Modern Madrassa

Posted Dec 03, 2010 by 3 Comments

“Finally, some time to myself!” I thought as I brushed my teeth.  “I’ve got so much work to get done…”

After spending the night in a rural village, Deshpande and I had taken a six hour train ride back to New Delhi.  We got in a little after midnight.  I was beat.

So in the morning, after sleeping in a little bit, I was ready to settle in for a day of writing, decompressing and maybe a bit of relaxation.  It was my first chance to work on articles in almost a week.

As I was getting ready for my much anticipated shower, Pranjal stopped by.

“Are you ready?”  He asked.

“Ready for what?” I said.

“Don’t you remember? We’re going out to Siddiqui’s school today,” he replied.

“Oh yeah…” I said, trying not to groan aloud.  A week before I had promised to come visit a “Modern Madrassa” run by a Truthseeker named Sharafat Siddiqui.  Normally I’d be happy for an experience like this, but that morning all I wanted to do was relax.

The neighborhood we visited on the East side of New Delhi.

Knowing that a simple “visit” would end up being a 4 or 5 hour affair, but not wanting to go back on my promises, I took a deep breath and said, “Ok… Yeah.  Let me go get dressed…”

Pretty Cool

I stayed a bit irritated throughout the hour-long auto rickshaw ride.  It was all I could do not to sigh loudly to let Pranjal know that I was, indeed, Mr. Grumpy Pants.

When we reached Siddiqui’s neighborhood, however, my attitude started to change.  We got off the rickshaw in the middle of an Islamic community absolutely packed with people.

We walked down the narrow, winding streets past meat markets, bakeries, and vegetable stalls.  The air was thick with the aroma of food and the stench of garbage.  There were flies everywhere… more flies than I think I’ve ever seen before.

Sharafat Siddiqui with his daughter.

“Ok,” I admitted to myself, “This is pretty cool…”

After getting a bit lost, we finally met up with Siddiqui.  He guided us even deeper into the neighborhood.  When we reached the school, he welcomed us inside and immediately ushered us up to an unfinished third floor with no roof.

A few minutes later, all the kids began filing up the stairs to join us.  They crowded into the small space and began arranging themselves in lines.

Seeing their bright eyes and wide smiles, my heart was softened.  I am a sucker for kids.  By the time I had introduced myself and sung a few songs with them, my bad attitude had completely melted away.


After a little while, the kids left and Pranjal and I sat down for chai with Siddiqui himself.  He told us a bit of his story…

Siddiqui’s students gathered for a group photo in the unfinished third floor room.

Sharafat Hussein Siddiqui was brought up in an orthodox Muslim family.  Through his childhood, Siddiqui grew in stature and knowledge and eventually became a revered imam in his village.  As he studied the Koran, however, he began to develop several questions about Jesus.

Although Jesus is referred to as a prophet in the Koran, a few things didn’t add up.  Siddiqui’s fellow imams gave him answers, but none of them completely satisfied his curiosity.

So Siddiqui turned to the Bible.  After reading many things that confused him, Siddiqui approached a Christian social reformer he had recently met for answers.  The man was Sunil Sardar.

A Whirlwind

What followed was a whirlwind of discovery and exciting revelations for Siddiqui.  Soon he considered himself a Christ-following Muslim and joined the Truthseekers movement.  Hearing Sunil’s message of hope and equality week after week, Siddiqui decided to apply what he now believed to the people of his own community.

The children attending Siddiqui’s Modern Madrassa are extremely poor.

In Siddiqui’s neighborhood, many people live extremely impoverished lives.  Outcaste from Hindu society and trapped in a cage of religious dogmatism, families in his community continue to perpetuate the cycle of poverty from one generation to the next.

One of the biggest problems with this, in Siddiqui’s opinion, is a lack of modern education for children.  Kids in his neighborhood are taught all about Islam and the Koran at their heavily conservative madrassas, but they are barred from learning anything about math, science, art and economics.

You can imagine how this would keep young people trapped in low-paying, menial jobs as they grow older.

So, despite a lot of opposition from conservative imams and a complete lack of funding, Siddiqui started a “Modern Madrassa” in his own small home.

Learning by Candlelight

Today, the school has grown to 59 students.  Every week they cram into three tiny classrooms, often learning by candlelight when the electricity turns off.

The dark rooms of Siddiqui’s house are a difficult place for children to learn.

The school doesn’t have enough teachers.  They don’t have enough money to give the kids more than a piece of fruit each day.  The third floor room will remain without a roof until they save up a few thousand more rupees.

But all of these hardships don’t quell Siddiqui’s enthusiasm.

“I want our people to be competent with the world,” he told me.

After chai, Siddiqui gave us a quick tour of the rest of the school.  The dark rooms and bare concrete walls reminded me of just how difficult it will be to reverse the tide of poverty in his community.

But if Siddiqui’s wild dream for a modern madrassa succeeds, it will be the start of something new… a generation of Muslim children growing up unafraid of the modern world, eager to break free of poverty and curious about just who this man Jesus really is…


As we prayed for Siddiqui before leaving I realized that the Modern Madrassa was exactly what I needed to see at the very end of my stay.

What will the future of these children be?

I needed to look into the eyes of children that now have a chance to succeed.  I needed to be reminded yet again of India’s desperate struggle for equality.  And I needed to be reminded that in the midst of it all, Truthseekers is there.

During the auto rickshaw ride back to New Delhi, I tried to remember just why I had been in such a bad mood that morning…


The next day I began packing my bags.  In just a little while I would be on my way to my next adventure.  Before putting my computer away, I briefly scrolled through the photos I had taken over my two weeks in India.

There, staring back at me, were elderly people and children, villagers and city dwellers, OBCs and Dalits, Hindus and Muslims… hundreds of beautiful faces reminding me of a truth I don’t want to forget:

Truthseekers is changing the world.

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Next Steps
    • Truthseekers periodically supports Siddiqui’s Modern Madrassa financially, and now you can too! Click here to make a donation, and don’t forget to put “Modern Madrassa” in the memo line.
    • Please pray for Siddiqui’s family. They are giving more than they are capable of giving to make this unique school a reality. Pray that God would bless them abundantly with food, clothing and health…
    • Pray for the Modern Madrassa itself. Pray that the school would be a resounding success and that its children would go on to pursue higher education.
    Next Steps

About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

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  1. Laura said... 


    December 3rd, 2010 at 4:31 am  

    It’s 2:21am and I’m pulling together notes and photos for a presentation at church this coming Sunday about my (and my son’s) recent experience with Truthseekers (we got home last Friday). To say that our lives have changed is an understatement that even we don’t fully comprehend yet. We also visited this school on the last day of our visit.

    Thank you so much for your articles; they have filled in some blanks for me and if you don’t mind, I’ll likely use some of the data/facts you collected. Isn’t India ‘the other side of the world’ in nearly every way? It was good to have met you and shared in some of this groundbreaking work that God is doing in India.

    I can’t help but think that I’ll be back. I think I may have left a little piece of my heart back there.

    Thanks for spreading the word….keep on keeping on, as I am sharing your web address with anyone who will listen!

  2. Jenny Fitzgerald said... 


    December 3rd, 2010 at 11:13 am  

    Barry ~ Blessings upon you, dear Brother! This story was so filled with hope. I am so grateful you said “yes” to visit the school ~ EVEN when you were so tired. I get that!!! Barry, I know I don’t comment after every article, but I am deeply grateful for the way you are allowing the Lord to use you. It’s just amazing!!! The deeper we look into the face of suffering the more we give the Lord opportunities to show us His HOPE. Thank you for your courage and your commitment to seeing the Lord in all places!

  3. Barry Rodriguez said... 


    December 3rd, 2010 at 11:28 am  

    Laura, feel free to use any info and/or stats from my articles. I’m just glad they are able to help!

    If you do happen to guide people to World Next Door in the process, of course, I won’t complain… :)

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