What is a Maktab/Madrasah?

Many Muslim children in the UK attend mosque, community centres, schools or private home settings in the weekday evenings or weekends to learn about their faith. These institutions are usually known as makātib (sing. maktab ), or madāris (sing. madrasah) and known as Islamic supplementary schools (Gilliat-Ray, 2011:153), with the latter normally reserved for formal institutions for higher learning, also known as Dār al ` Ulūm (Gent, 2006:18).

In modern Arabic, a madrasah denotes any educational institution from preschool to college or seminaries, secular or religious (Moosa, 2015:3). In the British Muslim customary context, both maktab and madrasah are used interchangeably. Therefore, the maktab / madrasah are supplementary schools functioning in out of school settings, and primarily providing Islamic religious instruction to children between the ages of 4 to 15 years. Most madrasahs are not-for-profit charitable organisations with limited budgets and supervised by volunteers.

The supplementary schools are often conducted in mosques, but due to the growing demands there are a number of madrasahs operating in community centres, public school properties and even private homes (Gilliat-Ray, 2011:153). There are a variety of supplementary schooling options available to Muslim parents all with distinct features. Whilst most operate from mosques and focus on the reading of the Qur’an and Islamic Studies, others provide additional learning, including the teaching of the mother tongue and other languages, especially Urdu and Arabic. Others offer life skills classes, scouting, and sports activities and function similar to youth or homework clubs (Halstead, 2005:132). A significant minority of Islamic supplementary schools even provide support for national syllabus subjects (Cherti et al, 2011b:5).

Whilst there is still much room for improvement in the sector, many specialists argue that “Madrassas (sic) can be seen as a potentially positive feature of British society” (Cherti et al, 2011b:6). IPPR in one of the most extensive researches done thus far on Islamic supplementary schools, insists that the madāris can be an immense source for good. The paper suggests that as well as reinforcing cultural, linguistic and religious identities, the madāris can help in strengthening community ties, give confidence to the children to explain their faith to others, and reinforce principles of good citizenship (Cherti et al, 2011b:5-6).