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Have Pakistanis Forgotten Their Sufi Traditions? Part – 4


By Rohan Bedi

April 2006

Islamic Army

The Pakistani army is a significant Islamic institution that needs to be de-Islamised. To quote an editorial in the armed forces weekly journal Hilal in 1996:

“By Allah’s grace no other official, semi-official or non-official institution of Pakistan has been so attached and devoted to Islam in thought and action as the armed forces of Pakistan. Throughout the whole world, yes throughout the world, no armed force is so irrevocably devoted to Islam as the Pakistani armed forces.”

In March 1996, for example, Hilal ran an item that described the proper role of the ‘The Soldiers of Allah’ . It was clear to all those who read Hilal that while some elements of the army remained as modernist as ever, others had the passion and the confidence to advance a radical Islamist agenda. Furthermore, without the support of the top generals, it would be impossible to publish such articles in the Hilal.

The ‘beard counts’ at annual ceremonies inducting new officers into the army has been steady at 15 per cent, though many say that at the top of the army only a tiny percentage could be described as having strong religious views and this would remain the case through the process of elimination. The radical Islamist sentiment of some former Pakistani soldiers is plain for all to see in the Tanzeemul Ikhwan movement (Islamic movement to introduce Muslim law throughout Kashmir and to prevent Hindu Kafirs from resettling in Kashmir). Based in a madrasa 90 miles from Islamabad, the organization is made up of retired Pakistan army personnel. Furthermore, since General Zia’s time, the students of Deobandi madrasas were favoured over the Barelvis in the recruitment of preachers in the military and this trend is still visible. 32 The implications of such trends are profound. Should there ever be an Islamic-based challenge to Pakistan’s existing system of government the attitude of the army would probably be decisive. If it were ever faced with mass Islam-inspired street protests in Pakistan, some men may not obey an order to fire on the masses and the army might split in this event. This can be a disaster if these factions turn rogue and join the fundamental Islamic groups.

9. However…History May Support Reform

General Musharraf is well aware that throughout Pakistans history no religious leader had been able to translate the possibility of a mass-based Islamic revolutionary movement into reality. Although some religious parties have participated in elections they have never done well. It is often said that they have never won more than 5 per cent of the vote albeit in 1970 the three main religious parties won the support of over 14 per cent of the electorate in the areas that now make up Pakistan (excludes Bangladesh) and in Punjab they won no less than 20.5 per cent of the vote. In 2002, against the backdrop of the American-led offensive in Afghanistan, the radicals achieved 11 per cent and formed the local government in the NWFP and Baluchistan.

However, the religious parties have never come close to winning power in Pakistan on a national level and, in terms of their influence on national politics they have consistently punched above their electoral weight. Nonetheless, the religious parties, especially Jamaat-e-Islami, have always had a reputation for being able to organize impressive displays of street power even if this has not translated into significant electoral power.

32 Pakistan: Madrasas, Extremism and the Military, ICG Asia Report No 36, 29 July 2002 as amended on 15 July 2005

10. Pakistani Education Reform Agenda 33

Under international pressure, Pakistan has taken several steps on education reforms albeit with weak enforcement, and much remains to be done. The Islamic philosophy being propagated is untouched:

• The Pakistan government’s National Plan of Action for education is projected to cost about US$7.2 billion over the period 2001- 2015.

• In December 2001, the government launched an Education Sector Reform (ESR) with seven main goals, among them significantly increasing the national literacy rate; providing universal education with increased completion rates and reduced gender disparity; improving education quality through curriculum reform, teacher training, and assessment reform.

• An "Education for All" project was launched in 2001 and funded with about US$20 million in 2003. English language classes are now compulsory in all of Pakistan’s public schools. Also among the stated ESR goals is bringing madrasa curriculum into the mainstream of Pakistan’s general education system through the inclusion of "secular" subjects such as science.

• In August 2001, the government created a Pakistan Madrasa Education Board to establish a network of "model madrasas" and regulate others. The official statement is that admission to the model madrasas would not be on sectarian grounds, nor would the teachers and the administration belong to one school of thought. 34

• A 2002 law requiring madrasas to audit their funding and foreign students to register with the government. The number of foreign religious students has since dropped from thousands to hundreds as the government issued and renewed fewer visas to religious students.

• A five-year, US$1 billion plan introduced in 2003 aimed at putting secular subjects on syllabuses and bringing madrasas under the purview of the Education Ministry. Under the madrasa reform program, a special committee will be constituted, headed by a government functionary, which will oversee education, financial matters and policies.

• The government states that the five madrasa education boards (madrasa wafaqs) made up of senior clerics have agreed (albeit with much resistance) to the mainstreaming plans, though the program is being rolled out slowly as a pilot project in 320 schools. The message (for right or for wrong) that the government is giving is that “ we are not touching religious education, but your child needs to be educated in modern subjects to see the other side of the world as well." While the wafaqs agreed to introduce the proposed courses, the President of the ulema’s united front stated “But we’ ll develop our textbooks and syllabus and will not follow the government prescription blindly. Secular and atheist views cannot enter the madrasa.” 35

• The government had banned direct foreign aid for madrasas ie, private donors and charities were to route monies through the interior ministry and the Pakistan Madrasa Education Board (PMEB). However, the actual implementation was a much watereddown version.

• The USAID is implementing a five-year, US$100 million bilateral agreement (signed in August 2002) to rehabilitate public schools, with an emphasis on the Balochistan and Sindh provinces.

33 ‘Cohen speaks on Pakistan’, The Nation, September 17, 2005; ‘How charity begins in Saudi Arabia’, Asia Times, Jan 2004; ‘Pakistan, US take on the madrassah’, The Christian Science Monitor, August 24, 2004

34 The official Pakistan Government fact sheet on madrasa reforms can be found at:

35 Pakistan: Madrasas, Extremism and the Military, ICG Asia Report No 36, 29 July 2002 as amended on 15 July 2005

The reform process is a difficult one and the issues require time as there are no quick fixes. Change will not come without stiff resistance. The madrasas believe that in the entire Muslim history, they have always remained free from government intervention and have functioned independently. Muslim charities, the main component of Islamic economics, have been the financial source for the institutions, never government funding. The institutions argue that it is this financial and political freedom that has allowed them to keep Islam’s jurisprudence free from the whims of political rulers. The secretarygeneral of the Wafaq-ul Madaris, the largest education board charged with overseeing 8,000 Deobandi madrasas asks "When they cannot run their own educational institutions properly then how can they run madrasas?" 36

Corruption-free and proactive institutional capacity has always been difficult to create in South Asia, especially in Pakistan. 37

Correct Direction?

There are critics to above education reform program. Prof. Anita Weiss of the University of Oregon, who has visited Pakistan several times to study madrasas, says that Pakistan should invest in mainstream public schools rather than reforming madrasas “ Numbers are important; every dollar spent on modernising madrasas should be invested in mainstream education.” 38

Prof. Weiss believes that the focus should be shifted from "wasting Pakistan’s resources and the US taxpayers’ money" on madrasa reforms, to providing quality and affordable education to all. The author of this paper sees merit in Prof. Weiss’s line of thought; however, given the fact that madrasas are part of Islamic culture, they will continue to exist. This focuses the issue on the kind of madrasa being funded. Preference should be for the Sufi-minded Sunni-Barelvi sect as the belief system of the 60% majority. The current funding demographic anomaly needs correction.

Mudassir Rizvi, a political analyst who has worked extensively on madrasas, also takes a dim view of the government's cautious approach to reforming the seminaries. "The introduction of only elementary subjects in madrasas cannot make them models. Now, terrorists speak English fluently and can use the computer very well. The main issue is to remove sectarian tinges and extremist views from the syllabi of madrasas and to hold clerics accountable for the massive funding they use to run madrasas. Unfortunately the key issue has remained on backburner due to the pressure of the clergy." 39 The author of this paper agrees with this view. It is not enough to remove the violent jihad messages. It is also important to propagate a moderate and tolerant philosophy – one that does not breed dislike for non-Muslims in its world view. The Barelvi Sufi tradition is exactly this.

International Crisis Group (ICG) 40 - Evaluation of Madrasa Reforms

The ICG 2002 review is quite harsh “The madrasa reforms in Pakistan make registration voluntary and there is no effective enforcement mechanism. The reforms reflect the military’s patron-client relationship with the Pakistani clergy and are cosmetic and lack substance, legal muscle or an intent to institutionalise long-term change.”

36 ’Pakistan, US take on the Madrassahs’, The Christian Science Monitor, August 24, 2004

37 Transparency Internationals Corruption Perception Index 2005 ranks Pakistan in the 144th band, scoring better than only 9 countries of 159 total

38 ’Madrassa statistics based on unscientific surveys: speaker’, Daily Times, April 06, 2005

39 ‘Pakistan, US take on the Madrassahs’, The Christian Science Monitor, August 24, 2004

40 Pakistan: Madrasas, Extremism and the Military, ICG Asia Report No 36, 29 July 2002 as amended on 15 July 2005

“This ordinance lacks specific measures to check foreign funding for militant madrasas. Moreover, foreign funding is rarely routed through formal channels and requires more intrusive methods if it is to be traced and controlled. Does the government seriously expect private donors and charities voluntarily to send donations through the interior ministry and the PMEB?”[Comment: ultimately a much watered-down version has been implemented]. The ICG believed that to control financing a compulsory audit was needed.

The ICG clarifies that it is not recommending imposition of a blanket ban on Islamic charities and is instead in favour of making distinctions “ between funding for educational, development and philanthropic causes and for terrorism. Moderate Muslims run most Islamic organisations, mosques and charities based in Western countries. They can be educated on this score.”

In July 2005, ICG came out with another harsh review “Musharraf’s promises came to nothing. His military government never implemented any program to register the madrasas, follow their financing or control their curricula. Although there are a few "model madrasas" for Western media consumption, the extremist ones account for perhaps as many as 15 percent of the religious schools in Pakistan and are free to churn out their radicalized graduates.” 41

Supporting the ICG view, the Pakistani press uncovered that a deal has been struck between the Musharraf government and the fundamentalists on the issue of regulating madrasas. It now appears that financial reports will have to be submitted annually, but the sources of their finances will not have to be provided. 42 News reports in September 2005 had quoted umbrella organizations as declining to provide details of their income and expenditures. 43

US Evaluation of Madrasa Reforms

However, a recent US Department of State report 44 seems to exonerate the Government on the registration issues stating that “ Out of an estimated 13,000 to 15,000 madrasas, only a few hundred are not registered [Comment: see ICG July 2005 review given above that says the opposite; news reports in Sept 2005 quote umbrella organizations that continue to resist registration and the official deadline is December 2005 ie, the US statistic appears incorrect 45 ] with one of the five independent madrasa boards and/or directly with the Government. The Government and the independent madrasa boards have agreed to a phased introduction of modern subjects, including math, English, and science at all madrasas. Wafaqs also mandated the registration of foreign students with the Government and restricted foreign private funding of madrasas [Comment: the much watered-down version has been the program that was actually implemented].”

It also adds some criticism:

• “No unregistered madrasas have been shut down.

• While the boards have required their affiliated madrasas to move forward, disbursement of promised government funding (for modernization) to support the process has been slow.

• Registration and examination issues (eg, compulsory registration; audit of the actual financing) remained under active discussion with the Government.

• Some unregistered and Deobandi-controlled madrasas in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and northern Balochistan continued to teach extremism.

• Similarly the Dawa schools run by Jamat-udDawa continued such teaching and recruitment for Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, a designated foreign terrorist organization.

The US is putting forth the relationship between religious schools and state authorities in the US, as a possible model for Pakistan.

SDPI Islamabad 2003 Report on the Public Education System 46

Pakistan's public education system has an important role in determining how successful it shall be in achieving the goal of a progressive, moderate, and democratic Pakistan. However, a close analysis by a group of independent scholars at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) shows that for over two decades from the 80s, the curricula and the officially mandated textbooks in these subjects have contained material that is directly contrary to the goals and values of a progressive, moderate and democratic Pakistan. On the March 2002 revision of curricula undertaken by the Curriculum Wing of the Ministry of Education, the report states – “ The post-reform curricula and textbooks continue to have the same problems as the earlier ones. Reform has not been substantive.” The curriculum wing is controlled by Deobandi Islamists.

The SDPI Report notes "four themes emerge most strongly as constituting the bulk of the curricula and textbooks of the three compulsory subjects (Social Studies/ Pakistan Studies, Urdu and English).

• That Pakistan is for Muslims alone;

• That Islamic teachings, including a compulsory reading and memorization of Koran, are to be included in all the subjects, hence to be forcibly taught to all the students, whatever their faith;

• That Ideology of Pakistan is to be internalized as faith, and that hate be created against Hindus and India; and

• Students are to be urged to take the path of Jihad and Shahadat (martyr’s death).”

The 'Ideology of Pakistan', the Report notes further, is Islam, and curricular policies insist, is to "be presented as an accepted reality, and never be subjected to discussion or dispute" or to "be made controversial and debatable." Furthermore the reports states: "Associated with the insistence on the Ideology of Pakistan has been an essential component of hate against India and the Hindus. For the upholders of the Ideology of Pakistan, the existence of Pakistan is defined only in relation to Hindus, and hence the Hindus have to be painted as negatively as possible.”

The report prescribes “Experience shows that attention to detail, clear milestones and independent oversight will be needed to achieve successful reform of the Ministry of Education, The Curriculum Wing, and the Textbook Boards.”

The SDPI report stirred up a huge controversy in Pakistan albeit SDPI never diluted its position. 47

Furthermore, Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy’s searing indictments of Pakistan’s higher education system clearly reflect the congruence between education and fundamentalist Islam in Pakistan’s universities, as well as the incompatibility of fundamentalist teachings and modern education. 48

46 ‘The Subtle Subversion: The State of Curricula and Textbooks in Pakistan’,, July 2003

47 See ‘Twisted truth: Press and politicians make gains from SDPI curriculum report’, Dr A H Nayyar, SDPI Research and News Bulletin, Jan-Feb 2004

48 ‘Can Pakistan Reform?’, Robert T. McLean,, January 5 2006


URL of Part 1:

URL of Part 2:–-2/d/102197

URL of Part 3:–-3/d/102219