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The madrassa issue in Pakistan

The madrassa issue
Nov 15: Many parents, if they felt that their children would get an education in public sector schools and be actually literate and numerate by the time they complete the primary cycle, would opt to send their children to these schools rather than the madrassas
A recent editorial in this paper has referred to the observation of a cleric, Mufti Sarfraz Naeemi, protesting against the unfairness of a situation in which the actions of a small minority give a bad name to Islam and the madrassa system of education that goes back centuries. ("A benign role for the madrassa?", November 11)

In the Mufti's view, it is a system that retains the capability of interfacing with the modern world. He makes the point that most madrassas, including the institution that he heads, are not training grounds for terrorists. And that if there are exceptions to the general rule, with some preaching violence or providing training in arms, it is the obligation of the government to find them and take appropriate action against the offenders.

There is much that is valid in what Mufti Naeemi has to say. The law of the land should be applied to any individual or institution that through what it propagates makes other citizens objects of hatred or encourages militancy and violence against them. The madrassa in this sense obviously cannot be an exception to the rule. As for the perception that, generally speaking, most of the madrassas are producing militants, more than one research study has established that facts do not support this contention, including the one carried out by Christine Fair in 2006, focusing on madrassas in Pakistan.

That having been said, it would be fair to point out that exceptions do exist and the fact that political support and international linkages have meant that many madrassas have had a measure of immunity from government action even when they may have been clearly contravening the law. In part, the government looked the other way in the past because 'motivated' young men willing to fight deniable and low-cost wars were in a sense a policy requirement.

Meanwhile, there were badly thought out reforms undertaken with respect to the madrassas. An aid-funded programme supposed to run from 2002-2003 for five years provided for the madrassas being given assistance to modernise their curriculum if they were willing to register themselves with the government. They were to be given assistance, for instance, with computers, the teaching of English, etc.

If the idea was to change the mindset, it was strange one at best. If the assumption that the use of computers and knowledge of English would change the worldview of the madrassa students were valid, we would not have the UK, for instance, having to deal with militancy issues among its Muslim youth. Most of them have had access to both.

Even when violence per se was not an issue in madrassa education, the orientation was by definition sectarian. Education, generally, should have served as a key site for diffusing the problem of sectarianism that had been aggravated during the Zia years. Yet there was no effective mechanism in the years that followed to roll back the damage of those years on the education system particularly by way of strengthening the madrassas and their increasingly strident campaign against those belonging to other sects.

The problem, therefore, with the madrassas is not that they are the perpetrators of violence. In most cases they are not. The problem lies in their sectarian bent and narrowly focused education that instead of taking forward Islam's universalist message promotes an attitude of exclusivism and intolerance. It deepens the schisms within society and creates in some ways a sympathetic environment for extremism.

Clearly, what is taught in the madrassas needs to be much more carefully regulated. Beyond that it is the parents right to send their child to a madrassa to get a religious education. And this is the motivation for many in the given circumstances. But few send their child to such an institution to learn hate and violence. In any case for most families poverty is a driving factor. A large number of madrassas actually provide free education to children of very poor families in the sense that they also take care of board and lodging. In a situation where the state provides very little by way of social safety nets, this is sometimes the only alternative available particularly where family size is relatively large.

One obvious way then for dealing with the issue is to ensure that public sector education delivers. Many parents, if they felt that their children would get an education in public sector schools and be actually literate and numerate by the time they complete the primary cycle, would opt to send their children to these schools rather than the madrassas.

As matters stand, that is not quite the case. The high dropout rate even at the primary level is at least in part due to the fact that there is little teaching or learning taking place in a large number of public sector schools. And without getting into a discussion over how much better the private sector schools are, the point is that the very poor cannot afford to pay even the low fees charged by many of these schools.

There is another dimension to the problem. Public sector schools may not be promoting sectarianism but they certainly appear to be doing very little to counter this menace. There is very little in the direction set by the curriculum, the textbooks provided to the schools (free but with the quality of the content leaving much to be desired) or the orientation and training of teachers that is geared to countering the message of hate and intolerance. This has to change even as a serious effort is instituted for madrassa reform.

Abbas Rashid
Abbas Rashid lives in Lahore and can be contacted at abbasrh@gmail.com (Daily Times)

Your Comments
"SAlaam.......... I AM VERY HAPPY THAT SOMEONE WAS BRAVE ENOUGH TO BRING UP SUCH TOPIC,, AND I AS A PARENT IS GREATFUL TO YOU, I AM ALSO FROM THOSE APRENTS WHO WANTS TO GIVE MY CHILD SUCH EDUCATION OF MADRASA. BUT I AM STILL UNDER ALOT OF TENSION ABOUT WHATS HAPPENING THESE DAYS TO MADRISAS, AND WHAT TYPES OF ACTIVTIES ARE BEING NAMED UNDER THESE CONDITIONS.BUT MY OPINON OF GIVING MYCHILD MADRISA EDUCATION NEVER CHANGED AND INSHALA NEVER WILL. BUT WHAT IS THERE A SOLUTION??? THAT WILLSORT OUT THIS ISSUE , OF PARENTS OUT THERE WHO WANT TO GIVE THIER CHILDREN SUCH EDUCATION, ARE THE CHILDREN GOING INRIGHT HANDS , AND I NO THEY ARE IN RIGHT HANDS IN MADRISA , BECAUSE THEY ARE IN ALLAHS PROTECTION, BUT IS THERE ANY POOSIBLE WAYS THAT OPNIONS ABOUT MADRISA CAN CHANGE AND EVERYTHING OF MADRISA EDUCATION GET BACK TO NORMAL???, OTHER THEN HAVING DOUBTS IN MINDS??????? BUT I WAS VERY IMPRESSED WHEN I READ YOUR ARTICLE, I YOU HAVE WRITTEN ANYMORE CAN YOU PLEASE EMAIL THEM TO ME ON THIS TOPIC AND SEND THEM ON THE EMAIL ADDRESSED ABOVE. THANKS "
Name: Sara
Email: rani_ji90@yahoo.com
City, Country: toronto, canada

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Virtual university, revolutionary examination system
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