Madrassas education and militancy
Madrassas education, Islamic extremism and militancy
Islamabad, Oct 25: Madrassas or Islamic seminaries figure prominently in the discourse on Islamic
extremism and militancy in Pakistan. This debate is highly polemical. The people
associated with or sympathetic to madrassas describe them as neutral academic
institutions devoted to teaching the Quran, the Sunnah and related religious
matters. They project them as voluntary organisations engaged in national
service, as these provide free food, shelter and education to students,
invariably from the poor families, and argue that madrassas have nothing to do
with extremism and militancy.
The other extreme perspective views the
madrassa as the stronghold of religious extremism and militancy. Almost all of
them have a religious-sectarian disposition and socialise children into a narrow
religious worldview that inculcates intolerance and bigotry.
most madrassas provide free education, food and shelter to a large number of
students. These institutions cannot be viewed as neutral seats of learning. Some
linkages can be identified between madrassa education and environment and
militancy but other factors also contribute to religious extremism and
The term madrassa covers a variety of institutions, from small
rudimentary centres for teaching the Quran and fundamentals of Islam to formal
institutions that award religious certificates and degrees. Some such
institutions have elaborate showpiece structures with formal hierarchies. In
case of the rudimentary centres, students may be studying in regular schools but
they go to these centre for learning the Quran and the basics of Islam. These
may or may not be attached with local mosques, and play a limited role in
shaping the orientations of their students.
However, the madrassas that
serve as the only source of education and learning for young children are
critical to shaping their orientations. Semi-literate mullahs with a narrow
religious worldview teach the students in most madrassas. Many parents send
their children to these madrassas because education is free and discipline is
strict. Then, there are formal and elaborate institutions that have qualified
teachers and offer various religious degrees.
A new breed of madrassas is
emerging in urban areas, which combines formal school/college education with
religious education. The students go for formal state-managed examinations for
regular degrees but get additional Islamic education, which is taken care of by
the institution itself. These charge tuition fees.
madrassas and university-like showpiece institutions are small in number. Most
madrassas are giving narrow-based purely religious education that is devoid of
modern text and knowledge. An important study by Dr Mumtaz Ahmad, published in
April 2009, maintains that the curricula of the madrassas "have not undergone
any significant changes in their core content since inception in the 19th
century." He maintains that "some modern subjects such as English, history,
Maths, etc., have been introduced in several madrassas, especially at the
elementary level, and some large madrassas have started some specialised courses
on Islamic economics and finance. However, in an overwhelming majority of cases
the higher level madrassas remain committed to their traditional curriculum."
The qualifications of the teachers who teach modern subjects and what texts are
being used for these subjects is not clear..
It may be difficult to give
their exact number because not all of them are registered with the government.
The most rudimentary ones are not invariably taken into account by the
authorities. In 2007, there were 14,072 registered madrassas. The actual number
of all kinds of madrassas is likely to be around 20,000.
boards oversee their academics and examination, each representing a religious
denomination. These madrassa boards have traditionally opposed government
efforts to reform religious education, describing it as an unjustified intrusion
in their affairs. The madrassas of all schools of Islamic thought joined
together to resist the efforts of ZA Bhutto in 1976 to increase government
In August 2001, before the terrorist attacks in the United
States, the Musharraf government issued an ordinance to regulate the religious
schools, which was opposed by these boards. The boards later came together to
set up a federation of their boards to oppose the government's
Another ordinance, issued in 2002, was equally opposed by the
madrassa establishment. Later, the government accommodated some of their
objections by reducing the requirements for information on their working and
sources of funding. This opened the way for a relatively smooth registration
process. The madrassa reforms under the Musharraf government had limited impact
because the madrassa boards were not fully cooperative. Further, the ruling PMLQ
did not want to alienate the madrassa establishment by insisting on the
The madrassa boards want the government to recognise their
degrees as equivalent to various degrees from the formal education system.
However, they do not want the government to look into their academic affairs,
including curricula, qualifications of teachers and sources of
Madrassa education emphasises a literalist approach towards
religious text. It is highly conservative, monolithic and sectarian in
perspective, and questions the legitimacy of those who do not share their
perspective on religion and society. Their worldview is characterised by
hostility towards whosoever is described as an adversary. This could be
non-Muslims and those Muslims who are viewed as misguided or
Invariably, the madrassas have sectarian education. Some
madrassas that label themselves as universities may discuss the teachings and
jurisprudence of all sects. However, this is not done to promote religious
pluralism but to reject the teachings of other sects and show that their own
school of Islamic thought is better.
The madrassa creates a mindset among
young people that makes them vulnerable to the appeals of militants to join them
in holy war. Some of the madrassas have connections with militant groups or they
allow militant leaders to visit and approach students for recruitment. Militants
also recruit young people through mosque prayer leaders who may be linked with
militant and sectarian groups. Even those who do not join militant groups
support their ideology and actions from the sidelines.
proliferated in the 1980s under the patronage of General Zia-ul Haq's military
government. A large number of these institutions were set up in the NWFP, near
Afghan refugee camps. These prepared young people for fighting in Afghanistan.
Similar trends of proliferation of madrassas were noticeable in Punjab and
Sindh, especially in Karachi in the 1980s and the early 1990s. In Punjab, two
militant groups fighting in Kashmir sponsored madrassas with the funding they
partly received from Pakistani intelligence agencies.
During the Taliban
years, a good number of Deobandi and Ahle-Hadees madrassas in the NWFP, Punjab
and Karachi used to send their students to Afghanistan to fight alongside the
Taliban. On their return, they could be recruited for Pakistan-based militant
It is important to monitor the political disposition of the
faculty and administration of madrassas, their connections with local militant
groups and, through them, with the Taliban. It is also important to see who stay
as 'guests' at the madrassas for a couple of days; and also, what are the
sources of funding for madrassas.
The long-term solution to extremism and
militancy cannot be articulated without regulating the madrassas, especially
those that have the reputation for supporting militant groups or openly preach
religious and cultural intolerance. A check on highly politicised madrassas will
limit the capacity of these madrassas to socialise young people into religious
orthodoxy and militancy and thus make them vulnerable to the appeals of militant
groups. -Dr. Hasan-Askari Rizvi
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Hindus prefer madrassas to govt schools in UP
New Delhi: A study has found that Hindus would prefer madrassas to local
government primary schools in Indian province of Uttar Pradesh (UP).
study also found a madrassa in the UP has a large number of Hindu children among
its students, a study has found. Muslim students at Madrassa Islamia Arabia
Alimul Uloom in Devgaon area of UP's Barabanki are taught Urdu and Arabic, while
Hindu children are taught Sanskrit, according to the study conducted by the
Lucknow-based Better Education Through Innovation (BETI), in collaboration with
The study was done in five madrassas of Deva block in Barabanki
district, which is just half an hour drive from the state capital Lucknow. The
five madrassas are run with the total support of the community and receive no
financial aid from the government or any other agency. The expenses of the
madrassas, including day-to-day management, are raised through donations by the
community and fees charged from students. Out of the five, three madrassas are
already teaching subjects other than religious education alone.
madrassas provides a wholesome environment for children. This is vital for the
right growth of mind and body. I find it the most interesting study and one that
will help clear a lot of doubts," said Vinoba Gautam, the UNICEF education
specialist, who was part of the team that conducted the study in the Uttar
He has visited the madrassas several times and UNICEF
has been regularly sending reading material, translated into both Hindi and
Urdu, for the students. Daily times
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