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Madrassas: not quite the balancing act

Karachi, Sep 2: A large number of Pukhtoons in Karachi opt to educate their children in madrassas. This trend is more pronounced among those belonging to the Federally and Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (Fata and Pata). Although cultural factors as well as poverty are key reasons for this preference, a large proportion of the city's Pukhtoon population recognises the importance of a regular, formal education.

Many children enrolled in madrassas learn the Holy Quran by rote (Hifz) as well as receiving religious education. Most of the students admitted to these institutions are boys but there are girl students as well who receive religious education. Only a few students are successful in getting higher religious education. A majority manage to learn the Quran by heart and then become involved in some worldly business or profession to earn their livelihood. It is not unusual to come across taxi drivers in the city who are Hafiz-e-Quran. Some of the hafiz end up giving tuitions in reading the Quran to children while others serve as peshimams at various mosques.

The importance of religious education notwithstanding, a large number of Pukhtoons want their children to get both regular and religious education at the same time.

There are many reasons that lead the Pukhtoon community to enroll their children in madrassas. The foremost factor is that they belong to areas where Islamic traditions have very strong roots and religion is a part of their culture. A majority of Pukhtoons offer prayers five times a day. Another reason why the madrassah is a popular option is poverty, which prevents many Pukhtoon parents from admitting their children to schools where they can receive a formal education. There are people who simply cannot afford the fees at private schools but desperately want their children to study. Because many madrassas provide free tuition as well as free meals or even boarding and lodging, they are an attractive option for the poor.

Gulab Khan, originally from the Mohmand Agency, lives in Pahar Ganj, North Nazimabad. He has admitted two of his sons to evening classes at a nearby madrassah for learning the Quran by heart. Both his sons go to a private school in the morning. Gulab Khan is himself a Hafiz-e-Quran and a taxi driver by profession. "I want my sons to get as much education as I can afford. It is a great pleasure that my sons are receiving both a religious and formal education at the same time," he proudly claims.

There are some, however, who do not want their children to get a formal education. Maqsood-ur-Rehman, another Pukhtoon in Karachi, wants his children to receive only religious education. "How long will you live in this world?" he asks. "We will be asked about our worldly deeds on doomsday. The righteous will be rewarded and wrongdoers will be punished. To prepare for that day, religious education is a must," he says.

The story of Zardad Khan is different. He belongs to Kala Dhaka, Pata, and lives in Hijrat Colony. He is the father of four sons and three daughters. Two of his sons are receiving a formal education while he has enrolled only one daughter in a school. Two of his sons are studying at a madrassah.

He says that he earns only Rs12,000 a month, and a long list of expenditure prohibits him from admitting all of his sons and daughters to formal schools and colleges. "Religious education is very important in our lives but formal education has its own place. It would be ideal if we received both types of education at the same time," he says.

Mufti Muhammad Naeem, Principal, Jamia Banoria Aalmia, in the Site area, says that there was a time when 75 per cent of students in madrassas were Pukhtoons. He says after the spate of ethnic violence in Karachi in the 80s and early 90s, their number decreased. Most were students who went on to receive higher religious education. "Today, only 30 per cent of students out of 3,000 in our institution are Pukhtoons," he says. While commenting on the strong trend among Pukhtoons of getting a religious education, Mufti Naeem says Islam is the culture of the Pukhtoon Community. "You will see none of the vulgarity and permissiveness in Peshawar, Bannu, etc., which exists in cities like Lahore or Karachi. You will find almost every woman properly covered in cities where Pukhtoons live," he says. According to Mufti Naeem, western culture has not come to dominate the minds of Pukhtoons who still strongly believe in religious values. He says that younger people generally respect their elders in the community, and claims that by birth, Pukhtoons have a far greater aptitude for Islamic values than other ethnic communities. The news
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