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What next for Pakistan”s Madrassas? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A Pakistani student studies in the madrassa

A Pakistani student studies in the madrassa

A Pakistani student studies in the madrassa

ISLAMABAD Asharq Al-Awsat – The recent London bombings have brought Pakistani madrassas (religious schools) and foreign students studying in these institutions under sharp international focus leading to the initiation of a rigorous debate on both sides of the Pakistani border that is both inside and outside the country on the role of these religious institutions.

After the bombing in London in which approximately 54 people lost their lives, some British officials alluded to Pakistani madrassas saying that, &#34what has been going on in these institutions is now a matter of concern for us&#34.

It has also been alleged that madrassas are the source of extremism and militancy as some of them are also providing military training for their students. The fact that three out of the four London suicide bombers were of Pakistani origin and had recently visited Pakistan to spend time in madrassas, led to more scrutiny and intensive debate in the media regarding the role of Pakistani madrassas in the spread of extremism.

Apparently, Musharraf”s government has begun a pronged operation to rid the Pakistani religious institutions, the madrassas, of foreign students and to introduce changes in their curriculum in order to purge the institutions of any possible extremism. The decision to expel foreign students from madrassas was announced immediately after the London bombing, however so far there has been no forced expulsion of foreign students from these religious institutions.

The government says that its decision to expel the foreign students from the madrassas is final and irreversible. However, at the same time religious figures are engaging in talks regarding all issues related to the function of madrassas in Pakistan as well as the fate of foreign students. According to government estimates, there are around 10,000 religious educational institutions in the country teaching religious education to students based on a curriculum formed by 17th century religious scholars of British India.

Officials said that the government has also decided not to issue any visas to foreigners whose intentions of coming to Pakistan are to join these religious educational institutions. Additionally, there are two existing laws with which the government intends to promulgate a new ordinance for banning the attendance of foreign students into Pakistani religious institutions. Some officials indicated that the ban would also apply to students of dual nationality.

The fact that the three out of four bombers were of Pakistani origin and had visited Pakistan before the bombing led Pakistani security agencies to investigate all leads connected to them. &#34We are still in the process of investigating whom they met during their stay in Pakistan, their telephone contacts and all other details,&#34 said a senior security official to Asharq Al-Awsat.

The law enforcement operatives have carried out some arrests related to the London bombings, however they later clarified that none of them were responsible for the London bombings in any way.

Pakistani madrassas came under sharp scrutiny due to allegations made by western countries that they are the source of extremism and militancy as some of them also impart military training to their students.

Most of the madrassas located in Pakistani provinces close to the Afghanistan border had played a crucial role in supporting the Taliban movement during its formative phase and additionally after the US attack on Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11. Some of the major madrassas declared holidays to enable their students to join the Taliban in their fight against US attacks.

Interestingly, the number of madrassas increased during General Zia Ul-Haq”s rule (1977-1988) when the US was sending money, arms and ammunition to Afghanistan for their struggle against Soviet occupation through Pakistan, money that was said to have been used to support the madrassas as well.

In April 2002, according to the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the number of madrassas was estimated to be approxiametely 10,000 with 1.7 million students. They belonged to the major sects of Islam: the Sunnis and the Shias, but mostly the former, as Pakistan is a predominantly Sunni country. Besides these, the revivalist Jamat-e-Islami also has its own madrassas. However, independent experts believe that the government estimations are not completely accurate as there are a number of non-registered madrassas functioning in the remote areas of Pakistan as well as in the heartland of the country. The unofficial estimates put the total number of madrassas in Pakistan to around 15,000.

The government initiated a process of voluntary registration of madrassas some two years back, however the process was unsuccessful as it faced resistance from the heads of these institutions who abhorred any attempt of interference in the affairs of their institutions.

During the last two or three years, the Musharraf government promulgated two ordinances aimed at checking extremism and militancy in madrassas. The first was aimed at introducing secular subjects in them. This ordinance, called the ”Pakistan Madrassa Education (Establishment and Affiliation of Model Dini Madaris) Board Ordinance 2001” was promulgated on 18 August 2001.

Three model institutions were established each in Karachi, Sukkur and

Islamabad. Their curriculum includes subjects such as English, Mathematics, Computer Science, Economics, Political Science, Law and Pakistan Studies. These institutions were not welcomed by the ”ulama”, the religious scholars. However, there is a very small minority which has supported the government to modernize religious institutions.

Another law was then introduced to control the enrollment of foreigners in the madrassas and to monitor them. This law, called Voluntary Registration and Regulation Ordinance 2002, has however, been rejected by most of the madrassas which want no state interference in their affairs. Despite their obvious focus on religious subjects within these institutions, the curriculums also include secular subjects, though with less emphasis. In Pakistan, all types of madrassas teach the same curriculum that in turn is based on ”regulatory subjects” (Dars-i-Nizamiyya) as designed by the religious scholars of 17th century British India. However, madrassas belonging to each sect have modified the Dars-i-Nizamiyya according to the requirement of its own sect.

Subjects within the Dars-i-Nizamiyya curriculum are based on human reason; therefore their books include grammar, logic and philosophy. In the post-independence period the Ulama, (the religious scholars), also introduced subjects such as history and more recently computer science; however the educational emphasis on religious education, such as sharia, fiqh, hadith & religious polemics, remains intact.

Mulla Nizam-ud-din, 18th century religious scholar of British India is recognized as the author of Dars-i-Nizamiyya that expanded to include a number of books on each of the various subjects of Maqulat (human reasoning): Arabic grammar, logic, philosophy, mathematics, rehetoric, fiqh (jurisprudence) and theology. Quran and Hadith are only marginally studied; the former via two commentaries, the latter through one abridgement&#34 says Barbara Metcalf, the author of the famous book, Islamic Revival in British India. The later scholars reversed the emphasis from Maqulat to Manqulat (transcribed knowledge) however; the basic framework of the curriculum has been retained to this day. Historically, Dars-i-Nizamiyya was designed at a time when Muslim political power was on the decline in the Indian sub-continent and the British were gradually assuming political and military control of the area that was once under the sway of Muslim power. Experts says that Dars-i-Nizamiyya is a product of a period in time when educated Muslim men were making endeavors to preserve the Islamic intellectual heritage in India in the face of the collapse of the Mughal Empire.

In the post-Independence period the Madrassas Education system retained Dars-i-Nizamiyya curriculum, however in some cases it was greatly amended to suit either the requirements of time or the requirements of the particular sect to which the madrassas owed allegiance. For instance, the Madrassas run by the revivalist Islamic movement Jamat-e-Islami included the books of its leaders on subjects such as history and the country”s current political and economic situation. However most experts believe that Madrassa education does not automatically lead to the spread of violence and militancy throughout the society. The spread of militancy in Pakistan”s religious institutions emerged only after madrassa education was coupled with military training, hence breeding a particular violent political ideology.

Professor Tariq Rehman, who teaches history at Quaid-e-Azam University, said that the madrassas became militant when they were used by the Pakistani state to fight in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation. Despite the centuries-old curriculum being taught in these institutions, the students of the Madrassas do have militant views about most of the foreign policy issues confronting Pakistan and the region. Some of these students when asked expressed willingness to join ongoing militant struggles in the surrounding regions. &#34I don”t know if it will affect the country,&#34 said a Pakistani madrassa student located in Islamabad who refused to be identified by name. He continued, &#34I am willing to join the Jihad going on in Kashmir and Afghanistan against the infidels&#34.

Some of the students possessing dual nationality (foreign nationals of Pakistani origins) were extremely critical of the Musharraf government decision to ban foreign students from studying in Pakistani institutions.

&#34There is no military training going on here and no extremism being taught. Why does the government want to deprive us of religious education?&#34 said an American national of Pakistani origin studying in an Islamabad religious institution. Some students even vowed to go to the courts if there was an attempt to evict them from the Madrassas.

However, heads of the madrassa institutions say they are engaged in dialogue with the government and they have had some positive indications during their recent meetings and discussions. &#34We have considered the option of going to the supreme court,&#34 said Chairman of Itehada-Tanzeem-Ul-Madrassas, Mufti Muneeb-Ur-Rehman. &#34But we think that it is not appropriate at this stage regarding these issues as we are still engaged in discussion with the government&#34. He also hoped that no individual or madrassa would violate the decision of the apex body to go to court since it would vitiate the environment for dialogue.

On the other hand, there are groups, which are advocating legal

battle against the government decision to evict foreign students from

madrassas. The Law Minister of the NWFP government, Zafar Azam recently vowed to go to court against government moving against the expulsion decision since it defies the constitution. The NWFP government is a coalition of six religious political parties.

Similarly the central leader of the religious alliance MMA, Hafiz Hussein Ahmed is strongly advocating legal recourse against the expulsion decision.

Most of the non-political leaders of madrassas institutions are hopeful that there would be no forced expulsions of foreign students before the end of the current academic year. In the course of the last four years, the Musharraf government has banned some ten militant organizations responsible for infiltration into the Indian held Kashmir, Afghanistan and for sectarian violence inside the country. Most members of these organizations have also joined Madrassas located in different parts of the country.

Most of the Madrassas are funded by charity donations from minor tradesmen, the lower middle class and rich businessmen. Reportedly, foreign governments are also funding some of the madrassas, however there are no official records to support this claim. Three years back the government also started funding the institutions in order to help them modernize their textbooks and include secular subjects as part of the curriculum. According to official figures in 2001-02 a total of 1,654,000 Pakistani rupees was distributed among the madrassas. During the past three years, the Ministry of Religious Affairs has also provided some institutions with funding in order to introduce computer classes into the curriculum.

Consequently since most of the students at these institutions come from the lower classes of the society, the madrassas does not charge them any tuition fee, but only a nominal admission fee for initial admission enrollment. These students are also provided with free boarding and lodging. According to a recent survey conducted by a Lahore-based educational institution, more than half of the students join the institutions due to economic reasons. This is because the institutions offer a free education and this is the only educational establishment where students of lower social classes can earn an education.

Most of the teachers in these institutions share the same socio-economic background of their students. Coming from poor backgrounds, they are usually offered good salaries if serving in leading institutions that attract students from all over the world. &#34However there is no fixed salary system for teachers in all the institutions and salaries vary from institution to institution&#34 said a senior journalist well-informed and associated with religious forces in the country.

&#34As they are also from poor backgrounds they express their sense of being cheated by society in the idiom of religion. This gives them the self-righteousness to fight against the oppressive and unjust system in the name of Islam,&#34 said Tariq Rehman in one of his presentations in a seminar.

Other financial details regarding madrassas are the auditing of their accounts. &#34We regularly subject our accounts to auditing by government authorized audit companies&#34 said Mufti Muneeb-U-Rehman, the chief of Tanzeem-Ul-Madarass (the organization of madrassa schools) in Pakistan. &#34Madrassas in Pakistan are serving the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs),&#34 said another official from Tanzeem-Ul-Madrass Pakistan that oversees several madrassas in Pakistan. He continued, &#34They are run on donations from people from all walks of life&#34. Senior Interior Ministry officials said that madrassa accounts” auditing is a recent practice in Pakistan, or at least it has been applied rigorously only recently.

The support for these religious institutions usually comes from leaders of religious-political parties who vehemently defend the institutions and the education that they are providing. Two weeks ago, the alliance of six religious parties staged a countrywide protest in defense of Madrassa education and against government interference. On the other hand the government has also started the dialogue process with the overseeing bodies of these institutions for the sake reform.

During recent developments, British and U.S. diplomats visited one of the largest Pakistani institutions Jamia Binoria in Karachi at the invitation of the institution administration. The invitation apparently aimed at building pressure on the government to reverse the decision regarding foreign students to study in Pakistani madrassas. &#34We will do our best to help our foreign students complete their studies in Pakistan; our efforts may take us to the court&#34 said Mufti Naeemi, Instructor and Chief of the Jamia Bonaria to journalists in Karachi few days back. The federal and provincial governments have convened meetings with the heads of Madrassas to convince them that the expulsion of foreign students from their institutions is a necessity. However Qazi Hussein Ahmed, leader of the Jamat-e-Islami that is responsible for around 1500 institutions of its own and hosts a number of foreign students from

Europe and Asian Muslim countries, said that the ban on foreign students would go against national interests. Most of the independent experts believe that in the case that the dialogue process does not make any headway; the controversial debate regarding madrassas might find its way to the country”s superior courts leading to a legal battle after all.

A Pakistani student studies in a madrassa

A Pakistani student studies in a madrassa

Students read Qu'ran in a madrassa

Students read Qu’ran in a madrassa