cannot get admission in 7 departments viz. the departments of Bangla, English, Mass Communication and Journalism, Sociology, Women and Gender Studies, International Relations and Linguistics.

In 2008, five DU admission seekers including Ibrahim Khalil, who secured GPA-5 in Madrasa Education Board Alim examination, filed a writ petition against the condition imposed by Dhaka University authority that disqualifies Alim graduates from enrolment into seven departments. The High Court (HC) bench of justices Syed Mahmud Hossain and Quamrul Islam Siddiqui on 26 November 2008 issued a ruling upon the Dhaka University authorities to explain why the new admission requirements that disqualify Alim graduates for admission to seven departments should not be declared illegal.[3] On 20 January 2009 the High Court (HC) declared illegal the Dhaka University's (DU) admission rules that disqualify Madrasa students.

The HC in its judgment said the Dhaka University Ordinance 1973 does not empower the academic committees of its departments to make such a decision of disqualifying the admission seekers who came out successful in the admission tests from admission to the University. The court said the government's decision to give Alim equal status to the Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) cannot be overridden by a mere departmental decision and the DU regulations cannot be violated by any department, which is under the laws.[4]

In an appeal preferred by the DU authority, a four-member full bench of the Appellate Division headed by Chief Justice MM Ruhul Amin upheld the High Court (HC) judgement and passed the order rejecting the DU's petition as unconstitutional on 28 January 2009.[5]

On September 2009 in a meeting of Academic Council, Dhaka University again decided to require that admission seekers must study Bangla and English courses of 200 marks each in order to get admission in 7 departments to the utter disregard of the judgment of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh.

Following Dhaka University, Jahangirnagar University also imposed similar condition of 200 marks for admission from 2010-11 session in 13 departments including all the departments in the Social Science faculty, closing the door for higher education for Madrasa students in those departments.

Illegality in the Decision

The decisions of Dhaka University and Jahangirnagar University to prevent Madrasa students from admission in several departments are against the provisions of law and the constitution.

The education ministry, in two circulars, declared that Dakhil and Alim exams will be considered of equal value to SSC and HSC exams respectively in 1985 and 1987.[6] The judgment of the High Court said that the government's decision to give Alim equal status to the Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) cannot be overridden by a mere departmental decision and the DU laws cannot be violated by any department, which is under the laws.

The Dhaka University Ordinance 1973 does not contain any provision that admission seekers must study Bangla and English courses of 200 marks each. The HC in its judgment said the Dhaka University Ordinance 1973 does not empower the academic committees of its departments to make such a decision of disqualifying the admission seekers who came out successful in the admission tests from admission to the University.[7]

The decision of the DU authority to bar Madrasa students from admitting in several departments is a clear violation of article 19 which states that, the State shall endeavour to ensure equality of opportunity to all citizens.[8]

Under article 27 of the constitution of Bangladesh, all citizens are equal before law.[9] The unjust decision to treat students of a particular education system in a different manner than the others contravenes this constitutional provision of equality. Moreover, article 28 specifically prohibits discrimination in admission to any educational institution: 28 (1) The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. … (3) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth be subjected to any disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to access to any place of public entertainment or resort, or admission to any educational institution.[10]

According to the preamble of the Constitution, the fundamental aim of the State is to realize through the democratic process a society in which the rule of law, fundamental human rights and freedom, equality and justice, political, economic and social, will be secured for all citizens.[11] Depriving the Madrasa students from getting the opportunity to get higher education undermines the very spirit of our constitution.

Article 17 of the Constitution provides that, the State shall adopt effective measures for the purpose of … relating education to the needs of society and producing properly trained and motivated citizens to serve those needs.[12] When a large part of the educated community is deprived of higher education, they are kept out of the opportunity to serve those needs our society.

Article 19 (2) of the Constitution says that, the State shall adopt effective measures… to ensure the equitable distribution of wealth among citizens, and of opportunities in order to attain a uniform level of economic development throughout the Republic.[13] This goal of the State cannot be fulfilled when students from a particular education system are discriminated in higher education and subsequently lags far behind in their career compared to other class of people within the same State.

Article 41 of the Constitution states that, subject to law, public order and morality every religious community or denomination has the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions.[14] Madrasas are the sacred institutions which cherish and propagate the knowledge of Islam among the Muslims in Bangladesh for centuries. But when the students of Madrasa are denied the access to get higher education and thus to participate in the mainstream national life, it threatens the very existence of the Madrasas in Bangladesh which violates article 41 of the constitution.

Human Rights Violation and Discrimination

According to article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights education is an inalienable human right of every person. This article clearly declares that, “higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.[15] So long as Madrasa education is recognised by law, this attempt to deprive a full class of students from higher education by imposing unreasonable condition is a clear violation of human rights.

Bangladesh is one of the signatories of International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966 and committed to observe its provisions. Article 13(c) of this covenant provides that, “Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education”.[16] The condition imposed by the DU authority amounts to the complete denial of equal access to higher education for thousands of Madrasa students.

It is a clear injustice to take away the opportunity to get higher education for thousands of students who have passed the same exams of equivalent status under the rules determined by law of the state. Dhaka University is a public University that is run by the tax paid by the citizens of Bangladesh. All class of citizens have equal rights to get admission in this University on the basis of merit without any discrimination.

We cannot expect Madrasa education to be moderated overnight. Because law of the state recognizes the Madrasa education system, a department of a University cannot impose conditions that affect graduates of a government approved education. If these departments really want to impose such conditions, they can inform the education ministry of their concerns and the changes they would like to make so that the ministry can act accordingly. Imposing conditions with immediate effect shatters the dream of those students who studied in Madrasa to acquire religious knowledge with an aim to go for higher studies in general subjects at Dhaka University. Clearly, it is unfair and unjust.

Dr. Maimul Ahsan Khan, Professor of Law in Dhaka University said, this condition amounts to discrimination. The University should have been more sensible. Madrasa students did not do any wrong, they have passed according to the rules. The University could have taken time and say that after the next five years those who have not studied 200 marks would not be eligible. But for the time being, the door should have been open for current students.[17]

History and Objective of Establishing DU

After the annulment of the Partition of Bengal in 1911, Viceroy Lord Hardinge perceived the dissatisfaction of Muslims at the government's decision for annulment and decided to pay an official visit to Dhaka to assuage the aggrieved community. A deputation of high ranking Muslim leaders, including Sir Nawab Khwaja Salimullah, Nawab Syed Nawab Ali Choudhury and A.K. Fazlul Huq, met him on 31 January 1912 and expressed their fears that the annulment would retard the educational progress of their community. As compensation for the annulment of the Partition, as well as protest against the general antipathy of Calcutta University towards Muslims, the deputation made a vigorous demand for a University at Dhaka. In response, Lord Hardinge acknowledged that education was the true salvation of Muslims and that he recommended to the Secretary of State for the constitution of such a University on 2 February 1912.[18] On July 1, 1921, the University started its journey but it faced financial difficulties. Rich Muslim families came forward to solve this problem including Nabab Nowab Ali Chowdhury.[19]

It is very unfortunate to prevent students from Islamic education system from admitting into the University which was established for the development of Muslims with direct assistance of the Muslim leaders. Such condition is not consistent with the objective of establishing Dhaka University.

DU Admission Test Results

In Dhaka University admission test of 2008-09 session, among the first 20 positions in Kha Unit, Madrasa students secured the 1st, 2nd, 10th, 17th and 19th positions. Abdul Alim (roll no. 108794), a student of Jamea Kasemia Kamil Madrasa of Norshingdi stood 1st and got 166.70 points out of 200. Selimul Kader (112245), a student of Garengia Islamia Madrasa, Chittagong became 2nd and Masum Billah (roll no. 128529) of Darun Najat Kamil Madrasa became 10th.

Abdul Alim, the 1st position holder, told the reporters, “I have become 1st by proving my competency; as a citizen of Bangladesh, education is my basic right and there should not be any discrimination in education”. [20]

Monir Hossein, holder of the 17th position, who achieved highest marks on English in the admission test (28.50 out of 30) could not get admitted in the English department due to the condition imposed by the DU authority. He said, “This rule is unjust, studying English and Bangla of 100 marks does not necessary mean that the student is weak in those subjects”.[21]

Vice Chancellor of Dhaka University A.A.M.S. Arefin Siddiqui commented, “There is no doubt that Madrasa students are meritorious, but as conditions have been imposed in six departments, they cannot admit into those subjects”.[22]

Similarly, in 2006-07 session, a Madrasa student Abdullah Al Aman stood 1st in Gha unit and 2nd in Kha unit of DU securing highest marks in English (28.50 out of 30). Siddik Ahmed Niloy, another Madrasa student, stood 1st in Gha unit of DU admission test in 2005-06 session. Such result proves that Madrasa students are not less competent in merit and language skill than other students.

Other World Class University Requirements

For undergraduate admission in English, Cambridge University only requires that the admission seeker has studied the subject English in A level or in any equivalent test.[23] It does not require that the subject must consist of 200 marks or anything else. No particular subjects at A level (or equivalent tests) are required for Politics, Psychology & Sociology.[24]

Nehru University of Delhi, India has no restriction for admitting Madrasa students. The Prospectus of this University for B.A. (Hons) requires “Certificate of Alimiah with at least 45% marks issued by any of the following Madrasas subject to the condition that the candidate has passed English language at the level of Senior Secondary from a recognised Board/University or a three year course conducted by Darul-Uloom Deoband…; Or Certificate of Maulvi with at least 45% marks issued by the Bihar Board of Madrasa Education.”[25]

In USA, Australia and many other countries, no condition regarding subject or total marks in higher secondary level is stipulated in order to get admission in the Universities. There are tests like GED, GRE, IELTS etc and University admission is wholly determined by the score in these tests (analogous to admission tests in our country). Even a Madrasa student from Bangladesh or Somalia can study in a top ranked University in USA if he has a good score in the above mentioned tests and the fact is, we already have many students from Bangladesh who are studying in USA and other top ranked Universities all around the world.

Comparison of English Curriculum

One of the major arguments of the DU authority for barring Madrasa students from admission is that they lack necessary English language skill due to the fact that Madrasa students take examinations for 100 marks instead of 200 marks.[26] Here is a comparative table of the English curriculum of both HSC and Alim examination.



Text Book: English for Today published by NCTB

Text Book: English for Today published by NCTB

Seen Comprehension (Sentence completion, MCQ, True/false, Match phrases, Open ended short question, Fill in the gaps, Making notes, Re-writing, Summary etc)

40 marks

Seen Comprehension (Sentence completion, MCQ, True/false, Match phrases, Open ended short question, Fill in the gaps, Making notes, Re-writing, Summary etc)

20 marks


20 marks


10 marks

Guided writing

40 marks

Guided writing

20 marks

Unseen Comprehension

40 marks

Unseen Comprehension

20 marks


20 marks


10 marks

Semi-guided to free writing

40 marks

Semi-guided to free writing

20 marks

Total marks

200 marks

Total marks

100 marks

From the above table it is obvious that both the students of HSC and equivalent Madrasa Alim examination have to study the same text book, the same topics in the same manner. If a Madrasa student wants to get full marks in, for example, seen comprehension, he has to study the same texts at the same degree as his counterpart in general education has to. A student will carry marks in the same proportion in both the examinations of HSC and Alim. Likewise, this equality exists also between the SSC and its equivalent Dakhil examination. The same is the case of Bangla in General and Madrasa education; textbooks and curriculum are the same in HSC and Alim.

Unreasonable Standard

The total marks in the examination do not alter the contents of the curriculum or the degree of proficiency in that subject. Therefore, poor English proficiency is not related to whether the students studied for 100 or 200 marks in English. If the teachers feel that the department requires students to be more proficient in English; they can set a requirement of higher scores in the admission test, or in the SSC, HSC and their equivalent tests, which will not discriminate among the students and serve the purpose. It is unreasonable to consider the total marks of the examination itself instead of the actual score achieved by a student in that examination. A score of 80 out of 100 is as good as a score of 160 out of 200. But the DU authority has declared the former as disqualified even to appear in the admission test.

If one student appears for 100 marks in English and another one appears for 200 marks, and then both of them take an admission test of the same standard and the former outperforms the latter, then theoretically the former is comparatively better. When a Madrasa student gets admitted into Dhaka University, he actually does so by outpacing the students who appeared for 200 marks. It is not the mercy of the admission authorities to enrol the Madrasa students; rather they struggle really hard to enter the higher education.

Prestigious Positions Held by ex-Madrasa Students.

Many former Madrasa students have been teaching in various departments of Dhaka University including departments of English, Bangla, Law, International Relations, Mass Communication and Journalism etc. For example, on November 27, 2008 after the decision of the International Relations Department to bar Madrasa students, Prof Ruksana Kibria, chairperson of the department told the reporters, two of our colleagues who earlier studied in Madrasa are now the academic committee member of the department.[27]

There are many Madrasa-background students who studied at Dhaka University and now work in important government and non-government organisations, United Nations and other international bodies, public and private universities, prominent English and Bangla dailies, banks and non-banking financial institutions, embassies of Western countries, multi-national companies, renowned business organisations, etc.

Appearing for 100 marks in English and Bangla instead of 200 did not bar them from going places in their professional as well as academic life. Interestingly, the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) of Dhaka University, considered the most prestigious educational institute of the country, does not require 200 marks in English at the HSC/Alim level, making way for several Madrasa students to study at the IBA, although studying here entails proficiency in English.

Many distinguished personalities who were ex-student of Madrasa have played glorious roles in our national life. Among them are former Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed, former Prime Minister Moudud Ahmed, National Leader Maulana Bhashani, Scientist Dr. Kudrat-e-Khuda, Linguist Dr. Muhammad Enamul Haq, Professor Dr. Syed Sajjad Hossain, Litterateur Shawkat Osman etc.

The Madrasa students are the bridge between the religious and secular communities of the country. For the sake of cohesion, integration and long-term benefit of the country, the mainstream higher education should not discriminate against them and alienate them. We cannot just segregate them from the society and relegate them to second-class citizens. Therefore the authorities must show respect to the constitution and rule of law and ensure equal opportunity of education for all students including the Madrasa students.





[1] Madrasah, Banglapedia, Asiatic Society of Bangladesh, 2007.

[5] The Daily Star, 27 January 2009.

[8] Article 19(1), Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh

[9] Article 27 of the Constitution: All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law.

[10] Article 28(1 & 3) of the Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh

[11] Preamble, 3rd para, Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh.

[12] Article 17, Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh

[13] Article 19 (2) of the Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh

[14] 41(1)(b), The Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh

[15] Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - 26(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

[16] Article 13(c), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966.

[17] Daily Naya Diganta, 1 December 2009

[18] Dhaka University, Banglapedia, Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.

[19] Daily Naya Diganta, 1 December 2009

[20] Daily Naya Diganta, 10 November 2009

[21] ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] “It is essential that applicants should have English Literature as one of their A level (or equivalent) subjects. Where straight English Literature is not offered at an applicant's school/college, the combined English Language and Literature is acceptable.”http://www.cam.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/courses/english/

[26] “Ninety five percent of the texts studied in the department are in English, if the new students don't have the necessary efficiency in English then how they will study?” said Prof Ruksana Kibria, chairperson of the international relations department, on the controversy over Madrasa students. – http://www.thedailystar.net/pf_story.php?nid=60239

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