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Madressahs: the parallel education stream for the poor

07 February, 2006

By Amir Latif


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"Religion cannot be taught by force. It is simply someone`s will whether he wants to study Quran or not. We cannot force him," Qari Usman said. $4 billion had been equally shared by America and Saudi Arabia for setting up madressahs in Pakistan in the 1980s.

Over 7,000 madressahs out of a total of 14,000 in the country are affiliated with Wifaqul Madaris.
Qari Usman was of the view that madressahs where students are dealt with undue strictness were playing the role of "stupid friends" of Islam.

A documentary titled `Saudi Time Bomb` which was aired in the months following September 11 helped popularize the view that Saudi-financed madressahs, serving the poorest strata of Pakistani society, trafficked in an extreme form of Islam that produced suicide bombers and hijackers.

The madressahs are producing a much larger cohort of theologians than the economy can absorb, which could lead to a disgruntled population that would be vulnerable to terrorist recruiters. Resources might be better spent developing institutions with a theological base, for instance Islamic hospitals and NGOs as has been done in the Christian West, where madressah graduates could feel comfortable working in a theological setting

Are Madressahs breeding grounds for terrorists?
Or
Madressahs: the parallel education stream for the poor

The local and foreign media flashed a picture last week showing two boys who were allegedly chained and beaten up by the principal of a madressah where they had been studying.

The two brothers, Ammar, 10, and Ahsan, 8, told the police that they were beaten everyday in the madressah and given little food. According to the boys, they jumped from the roof of the madressah to escape.

The police are searching for the principal of the madressah who allegedly kept boys in chains and beat them daily to force them to study.
The police raided the Madressah in Karachi after Ammar and Ahsan were reportedly brought to the headquarters of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a major coalition partner in Sindh and centre.

One of the boys was bleeding profusely and there were visible marks of beating on their bodies, investigating police officer Jahan Khan Niazi told reporters. However, he refused to show marks to them, saying it might affect the investigations.

He said police raided the madressah seeking to detain the principal on the charge of keeping boys in illegal detention.
The investigation officer said the two boys were admitted to Madressah Tauhidia, Ahsanabad, located within the limits of Sohrab Goth police station.

This was not the first news or picture. The media on and off has flashed news items on torture and chaining of students in Pakistani madressahs. A glance on these reports reveals that such incidents are reported from those madressahs which operate in slum areas and are not associated with either of the five major madressah boards representing Deobandi, Brailvi, Ahl-i-Hadith and Shia sects of Muslims.
These madressahs are a gift of mushroom growth of religious schools that were once vehemently supported - financially and morally - by the United States and the West.

According to a senior Pakistani journalist and Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed, $4 billion had been equally shared by America and Saudi Arabia for setting up madressahs in Pakistan in the 1980s.

Qari Usman, who is the provincial information secretary of the MMA and runs a madressah namely Jamia Usmania Shersha Karachi, told Paktribune that inhuman torture or chaining of students could not be supported or encouraged. "Religion cannot be taught by force. It is simply someone`s will whether he wants to study Quran or not. We cannot force him," Qari Usman said.

"Sometimes parents come with their drug addict or backstreet sons and request the madressah administration to admit them and disallow them from going anywhere without their permission. Some of the madressahs justify the undue strictness on students by saying that it is done on their parents` request. But all madressahs affiliated with Wifaqul Madaris Al-Arabia have strictly been told not to consider parents` request to keep their children forcibly because it went against the madressahs," he maintained.

Over 7,000 madressahs out of a total of 14,000 in the country are affiliated with Wifaqul Madaris.
Qari Usman was of the view that madressahs where students are dealt with undue strictness were playing the role of "stupid friends" of Islam.
"Those who are raising fingers at madressahs on the basis of some intermittent incidents of torture and chaining must keep this in their mind that these madressahs have converted thousands of drug addicts and street fighters into respectable citizens of the society," he said.

But still there is no justification of torturing and chaining students whether in madressahs or schools. We never support it, he added.
Don`t forget that these madressahs are providing free food, boarding and lodging facilities to hundreds of thousands of poor and needy students in the country without any government support, the MMA`s provincial information secretary said.

A documentary titled `Saudi Time Bomb` which was aired in the months following September 11 helped popularize the view that Saudi-financed madressahs, serving the poorest strata of Pakistani society, trafficked in an extreme form of Islam that produced suicide bombers and hijackers. Other media accounts following the PBS documentary have cemented the connection between Pakistani madressahs and Islamic terror.

Saleem Ali, an assistant professor in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, who is using a $35,000 grant from the US Institute for Peace to conduct a wide-ranging scientific study of Pakistan`s madressahs says, "are the madressahs breeding grounds for hate? There has been no analysis, no empirical study at all to prove or disprove that".

Ali is a native of Pakistan who is the principal investigator of the study that employed a field research team headed by Syed Tauqir Hussain Shah, a former civil servant in Pakistan who has studied madressahs in the past.

Ali, his colleague in Pakistan and their team have spent much of the year looking closely at more than 300 madressahs in Islamabad, Karachi, and Ahmedpur Sharqia (east) in Punjab, a rural area known for sectarian violence.

The research team used a mixture of innovative and traditional techniques to reach their conclusions: GIS technology that laid geographically distributed data about income, crop production, acts of violence and other information about madressahs in the study area; interviews with teachers and clerics in each of the 300 schools under study; and interviews with Pakistani government officials and leading clerics in the country.

Ali spent much of the summer in Pakistan visiting madressahs and conducting interviews with opinion leaders of various kinds. According to the study`s preliminary findings, most contemporary madressahs are funded by local people and businessmen and through charitable campaigns in mosques.

Saudi financiers played a major role 30 years ago during the Afghan war with the Soviet Union, and around that time the Taliban received education in Pakistani madressahs. There is little or no Saudi funding today except from the `alumni` who have found lucrative blue-collar jobs in the Persian Gulf states.

In only a small minority of `jihadi madressahs`, less than 10 per cent of the total, political issues are intertwined with the curriculum.
These schools, many of which sprang up during the Afghan-Soviet war, deserve special attention but should not be a basis for setting a particular policy toward madressahs.

"Traditional madressahs that provide generally apolitical Quranic education account for a vast majority of the religious schools in Pakistan. Most of these institutions provide social service to their communities by providing free child-care facilities and modest meals to their students. While there appears to be a strong correlation between madressahs and income in rural areas, which consistently serve the poorest and most abject families, there was no such connection in the urban madressahs of Islamabad, where wealthy families often send their children for a discipline-oriented traditional education.

Contrary to popular opinion, there is no connection between madressahs and international terrorism, with the exception of `Jihadi madressahs`. There is a connection, however, between the madressahs and acts of sectarian violence, especially between Shias and Sunnis in southern Punjab.
Anti-western sentiments, laced with vitriol, are common in sermons delivered by clergy in the mosques attached to madressahs.
According to Ali, the findings are a warning signal to policymakers in Pakistan who embarked on a wide-ranging effort to reform madressahs under intense pressure from the West.

The five-year billion-dollar reform effort designed to bring secular subjects like mathematics, science and computer study into madressahs, and to put them under the purview of the country`s education ministry, is also being supported indirectly by USAID, which has its own $100 million programme to bolster non-religious schools in Pakistan, presumably to provide parents with an alternative to madressah schooling.

Given his research findings, the reform effort may be attacking a non-existent problem and creating ill will in the process.

This is a clear demand issue, says Ali. At the end of the day, people are saying, "we don`t want to be doctors and pilots, we want to be theologians". In the secular West that might seem like the Middle Ages, but no one is being forced to enroll in madressahs. They want to do this".
Furthermore, the reform initiative is leading to enormous resentment, says Ali.

There is general discontent over the imperial attitudes of western societies. People are asking, "why do we have to measure up to western standards in order to be considered acceptable"? While they are worrying about reforming the madressahs that educate only about two per cent of Pakistan`s schoolchildren, public officials may be taking their eye off the real problem, Ali said.

The madressahs are producing a much larger cohort of theologians than the economy can absorb, which could lead to a disgruntled population that would be vulnerable to terrorist recruiters. Resources might be better spent developing institutions with a theological base, for instance Islamic hospitals and NGOs as has been done in the Christian West, where madressah graduates could feel comfortable working in a theological setting," Ali said.

Westerners generally think that madressahs are terrorist factories. Muslims, on the other hand, think that the West is out to colonize them again. If this work enables people to say, "yes, we have some problems with the madressahs, but the solutions need to be more targeted, that can be an entry point for building trust between the East and the West," he added.

The proliferation of madressahs in much of the Muslim world has been noted with particular consternation following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The perceived linkage between radical Islamic education and militant behavior against western interests, has led development agencies and governments to focus their resources on educational reform.

However, there is scant empirical research grounded in rigorous social science on the socio-environmental roots of this phenomenon and its consequences. While the topic has received widespread media coverage and has been discussed within the broader context of radical Islamization, the research has generally been predicated on observational accounts and anecdotes, that range from strongly positive to vehemently negative.

Renowned thinker and writer Akbar S. Ahmad regards madressahs to be a "cheaper, more accessible and more Islamic alternative to education". Singer calls them a "displacement of the public education system", Jeffrey Goldberg terms them as means of "education of the holy warrior", Jessica Stern while describing them as emblematic of "Pakistan`s jihad culture".

Madressah education

The word madressah means centre of learning in Arabic. Madressahs provide free religious education, boarding and lodging and are essentially schools for the poor. A madressah student learns how to read, memorize and recite the Quran properly. Madressahs issue certificates of various levels. A madressah system university is called Darul Uloom, (usually having hundreds of students) a primary school is the Maktab, (up to 50 students) and an integrated school with various levels is simply called a Madressah.

The graduating students are called Huffaz-i-Quran (those who memorize theArabic text of the Quran) or Qaris (those who can recite Quranic verses with proper Arabic pronunciation); or those with advanced theological training are known as Ulema (religious scholars).

Aamir Latif

Reader Comments:

Huffaz-i-Quran

The world Madrassas operating under
Present method is no match to high
Tech Harvard Oxford Wizeman Inst of
Israel.But the kind of madrassa I attended
…Have a glimpse and ask global economy
Parrots your Ulema design it for you.
Via Madrassa I went to University to pass
B.sc at 19 and joined Univ of London at
20 to earn Degree /and Post grad Eng.I
Have had high tech jobs all my life. I
Secured jobs in competition with Harvard
Princeton Cambridge Oxford grads with PhDs
From UK Germany USA Israel and Japan. One
MD FRCS from Taif Univ helped me memorize
30 sipara in 30 days ( 2 hrs/day).I have all kind
of licences to drive cars Tractor trailer to buses
Computer programming to web design while
Operating most sophisticated Lab equipments.
I did free imamat at Jama Masjid in between
shift jobs too. Now redesign madrassa students
Without alqaeda look in above format who
Should be competitive. Nothing happens if
Greedy atheist plus hufffaz-ul-quran!(this for sure)


benz m Ispahani, India - 07 February, 2006

The Wounds of Islam

After the death of Prophet Mohammed in 632A.D
The Islamic history was about to be changed
Conspirators come up with evil plans
To remove Prophet Mohammed body from the grave
Prophet Mohammed came in dream of Governor of Baghdad
And showed him those men's evil faces
Governor acted promptly and arrested those men
He kiss the feet of Prophet Mohammed
And put Iron gates around his grave
The conspirators doesn't end their evils plans
They created world's April fool day
By killing Muslim leaders deceiving them as a peace day
Islam again came down as to the religion of it's lowest
11 September was created to label Muslims as “Terrorist”
They tried to replace the Holy Quran
By removing name “Jihad” in new book called “Furqan”
They tried to introduce Islam as a bad religion
Creating fear, hate in people's mind and confusion
Conspirator inflected Islam with another wound
This time by drawing Prophet Mohammed cartoons
Islam will live until the world exists
Islam's enemy will face justice from Allah soon
The events proven what the Quran say:
These people will never ever going to be Muslims friends”.

Copy right (2006) Wasi Siddiqui









wasi siddiqui, Pakistan - 15 February, 2006

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