Madressa Phenomenon: Reasons and Relations with Extremism

May 27, 2014 at 10:47

Faisal Usman

Pakistan’s literacy rate is officially 57% yet despite that Pakistan has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world and the second largest out of school population. The state has miserably failed to constitutionally provide quality free education to all children in age groups from 5-16 and the situation is further exacerbated by people’s monetary inability to send children to schools. Majority of the country’s 180 million population is living life below the poverty line and is forced to strive hard in order to earn enough to scrape by. In these conditions where a child going to school is a potential loss of an earning hand for a large impoverished family, education is a luxury few can afford. Children are either sent on jobs as underage workers or sent to madrassas where the parents are free from having to feed them. In addition to this, the added incentive of children studying Islam plays the decisive role in children’s enrollment in the madrassas. Evidence also indicates that households diversify by sending one child to school and another to a madrassa. Madrassas originated as trust institutions with the purpose of training religious functionaries, Islamic scholars and imparting free Quranic teachings to poor children while providing social services such as free food, clothing and boarding to their students and this increases their appeal in areas where educational alternatives are lacking or expensive. A report by Social Policy and Development Center (SPDC) revealed that only 6% of madrassa students cite religious reasons for attending madrassas, while 89% cited economic reasons.

madrassaMadrassas are found across the breadth of this country. While their numbers remain contested, according to conservative estimates there are approximately 20,000 madrassas in Pakistan (USCIRF 2011). At the time of creation, there were 137 madrassas in Pakistan with their number increasing each year. However the largest increase in their number was witnessed in General Zia’s era during which they flourished owing to state’s patronage and sponsorship. Zia’s education policy of 1979 envisaged 5,000 mosque schools and established a National Committee for ‘DeeniMadaris’ to transform madrassas “into an integral part of our educational system”. The madrassas struck gold at the time of Aghan Jehad when billions of Saudi and US dollars were funneled into the madrassas and madrassas became the breeding ground of ‘Jehadis’. The madrassas became much more than religious schools where not only militant training was imparted but also the students were invigorated through fiery speeches by the teachers for Jehad. According to one estimate, Saudi Arabia reportedly spent more than one billion dollars per year to fund madrassas; responsible for recruiting, mobilizing public opinion and training Jehadis and other vehicles of Islamist militancy in Pakistan. The students of madrassas, particularly those situated along the border with Afghanistan also grew with an influx of recruits from Central Asia, North Africa, Burma, Bangladesh, Chechnya and Afghan refugees. Zia allowed foreign madrassa students free entry and movement within the country simultaneously encouraging them to join the Jehad in Afghanistan.

The state has no control or involvement over madrassas’s curriculum. Although ‘Dars-e-Nizami’ is the semi-official syllabus of all the madrassas, each madrassa has its own curriculum according to its particular sectarian interpretation of Islam. The curriculum contains hate content, which glorifies violence and portrays Jehad as the true destiny through which the dream of Global Islam would be realized. As a result of unlimited funding and no accountability, the madraasas have evolved from religious schools to sanctuaries and meeting places for terrorists & militants preaching Islamo-fascism. The madrassas are constantly spewing out young people with an archaic and exclusive mindset trained on sectarian content, intending to enforce the socio-economic system from 1400 years ago while exhibiting extreme intolerance and bigotry for other religious minorities. While the majority of

madrassas do not impart military training or education, 10-15% of madrassas are affiliated with violent extremist groups. These madrassas teach a brand of violent political jihad, extol suicide bombing and impart hate and sadism in the students.

There have been conclusive links between these madrassas and terrorist organizations. Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and its later offshoot, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) grew out of these Jehadi madrassas and established their headquarters in Punjab. Both the SSP and the LeJ have been responsible for providing recruits, finances and weapons to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) contributing to and assisting in its rise while also serving as al-Qaeda principal allies in the region. The countrywide network of mosques and madrassas remains major center of jihadi recruitment to date, providing recruits for internal sectarian conflicts, the “regional Jehad” in Afghanistan and against India and the “global Jehad” against the West.


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The Jehadi hydra monster which is spreading extremism, violence and bigotry can be controlled by regulating its breeding grounds. These extremist groups create individuals who do not respect other’s basic human rights instead extol an ideology according to which anyone n
ot submissive enough will have to obliterated. All the unregistered madrassas should be eradicated and those registered should teach only the state approved curriculum with properly trained teachers selected by the state. Gen. Musharraf tried to introduce an element of nominal control as an overture to American pressure, which by and large failed. The admission of foreign students should be especially regulated and security cameras installed in order to monitor the situation especially in the tribal areas. As long as these seminaries continue breeding new terrorists, the problem of violence cannot be effectively solved.

Faisal Usman is a student at UET, Lahore. He tweets at @lakhwera989

Sources: ICG Asia Report 2009, SPDC

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of Rationalist Society of Pakistan.

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