Paigham-e-Pakistan Strategic importance of madrassa reforms
UNFORTUNATELY, Pakistan is passing through difficult times in terms of economic meltdown, political instability, social polarization, ethnic discrimination and last but not the least, religious division leading us towards unsecured orbits.
Time and again, the successive governments tried their best to transform Madaris through structural reforms in terms of new syllabus, elimination of radical narratives, infusion of scientific subjects and introduction of new modern disciplines.
However, every effort of the successive governments could not be succeeded because of ill-will of the clergy and its supporters in the society.
Ironically, the Madaris which were once symbol of harmony and unity now have become a sign of hatred and differences, sectarianism, religious extremism and terrorism.
Religious seminaries have been one of the main sources of radicalization, extremism and fanaticism in the country. These Madaris have become symbol of violent manpower in the society.
Most of the Madaris have become centres of hatred, bigotry and prejudice which have spoiled social harmony in the society and people are living under the dark shadows of ignorance, intolerance, inflexibility and incrimination and therefore in the war of survival between Islamized and modernized schools of taught common people have been sandwiched.
Unfortunately, model of cognitive dissonance has been brutally executed in so-called places of peace and blessings (Madaris) which ultimately produced nothing but hatchery of clones of terrorism and extremism in the society.
In some parts of the country, sponsored and trained genies of these Madaris become a potential security risk for the society and the state alike.
Therefore, existing madrassa reform efforts remain piecemeal and sporadic.
The role and reform of Madaris needs innovative, acceptable and more doable strategies in the country, otherwise volcanoes of violence may erupt any time.
The rise of Islamic militancy in Pakistan during 2008 and 2009 and the resulting military operation in the Swat valley and other agencies in the KP can be traced back to the inculcation of radical ideologies among the youth in the frontier region.
The tragic incident of 9/11 was the turning point in the world and Pakistan too.
The terrorist attack on Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014 was a wake-up call for the state, its apparatus and establishment and resultantly, a 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) was announced in which Madaris reforms remained a key point.
Pakistani society may be transformed towards prosperity, progressiveness, productivity and tolerance with the change in the Islamic curriculum currently being taught within Madaris must be reviewed.
This curriculum needs to be reformed using Islamic precepts themselves which can help deliver important social benefits.
Unfortunately, birth of Jihad teachings and foreign funding has been out of control of the state.
The rise of political Islam and purposeful efforts of Islamisation in country proved fatal. Ultimately, Madaris in Pakistan were blamed for promoting radicalisation and extremism.
In order to meet the imperatives of new realities and global trends, General Musharraf joined US global war on terrorism.
Under his government, Pakistan took action against militant organizations having transnational activities in several countries, especially in Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, the number of Madaris is on the rise and level of tolerance is on the decline. According to latest data, the total number of Madaris in Pakistan is 32,272 with 2.26 million enrolment of students.
Three percent of these Madaris are under public sector and remaining 97pc are run privately.
There are 74,648 teachers in these institutions out of which 76pc are male and 24pc are female.
Interestingly, there are primarily five religious schools in Pakistan which run Madaris at various levels: Deobandi, Brailvi, Shia, Ahl-e-Hadith and Jamat-e-Islami.
These five schools of thought have set up their own different madrassa boards, affirmed by the administration and perceived by the Higher Education Commission (HEC).
Moreover, in Pakistan at least four types of Madaris are functioning: mainly Nazira Madaris, Hifz Madaris and Dars-e-Nizami is the third type of Madrassa where eight years of education is imparted to students.
The fourth type of Madaris is known as “Takhassas Madaris”. This level of Madaris offers students specialization courses of “Mufti”.
Historically, the issue of madrassa reforms was first time raised during General Ayub Khan’s era (1958-1969).
He criticized the then prevailing madrassa system and wanted to modernize their system.
Later on, during the 1980s, the government of General Zia-ul-Haq also attempted to reform Madaris.
However, formal reform program was launched in 2001 by General Pervez Musharraf in the backdrop of war on terror.
However, religious elite showed severe resistance to these reforms and thus the implementation remained a dream.
In 2015, the government of Pakistan introduced the NAP with the aim to fight militancy and extremism across the country.
One of its points was to register and regulate Madaris. It is observed that registration and regularization of Madaris was a huge task that has met with severe resistance from the religious circles.
To conclude, ours is the age of inclusiveness, integration, social modernization and scientific development.
Unfortunately, the Madaris have lagged behind in modern learning and isolated from the means of modern survival.
Now state, policy makers, civil society and common people alike have come to realize that most of our social backwardness germinates from lack of or misdirected education in these Madaris.
Thus, there is surging social pressure on the government to overhaul basic education sector of the country, including mainstreaming of madrassa system.
Rigorous revision of the madrassa education is extremely important for addressing the root causes of intolerance, extremism, sectarianism and terrorism in the society.
I suggest that all stakeholders should agree to introduce required reforms in the syllabus and structure of scattered Madaris in order to stop these unfortunate factories of producing wandering souls to meet the challenges of 21st century.
The very first step should be registration of Madaris as pointed out in NAP. Therefore, government should continue its efforts to change the mindset of religious scholars about the registration and regulation.
The government should also study the successful Madaris reforms of Indonesia, Turkey and even Saudi Arabia to transform their outlook, scope, utility and importance in the society and economy alike.
Madaris should be centre of “modesty” not “mediocrity”, “meditation” not “meddling” and “massive” growth of learning not ‘mushroom” growth of “midgets”.
Islam stands for peace and harmony therefore Madaris should also be an ideal place of purity, piousness, productivity and participation because there is no place of any misleading solo flight and permission of brainwashing should be allowed to play with the innocent souls.
Moreover, lust for illegal lands, obsession for self-glorification and self-gratification of pseudo clergy has cancerous pigments.
—The writer is Executive Director, Centre for South Asia & International Studies, Islamabad, regional expert China, BRI & CPEC & senior analyst, world affairs, Pakistan Observer.