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In search of madrassa reform

June 2008: The newly elected government representing the General Will, in a big way, has crossed the Rubicon in addressing grave concerns haunting the country. Though it is difficult to pinpoint easily the priorities, due to the nature of the mess passed on by the "supremo" to the democratic coalition, the War on Terror appears to have impinged our lives all the way. Given the nature of the military operations etc conducted at home against suspects, who at times turned out to be usual suspects, pubic peace has become a far cry. The harsh policies pursued perpetually by the Ancient Regime appears to have boomeranged, almost, exponentially, which has produced death and destruction on a large scale in response to the "sound and fury" bellowed, generally, from abroad. Conscious of their accountability to the public, the government has launched a new initiative which is dictated by prudence, culture and the fear of God.

Instead of killing the "bad guys" or others by hurling bombs and missiles indiscriminately, like in a video game; amnesty is offered to those who may have become "bad guys" due to the imperious approach. The disregard for human life, property etc generally, on the part of the forces, particularly foreign, operating from across the border with Afghanistan appears to have helped the Taliban recover their lost ground in the country (Afghanistan). As a collateral dividend, they have managed to raise the ante in Pakistan, especially FATA.

Despite the Bajaur -bloomer bowled from across the border and the Mardan-Islamabad bombings blamed on extremists, the conciliatory process is on course. If both sides stick to stopping the shedding of blood unnecessarily prohibited by God as well as pakhtunwali the reprieve may turn out to be the vital turning point. While the first major step for a rapprochement has been taken by the coalition, a review of the strategy is badly needed to bolster efforts at dousing the fires which are burning our area. Public peace in a state presupposes the willing cooperation between the people and their government in return for social justice and economic well being of all. A democratic entity is handicapped in being manifestly answerable for its performance to the electorate unless, as per our funny history, the army intervenes to gerrymander the elections to ensure "positive results." Therefore it is incredibly important that the government takes steps which would weaken the growth of extremism. Such moves if successfully executed would supplement and strengthen the fire-fighting done by way of the pacification in hand.

The reform of the madrassa system, long overdue, stands out as a crying need. It is difficult to deny the unique contribution of genuine madrassas to our religious ethos during the period of the British Empire in India. Such institutions lifted the morale of the downtrodden Muslims after they were rendered pariahs in their own country after losing power. Their mission of spreading religious education with a positive interpretation of the Islamic tenets after the disastrous experiences of 1857 produced stalwarts like Sir Syed Ahmed, Allama Iqbal, the Quaid-i-Azam etc. Unfortunately as we have lagged behind in achieving our educational targets since 1947, our society tends to be bogged down in ignorance and dogmatism.

Since the advent of Pakistan, the madrassas were, generally, doing a good job imparting balanced religious education. Zia on seizing power through a coup saw that his only chance of success lay in exploiting Islam. The conduct of certain political elements in those fateful days would remain an enigma. It is axiomatic that national interest was not the priority of the motley crowd. No wonder they supported the usurper adding another confounding chapter to our decrepit history.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan came as a God-sent for Zia. He initially imparted some help to our Afghan-brethren. Soon, as usual, the US started warming up to him to avenge their defeat in Vietnam as per Brezinski. A mushroom growth of such madrassas erupted which inculcated jihad by Muslims against the "Godless Communism" in occupied Afghanistan. The information disseminated by the CIA on the subject in Pakistan was immensely inspiring. Accordingly it, almost, became a bustling business for these schools to churn out "cannon fodder." No wonder these ventures were liberally funded by the US till the Soviets surrendered which heralded their empire's end.

As there is no "free lunch" in US, the Pressler Amendment froze aid to Pakistan despite the latter's protestations that the aftermath of the Afghan jihad warranted some crisis management by the victors. The rest is recent history whereby the wheel has come full circle in the post 9/11 world. Prime Minister Bibi (Shaheed) in the mid-nineties was very conscious of the likely repercussions of the tragic civil war in Afghanistan and the growing role of madrassas. She attached great graveness to the reforms process which would project an enlightened version of Islam with its emphasis on peace co-existence. This belief she has been extensively brought out in her last book.

Accordingly she set-up an inter-ministerial Committee under Interior Minister General Babar. It had a diverse representation of MNAs and religious leaders and I was made the member-secretary. Till then, the federal government did not have the complete facts about such schools. So the provincial governments were asked to help the committee with such details. The committee, meanwhile, deliberated on reforming the prevailing system. Every member including Maulana Fazalur Rehman and Qazi Hussain Ahmad from the religious factions stood by the proposal. Some were extremely enlightened. Unfortunately, only two meetings could be held before the "secret hand" struck to "dismiss" the elected government. The progress was also retarded, as the provinces, due to indifference or some peculiar problems, did not complete the task given to them. Precious little appears to have been done by the Musharraf-regime on this front.

While the new leaders are already taking the bull by the horns, still serious action on the subject remains wishful. By a coincidence the prestigious seminary at Deoband has ruled last week that "The religion of Islam has come to wipe out all kinds of terrorism and spread the message of global peace." This lead can inspire other sects too. It will help the Globe if those who monopolise power and commit excesses due to its arrogance learn to live like balanced people. Such conduct would lessen the sufferings of the Muslims at their hands. Given a congenial environment, the Muslims would, generally, pursue their religion as a message of peace. A reformed seminary system in Pakistan etc would hold the key to the fulfilment of such a noble design.

By I. M. MOHSIN
The writer is a former secretary interior : E-mail: imnor@brain.net.pk (The Nation)
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