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Pakistan's madrassa troubles

July 14: President General Pervez Musharraf told the nation Thursday that his government would not allow any madrassa like the Lal Masjid complex to exist. He pledged that seminaries spreading militancy, extremism and terrorism in the country would be crushed. He also referred to his old stance on the subject, saying that not all madrassas were seats of defiance and revolt against the state, and lamented that his defence of the seminaries to the outside world was undermined by Lal Masjid.

It is unfortunate that many Pakistanis, however well meaning, still think that unless a madrassa declares its defiance of the state and mobilises its acolytes as vigilante groups, it is actually making a positive contribution to the task of educating the poor population of Pakistan. The argument is that since the state is unable or unwilling to provide for the poor, the madrassas fill this void and thereby perform a useful educational function.

Yet it is clear to all that a madrassa is not the place where our children can be made ready for the job market. We also recognise the truth, albeit unwillingly, that the proliferation of the mosque in Pakistan has taken place because the madrassa graduate, rejected by the job market, has to build or acquire his own mosque to become a breadwinner. So crucial is the mosque as an adjunct of the madrassa that many "empowered" madrassas of the Deobandi variety have been seizing the Barelvi mosques to "settle" their new graduates. In Karachi, there is a major Deobandi-Barelvi battle over mosques thus grabbed.

The fact is that few scholars have examined the psychology of the madrassa acolyte. Most people simply scrutinise the dars-e-nizami syllabus taught there and find it harmless, even though it is unrelated to the contemporary environment. But one reliable study done by Pakistani scholar Dr Tariq Rehman has revealed that madrassa students have more hardline views on such subjects as non-Muslims and women in Pakistan than Urdu and English medium schools geared to the job market. The extremism of the sermons issued from the mosque on a daily basis reflects the worldview imbibed in the "regular" madrassas.

Pakistan's moderate scholar of Islam, Mr Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, a member of the Council of Islamic Ideology, says that the induction of the madrassa clergy and students into the Afghan war in the 1980s and the 1990s has empowered them to a point where they can set their own agendas and challenge the state. In an interview with Business Plus TV channel, the girl students of Jamia Hafsa clearly echoed the clerical view of the doctrine of amr (encourage the good) and nahi (oppose the bad) as grounds for vigilante action "because the state doesn't end activities banned in Islam". They also said that the Quranic verse la ikrah fi din (no coercion in religion) meant freedom is allowed before Islam is embraced but not afterwards.

The clerical consensus on Lal Masjid was based on a rejection of the state-within-the-state created by the Rashid-Aziz duo, not the "banned activities" that the two were attacking. The tendency to prejudge "activities" without first challenging them at the Federal Shariat Court points to the tendency of the clergy of the "good" madrassas under Wafaqul Madaris Arabiya to forgive the pious trespasses of their acolytes. Vigilante action is rampant in the country. Any incident of pages of the Quran found lying on the ground immediately leads to the burning of public property, something that never happened before the clergy was hugely empowered through jihad.

There may be 40,000 registered and unregistered madrassas in Pakistan. According to the minister for religious affairs, Mr Ijazul Haq, almost 15,000 have been brought under the new regime of imparting "worldly subjects" to enable the graduates to get absorbed in the job market. Yet the statements made by the clerics of Wafaqul Madaris do not reflect any desire to make the seminary graduates good for any job other than a khateeb of a mosque. So the truth is that the seminary fundamentally performs the task of isolating the children through a "sealing process" represented by dars-e-nizami, then brainwashing them with doctrines no longer practised by the state, and then pushing them to a rejectionism whose high point is vigilante action under the doctrine of amr and nahi.

The president thanked Wafaqul Madaris in his speech. The Wafaq has struck back by announcing a campaign against him. The campaign - in which the acolytes will be used in their vast numbers - will be exploited by the MMA whose religious parties defend the madrassa system as its hinterland of street power. Under President Musharraf the madrassas in Pakistan have doubled in number. It is because his policies have threatened those that the state empowered in the past 20 years. Therefore the madrassa is actually hitting back, not being defensive. Daily times
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