Do madrassas need revamping?

Do madrassas need revamping?
Are seminaries in Pakistan really breeding violence and hatred, and not imparting education?
By Dr Noman Ahmed; The News, April 20, 2008

In his inaugural speech in Parliament, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani announced the setting up of a Madrassa Regulatory Authority to oversee the functioning of seminaries across the country. It goes without saying that madrassas have been a hot topic of discussion for about a decade. The previous regime had also undertaken a number of initiatives to reform madrassas, but on the whole these efforts failed to bring about the desired changes. Therefore, it is necessary that the current effort is guided by a full understanding and analysis of the situation.

The image of madrassas has changed drastically over time. Once, they were considered as the ideological flag-bearers of the state. As a 'holy war' against the Soviet Union was to be fuelled by a zealot crop of recruits, all kind of state patronage was extended to madrassas. All that was associated with them was held in high esteem. Components of the establishment, predominantly the armed forces, carved a special niche for madrassas in their operation manuals. After the Soviet retreat in the late 1980s, however, the Western perception changed. Influenced by the West and irked by the misdeeds of the mercenaries disguised as clerics, the Pakistani establishment also took a U-turn in the late 1990s.

As far as the syllabus is concerned, the centuries-old Dars-e-Nizamiya is still taught in most Pakistani madrassas. Demands of reforms, therefore, are being made by different quarters, mainly because this syllabus is outdated and not in line with the contemporary educational needs. The state has also started exerting pressure in a bid to diffuse the potential threat of militarism, thought to be evolving due to obscurantist policies and practices of the past. The clerics, on the other hand, refuse to acknowledge the need for reforms, at least those fostered by the state.

The liberal elements are viewed as the arch-rivals of madrassas in Pakistan. In their pursuit to foster liberal thinking and attitude, they consider madrassas as the harbingers of retrogression and orthodoxy. Madrassas and clerics, in turn, denounce the liberals, terming them promoters of evil. Both the camps refuse to recognise the existence and subsequent validity of each other's school of thought, modus operandi of learning and the overall ideology of life. In comparison, academics and scholars have a mixed approach. Skeptical of the liberals, who demand dissent from the conventions, they mostly mend fences with the clerics and share some wavelength, at least on controversial issues, with them.

The media, especially international outfits, paint a very negative picture of madrassas and their activities. More often than not, madrassas are shown as sites brewing anti-social activities. Brainwashing for suicide bombings, attacks on civilian targets hosting Western interests and other such happenings are all shown with madrassas in the background. The print media, especially the English press, is especially hostile to madrassas. Urdu newspapers, however, are not hostile to madrassas, and provide wide coverage to their activities and outlook. Similarly, feudals and landed aristocracy hold madrassas and clerics in high esteem, as they normally share the common perception of anti-progressivism. On the other hand, women's and human rights groups are suspicious of madrassas and clerics.

In our society, barring a few exceptions, the bright students focus their attention on those disciplines that offer lucrative employment and posh lifestyle. Thus, they adopt the fashionable channels of learning right from the beginning to be prepared for future challenges. On the other hand, madrassas receive the bottom strata of the youth. There are several reasons for this, as elucidated in the following:

One, the parents who cannot afford to raise their children -- let alone bear their educational expenses -- are left with no choice but to send them to madrassas. They, at least, have the consolation that madrassas shall house the child, and provide for his or her food, boarding and lodging. The parents also draw satisfaction from the assumption that because of their child acquiring religious education, the way to Heaven would be opened for them as well as the child.

Two, destitute children and orphans who do not have any relative to look after them normally end up in a madrassa. The whole Taliban syndrome is an exemplification of how a sizable number of these orphans and destitute children joined madrassas as the only choice. According to famous journalist, Ahmed Rashid, the Taliban primarily evolved from the dozens of madrassas established in the refugee camps along the Pak-Afghan border territories. Besides teachings, these children received hands-on training on some of the most lethal weapons in the world. The Taliban, as a result, soon became an invincible force.

Three, urban ultra-orthodox families send their children to madrassas to learn Nazra Quran or for Hifzul Quran. However, since most of these students do not have any other choice or outlet available to them, they become the captive clientelle of madrassas.

Several issues are vital for consideration with respect to madrassas / traditional system of education. The pattern and system is in need of a dire change, at least in response to the sea changes that have occurred in the society in the past several decades. The doctrine that the religious corollaries and axioms are static, and thus do not need a change over, itself requires a review. By taking this stubborn stand, madrassas are likely to lose their very relevance to the society in which they operate. In this rapidly changing world, an impartial assessment of the situation seems to be a pre-requisite for a beginning towards change. Besides, madrassa administrations follow a very introvert pattern of operation. They are reluctant to engage into dialogue and discussion even with other components of the education sector.

By taking this isolationist stand, madrassas seem to be losing the traditional sympathy that the masses in general and middle classes in particular used to have for them. Skill development with particular reference to the prevailing circumstances is non-existent. Former students of madrassas have almost no avenue for gainful employment. Either they opt for becoming prayer leaders (pesh imams) or prayer callers (moazzins); both jobs available in extremely limited numbers. Due to this supply side pressure, more and more mosques are being built -- some often at sites not legally allocated to them. Some of these students start offering tuitions to neighbourhood children of middle- and upper-income groups. But all these choices are temporary, and limited in scale and operation.

There are many ways forward: the ulema / madrassa administrators need to analyse the prevailing circumstances in an impartial and honest manner. The harsh realities of both the local society and global environment must be understood to equate the potentials and threats. Unless this is done, very little improvement can be expected. The clerics need to open up to the outside world, so that people can freely access their viewpoints and vice-versa. They need to see the important realities of life as they stand today and put their acts together accordingly.


Anonymous said…
Husain Haqqani: A Tumultous Career
By Teeth Maestro on Apr 23, 2008 in Pakistan | ShareThis

Guest Post by Masoor Hallaj

As per the news of The News International dated [December 17, 2007] Nahid Khan, the political secretary to Benazir Bhutto, has withdrawn her nomination papers in protest over the awarding of a PPP ticket to Farahnaz Ispahani. According to party sources, Nahid Khan was not happy with the award of the party ticket to Farahnaz Ispahani, the wife of Hussain Haqqani, and has informed Benazir Bhutto about withdrawing her nomination papers saying she cannot sit in the National Assembly with Ms Ispahani. Prior to marrying Farahnaz Ispahani, Hussain Haqqani was married to Naheed Khan’s sister. That could be the reason why Ms Khan did not want to sit with Ms Ispahani in the National Assembly. [1]

Let’s have quick look of Mr Hussain Haqqani’s [Nowadays an American Scholar who lecture on Democracy] dirty and filthy past while he was part and parcel of Army-Jamat-e-Islami Axis which is riddled witch scandals and corruption. A detailed CV of Husaain Haqqani is at the end to corroborate the comment.

With brainwashing on the one hand and erosion of academic freedom on the other, the campuses (once temples of learning and enlightenment) have been turned into centres of rowdyism and repositories of deadly weapon. Students belonging to various schools of religious thought, regional and ethnic groups, particularly the Islami Jamiat-e-Tulba (the student wing of Jamat-e-Islami) , have played havoc with educational institutions. Professors were another target of the victimization carried out in this period. Members of the IJT launched a concerted campaign against professors known for their liberal views. In Punjab University, particularly, many professors were forced to resign, others were sacked.

The situation was no different in the Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, which had in the 70s attracted many brilliant Pakistanis who were teaching abroad. As the harassment became unbearable, most of these professors went back. To what extent fundamentalists blocked scientific knowledge can be assessed by one incident at the Karachi University, where a zoology lecturer was stopped from teaching Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Similar incidents occurred frequently in the philosophy and the economics department. The situation has worsened wit the passage of time. During that period, a policy of appeasement towards the IJT made matter worse. Guns boomed at the Karachi University Campus for the first time in 1979 when, according to Imran Shirvanee, Raja Javed, a supporter of IJT, used a sten gun ‘to tackle the opposition.’ When the pen and free expression are throttled, the only means open to tackle opposition is a firearm. At that time, the IJT was the ruling party in Karachi University politics with Hussain Haqqani, Raja Javed was his close aide.

Haqqani is a man of many roles. The former Far Eastern Economic Review correspondent was the media advisor to Punjab Chief Minister Nawaz Sharif when Benazir Bhutto was at the centre {1988-1990}. He switched to serve caretaker Prime Minister Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi in 1990, and then switched back again to serve Sharif when he was elected Prime Minister. In 1992, he was sent to Sri Lanka as Pakistan’s High Commissioner. On the eve of Nawaz Sharif’s dismissal on 18 April 1993, he jumped the sinking ship and joined President Ghulam Ishaq Khan bandwagon. Immediately, he was rewarded by being made a special assistant to the caretaker Prime Minister Mir Balakh Sher Mazari with the rank of Minister of State. Asked by BBC if he now deserved a mention in the Guinness Book of Records for switching loyalties so often, his reply was classic: I was always with the President.’” [2]

Mr Haqqani. Right from this student politics with the Jamaat’s student wing, the dreaded Islami Jamiat-e-Tulaba, at Karachi University there is much that Mr Haqqani is answerable for. The violence at the university and the brutal suppression of free speech that the IJT imposed on the campus in those days was done with Mr Haqqani very much an active player. Many still say that he was the architect of the IJT’s policy of using brute force to suppress opposition opinion. We next saw him on PTV - which was a kind of a launching pad for him -during the 1985 partyless elections. It was an election which destroyed Pakistan’s politics in more ways than one and much that we see wrong with Pakistan’s politics today dates back to that election. It was because of the destructive potential of the election that every liberal and progressive party in the country boycotted those elections. Yet there was Mr Haqqani at his most articulate, lauding the farcical exercise as if it was the best thing that had happened to the country since its birth.

Indeed, his laudatory commentary on the 1985 elections won him a front seat in the club of those who make a career out of legitimizing dictatorships. Having become General Ziaul Haq’s “favourite soldier of Islam”, he next spearheaded the ugliest election campaign in the country’s history. In 1988 as a paid advisor to Nawaz Sharif, he was the architect of the nasty smear campaign against Benazir Bhutto - which ranged from branding her a security risk to air-dropping leaflets showing photographs of her relaxing by the poolside in a revealing swimming costume. Mr Haqqani was instrumental in bringing down an elected government - through the good offices of the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) - byturning the Punjab against the Centre. By doing so, he helped lend further legitimacy to the 8th Amendment which in time proved to be the death blow for democracy in Pakistan.

It is a known fact that for the first two years of General Musharraf’s dictatorship, Mr Haqqani was happily running a lucrative consultancy with major government departments as his clients. Anyone who knows Pakistan knows that such contracts are only obtained through political connections which Mr Haqqani obviously had. And when he went to jail, it was over some fall out with his business associates who clearly had better connections than him. As far as going to jail for political convictions is concerned, we all know where Mr Haqqqani stands. Bhutto’s attempts at releasing political prisoners - some of them having served 10 years under Zia for committing absolutely no crime - were fiercely resisted by Mr Haqqani. Everyone in Lahore knows the lengths to which he went in branding those political prisoners “criminals” and attributing the deteriorating law and order situation in the Punjab (under Mr Haqqani’s employer Mian Nawaz Sharif) to their release. That is how much he cares for political convictions.

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