By Sajid Kamal
January 25, 2014
Traditionally, madrasas (seminaries) have been a source of all types of knowledge for Muslims where education, even in the science subjects, was provided. With the passage of time, the role of the traditional madrasas has been restricted just to impart religious education. In Pakistan, such religious schools have not been controlled and administered properly, which is the reason why extremist elements are being produced in these religious seminaries. The history of this uncontrolled madrassa system in Pakistan dates back to the 1980s when the US and Saudi Arabia poured almost four billion dollars for setting up religious schools, the madrasas, and, since then, such schools have become the breeding ground for religious extremists in Pakistan, thus worsening the security conditions even more.
Pakistan is a country facing acute security problems. To tackle this issue, one sector is the quality of education in religious schools. The main purpose of education is to enlighten the people, so that they can have a proper understanding about the various issues prevailing in the country, and to educate the people in such a way so that they can distinguish between the good and bad but, unfortunately, this is not the case in Pakistan as the US Commission on International Religious Freedom has researched Pakistani school textbooks to discover that there is religious biasness in almost every madrassa, which leads to societal intolerance and maligns the minority groups.
A large number of the Pakistani population lives in small towns and villages. Poverty, feudalism, illiteracy and lack of awareness leave the people with two choices: either to abandon the education of their children or to induct them in religious schools. Most of the madrasas provide free education, boarding and lodging services to the children, and that is one of the reasons that they are hijacked by religious extremist zealots who hypnotise the minds of the children, hence providing perfect recruits to the extremist organisations. The curriculum, which is taught in these madrasas, needs particular importance, as it reflects Islam as a religion of war and hate. Not only in the madrasas but also in the regular schools of the country the, Jihad-Bis-Saif, (jihad with the sword) is highlighted with particular emphasis on Islamic wars, thus neglecting the fact that Islam is a religion of peace as the word Islam itself means peace, purity and submission, and the wars fought in Islamic history had a proper context and reason.
Another problem, which is linked with the current security situation in our society, is the various sectarian schools getting their funding and backing from Saudi Arabia and Iran while dividing Pakistani society into various sects. The sectarian violence in the country has increased over the past years, with thousands of people being killed in the Sunni-Shia conflict. One main cause of this sectarian violence is the madrasas as well since, according to their concept of Islam, only they are on the right path and the others have no right to follow their religious ways and beliefs.
Declaring the followers of other sects ‘Kafirs’ or non-Muslims is sort of a normal practice in a majority of the religious seminaries where the target audience is young children. In short, religious extremism, with which the majority of this nation has been hit, is a serious threat and can affect Pakistan for years to come. This problem has to be tackled as soon as possible otherwise the effects will be very grave and can push Pakistan years back. What the majority of madrasas do is they divide society between ‘us’ and ‘them, they divide society on religious lines and thus break the very ideology on which basis this country was founded. The frustrated, jobless and uneducated youth falls prey to such schools and gain their energy from them, which in turn creates hate and disrespect in society. Thousands of madrasas in this country are unregistered and illegal — only in Islamabad there are around 83 illegally constructed mosques and seminaries. One has to notice the number of young children in these schools and what sort of education they are being given. The minds of young children are like wet clay and it can be molded in any form one desires. Unfortunately, in most madrasas, it is being molded in a negative manner. Since the youth is the key to the development of a country, it is time we ask ourselves: is the key to the development of this country not getting rusty? Nearly 80,000 madrasas are unregistered with millions of students playing in the hands of unchecked religious extremists.
Bold steps have to be taken by the government to ensure that misguided madrasas are banned. Curriculum revision has to be properly carried out. It is the authority and the right of the state to make the curriculum of educational institutes. The madrasas have to be registered and the state should have authority over the hiring and firing of the staff. Moreover, the complete overhauling of the curriculum of regular schools has to be undertaken. ‘Peace and tolerance’ should be taught as a separate subject just to mould the minds of young children along the lines of acceptability and tolerance, making them aware of the true picture of Islam. Chapters on peace should be related or taught in line with Islam so the masses can accept such a change. More emphasis should be laid on the topics of tolerance, education and the true meaning of jihad and ‘jihad bin nafs’ (jihad within oneself) should be strengthened. A universal curriculum should also be established, which would be acceptable to all the sects in the country. Within the religious schools’ curriculum, the subject should be taught as well and the importance of education in Islam should be strengthened, emphasising the role played by Muslim scholars and scientists.
Uniformity in education and removing divisions on a religious and sectarian basis are the needs of the hour. The madrasas not only widen a certain kind of ideology to students, they also spread it in society, to the families and extended families of these students, and this has to be stopped otherwise immoral subjects like intolerance and unacceptability will rule our society. Moreover madrasas have to be modernised so that they do not seem alien to the majority of the people in Pakistan, which is only possible when madrassa education does not fall prey to the extremist elements.