Farooq, Moosa Kaleem, Nasir Jamal, Ghulam Dastageer and Saher Baloch
A mega class room at a madrasa |Ghulam Dastageer
Hashim appears much younger than he is. Wearing a light blue Shalwar Qameez and
a white skullcap, he looks boyishly innocent. Sporting a trimmed brown beard,
he can speak only broken Urdu and converses mostly in Pashto, despite having
lived in Karachi since his birth in 1989.
He, as well
as his six brothers, received their education from Jamia Farooqia, a Deobandi
seminary in Shah Faisal Colony, Karachi, where around 3,000 students are
enrolled in courses ranging from the memorisation of the Quran to
specialisation in Arabic literature and Islamic jurisprudence. After his
graduation, Hashim decided to open a madrasa inside his house in Haider Chali,
a mostly Pakhtun working-class neighbourhood in Karachi’s north-western Sindh
Industrial Trading Estate (Site) area. The two-storey house was purchased in
1992 by his father, Haji Karim, originally a resident of the Swat valley in
shifted his family upstairs and turned the small bedrooms on the ground floor
into classrooms. This is how Al-Karim Islamic Academy – named after Hashim’s
father – came into being in 2007. The madrasa provides basic religious
education to around 200 boys and girls who mostly live in nearby houses and
streets, and pay a monthly fee of 150 rupees each. Being a teacher of the
Quran, Hashim is known as Qari Hashim among his students and their families.
A small room
that serves as the office of his madrasa has bare brick walls and cemented
flooring. The only furniture in it is a tattered sofa and a small wooden table,
a copy of the Quran placed on it. On the dusty afternoon of March 23, 2016,
Hashim is sitting in this office, explaining how he does not have anything to
do with his elder brother, 33-year-old Shakirullah. “He has a mind of his own,”
Hashim says of Shakirullah, whose wife and children live upstairs along with
the rest of Haji Karim’s family.
have never stopped the authorities from examining our premises or questioning
our students and teachers. We have nothing to hide."
is on the run. Also known as Mufti Shakir or Mufti Shah, he is reported to be
involved in terrorist activities. Al-Karim Islamic Academy is seen as his
sanctuary. The police and the paramilitary rangers have repeatedly raided the
place since 2014 for his capture. “He is not a mufti, but his friends call him
mufti,” says Hashim. Shakirullah received the title while studying at Jamia
Farooqia. “He was taking a two year course there in 2006 and 2007,” says
Hashim. But Shakirullah dropped out before completing the course and, according
to his younger brother, became “reserved and did not share much with the family
about his activities”.
In the next
few years, Shakirullah allegedly became a major facilitator of terrorism in
Karachi. The data maintained by Karachi’s Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD)
shows him to be associated with the Swat chapter of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
He is also alleged to have provided suicide bombers to the anti-Shia militant
group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). Naeemullah, one of the suicide bombers
Shakirullah is reported to have mentored, assassinated Superintendent of the
Police (SP) Aslam Khan, known for carrying out deadly anti-Taliban operations
in Karachi, on January 9, 2014.
who attacked a police picket in 2013 near a factory on 3rd Street in Site and
injured a police official are known to have links with him, too. Syed Tahir
Shah, an assistant sub-inspector at a Site area police station, says “we
arrested three of the suspected attackers and they named Shakirullah as the
provider of weapons and money to carry out the attack”.
months after the attack – on January 24, 2014 – a large contingent of the Sindh
Rangers surrounded Al-Karim Islamic Academy at around 11:30 pm. They were
looking for Shakirullah but he was not there. “None of us knew where he was,”
later, the rangers raided the seminary again and made Shakirullah’s other
brother, Muhammad Akbar, call him. Shakirullah returned home immediately after
receiving the call and was instantly arrested. A court in Karachi released him
on bail in September 2014 and, according to Hashim, he “stayed with us for a
week”. Since then, he has not seen his brother, Hashim says, speaking slowly.
left for some unknown destination and also took his younger brother, Muhammad
Usman, with him. “We have not heard from the two since then,” says Hashim.
first week of October 2015, law enforcement agencies conducted a third raid on
the seminary. Hashim heard his name being announced that day from a loudspeaker
and stepped out of the madrasa. He saw a police contingent asking questions
from the local residents. The police then probed him, inquiring about
Shakirullah. Before calling off the raid, they took another brother, Muhammad
Ahmed, into custody. A few weeks later, Ahmed was released but was rearrested
soon in a fresh raid at their house.
Ali Shah was seven years old when his father was murdered. Another seven years
later, in 1999, he managed to secure admission at Mercy Pak School – an
Arab-funded orphanage-cum-madrasa on the outskirts of Peshawar – thanks to one
of his relatives who once taught there.
there was nothing in the madrasa syllabus that preached jihad, yet he was so
radicalised by the time he passed his matriculation exam in 2003, that he
wanted to join a Jihadi organisation. He blames his passion for jihad on a
teacher at the Mercy Pak School who used to deliver regular sermons on the
importance and the need for it.
completing his matriculation, Shah met someone associated with jihad in
Indian-administered Kashmir. He received guerrilla training at a camp in Oghi
area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Mansehra District. He claims he could not cope
with the rigours of life in the camp and returned home after 35 days to his
native village of Wadpagga, situated in the semi-rural periphery of Peshawar.
similar stories have appeared in memoirs of Jihadi fighters, academic analyses,
research reports, and journalistic exposés. Beginning with the leaders and the
cadre of the Taliban in Afghanistan, who are known to have received education
in Pakistani madrasas, a large number of suicide bombers and sectarian killers
have proven links with madrasas. Just to cite one example, Abdul Rahim Muslim
Dost – a former detainee at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and reportedly one
of the main leaders of the Pakistan-Afghanistan chapter of the Islamic State in
Syria and Iraq (ISIS) – is a graduate of Al-Jamiat ul Asaria madrasa in
Peshawar’s Chamkani area, acknowledges Umer Bin Abdul Aziz, the head of the
Shah, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) in Karachi’s District West, tells the
Herald that his department has identified five madrasas in his jurisdiction
that help militants procure money and other logistics to carry out acts of
ul Asaria, founded in 1977, is a large complex of buildings stretched over 10
acres of land. Half of its 535 male students and about 200 of its 530 female
students are natives of neighbouring Afghanistan.
enforcement officials in different parts of the country verify that some
madrasas do not just radicalise their students to wage jihad against their
religious and sectarian opponents, but also provide financial resources and
logistic support to known religious and sectarian assassins. Feroze Shah,
Deputy Inspector General (DIG) in Karachi’s District West, tells the Herald
that his department has identified five madrasas in his jurisdiction that help
militants procure money and other logistics to carry out acts of terrorism. 12
madrasas in Karachi’s District Central are alleged to be doing the same thing,
says a Sindh home department report, seen by the Herald.
46 madrasas were found in 2015 to be either institutionally linked with
militant groups or were facilitating terrorist activities, according to the
home department report. In the first three months of 2016, the number of
madrasas with “leniency towards militants” has risen to 53. Out of these, 30
are in different parts of Karachi, 12 in Hyderabad, four in Larkana, six in
Sukkur and one each in Ghotki and Sajawal.
these madrasas are considered so dangerous that the home department has
requested the paramilitary rangers to send out heavily-armed mobile units in
aid to the police to conduct raids inside them. These are located in such
Karachi areas as Gulshan-e-Maymar, Surjani Town, Mominabad and Orangi Town —
mostly in the north-west of the city.
the provincial authorities have found that 200 people, required to notify their
movements to the police if and when they need to leave their place of residence
– a provision under the Fourth Schedule of antiterrorism laws that restricts
the movement of those allegedly linked to banned militant organisations — were
working either as teachers or as the administrators of various madrasas in the
province. “We have forced them to leave their jobs,” says a home department
official in Lahore, seeking anonymity.
government has also shut down three seminaries linked to Jaish-e-Mohammad
(JeM), a militant organisation that India alleges was involved in a recent
attack on its air force base in Pathankot. The closed down madrasas were
located in Sialkot, Rawalpindi and Gujranwala — but the JeM headquarters, in a
madrasa called Usman-o-Ali in Bahawalpur, remains functional.
Manzoorul Islamia, a sprawling semicircular complex of multi-storey classrooms
and hostel blocks with a courtyard in the middle, is located in Lahore
Cantonment’s Saddar area. A Pakhtun gunman greets the visitors as they enter
the madrasa and directs them to an office block to the east of the imposing
entrance. Some 1,000 students of different ages get free education here. About
700 of them come from places outside Lahore and get free boarding, lodging and
Saifullah Khalid, the madrasa’s founder administrator, came to Lahore from
Islamabad and set up the madrasa in 1986. As a visitor hears chants of children
reciting the Quran in a large hall, his nine-year-old son, Imdadullah, enters
the room and whispers something in his father’s ear. “Shake hands with uncle
and tell him your name in English and also tell him where you study if you want
me to give you money,” he commands the boy. Imdadullah obliges. “He studies at
a private English-medium school,” Khalid says proudly.
Manzoor ul Islamia is one of the four madrasas in Lahore that the provincial
CTD believes to have “militant leanings”. The other three are Jamia Madnia
Jadeed on Raiwind Road, not very far from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s
sprawling estate; Farooq-e-Azam, also in Lahore’s Cantonment area; and
Mohammadia Masjid near Chauburji.
says Khalid when asked about his seminary’s links with militancy. In the last
12 months, he says, the law enforcement agencies have raided the madrasa three
times, late in the night on each occasion. “We have never stopped the
authorities from examining our premises or questioning our students and
teachers. We have nothing to hide,” he says.
not restricted to madrasas which focus on providing religious education alone,
as Jamia Manzoor ul Islamia does. Far from being an average madrasa where
students sit on prayer mats and pore over medieval texts, the modern-looking
Jamia Qadria in Rahim Yar Khan was raided in January 2016. Equipped with computers
and close-circuit cameras that keep a watch on every nook and cranny of its
premises, the seminary appears to be more like a posh private school than a
religious education institution. It does not offer religious courses alone —
more than half of its students take board and university examinations under the
government education system, pursuing their religious studies alongside.
large-scale operations, small contingents of law enforcement personnel visit
madrasas in the region once or twice every month for updated information on the
students and the teachers and to keep a watchful eye on the money coming in and
raid, over 20 armed police and intelligence agencies personnel barged into
Jamia Qadria and closed down its main gate. They searched the premises
thoroughly, says Jawadur Rahman, the madrasa’s vice principal. They examined
hostel rooms, where students were taking a nap during the afternoon recess, and
selected some students randomly and questioned about their antecedents and
daily routines. “During the one-hour long search operation, the law enforcement
personnel also went over the books in the library and examined the documents at
the administration office,” says Rahman.
early 2015 announcement of the National Action Plan (NAP) to eliminate
terrorism, such raids have become a matter of routine, especially in the
southern parts of Punjab. Apart from large-scale operations, small contingents
of law enforcement personnel visit madrasas in the region once or twice every
month for updated information on the students and the teachers and to keep a
watchful eye on the money coming in and going out.
Muhammad Tahseen, administrator of a Multan-based madrasa, claims intelligence
personnel often visit the seminaries, looking for information on whether a
madrasa is involved in sectarian violence and whether it is getting funding
from abroad. More worrying for him than these queries is another official
measure: phones of the administrators and senior teachers are being tapped
these days, he claims.
interviews with police officials and madrasa administrators in Multan,
Bahawalpur and Rahim Yar Khan suggest that the official attitude towards
madrasas has shifted from benign indifference in the past to intrusive
watchfulness — after the killing of LeJ chief Malik Ishaq, in a reported
encounter with the police in July 2015. Government officials feel that Deobandi
sectarian elements and their supportive madrasas have been considerably
weakened with his death, which the law enforcement departments are using as a
helpful development to tighten the security and surveillance noose around
government is probing all those madrasas that sectarian militants such as Ishaq
and his affiliates used to visit,” says Hasan Ahmed Darkhwasti, the
administrator of Jamia Abdullah bin Masood in Khanpur town of Rahim Yar Khan.
His madrasa itself had hosted Ishaq on several occasions before his arrest and
murder because, he claims, the intelligence agencies would advise Deobandi
seminaries in the region to keep close contact with people like Ishaq.
murder in another part of the province – of Punjab’s home minister Shuja
Khanzada at his Attock residence in 2015 – has also forced the government to
start looking into the activities of madrasa students, teachers and
administrators. Officials in Lahore say the crackdown against madrasas was
launched after the militants linked with Jamaat ul Ahrar, a splinter group of
TTP, claimed to have assassinated Khanzada through the logistic support
allegedly provided by some seminaries.
raided 450-500 madrasas since then. Some raids were intelligence-based while
others were random,” says a senior Lahore-based police official. He does not
want to be named because he is not authorised to speak publicly on the subject.
“We have checked their records, probed their links with militant groups and
impounded whatever suspect material we found such as computers, weapons and
hate literature,” he says.
raids against madrasas have been discontinued in recent weeks due to the
apprehension that those might be seen as being conducted to please the western
donors, the official adds, “we continue to do surveillance and carry out
raids are selective and targeted, and are carried out as part of the NAP
implementation, officials say. Many madrasa administrators verify that they are
regularly questioned about the numbers and the identities of their students as
well as the names and the institutional affiliation of any guests that they
Pakhtunkhwa, according to a list compiled by the Special Branch of the provincial
police, 76 madrasas have been put under highest official surveillance. Only two
of these are in Peshawar.
Yet most of
them see these measures as a routine exercise which is yielding no tangible
results. “I do not know if any madrasa has been shut down in Karachi as a
result of search operations,” says Maulana Umer Sadiq, a local leader of Jamiat
Ulema-e-Islam—Fazl (JUI-F), which runs many madrasas in the city’s District
West. Abdul Kareem Bukhari, another madrasa administrator in the same district,
is also not convinced that the operations are effective. “I can assure you that
the police have not arrested a single person in District West,” he claims.
government officials dismiss these claims as propaganda meant to portray that
nothing sinister is going on inside the madrasas. They cite a recent home
department report to claim that at least one person, Ismail Shah, was arrested
from a madrasa inside Mustafa Masjid in Site area for possessing and
distributing Jihadi literature in the neighbourhood.
report, prepared last year by the same department, says around 167 madrasas
have been forced to close down across Sindh for their suspected links with
militancy and sectarianism. None of these sealed madrasas, however, happen to
be in Karachi. The authorities also refuse to reveal the names, locations and
sectarian identities of the sealed institutions.
officials have compiled a detailed list of all the madrasas in the province and
have geotagged a large number of them so that the coordinates of their location
are precisely mapped in the government records and a photo or another visual of
their premises is available in the official files. The following is a
division-wise breakdown of the madrasas as per the list which puts the total
number of madrasa students in the province at 517,695:
Pakhtunkhwa, according to a list compiled by the special branch of the
provincial police, 76 madrasas have been put under high-level official
surveillance. Only two of these are in Peshawar. The highest number of madrasas
under the strictest surveillance (18) is in Lakki Marwat; the second highest
number (13) is in Dera Ismail Khan; and the third highest number (10) is in
authorities claim they have geotagged all the 14,000 or so madrasas in the
province, although a large number of them are not even registered with any
government department. “We have collected complete data on the number of
children enrolled in these madrasas. We also know how many foreign students are
enrolled and in which madrasa,” says a Lahore-based official, who does not want
to be named.
The way the
Punjab government is moving towards the seminaries is causing a lot of
discomfort among the madrasa administrators. “We are fine with the collection
of information and any other queries, but the government officials must conduct
those exercises in a decent way; they should not humiliate and harass the
people in seminaries through unnecessarily aggressive actions,” says the
administrator of a madrasa in Multan. “The law enforcement agencies mostly
treat the teachers and students of the seminaries as criminals,” he claims.
complain the government treats madrasas as hatcheries of terrorism, even when
there is only circumstantial evidence of it. “Intelligence agencies came to
know that a man named Umar, who happened to be a close aide of LeJ’s deceased
chief, was once a student at our madrasa. The officials came to us and started
questioning us about him as if we are responsible for all the acts of all our
former students,” says Azizur Rahman Darkhwasti, the administrator of Jamia
Arabia Makhzanul Uloom, a prominent Deobandi madrasa in Rahim Yar Khan’s
Rahmani, a teacher at the same madrasa, recounts how the law enforcement
personnel registered a case for promoting sectarian hatred against the
administrator of a local seminary over the possession of a book of Deobandi
beliefs which, he claims, did not incite any hatred towards anyone.
of madrasas in Rahim Yar Khan also like to cite the case of Shafiqur Rahman, a Khateeb
(scribe) at a local mosque, to claim that the cases against people linked to
madrasas are being registered on whim. Rahman himself claims to have been
victimised for publicly opposing a ban imposed by the district police officer
on the collection of donation for madrasas. “The officer was so displeased that
he booked me for violating the Punjab Sound Systems Regulation Act during the
Friday prayers,” he says.
Rahman was able to secure an acquittal from a court but the police have still
put his name in a list of people whose movements are governed by the Fourth
Schedule, due to alleged links with terrorist organisations. “I have never
attended any public meeting by any sectarian or extremist organisation,”
Shafiqur Rahman says in his defence.
intensity of government actions has forced some madrasas to take unprecedented
precautionary measures. Jamia Qadria, for example, checks the personal
belongings, mobile phones and hostel rooms of the students every month to ensure
that they are not doing anything that may land their institution in trouble
with the government. Three students were expelled a couple of months ago after
badges supporting Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, an outlawed anti-Shia organisation,
were found in their bags, says Vice Principal Jawadur Rahman.
law enforcement officials in Lahore believe that madrasas are not “directly
involved in terrorism” and, therefore, must not be punished for the individual
acts of their graduates.
officials in southern Punjab claim they have solid reasons to conduct raids.
“Terrorists apprehended recently were once linked to certain madrasas. That is
why the police are probing the seminaries they had been associated with,” says
SP Irfan Samo in Rahim Yar Khan. He denies being harsh or selective, let alone
personal, in these probes. “No specific sects or persons are our targets, and
madrasas belonging to all sects and schools of thought are being treated
madrasa administrators protest that the official measures are aimed at nothing
else but maligning the institutions of religious learning. “Midnight raids,
sieges of madrasas and harassment [are meant to] please the Western countries,”
says Mufti Attaur Rahman, principal of Jamiat ul Madina, a madrasa in
Bahawalpur. “Countless criminals and terrorists have studied at schools,
colleges and universities but the government never raids their educational
institutions. Why then does the government harass madrasas for the individual
acts of their former associates?” he asks.
law enforcement officials in Lahore echo his concerns. They believe that
madrasas are not “directly involved in terrorism” and, therefore, must not be
punished for the individual acts of their graduates. Their argument: most
suspects involved in acts of terrorism at home and abroad come from mainstream
educational institutions and reputed Pakistani and foreign universities.
“Should those universities and colleges also be shut down?” asks one senior
opposes “stereotyping” madrasas as “breeding grounds of militancy and
militants” and insists that “we, as society, have massively been radicalised
over time”. This situation, he says, “cannot be reversed by demonising madrasas
and their students alone”.
Imran Ali Shah received admission at Mercy Pak School 17 years ago, his family
had no idea that the madrasa-cum-orphanage was affiliated with the
Wahhabi/Salafi school of thought. His widowed mother was actually happy that he
was to receive free education from a quality institution.
a traditionalist Sufi family, he started feeling like an alien in the madrasa
as his education proceeded. “I was, perhaps, the only student who did not
follow the madrasa’s Wahhabi ideology,” Shah tells the Herald. “Almost all the
teachers of the orphanage were Wahhabis,” he says. And even though the
curriculum of the madrasa did not have any ostensibly sectarian contents, he
says, the students over the passage of time were so brainwashed that they would
consider many beliefs and practices of people belonging to other sects as
with Ali and Shah in it, is a popular name among the Shias and, therefore,
earned him the reputation of being a Shia in the madrasa, even though he comes
from a Sunni family. He remembers a scuffle with a fellow student over
sectarian differences vis-à-vis religious personages.
administrators everywhere claim they do not teach their students to hate other
sects, but interviews with teachers and students amply prove that the madrasas
play a key role in moulding the sectarian identities of their graduates. Most
of them do not hesitate from pronouncing their sectarian beliefs publicly. Umer
Bin Abdul Aziz, the administrator of an Ahl-e-Hadith madrasa in Peshawar, does
not mince his words when he debunks many Barelvi beliefs even in his casual
conversations. He also appears to be vehemently opposed to the beliefs of
madrasas, too, feelings towards the members of other sects are of distrust if
not outright hostility. Muhammad Saad Junaidi, a 19-year-old student at
Peshawar’s main Barelvi madrasa, Jamia Junaidiyah Ghafooriyah, does not deem it
right to offer prayers led by an imam who belongs to another sect.
Hadi, administrator of Jamiatus Shaheed Arif Hussain Lil-Maarif al-Islamia,
acknowledges that the way the Shia madrasas implement Dars-e-Nizami curriculum
is quite flawed. Precious little is taught about the lives of the first three
Muslim caliphs in the Shia seminaries, he admits. “It’s not the right thing.
Their services to Islam should also be taught about in the Shia madrasas.”
madrasa administrators still want everyone to believe that their educational
institutions do not have any role in spreading sectarian sentiments and inciting
by his cross-sectarian impulses, he gathered administrators of 40 madrasas of
Peshawar at his seminary about a decade ago with three objectives in mind: to
devise a uniform syllabus; to organise exchange visits for madrasa teachers;
and to arrange similar exchange visits for madrasa students. The initiative
could not bear fruit because the then provincial government – run by a
coalition of six religious political parties – wanted to take credit for it
while most of the madrasa administrators involved in it wanted to keep it free
from politics, says Hadi.
madrasa administrators still want everyone to believe that their educational
institutions do not have any role in spreading sectarian sentiments and
inciting religious violence. Maulana Samiul Haq, the head of Darul Uloom
Haqqania in Akora Khattak that prides itself on being the alma mater of many
prominent Afghan Taliban leaders, obfuscates the subject of sectarian violence
by blaming it entirely on the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, as if
Muslims never had any sectarian problems before that.
self-contradicts without blinking an eye. After claiming that no terrorists
have ever had any links to any madrasa in Pakistan, Haq says Iran and Saudi
Arabia generously fund madrasas in Pakistan to promote their respective
sectarian agendas. The madrasas receiving these funds are either bastions of
peace or they are the fountainheads of sectarian violence. They cannot be both
at the same time.
argues that the madrasa curriculum does not discriminate between the books
written by authors belonging to different sects — or even different schools of
thought. “We are Hanafis, but none of the compilers of the six most authentic
collections of Hadith was a Hanafi. Still, we teach their books,” he says
without explaining that in this case, he is referring to different schools of
jurisprudence within Sunni Islam, rather than the sectarian division between
Sunnis and Shias.
things even further, he says the madrasa curriculum also includes the poetry of
Imru al-Qais, a pre-Islamic Arab poet, without specifying that it is part of
the syllabus meant only for specialisation in Arabic grammar and language — a
higher qualification that only few madrasa students opt for.
these are ubiquitous. When Hafiz Muhammad Ejaz, a senior administrator at
Islamabad’s Jamia Salfia proudly shows the Herald that his madrasa has a book
by the 12th Century rationalist Muslim philosopher Ibne Rushd (known as
Averroes in the West) in its syllabus, he fails to hide the next entry — a book
to negate the beliefs and practices of the Ahmadis.
insiders know these contradictions are too glaring to brush aside and are,
therefore, unapologetic about their sectarian character. They see Aqeedah – how
and what people believe – as the basis for sects and madrasas. The madrasas,
according to them, have a role in imparting the correct Aqeedah to their
affiliates. “We teach the students the Aqeedah of every sect and tell them as
to how and where that Aqeedah is wrong so that we can then guide them to the
right Aqeedah,” says Umer bin Abdul Aziz of Jamiatul Asar in Peshawar.
What if the
students then want to fight with those who have the wrong Aqeedah? Instead of
bringing people to the right Aqeedah through violence, they should be convinced
through argument, he responds. The long history of sectarian violence in Islam
shows that sectarian schisms run deep and hardly ever yield to reconciliation
through arguments. That there are so many sects in Islam only means that none
of them has been able to clinch the argument in favour of its Aqeedah.
administrators everywhere claim they do not teach their students to hate other
sects but interviews with teachers and students amply prove that the madrasas
play a key role in moulding the sectarian identities of their graduates.
insider is even more candid about the role of madrasas, and their
administrators and teachers in spreading sectarianism. “They are lying if they
say they do not influence their students directly or indirectly,” says a
Deobandi madrasa teacher in southern Punjab. “They are the reason why madrasa
students dislike the beliefs and practices of people from other sects or
schools of thought.”
outsiders readily agree. Syed Kamran Ali Shah Qadri, the editor of a
Peshawar-based religious monthly magazine Mazhab-i-Amn (which translates as
“the religion of peace”), is a champion of interfaith harmony. He believes
sectarian ideology is systematically instilled into the minds of the students
who enter madrasas at a very tender and impressionable age.
madrasa representatives avoid making public the unpalatable aspects of madrasa
education, says Dr Niaz Muhammad, a researcher at the Abdul Wali Khan
University in Mardan, who has carried out textual analysis of madrasa books.
“No one should claim that their statements about the madrasa curriculum have
nothing to do with sectarianism or other forms of religious militancy to match
the reality,” he says.
outside Pakistan, religious education remains mostly sectarian — most obviously
in places such as Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, one
internationally renowned institution of religious learning, Cairo’s historic
Al-Azhar University, has focused on developing critical faculties among its
graduates rather than cramming them with controversial histories and even more
controversial interpretations of religious texts. “I did not find any sectarian
bias in the curriculum at Al-Azhar where people from 114 different
nationalities and belonging to different sects study together,” says Khalid
Raza, who is pursuing a degree there after graduating from a Barelvi madrasa in
lane, lined on either side with overflowing open drains and strewn with
garbage, winds through rundown unpainted barrack-like houses with broken
windows and walls festooned with posters of rival political parties,” wrote
Yoginder Sikand, a leading Indian author on Islam, in an essay, titled Lost
Legacy of South Asia’s Leading Centre of Islamic Learning. “Goats sniff through
piles of vegetable peels and rotting fruit. Ahead, an enormous mound of bricks
and mud squats like a crumbling pyramid. A thin slice of wall peeks out from
the rubble. The serpentine roots of a peepul tree grow out of what was once a
delicately-carved dome. This was once the grand Firangi Mahal,” he wrote.
Mahal (foreigner’s palace) — “or whatever is left of it — is located [in
Lucknow] off a busy road constantly clogged with slow-moving traffic,” Sikand
noted. Originally the residence of a European visitor to India, it was handed
over to the family of two religious scholars in the 17th century by Mughal
Emperor Aurangzeb. The scholars turned it into an institute of religious
learning, thereby starting a long line of distinguished men of religion known
as the Ulema of Firangi Mahal who have played an important role in various
social and political movements of the Muslims in India, including the Khilafat
Movement in the 1920s and the movement for independence from the British in
of Firangi Mahal were closely associated with the Mughal Empire and were
instrumental in introducing the 11th Century Muslim religious curriculum, known
as Dars-e-Nizami, to the Indian subcontinent — and subsequently to Pakistan and
India. The story goes something like this: when the East India Company
purchased the right to collect revenue in the Mughal provinces of Bengal, Orissa
and Bihar from Emperor Shah Alam, one of the clauses in the purchase agreement
was that the British company will not change the legal and administrative
systems in those provinces. Obliged by the need to train judges and
administrators to run those systems – mostly operating under Hanafi Muslim laws
– the company needed to devise a curriculum for the schools that it wanted to
set up for its prospective employees in the provinces it was to run. Mullah
Nizamuddin, a scion of the Firangi Mahal family, had devised an education
curriculum around the same time, which, according to Sikand, “combined Sufi
treatises, Islamic texts as well as books on the ‘rational’ sciences such as
geography, logic, medicine, philosophy, literature and mathematics.”
Students at Jamia Junaidiyah Ghafooriyah, a
Barelvi madrasa in Peshawar
Dars-e-Nizami has experienced substantial changes mostly because of sectarian
reasons. “The Barelvis and Deobandis have retained only 25 to 30 per cent of
the original Dars-e-Nizami,” Dr Niaz Muhammad tells the Herald.
syllabus was an adapted version of the original Dars-e-Nizami devised by
Abu Ali Hasan ibn Ali Tusi – known as Nizam al-Mulk – for the higher
education institutions he set up as the prime minister of the Seljuk Sultans,
about six centuries earlier. These institutions were called Nizamiyyah after
him and their curriculum was consequently known as Dars-e-Nizamiyyah or
Nizamuddin’s Dars-e-Nizami syllabus, the Quran and Hadith were only
marginally studied; the former via two commentaries, the latter through one
abridgement, says Barbara D Metcalf, the author of Islamic Revival in British
India: Deoband 1860-1900. This Dars-e-Nizami became the core syllabus for all
Islamic – mostly Sunni – madrasas that were later opened in different parts of
British India, staring with what was then known as the United Provinces (UP) in
places such as Deoband (in 1867) and in Rae Bareli (in 1904). These two places
have subsequently become respectively synonymous with Deobandi and Barelvi
sub-sects of the Sunni Islam in the Indian subcontinent. One of Mullah
Nizamuddin’s own successors, Maulana Abdul Bari, who “played a leading role in
India’s struggle for independence”, as Sikand tells us, also set up Madrasa
Nazmia in Lucknow in 1913.
has experienced substantial changes mostly because of sectarian reasons. “The
Barelvis and Deobandis have retained only 25 to 30 per cent of the original
Dars-e-Nizami,” Dr Niaz Muhammad tells the Herald. However, “madrasas linked to
the Shia and Ahl-e-Hadith sects as well as those linked to the Jamaat-e-Islami
political party have almost entirely replaced Dars-e-Nizami with curricula of
notes that the most important change to have taken place in Dars-e-Nizami is
that it has shifted away from imparting the knowledge of Ma’aqulat
(rational sciences) to rote learning and interpretation of Manqlat (received
religious texts). This is because the main purpose of the current curriculum is
to train religious teachers and prayer leaders, he says.
also explains why a madrasa administrator in Lahore is not enthusiastic about
adding any non-religious subjects to the curriculum. “What is the use of these
subjects for children being trained in religious education?” asks Pir Saifullah
Khalid of Jamiatul Manzoor.
Tauseen, an expert on Dars-e-Nizami curriculum who heads a federal government
institution in Islamabad – Pakistan Madrasa Education Board – points out that
the commentaries on the compilations of Hadith differ in the syllabus of
madrasas belonging to different sects and are major contributors to
sectarianism. “Courses related to sectarian subjects have been introduced as
part of the teaching of Hadith,” he says.
Mehmood, the principal of Jamia Salfia in Islamabad’s H-8 Sector, talks about
some other changes which, he says, have been necessitated by the changing
times. “The original Dars-e-Nizami included the learning of Greek philosophy,”
he says, “but the age we are living in is not the age of philosophy”. Most
madrasas, therefore, “teach Greek philosophy only with the help of a 20-page
summary”. The focus, he says, “has shifted to computer science” which has now
become an integral part of the instruction at many madrasas across Pakistan.
been multiple attempts to change – if not reform – the madrasa education system
in recent times. For instance, the teaching of some non-religious subjects –
such as mathematics, Urdu, Pakistan Studies – was introduced in the 1980s, when
the government was generously supporting madrasas financially. The introduction
of those subjects allowed madrasa graduates to sit for the examinations
conducted by the government boards and universities. Other administrative
changes around that time helped thousands of madrasa graduates to get bachelors
and masters degrees in subjects such as Arabic and Islamic Studies by passing
matriculation and intermediate examinations in some compulsory subjects such as
English and Pakistan Studies. Most of those students later became Arabic and
Islamic Studies teachers at thousands of government schools when these two
subjects were declared compulsory during the martial law regime of General Zia ul
administrators remember General Zia ul Haq as their greatest benefactor who,
according to Pir Saifullah Khalid, “used to finance madrasas with public
money.” That channel dried after the Zia era came to an end in a plane crash.
“We then had to turn to charitable donors at home and abroad for funds to meet
our expenditure,” he tells the Herald. “How else you expect us to finance our
not favour any restrictions on the flow of money to the madrasas because that
money, according to him, is being used for “educating poor children”.
in the federal government have a different viewpoint. Many madrasas are getting
money from abroad and not all of it is being used to impart education, they
say. Out of more than 250 madrasas closed down across Pakistan in recent
months, according to an intelligence official, around 100 were sealed on the
charges of receiving foreign funds from dubious sources. The action, he says,
was taken on the basis of intelligence reports. The number of madrasas getting
foreign funding of suspect nature may turn out to be much higher if a proper
audit of it is done in all those madrasas receiving money from abroad, he adds.
According to an unofficial count by Mufti Abdul Qavi, a Multan-based Sunni
religious scholar, the number of such madrasas is 280.
the madrasas cannot ask the donors about the source of their money. “We are
ready to give our accounts for audit, but will not disclose the source of
funds. Why should we do that if the donors don’t want to be named?”
government appears resolute about doing just that. “All the madrasas receiving
foreign funding have been put under strict government surveillance,” says Qavi,
highlighting the government’s intentions.
In a big
hall inside the vast campus of Jamia Faridia –one of the largest seminaries in
Pakistan – three neatly turned out teachers are taking three separate classes,
each comprising 12 to 15 students. Dressed in white cotton Shalwar Qameez, each
teacher is providing lessons on memorising the Quran. After spending three
hours in classes of religious instruction, says Muhammad Ahmed, a senior
student of the seminary, the students will spend an hour learning worldly
subjects such as English, science, mathematics and Pakistan Studies.
In a small
room, a little while later, some 12 students start taking lessons in basic
science and geography. “If you go into space and look towards the planet earth,
it will appear blue to you; the blue colour indicates the presence of water on
earth,” Muhammad Ayub, a young teacher, is telling the students, many of whom
come from Kashmir and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
2007, about 3,000 students were enrolled at Jamia Faridia. Many of its students
then joined the administrators of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid in an armed revolt
against the state. The seminary subsequently remained closed for more than a
year and was allowed to reopen only after intense negotiations between the
government and its administrators. One of the main official conditions for
reopening the seminary was that it should reduce its enrolment. Letting a
madrasa in the heart of the federal capital have a huge student body will
always run the risk that those studying there become unruly – as they did
during the bloodied debacle at Lal Masjid – and create a law and order
situation, as the authorities feared.
madrasa in the heart of the federal capital have a huge student body will
always run the risk that those studying there become unruly – as they did
during the bloodied debacle at Lal Masjid – and create a law and order
only 1,300 students in Jamia Faridia now,” says Ahmed. The madrasa is
also under strict government surveillance.
madrasa in the same city is under absolutely no official regulation, let alone
surveillance. “There is no contact with the government,” says Dr Tahir Mehmood,
principal of Jamia-e-Salfia, the largest Ahl-e-Hadith seminary in
inconsistency is about to change if officials at the federal interior ministry
are to be believed. The ministry is in the process of devising a surveillance
regime for all the madrasas in the country, aimed at centralising all the
relevant data and getting regular updates on any changes at any of the madrasas
in Pakistan. The system being put in place will require the management of
madrasas to submit instant reports “about every development in their
seminaries,” as one official in Islamabad puts it. If and when, for instance, a
student or a teacher migrates from one seminary to another, both the seminaries
will have to report this development to the interior ministry.
National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) has been tasked to develop
software for this system,” the official says. The surveillance mechanism
envisions the setting up of a server at the interior ministry’s headquarters in
Islamabad to house the central database; every madrasa will be linked to this
database through a computer terminal provided by the ministry which will also
carry out on-site inspections through intelligence agencies and the local
police to verify and cross-check the information being received from individual
madrasas, the official tells the Herald without wanting to be named.
One of the
main hurdles the planned system is facing is the reluctance among the madrasa
administrators to agree to it. The government remains adamant that they have
to. Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was unequivocal when he
told the representatives of madrasa administrators in a meeting in Islamabad on
January 17, 2016, that they have no option but to accept a strict monitoring
and surveillance system.
between the government and the office-bearers of Ittehad Tanzeem ul Madaris –
an umbrella organisation of all the five madrasa associations in the country
(representing four sects – Deobandi, Salafi, Barelvi, Shia (and a political
party, Jamaat-e-Islami) – have been going on for months. “During the last six
months, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Chief of the Army Staff General Raheel
Sharif and Interior Minister Khan have had multiple meetings with the madrasa
representatives,” says a senior office-bearer of Wifaq ul Madaris al-Arabia
(an association of Deobandi madrasas). “In every meeting, we were told to
cooperate with the government,” he says.
decision to bring madrasas under strict vigilance was taken at the highest
official level “after it became apparent that most of the terrorist attacks
during the last three years could be traced back to madrasas,” says a senior
interior ministry official.
As a first
step to implement a surveillance system, the interior ministry started a
registering process three months ago. In a related measure, the provincial
governments were told to perform the geographical mapping of all the madrasas
within their jurisdiction. The process of geo-tagging has been completed in
Punjab and is at a very advanced stage in Sindh but it has not even started in
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
objectives of the government drive are: a) to get all the madrasas registered
by the middle of this year; b) to convince the madrasa managements to carry out
all their financial transaction through banks; and c) to convince madrasas to
get their accounts audited through government authorised auditors.
progress on all three counts has been slow. The representatives of madrasa
associations cite “practical obstacles in the way of implementation” of the
official demands, says an official of the National Counter-Terrorism Authority
(NACTA), a recently constituted government body. While the money-related
requirements have been rejected out of hand by madrasa administrators, the
registration process has also been bogged down mainly due to the differences
between the madrasa associations and their affiliates.
government has been able to register only around 8,000 madrasas out of the
33,000 known to exist across Pakistan,” says a senior government official in
Islamabad. And this is in spite of the fact that the registration process has
been going on since the London bombing carried out by men of Pakistani origin
in 2006, who had attended madrasas in Pakistan. The task was originally
assigned to the federal ministry of religious affairs which, according to
interior ministry officials, was more interested in appeasing the madrasa
managements than in registering them. The assignment has now been given to the
interior ministry which has enlisted the help of provincial home departments to
factor hampering the registration process is more protracted. Many madrasa
administrators see the representatives of their associations to have surrendered
their autonomy to the government. “We have reports that a large number of
madrasas have revolted against their respective associations, accusing them of
agreeing to an intrusive inspection and surveillance regime,” says a senior
government official in Islamabad. “More than 40 per cent of the madrasas just
refused” when the associations distributed a seven-page registration form among
their affiliates. The madrasas in revolt, according to the official, mostly
belong to the Deobandi sect.
problem is a long-standing demand by the madrasa associations that their
examinations and degrees enjoy the same status as that accorded to the
examinations and degrees of the government boards and universities. For years,
the madrasa representatives have been putting forward this demand as a
precondition to allowing the registration process to go ahead. In recent
months, however, the government has reversed the situation by insisting that
the madrasa examinations and degrees will get the official recognition only if
the registration process is completed without delay, says an interior ministry
official. The two sides, however, are yet to arrive at an agreement on the
government is complementing its negotiations with the representatives of
madrasa associations through other efforts to register madrasas: religious
ministry officials are talking to the managements of those madrasas which are
not affiliated to any of the five associations so that they register themselves
with the Pakistan Madrasa Education Board (PMEB). “There are 5,000 such
madrasas throughout Pakistan,” says the board’s chairman, Dr Aamir Tauseen. Out
of these, he says, “1,500 madrasas have agreed to affiliate themselves with the
board.” Those ready for affiliation belong to the Deobandi sect.
set up in 2001 through an ordinance with the objective of modernising the
madrasa curriculum. It was also supposed to oversee the functioning of five
madrasa associations. The board, however, has faded into the background for
several reasons, not the least because it has been functioning with next to no
money for the last 10 years.
clearly explains that the government’s efforts for regulating madrasas lack
consistency. Once the current furore over the links between religious and sectarian
terrorism and the madrasas subside, will the government pursue the issue with
the same vigour as it is exhibiting now? The question is moot.