The enigma of the madressah – Journal
The state has not yet fully understood the socio-cultural and politico-economic inferences of religious educational institutions or madressahs. Despite having long tried to continue reforming the sector, successive governments have done little to change things on the ground mainly out of fear of backlash and reluctance to allocate resources. Madressah leaders took advantage of the continuing confusion and continued to strengthen their roots and support among the population.
Federal Minister of Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry delivered a bold speech at a consultative conference in Islamabad days ago and rightly identified the root causes of religious extremism in society . Although he did not fully exonerate Madressahs, his statement that public schools and colleges were the main source of extremism, and not Madressahs, did not tell the whole story. However, his claim that teachers were hired into schools and colleges during the 1980s and 1990s as part of a conspiracy to teach extremism was correct. He seemed to be referring to Jamaat-i-Islami and its affiliates, which were a major partner of military dictator Ziaul Haq in his goal of encroaching on school campuses, sowing the seeds of religious extremism, and recruiting for the “jihad” in Afghanistan and Kashmir.
Read: Madressah reforms – breaking the cycle
The minister may have deliberately omitted to mention that Zia’s jihad project was a multi-faceted initiative and that madressah education was an integral part of it. Without focusing on the madressahs, the poor Afghan refugees could not be engaged in “jihad”. Undoubtedly, the United States and Saudi Arabia were the main sponsors of this project, but Gen Zia allowed the growth of mushrooms in madressahs across the country as part of his Islamization program and also in order to create his political constituency. The extremism promoted on school campuses and in madressahs has closed the minds of young people, and madressahs have “stood out” by capturing the process of narrative formation.
Bearing in mind the speech of the Minister of Information, it is useful to take note of an international media report on Afghan Madressah students demanding that the Taliban include science subjects in their curriculum. studies; in addition to advocating changes in the curriculum for girls’ education. Although the report is about a madressah in Paktia province, many experts have described it as a positive indication that healthy voices like these will gradually put pressure on the Taliban to respond to their demands. One wonders if the Afghan Taliban, who were the product of the Pakistani madressahs, can become a model for the latter to develop their curriculum.
The state maintains the Zia era spirit and believes that madressahs are not the source of the problem.
Many madressahs in Pakistan are on the road to transformation and offer science education to their students, but their numbers are not inspiring, nor are religious elites ready to holistically overhaul their education system. The reason is obvious: the madressah sector also meets the financial and political needs of religious elites. The institution of the madressah has become the main political base of religious groups and politico-religious parties, and continues to adhere strictly to its potentially explosive sectarian character. It is expanding and encroaching on the formal education sector and the state has failed to regulate the institution, despite its concerns and (hesitant) measures.
The state has not gone out of the Zia era mentality and still believes that madressah is not the source of the problem, but rather helps the state meet the educational needs of the masses. Otherwise, the state would have to cut other spending to meet its educational obligations. The main concern the state might have about Madressahs is their possible links to terrorist groups, and for that reason it might not want to oppose the Madressah establishment. In fact, state institutions have adopted the discourse of the Madressah elite that the source of the problem lies in public educational institutions and not in Madressahs.
Supporters of the narrative allude to cases of terrorist violence committed by radicalized youth in colleges and universities. Competition aside, it should not be forgotten that Madressah students and graduates remained much more involved in terrorist activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Formal educational institutions have produced only a fraction of the number of militants entering the ranks of various national and international terrorist organizations that madressahs belonging to various banned militant organizations have produced so far. It is true that until the mid-1990s, the human resource contribution of madressahs to militant organizations was less than that of formal educational institutions. The madressah institution was young at the time, but it then took over the militant discourse in the country.
Over the past decades, the state has made every effort to make campuses apolitical, while Madressah students remain politically and ideologically charged and vulnerable to the exploitation of street protests and military recruitment. .
The state also failed to understand the equation between the madressah, the mosque and the school. Almost all mosques get their imams, or prayer leaders, madressahs, who preach the same version of Islam they learned at their alma mater and influence the public in sectarian terms. An imam is a source of inspiration to people, especially low-income groups who consult him for their spiritual and even physical health needs. A taweez (the amulet) means more to them than the drugs, because they may not have to pay for it. Second, more and more madressah graduates are now joining public educational institutions as teachers and influencing young minds in various ways. The Madressah state of mind is at its fullest in society and is responsible for promoting two major socio-political conflicts, which certainly have security implications: first, sectarian division, and second, ideological radicalism.
The mindset of the madressah is very conventional and considers any new idea of moderation as a conspiracy against its interests. So far, he has successfully resisted attempts to reform the state. However, the leadership of the madressah is aware of the evolving challenge of extremism. The conference that Mr. Chaudhry addressed also included a session dedicated to religious scholars and they agreed that the sectarian division is growing in society and that the challenge of extremism will become more complex in the near future.
The author is a security analyst.
Posted in Dawn, le 28 November 2021