Zia Ur Rehman
Ali, a 28-year-old madrasa student, graduated on May 5, completing a seven-year
course following the 18th-century syllabus on Islamic studies. His relatives
and neighbours visited his house in Karachi's low-income neighbourhood Orangi
Town to congratulate him on his feat.
“I know tough
time is ahead," Ali told TRT World. "It would be difficult to find a
job in current circumstances."
Pakistani government, mainly under pressure from the international community,
has continuously been making efforts to regulate madrasas - some of them are
accused of promoting radical ideologies and having links with terrorist
networks – and bring them under the government's control.
recently, on April 30, military spokesman Major-General Asif Ghafoor told
reporters more than 30,000 madrasas will soon be brought into the
"mainstream" fold and overseen by the ministry of education. “An
Islamic education will continue to be provided but there will be no hate
speech,” Ghafoor said.
His call –
not the first from a Pakistan official – demonstrated decades of the
government's anxiety around madrasas. But at the same time, they are
indispensable in South Asian societies. Deeply entrenched in Pakistan's
Muslim-majority society, the religious schools are the only option available to
millions of children from economically poor communities.
centuries, the madrasas in the sub-continent are passing along the heritage of
Islamic knowledge to future generations,” said Maulana Tahla Rehmani, a
religious scholar and official of the Jamia Uloom Islami, the country’s leading
seminary in Karachi.
graduated from the same seminary, where courses ranging from the memorisation
of the Holy Quran to specialisation in Arabic literature and Islamic
jurisprudence are offered.
said that with times changing, the seminary is trying to include some
"worldly knowledge" so that the students can survive in "modern
researchers and madrasa bodies however regularly raise questions over the
government’s intentions behind the centuries-old institution, raising doubts
about whether the motive is to assuage Western fears and misconceptions about
Islamic knowledge being regressive and fuel for violent armed groups.
“We need to
think beyond terrorism-based reforms,” said Azmat Abbas, a researcher and
author of Madrasa mirage: A contemporary history of Islamic schools in
Pakistan. “Factors such as free education, respect for Islamic knowledge and
teachers, active role in community life, preservation of tradition and the use
of charity make the madrasas unique institutions.”
case, enrolling him in a madrasa was his parents’ choice. His father – a
daily-waged textile worker – was elated when Ali was accepted into the
seminary. “It is our faith that a scholar who memorises the Holy Quran would
take 10 persons of his or her family to heaven,” Ali's father said.
madrasa have almost always faced a range of criticism, from sticking to old
concepts to having links with terror groups and offering differing worldviews,
limited economic and academic opportunities.
issues of concern, knotted to the madrasas, are based on politics rather than
any facets inherent in the system,” Abbas told TRT World.
popularity of madrasas, he said, has grown over the years. They are seen as
institutions of upward mobility by the poorest of the poor and orphans, as most
of the madrasas offer free education, food, and shelter.
to various reports, there are at least 4.1 million students enrolled in several
thousands of seminaries throughout Pakistan. Almost all of these madrasas are
privately funded and fall outside the government's control.
has long been a concern that the madrasas produce unskilled graduates who
espouse intolerant misinterpretations of Islam, many organised attempts have
already been made to "modernise" them.
Tuaseen, a Karachi-based analyst and former head of the Pakistan Madrasa
Education Board (PMEB), a state-run body aimed at modernising traditional
madrasas in the country, said that successive Pakistani governments – both
civilian and military – had attempted to reform madrasas but each time ended up
surrendering more authority.
today, several ministries, such as religious affairs, education, interior, and
commerce, and law enforcement and counter-terrorism bodies, have been dealing
with the madrasa issue separately, making it more complicated,” Tuaseen told
government also tried to convince the madrasas to affiliate themselves with the
government-run PMEB that was formed in 2003, asking them to use the syllabus
vetted by the state, but the traditional madrasa bodies opposed it.
government also planned to set up a ‘Imam Hatip’ schooling system based on the
pattern of Turkey and offer a mix of religious and worldly education to young
men and women who want to become Islamic scholars and preachers. It was never
its newly-adopted counter-terrorism policy in January 2015, soon after the
deadly attack on a school in Peshawar that killed over 150 school children, the
government launched the registration and regulation of madrasas across the
bodies however alleged that the government was not looking at organising the
traditional system but making it difficult for them to collect funds.
madrasas now face difficulties in opening new bank accounts," Rehmani
said, adding that many schools have accused the security agencies of
"pursuing a policy of harassing the teachers and students in the name of
But as the
government recently announced an aim to bring the madrasas under the federal
control through the ministry of education, many researchers and clerics have
welcomed the move.
On May 6,
Pakistan's Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood met some influential madrasa
leaders in Islamabad to discuss the planned reforms. Both sides agreed on
having at least 30,000 madrasas registered by the government.
ministry will open 10 regional centres in various states where the madrasa
registration will be offered and those madrasas which will not meet
requirements for registration will be closed,” Mehmood told the media after the
that the government must take the madrasa reforms to their logical conclusion
this time, but in the same breath they believe most of the madrasa graduates
are unemployable, making it difficult for the government to bring down the
unemployment numbers. While the jobless rate is at 5.7 percent, the
unemployment rate among graduates is 16.3 percent.
Most of the
madrasa graduates end up teaching Islamic studies or Arabic in various schools
and madrasas or becoming Paish-e-Imams (mosque prayer leaders) and Muezzins (a
person who recites the call to prayer).
likely to follow the same path, though the supply of madrasa graduates has far
number of madrasa graduates passed out in past few years are jobless or working
on low wages. All mosques and madrasas are full and they do not need Paish-e-Imams
and teachers,” Ali said.
uncertain future, he's left everything up to God, a common response Muslims
have in times of crisis.
Source: TRT World