33 – Rover’s Diary

How many madrassas (religious seminaries) does Pakistan need? How many clerics do we need? (I would not indulge in the debate that there is no room for the clergy in Islam, as they are here to stay). We are told even by our ‘enlightened moderate President’ that these Madrassas have a positive role to play in our country. His loyal Prime Minister also harps the same tune.


Their plea is that these institutions are providing education to thousands of poor kids. What are they teaching? What are the students being prepared for when they get into practical life? Our rulers have been talking a lot to change the curriculums of these institutions, but at the end of the day it is more talk and less action.


According to one conservative estimate there are some 10,000 Madaris in the country. Some reports claim that their number is 20,000. Most students who join these institutions come from the rural and urban low income class. Even if we take a conservative estimate that about 50 students graduate every year from each Madrassa, they are churning out at least half a million clerics every year. Madaris graduates are trained as mosque Imams or as teachers at a Madrassa. Further extrapolation shows that in one year we produce one cleric per 320 Pakistanis. It is in sharp contrast to the fact that the country has one doctor and one nurse per 1359 and 3175 persons, respectively.


And these Madaris graduates, mind you are divided on sectarian lines. According to Tariq Rehman 70% Madaris are Deobandi, 16 % Barelvi, 5% Jamat-e-Islami, 4% Ahl-i-Hadith and 3% Shia. Though there is no study to confirm the religious leanings of Pakistanis, the general impression is that the majority is closer to the Barelvi sect. Interestingly, the presence of more Deobandi Madaris is inversely proportionate with the sectarian allegiance.


Imagine the massive number of unemployed madrassa graduates whose business is religion. They are indoctrinated, have no jobs, have poor background and are marginalized by the society. So where do they go — encroach and build another mosque and a madrassa. Fight over the control of existing religious places. Or, join religious parties and Jihadi organisations which give them a purpose of life – an Islamic revolution to strive for. The religious parties reject anything which is modern and promote primitive Arab tribal social and cultural values in the name of Islam. Jihad is romanticized by these students as many fighters from Afghanistan and Kashmir are presented as heroes by the teaching faculty or they study there. Most of the funding comes from the gulf countries in the case of Sunni Madaris.


Increasing influence of western social and cultural values because of the information explosion and globalization, has threatened the religious elements. They feel this is the time for fighting the battle for survival, which explains their present desperation.


But in the Lal Masjid and Hafsa case the Ghazi brothers are using Sharia enforcement weapon only when the government raised the encroachment issue. They have illegally taken over 7400 sq yards of government land in the name of Islam. This is sheer blackmailing. The government says that it does not want to use force because it might lead to bloodshed. Informed sources have disclosed that the Islamabad Talibans are heavily armed with guns, so don’t be fooled by their lathis. The issue is why was the administration snoozing when all the arms and people were being collected at the Lal Masjid? Now Abdul Aziz Ghazi has threatened that they can use arms. Where is the writ of the government, which the President talks about? Isn’t this threat enough to put somebody behind the bars? For much less the Chief Justice was stripped of his position.


A majority of these Madaris are teaching intolerance, self-righteousness and primitive value system. It is this education that has led to onslaught on women minister and other legitimate businesses. All government efforts to reform the Madaris have failed so far. Some ultra-liberals are of the view that the government should close most of the Madaris. But in a democratic polity people have a right to choose the education they want.  


The problem with Madaris, according to Tariq Rehman, is that  “they do not allow their students exposure to differing world views so that they turn out to be strongly committed to the interpretation of Islam which they have been taught in their madrassa. This predisposes them to bias against secular ways of thinking, other religions and sub-sects of Islam different from their own. However, this would not necessarily translate into active militancy but for the recent policies of governments which have armed and radicalized some of them. As there is anger in the Muslim world over the American polices in favour of Israel and the war in Iraq, the madrassa students too feel justified in supporting aggressive policies. Similarly, having been exposed to tales of Indian oppression in Kashmir, they support a strong line against India. It appears that only reduction of poverty and the perception of just national and international policies can reduce the number of students in these institutions and prevent them from becoming militant.”


The government’s job is to provide the secular education option to the poor people of Pakistan. Madaris are popular because they offer free boarding, clothing, food and education to the poor. There is no alternate to this in the public sector. To beat the extremists who are using the Madaris, the government will have to replicate their model of boarding schools. These boarding schools should offer secular education and vocational training in skills that are in demand locally and internationally. Parallel schoolings and governments are formed by the people only when the government abdicates from its duty. It’s about time that policy makers should realize religion and state have to be kept separate otherwise it would be difficult to fight the Talibanisation surge in Pakistan.(ayazbabar@gmail.com)

  1. War In Iraq » 33 - Rover’s Diary

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