Redeeming Pakistan's madrassas
May 23: Although some of the radical madrassas will still need to be weeded out, embracing Islamic education with an integrated reform strategy is more likely to reduce militancy, rather than lamenting madrassas as arcane institutions
As policy-makers and the media abroad agonise over the situation in Pakistan's Swat valley, madrassas are back on the front page in papers such as The New York Times. The linkage between extremism and education should be fairly obvious but it seems to still elude most analysts. Indeed the word "Taliban" means "students" in Pashto, suggesting an inherent connection of these militants with some form of "learning".
Incendiary information at these Islamic seminaries is once again being considered both a symptom and a cause of Pakistan's problems. The latest mantra appears to be that because government schools have failed, madrassas are filling a social void that offers free education and sustenance for the rural poor but causes massive radicalisation at the same time.
Madrassas in Pakistan are certainly a matter of concern but rather than finding ways to diminish their recruitment, they need to be engaged and internally reformed. These seminaries already have a major physical and financial infrastructure in the country that can be harnessed positively alongside investments in government schools.
Only four years ago, famed terrorism analysts Peter Bergen (among the few western journalists to have interviewed Osama bin Laden) and Swaty Pandey had argued in The New York Times that concern over Islamic education was all a 'madrassa myth'. Basing their analysis on a controversial World Bank study (co-authored by two Pakistani-American academics) about the actual number of madrassas in Pakistan, Bergen and Pandey had argued that "while madrassas are an important issue in education and development in the Muslim world, they are not and should not be considered a threat to the United States" because of their relatively small number and since terrorists who attacked the West had largely not been educated in madrassas.
However, as many of the suicide bombers in recent months have been traced back to madrassas, the pendulum has swung again, as now analysts discover that civil strife in Afghanistan and Pakistan can be just as dangerous for Western interests. Focusing on the core problem of curricular reform can provide us a path out of this ambivalence about madrassas.
While growing up in Pakistan, I attended a private English-medium school but every afternoon, I would also receive Islamic learning from a religious scholar who hailed from a prominent madrassa in Lahore. As I reflect back on that time, the core problem of contemporary Islamic education remains a general antipathy towards critical thinking.
Similar concerns have existed in other religions as well, but Islamic schools in Pakistan have contended with a host of circumstances that compounded these challenges. The sectarian divide between Shias and Sunnis in Pakistan was accentuated by funding from Iran and Saudi Arabia to specific strains of madrassas, particularly in southern Punjab. Exclusionary doctrines rather than pluralistic interpretations of Islamic texts were preached by both sides to gain more adherents. Religious political parties as well as the Pakistani government and security organisations capitalised on the fruits of radicalisation since unquestioning allegiance was easy to achieve with curricula that portrayed the world in stark terms of good and evil.
But the radicalisation of madrassas should not lead us to give up in despair. In other parts of the world, madrassas have served an appropriate educational purpose. For example in West Bengal, India, a survey of Islamic schools in January 2009 found that because of the higher quality education at madrassas, even non-Muslims were actively enrolling in them. This was remarkably akin to how in Pakistan many Muslim families send their children to Christian schools because of the high quality of teaching and discipline.
Hindu enrolment in several Bengali madrassas, for example, was as high as 64 percent because many of these institutions offered vocational training programmes. Such examples can certainly be emulated in Pakistani madrassas as well. We should not give up on madrassas but rather help bring them back to their heyday of pluralistic learning.
The strategy of 'draining the swamp' by establishing sparkling government schools alongside madrassas, which appears to be the current approach from development donors, is likely to have limited success. Madrassas will immediately resort to a defensive strategy of labelling the government schools in conspiratorial terms and still be able to recruit students quite zealously from religious families. Investment to improve education is needed across Pakistan in all kinds of schools, including madrassas.
The only way to solve the madrassa problem is to engage in a process of reform that focuses on pluralism and conflict resolution skills that should be facilitated by the Pakistani government with the assistance of other Muslim countries and ulema.
There are already some positive moves from the ulema in Pakistan. Religious clerics from both the Deobandi Tablighi Jama'at and the Barelvi Sunni Tehreek have publicly rejected the Taliban approach to Islam. Madrassas such as the venerable Jamia Ashrafia in Lahore are now willing to initiate specific teaching modules that stress the importance of non-violence and respect for other faith traditions.
Momentum elsewhere towards such efforts is exemplified by reforms in places such as Indonesia's Guluk-Guluk pesantren, where Islamic environmental education is being used to develop peace-building skills. During my visit to central Java last year, I visited several Islamic schools that are producing very balanced and employable young professionals. Indonesia, which is the world's largest Muslim country, should share some of its success in improving madrassa curricula with Pakistan.
Where Western donors can help is to provide vocational training and apprenticeship programs for madrassa graduates that will be consistent with their religious values. Careers as healthcare apprentices and disaster relief professionals are particularly appropriate in this regard.
Although some of the radical madrassas will still need to be weeded out, embracing Islamic education with an integrated reform strategy is more likely to reduce militancy, rather than lamenting madrassas as arcane institutions to be eroded by naively creating an alternate market for schools.
Dr Saleem H Ali is associate professor of environmental planning and Asian Studies at the University of Vermont. His most recent book is Islam and Education: conflict and conformity in Pakistan's madrassas (Oxford University Press, 2009). www.saleemali.net -Saleem H Ali (Daily Times)Your Comments
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PMDC registration exam results announced
Islamabad: National Examination Board for Foreign Medical and Dental Graduates of Pakistan on Thursday announced the final result of the registration examination of Pakistan Medical and Dental Council held here. The following are the numbers of the successful candidates:
72344, 81016, 81021, 81065, 81106, 81120, 81143, 81177, 81179, 81180, 81187, 81223, 81224, 81301, 81311, 82076, 82117, 83313, 82215, 82309, 82363, 91018, 91019, 91021, 91022, 91025, 91031, 91035, 91042, 91047, 91049, 91065, 91067, 91069, 91071, 91080, 91084, 91089, 91092, 91094, 91095, 91098, 91099, 91100, 91101, 91103, 91104, 91111, 91114, 91115, 91119, 91121, 91125, 91127, 91131, 91133, 91135, 91137, 91141, 91142, 91143, 91145, 91146, 91148, 91151, 91153, 91157, 91159, 91160, 91163, 91164, 91165, 91167, 91169, 91176, 91178, 91179, 91183, 91192, 91194, 91197, 91198, 91199, 91200, 91203, 91205, 91210, 91211, 91212, 91222, 91230, 91231, 91236, 91239, 91243, 91254, 91257, 91258, 91261, 91264, 91266, 91271, 91272, 91277, 91278, 91279, 91281, 91283, 91288, 91292, 91293, 91296, 91298, 91299, 91304, 91309, 91311, 91315, 91320, 91321, 91322, 91324, 91327, 91338, 91342, 91347, 91352, 91357, 91363, 91366, 91371, 91385, 91392, 91394. Dawn
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No water for children in Rawalpindi schools
Rawalpindi: Most schools in Rawalpindi do not have proper arrangements for drinking water on their premises. Students and teachers have no option but to bring water in bottles from their homes. And if this water is consumed, there is no facility for a refill.
Private schools in Adiala, Tench Bhata, Dhoke Syedan, Pirwadhai and Sabzazar Colony have no water coolers. The situation is not much different in government schools of Adiala, Dhoke Illahi Bakhsh, R A Bazaar, Chungi 22 and other localities.
According to information collected from various schools, dozens of students fainted during the last two weeks because of non-availability of drinking water.
The parents interviewed said that they were asked by school managements to send water bottles with children.
Muhammad Abid Hussain Shah said that his son is studying in a reputed private school but there is no drinking water in its premises. "No water bottle is large enough to meet the water requirement of a child for more than five hours in this scorching heat," he added.
Executive District Officer (Education) Malik Muhammad Ashraf, when contacted for his comments, admitted that it is a serious problem. According to him, he would start inspection of schools on Saturday to see whether they have adequate arrangements for drinking water for students and teachers. "All schools have enough funds for providing potable water to students. We would take prompt action as water is necessary for students in the prevailing weather," he said.
An official of the Rawalpindi Private Schools Management, Muhammad Asif, said that it is a serious problem. The management would discuss this issue by calling an emergency meeting. He said that all schools must make arrangements for drinking water.
On the other hand, the managements of both government and private schools said that there is water scarcity in Rawalpindi. They said that they could not provide water to children as all taps were dry. According to them, they arrange for water through tankers every day, which is not enough for students.
Dr. Bushra Rehman said that her eight-year-old son fainted in school last Thursday as there was no drinking water. "There was no water in his school and he had already consumed water in his bottle," she said.
Muhammad Asim, a student, said that his teachers have asked all children to bring drinking water in bottles from their homes. "After consuming water in our bottles, we go outside the school building to quench our thirst. Water is available in our school only till 9:30 a.m. There is no water after that," he said.
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IMCB F-8/4 teachers awarded
Islamabad: Teaches of Islamabad Model College for Boys F-8/4 were awarded medals for best performances in their respective subjects in a ceremony held in the college here.
Federal Directorate of Education (FDE) Director-General Atiq-ur-Rehman presided over the ceremony attended by the FDE directors, principals of various model colleges and teachers, students and their parents. Dr Waheed-ud-Din, the college principal, welcomed the guests.
The school's headmistress, Riffat Jahan, who has now retired, got gold medal for her services. The present headmistress, Mrs Asmat Rauf, also got gold medal for securing 6 GPA in Urdu.
The teachers working in morning shift and got gold medals for their best performances included Ms Memoona Batool (Mathematics, GPA 5.91), Mrs Faiza Saleem (English, GPA 5.11), Mrs Shagufta Khalil Rana (Social Studies and Islamiat, GPA 5.75), and Ms Safia Naz (Islamiat, GPA 5.85).
Among the evening shift teachers, Mrs Asma Batool got gold medal for excellent performance in Urdu and Islamiat (GPA 5.81), Mss Zahina Taj for Mathematics and General Science (GPA 5.31) and Mrs Riffat Luqman (English and Social Studies, GPA 5.40).
Addressing the ceremony, FDE DG Atiq-ur-Rehman congratulated the college teachers and their students for giving the best results in the board examinations blazing the trail for the other educational institutions of the capital.
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AIOU changes exam centres in conflict-zone
Islamabad: Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) has changed its examination centres from Swat and Malakand division to other cities due to military operation.
The university has advised the students of these areas to contact the university head office in Islamabad or its regional offices in their respective areas for appearing in examination scheduled for May 25.
The students of conflict zones have been exempted from the liability of submitting home assignments; also its number will not be included in the results.
Students who had gotten admission in Matriculation, CT and B.Ed have been sent date sheet with roll number slips along with academic books at their given addresses.
In case of not receiving the books, students can contact AIOU's regional camp in Hyatabad Town, Peshawar.
Apart from the conflict zones, examination schedule all over the country will remain unchanged, the spokesman said. Students who could not receive slips may contact the concerned regional offices of AIOU.
Meanwhile, controller examinations Hafeezullah said that roll number slips and date sheets for the examination of Spring semester 2009 had also been displayed on the website of AIOU and this process would be completed till June 4. He advised students to follow the rule and regulations mentioned on the slips. The News
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FJWU organises colloquium
Rawalpindi: Fatima Jinnah Women University (FJWU) on Friday organised a special faculty colloquium.
According to a press release, Dr Chad Haines, a Fulbright Research fellow and assistant professor of American University in Cairo, was guest speaker. FJWU Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Saeeda Asadullah Khan, Associate Prof Dr Yasmin Saikia of UNC, Chapel Hill; deans and a large number of faculty members were present in the meeting.
In the colloquium, Haines shared his research on "Islamabad Re-imagined: Neoliberal Traces and Global Dreams in a Modernist City". He is currently in Pakistan for research purpose.
Haines, whose analysis on Islamabad is based on various perspectives, opined the sense of people's perception became important while describing symbolic values of any city.
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Pakistan Academy of Letters unveils future plans
Islamabad: Pakistan Academy of Letters (PAL) on Friday nominated renowned Swedish poet Peter Curman and Benazir Bhutto Shaheed for International "Quaid-e-Azam Award for Literature" and "Quaid-e-Awam Award for Democracy" respectively for the year 2008.
PAL Chairman Fakhar Zaman made this announcement at a media briefing about academy's future plans.
Zaman said PAL had announced these two international awards worth of Rs 2 million to promote a soft image of Pakistan across the world. On the occasion of an international conference in 1995 Benazir Bhutto had announced constitution of these awards during her inaugural speech, he said, adding, but due to change of the government nothing could be done in this regard.
Zaman said PAL had also announced "Pas-e-Zindaan Award" for best writings appeared during martial law periods. A committee comprising 13 prominent writers and judges will decide the nominee of this award worth of Rs 100,000, he added.
He said after expiry of PAL Board of Governors (BoG) tenure, the new BoG members included Afzal Ahsan Randhawa, Masood Ashaar, Tahir Tounsvi, Muhammad Ali Siddiqui, Fahmeeda Hussain, Shah Muhammad Marri, Saleem Raz and Alamgir Hashmi.
He said the prime minister had approved increase in monthly honorarium of needy writers and bereaved families of writers from Rs 3,000 and Rs 4,000 respectively to Rs 5,000.
Zaman said arrangements were underway for international conference on "Sufism and Peace". He said more than 100 delegates from 70 countries would participate in the conference.
He said "Adabiyat" special issues on Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Ahmed Faraz had been published and a special issue on Munir Niazi was likely to be issued on May 29. The chairman said to compile selected writings appeared in Pakistani languages from 1947 to 2007, more than 100 books had been published under the title "Makers of Pakistani Literature".
The special issue of "Pakistani Literature" on Pakistani Women Writers will be reprinted, he said, adding, an important book "Quest of Peace in the Twilight" containing papers presented in National Conference on "Sufisim and Peace" will also be published.
PAL is going to reprint soon "Bhutto Trial" in two volumes, a book containing documents and reports regarding the trial of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Shaheed, he said. Zaman also announced to publish a series of books on Benazir Bhutto Shaheed.
He announced that PAL was planning to publish Urdu translations of modern American poets while English translation of Pakistani poets will be produced in America. Both of the books have been finalised and soon will be out, he added.
"Documentaries on Sufi poets and prominent writers of Pakistan will be produced, while 45 documentaries are in the pipeline," said the chairman, adding, projects regarding establishment of a recording studio and TV channel have been submitted to the government for financial assistance. He said process for establishment of a FM radio channel had also been initiated. Daily Times
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