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Global Terrorism - عالمی دھشتگردی

There is no commonly accepted definition of "terrorism". Being a charged term, with the connotation of something "mo...

Sunday, March 8, 2015

One size may not fit all - by Hasan Abdullah

Only a few years ago, he was studying at a madressah. Then one day, his family was informed that he had died in a suicide bomb blast. He was the suicide bomber, as confirmed by the propaganda video recorded prior to the attack. His younger brother says the family is still finding it hard to come to terms with the incident.

`He was funny. He used to make others laugh and was known in his friends circle as a champion of the game of snake on the mobile phone,` says his brother Amin. Their real names have been withheld upon their request.

So was it the madressah that turned a jolly young man into a suicide bomber`? His family appears reluctant to answer this question. `We don`t really know,` says Amin`s father.

Some religious-political parties such as Jamaat-i-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam have been trying to play down the role of religious seminaries in fostering extremism, with their representatives sometimes making outlandish claims of entirely denying any role of seminaries in the radicalisation of people.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan says the overwhelming majority of madressahs have nothing to do with violence in the country. While that may be the case with the majority, there is little doubt about the dubious role of some madressahs in promoting militancy.

`It is a fact that some religious seminaries are acting as a supply line of suicide bombers. They may say that their `produce` is just for Afghanistan but once out of the conveyor belt, one doesn`t always have control over where the bomber ends up,` says Tariq Habib, a journalist who has reported on militant groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

On top of that, Habib says, there is `inherent sectarianism in the curriculum. Madressahs can deny as much as they want, but if you go through their fatwas, it is clear that they have declared many Muslim sects as disbelievers. From there starts the legitimisation of their killing.

Nearly seven decades after the creation of Pakistan, the leadership has for the first time, formulated a National Internal Security Policy (NTSP) that seeks to `protect national interests of Pakistan by addressing critical security issues as well as concerns of the nation. It is based upon principles of mutual inclusiveness and integration of all national effort.

According to Saleem Safi, a senior journalist and Islamist militancy expert, the task is far more difficult than perceived. `Real challenge for the NISP and the political leadership is to construct a national narrative. It is very difficult to bring a society, divided on multiple lines, under one narrative on terrorism and extremism.Raza Rumi, Senior Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace, says the government has much to do when it comes to reforming madressahs.

`There are three issues of main importance: first the registration and regulation. They have to adhere to a regulatory framework. Second, the curricula that needs to be updated and modernised. No point in teaching Fatawa-i-Alamgiri or such other outdated texts. More importantly, sectarian hate that goes into teaching has to be curbed and discontinued.

Third pertains to foreign students and teachers that become part of madressah networks without the necessary permission of the State,` says Rumi. He says that for madressah reform two imperatives need to be considered: first, the `extremist mindset flows out of the theological interpretations which are man-made and sectarian and they need regulation and debate. Second, terrorist activity is limited to only a few. And in the past the Pakistani state has used them as recruitment grounds for jihad abroad. These places and handlers are well-known and can be nabbed.

However, scores of teachers and students at various madressahs have expressed frustration at what they view as being singled out and targeted for their beliefs.

`The 21st amendment clearly discriminates between religious and secular elements of the society. Even on the streets, we are noticing the change in attitude of policemen who use derogatory language and try to humiliate every bearded person,` says Mufti Muhammad Zubair, Naib Muhtamim (Vice Principal) at Jamia Suffa in Karachi.

Bilal Hashim Siddiqui is a marketing graduate from Institute of Business Administration in Karachi. He is currently pursuing religious studies at Dar ul Uloom in Gulshan-i-Iqbal area of Karachi. He agrees with Rumi`s call for a debate but says `the secular elite do not have the moral and intellectual courage to have an honest debate` with Islamists.

`The media and the state have been suppressing any hon-est discussion on Islam. They want to regulate the debate in such a way that Islamists have to stay within the pre-defined, narrow framework set or rather imposed by the secularists.

They want us to debate Islam by judging it according to the secular value-systems,` says Siddiqui.

`It seems the government has little understanding of the nature of the conflict and it`s simply playing on some impressive buzzwords like madressah reforms, deradicalisation, counter-terrorism, secularisation and many more. These labels may be sellable when it comes to securing international funding but does not really bc1p in dealing with the challenges at hand. If anything, our society is getting increasingly polarised and that is not good,` says Sib Kaifee, an Islamabad-based security consultant who has acted as an advisor at some diplomatic missions as well.

A number of analysts seem to agree with some of the grievances coming out of madressahs.

`Government policies need a balance where every segment of society must be taken on board. Unfortunately, it seems that government policies are tilted towards the secular and liberal segment of society. I fear an Egypt-like polarisation if this trend continues. If the state fails to keep a balance then this type of polarisation may lead the society to violent confrontation,` says Abdullah Khan, director of the Conflict Monitoring Centre in Islamabad.

The government, however, appears confident that things are on the right track.

`A unity has been formed. You should not lose sight of this. The terrorists` strength has finally been broken,` says Minister for State and Frontier Regions retired Lt. Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch.

But Rumi warns against any misadventures.

`It would be unwise for the state to isolate millions of students and their families. Therefore the reform has to be debated and those who advocate violence need to be identified and proceeded against under the law,` he says.But Sib Kaif`ee sees a more l`undamental challenge.

`Clearly we have a significant number of people who do not even recognise the law of` the land and the system in place. Some of them vocally express their opposition while others are acting like sleeper cells waiting to explode. So instead of further polarising society, our mainstream media really needs to open up a debate on Islam and secularism. If` we want to promote certain values then we need to convince the people about the superiority of our ideas,` he asserts.
One size may not fit all - by Hasan Abdullah, dawn.com

"Islamabad: from the outside" by Mirza Khurram Shahzad

:Sitting in the lap of the magnificent green Margallas, Islamabad`s E-7 sector normally remains calm and quiet through the day.

The only noticeable activity is usually the movement of monkeys on its northern service road or the noticeable presence of several vigilant security men keeping an eye on the villa of Doctor Abdul Qadeer Khan.

That changes when the students of madressah Jamia Faridia come out on to the streets in their spare time.

The madressah Jamia Faridia, built on the northern edge in the green area between sector E-7 and Marga11a hills, is Islamabad`s largest religious seminary. It was constructed with the blessings of former military dictator, General Zia ul Haq, in violation of the rules and regulations of the Capital Development Authority (CDA).

Around 1,500 students, enrolled in this seminary, flock out after Asar prayers to roam around in grounds, parks, streets and markets.

They have come from different parts of the country to seek religious education in this Deobandi seminary, where they also reside.

Jamia Faridia is affiliated with the Lal Masjid and was once administered by Ghazi Abdul Rasheed, who was killed in the military operation in 2007. It is currently being administered by Maulana Abdul Aziz.

The majority of these students are from the north-western areas outside Islamabad such asChitral, Batagram, Swat, the tribal areas and also villages around Abbottabad, Murree and Kashmir.

Abdullah and Muhammad are two friends who have come here all the way from Chitral to seek higher education in this seminary and have nothing to do in the evenings but to go out in the streets of Islamabad.

`We initially studied in a seminary in Chitral but then came here to Jamia Faridia, because no seminary was offering higher education in Chitral,` Abdullah says as he leaves the madressah after Asar prayers.

`We will have free time to spend and relax a bit until Maghreb prayers and then we will return to the seminary,` he said.

Around three miles cast of Jamia Faridia, in sector F-6, up to 800 students of Jamia Muhammadia occupy a park in front of the Super Market commercial centre.

Soon after Asar prayers, they come out in the park and rest on the swings, benches and grass patches, leaving no room for other kids, particularly the girls and women living in the flats adjacent to the park.

`There was no madressah in my village in Tarbela Ghazi, so my father sent me here to become an Aalim (religious scholar),` says 15-year-old Huzaifa, who is in the first year batch of Jamia Muhammadia.

Like Huzaifa, Abdullah and Muhammad, there are over 15,000 students who have come to Islamabad to study in its religious seminaries. Incomparison there are hardly any local students from Islamabad who have joined these madressahs.

Intriguingly, organisations of all sects have built large seminaries in the federal capital, but none have established madressahs of this level in the areas from where the students actually hail.

`More than 90 per cent students in the 375 madressahs of Islamabad come from other citics. But this is a stupid question as to why these students come to study here. Islamabad is a city of outsiders and people in all departments have come from other cities,` says Maulana Abdul Quddus, a spokesman for Wifaq-ul-Madaris Al Arabia in Islamabad.

`It`s the government`s duty to provide high grade madressahs and schools in every nook and corner of the country. If they cooperate with us and establish high standard madressahs in other cities and facilitate them, students will not come to Islamabad for religious studies,` he says.

But Muhammad, a final year student of Jamia Faridia, believes there are financial reasons behind this.

`There are madressahs in our area in Chitral but they are not of this high level. The religious scholars don`t establish high grade madressahs in remote areas because they collect more funds from cities like Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi.

Moreover, life is easy here,` he said.

According to government statistics, there are a total of 329 madressahs in Islamabad, out ofwhich 175 are registered. Up to 16,000 students study in these madressahs but no official data has been maintained about the students who come from other cities.

On the other hand, around 250,000 students study in 422 formal government schools and up to 300,000 in 2,000 private schools including the high standard private schools affiliated with foreign universities. But hardly any students come from other cities to study in these schools.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, a senior professor formerly associated with Islamabad`s Quaid-i-Azam University, says that while the state originally provided space to religious elements in the federal capital during Gen Zia`s regime, those elements have now become much stronger and bring in people from outside to increase their power.

`If`a molvi gets a residence in a house associated with a mosque or madressah on a prime location in a city like Islamabad, he then brings in more and more people from outside to strengthen his hold.

`Over the years, they have now strengthened their street power in Islamabad. They can close down the city whenever they want to, and they have become accustomed to using this tool to blackmail the authorities. This is the reason they don`t establish large seminaries in other cities and have made Islamabad as their headquarter.

`But this has sufTocated the city, particularly for women who can`t move freely in the areas where madressahs exist. And children of`ten can`t go to parks because these madressah students have occupied most of`those.

Hoodbhoy also said that the madressah students have also forcibly snatched the citizens right of freedom of assembly on various occasions.

`I remember when we protested against a terrorist attack on the Hazara community in Quetta in front of the National Press Club, Islamabad two years ago, these students armed with clubs, bats and iron rods came there and attempted to attack us. Police had to intervene to save the protesters.`

Islamabad: from the outside
by Mirza Khurram Shahzad, dawn.com

Speaking in tongues - Terrorists

In 1857, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan began a reform programme for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent, firmly believing that they would not be able to progress in society without the acquisition of Western education and sciences. Nearly one-and-a-half century later, madressahs in Pakistan believe the same.

`Without modern education, Muslims can`t survive, argues Attiqur Rehman Chohan, spokesman for the Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) in Peshawar. `The Dawa System of Education has been established to impart religious and modern education simultaneously. Our institutions are being set up across the country.

Notwithstanding the ban apparently imposed on them by the government as part of the National Action Plan against terrorism, the JuD is running about 30 English-medium schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is believed that their schools network in Punjab is much larger. Perhaps the ban is only in name.

`Our organisation is introducing a curriculum that is currently taught at Atchison College, Lahore and at the University of Oxford. The programme will start in the first phase from Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, and thereafter extended in other cities,` explains Chohan.

Thus far, the JuD has been training teachers who can instruct in the English language. Around 250 teachers in Islamabad have completed their training, but the JuD`s requirement is much larger. `We have planned to set up English-medium schools and colleges at divisional level.

Our network will then be extended to district and tehsil levels,` elaborates the spokesman.

In the past, religious organisations following different schools of thought focused on madressahs to produce their particular breed of cleric.

The trend has now shifted; the medium of instruction no longer needs to be a vernacular language or Arabic, while subjects taught are no longer restricted to theology. This process of establishing modern institutions, where students can be taught business, science and technology in the English language, has been underway since almost a decade.But this strategy is not born out of` the clerics` love l`or modern education; it is what they need to systematically propagate their ideology to a wider audience.

Most of these new English medium institutions are not restricted to schools either; well-off people affiliated with religious groups have set up vocational and technical colleges on the basis of sect. The number of English medium schools in the country has been increasing simply because religious groups have started their entry into modern education systems. The problem arises, however, when sectarian teachings become part of the curriculum in the guise of religious teachings.

Some sectarian groups also organise special coaching classes and tuition centres to prepare candidates to appear in competitive exams such as Central Superior Service (CSS) and provincial management service. `A religious group regularly arranges classes in Lahore for candidates who intend to take the CSS exams, so as to induct officersfrom their sect in the bureaucracy,` explains a source.

Given the number of sects and sectarian differences at play in Pakistan, almost all major players now run a growing network of modern educational institutions and madressahs in tandem.

The Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), which represents the Deobandi school of thought and has the largest network of madressahs in the country, runs private schools and colleges through the Sufa School System. `Retired teachers and professors ideologically infused by the JUI-F have been running this system in different areas, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,` claims the party`s provincial information secretary, Maulana Abdul Jalil Jan.

The Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) too runs a separate body in Mansoora, Lahore, named Dar-i-Argam. This organisation manages the party`s affiliated chain of English-medium schools across the country. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa alone, the party has more than 150 private schools. Another two JT-affiliated syndicates, Hira and Iqra, have also their separate network of schools and colleges.

The Barelvi school of thought is not to be left behind either: they have a network of private schools that run under the supervision of four different bodies, AIMS Education System (AES), Mustafvi Model Schools, Muslim Hands and Minhajul Quran. These schools run in both the rural and the urban sectors.

Education experts and social commentators call the flourishing of parallel education systems a dangerous trend. The argument is that in the absence of a government-run uniform system of education, private educational institutions run by different schools of thought will systematically polarise Pakistani society, which is already reeling from the effects of sectarianism.

`Radical religious groups have already intruded into parliament and culture. Now they have planned to acquire managerial capabilities as well as the use of modern technology through their own English medium schools and higher education institutions,` says Professor Khadim Hussain, guest lecturer at the Linguistics Department, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. `They now want to accommodatetheir people in civil services, defence and other fields.

Prof Hussain explains that till a few years ago, the share of such groups in private education sector was about 25 per cent but now it has risen to more than 40pc. If the trend continues, he says, there will be an increase in `social isolation`.

The issue at heart for academics and educationists is not the increase in school buildings, but what is being taught in these buildings. One analyst describes the intervention of religious groups in education systems as something meant to indoctrinate children instead of educating them.
Speaking in tongues by Zulfiqar Ali dawn.com

Shikarpur`s sardar-madressa nexus by Manzoor Chandio

Alexander Burnes, the 19th century Scottish traveller and explorer, had a fascinating impression of the Shikarpuri. He was in Kabul, where he met Shikarpuri bankers who offered to provide him with hundis payable in Bukhara (Uzbekistan), Astrakhan (Russia), Nijni-Novgorod (Russia) or St Macaire (France).

Burnes took up their offer on Bukhara, and as he writes, `to [hisj complete satisfaction.

Burnes didn`t know at the time, but Shikarpur`s ancient trade and commerce network connected more than just Shikarpur and Kabul; it was the preferred route for merchants travelling from South Asia to Central Asia and vice versa throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

Shikarpur still remains a link between Afghanistan and this part of the world, but for the wrong reasons. `The city is a known smuggling route between Afghanistan and Pakistan,` boomed Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan in the National Assembly. `Terrorists from Afghanistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa pass through Shikarpur to reach Karachi.

It emerged from the minister`s statement that the city`s ancient trade and commerce network has now been replaced by a terror network. Shikarpur that once exported a variety of goods to Central Asia now apparently imports terrorists from the region: per police claims, the January 30 blast in Shikarpur`s Imambargah Karbala Maula, which claimed the lives of over 60 people and injured over 80, was carried out by an Uzbek national. So far, four suicide bombers have blown themselves up in the district; most of them have been suspected to be Uzbeks from Central Asia.

But why would Uzbek militants head to Shikarpur, once the seat of secular and tolerant education? Din Mohammed Shaikh, former district coordinator for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and a resident of the city, argues that most of these `aliens` arrive in Shikarpur because of some connection with the city`s local madressas.

`We have been noticing the increasing number of aliens in the area, who come in contact mostly with local madressas and live inside them,` says Shaikh.

Geographically, the district of Shikarpur borders Balochistan on the west and is connected to southern Punjab through Kashmore in the north. Till the early 1980s, there were only three madressas in Shikarpur. Perhaps nobody really ever felt the need for madressa education either, as modern education upheld the legacy of peace and harmony that was lived and practiced by Bhittai, Shah Inayat Shaheed, Sachal Sarmast and Sami Chen Rai.

`With the collapse of modern education system during the1980s, the city saw the mushrooming of madressas, which not only offered admission to outsiders but also doubled up as musafirkhanas (rest houses) for outsiders to the area,` narrates Shaikh.

`Today, there are about 200 madressas in Shikarpur district imparting religious education only in Arabic, Of the 200 madressas, 74 are unregistered,` Shaikh says while quoting a survey carried out by an NGO.

`An estimated 10,000 students are enrolled at these madressas, some 3,000 of them belong to other provinces while those from Sindh belong to upper Sindh districts,` he continues. `Within three decades, madressas have grown from three to 200. In comparison, there are only 150 formal schools, four colleges and one university campus in Shikarpur city.

The angst is not without reason: going by the growth pattern of madressas in the district, the number of formal schools is widely expected to be further dwarfed by the number of seminaries in the near future. With the closure of hundreds of government schools and the problem of goosro (absentee) teachers, parents prefer sending their children to madressas in the hopes of `free` education, clothing and food.

Members of Sindhi civil society argue that this phenomenon is a reflection of a larger clash: between old institutions, such as the sardari system and madressas, and new institu-tions, such as the formal education system and the business community. Since Sindh`s sardars are reluctant to let go of their clout, they have found new allies in madressa maulvis.

`It looks like the government deliberately wants to revive old institutions by strengthening the medieval jirga justice system and madressa education,` says Javed Qazi, a civil society activist from Karachi who led a delegation to Shikarpur after the Imambargah Karbala Maula tragedy.

`What we are seeing is a new partnership being cultivated between the sardars of Shikarpur and the maulvis. The sardars` old partners used to be the Barelvi shrines, but due to the non-expansionist nature of Sindh`s shrines, this partnership could not match the power-grabbing greed of Sindhi sardars,` argues Qazi. `For that reason, now we see new alignments in Sindhi society, with sardars establishing ties with Wahabi madressas. Both the old institutions are promoting each others` interests in the garb of tribalism and religion.

The government is largely absent from running madressaoperations, but some 40 registered madressas are funded by the Sindh government from its Zakat fund. Government officials, locals claim, don`t bother checking up on the condition of the government-funded madressas or even the quality of education and syllabus being taught.

Most madressas are run by Deobandi parties: the number of Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI-F)-run madressas is estimated to be around 125 in Shikarpur while the Jamaat-i-Islami runs 25 madressas. There are four seminaries from the Shia school of thought. Some madressas are run by clerics of the Ahl-i-Sunnat and Ahl-i-Hadith schools of thoughts.

Almost all madressas have mosques inside their compounds but the biggest problem is that mosques have all been tagged with a particular school of thought. Because of such associations, a common man dare not go inside `the house of God` which is operated by a rival sect.

`As compared to other parts of Sindh, Shikarpur has undergone a complete transformation and civil society has lost its say,` says a local resident, while talking on condition of anonymity. `A madressa administrator is more powerful if he has the blessings of the area sardar. The nexus between clan and sect has grown so strong that a Sunni sardar of Shikarpur allegedly chose to kill off his rival Shia sardar by sending a suicide bomber to attack him.

With politics and religion now tied in a relationship, explains Shikarpuri columnist Mumtaz Mangi, it soonbecame clear that most madressas in Shikarpur were constructed on grabbed land. `Madressas are operating like a mafia and grabbing empty government plots and open spaces along main roads. They are very good at collecting donations in the name of constructing a new madressa,` he says.

`Government authorities seem reluctant to control the expansion of madressas, since policemen were involved in grabbing land for many madressas,` alleges Mangi.

`Because of no government checks or monitoring system, some people with criminal backgrounds have also now established madressas and shelter their gangsters inside them.

They blackmail traders and extort money from them in the name of providing food to Talibs; but in fact, Talibs are sent to beg for food from houses. Donations and zakat money are gobbled up by madressa handlers,` Mangi explains.

Inside the madressas, only sect-based education is imparted to students while no employable skills are taught. In turn, those who graduate from one seminary tend to set up another sect-based seminary, since that is the only job they know.

Because only religious education is imparted at madressas, the Talibs began considering themselves as the protectors of faith, and put checks on citizens as if they were state actors.

This bred intolerance in society and disturbed any notions of peaceful coexistence, thereby also radicalising young people in the city.

Soon enough, Shikarpur began to see the social impact of this unchecked burgeoning of madressas.

`The city has often witnessed clashes over who becomes the peshimam. Those backed by powerful clans are sure to take over mosques,` argues Qazi. `Because of a lack of skills and unemployment, madressa-cducated peshimams defend their jobs at any cost and often indulge in violence to do so.

It`s a wrong assumption that madressas serve food and clothes to Talibs. Instead, most madressa Talibs depend on the generosity of the people of Shikarpur for food, cloth and medicines.

Then there is policing of cultural activities and citizens` personal lives.

`The frightening part is that Talibs have often been used to attack musical events and bodybuilding contests, which once were a regular feature of city life. The historical Mina Bazaar for women has been shut too after threats from madressa Talibs,` says Mangi.

Shaikh agrees, but adds that young people in Shikarpur are fast becoming radicalised because of the social engineering brought about by madressas. The regime of fear is such that residents of the city now believe that bands of club-wielding Talibs are ever ready to attack any social event they deem as un-Islamic.

`For that reason no musical programme has been held in the city for the last several years. The city`s Mina Bazaar has been closed for an indefinite period. Even nationalist parties like Qaumi Awami Tehrik of Palijo, Jeay Sindh groups and others have stopped holding Jashan-i-Latif, which they once used to hold every year,` says Shaikh.

The absence of cultural activities by Sindhi nationalist groups and the ruling party`s alleged involvement in grabbing power and money has created a vacuum: religious parties find Shikarpur to be an empty field, on which more madressas can be constructed, and over which they can establish their writ. It would be no exaggeration to say that extremists have created a pocket of terror in the heart of Sindh, with no action by the government and not much resistance from the civil society or political parties either.
Shikarpur`s sardar-madressa nexus
by Manzoor Chandio
The writer is a member of stag He tweets @manzoor chandio

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The madressa mix: Genesis and growth

In the aftermath of the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, and the National Action Plan against terrorism that was put in place thereafter, focus seems to have turned on the individual: hate-spewing clerics needed to be arrested, for their venom was insulting to the memory of those who died on December 16, 2014 and counter-productive for any national resolve to fight off terror.

But few are asking the fundamental question, which is if the real issue is the individual or the institution that he represents? Maulana Abdul Aziz can be arrested and removed from Lal Masjid, for example, but would that translate into removing his spirit and footprints from Jamia Hafsa? Can the two even be separated? How entrenched is the individual in the politics and practice of his institution? Is there a linear relationship between madressas and militancy? Is reform of madressas simply a lofty, unattainable ideal?

Madressas in Pakistan have managed to historically construct a position of sanctity for themselves in society, many times aided and abetted by the state and government. This is partly due to a general confusion whether the madressa as an institution is generally harmless and benign or whether there is more to it. Today, madressas go beyond a single institute of learning: many madressas are now part of a network of institutions that are loosely connected with a mother organisation, and are sponsoring a particular ideology of a particular group.

In truth, madressas are one of the biggest unregulated sectors in Pakistan, with scholars estimating 16,000 to 20,000 registered madressas operating in the country. Official sources, meanwhile, recently disclosed a figure of 25,000 registered madressas, while it is also believed that were unregistered madressas taken into account, the total would be around 40,000. A couple of years ago, a senior Sindh Police officer confided that there was a monthly expansion of two to three madressas in the province. The trend continues.

In the first of a two-part series, we examine the evolution and scope of the madressa network phenomenon
In Pakistan today, there are four kinds of madressas: large sized maktabs, mid-sized madressas, large elite madressas, and hybrid madressa schools. These are different from the historical institution of the madressa; in fact, the madressa is undergoing transformation even today, with the institution now also catering to the middle and upper-middle class.

In rural areas, landlords set up madressas on their land and send their children to these for education and awareness about religion. In urban centres, larger madressas cater to the more affluent segments of society.

The absence of an immediate alternative to madressas tends to make both the state and a burgeoning civil society shy away from actively engaging with the process of reforms. Perhaps, this should in fact be a starting point for discussions on madressas and militancy in Pakistan.

Quantitative versus qualitative frameworks

There are several figures for how big the madressa network/industry is. A study published in 2007 claimed that there were 16,000 madressas registered with the five wafaqs (boards), out of which 9,500 were Deobandi, 4,500 Barelvi, 1,000 run by Jamaat-i-Islami, 500 Ahl-i-Hadith, and 500 Ahl-i-Tashi.

In another study, published in 2008 by Jaddon Park and Sarfaroz Niyozov, the number of madressas was put at 13,000. The authors also claimed that these institutions enrolled anything between 0.3 per cent to 33 per cent of children from the ages of five to 19 across Pakistan.

The quantitative paradigm, however, is illusive, as it does not help capture the real essence of this phenomenon.

A 2001 study by Tahir Andarabi for the World Bank dispelled the notion that the majority of Pakistani children went to madressas. His claim was that it was just one per cent of the total school going population. This argument challenged the popular perception that madressas produced militants, as they had done in the case of the Taliban, who were largely trained and indoctrinated in Pakistani seminaries.

Some suggested that while not all seminaries were bad, those representing a certain ideology were more troublesome. Fingers were pointed at Deobandi seminaries in the country. But then some academics also challenged the linear link between militancy and madressas.

Chaman, 2004: Activists of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, an alliance of religious parties, attend a rally to protest raids on madressas—AFP file photo
In her study based on 141 jihadis, American academic C. Christine Fair concluded that the majority of her sample was not “madressa trained”. In her sample, only 12 per cent were madressa trained — of these, 60 per cent were Deobandi, 22 per cent Jamaat-i-Islami, and six per cent Ahl-i-Hadith. As far as recruitment to militancy is concerned, 35 per cent were inducted through family and friends, 19 per cent through tableegh, a quarter from mosques, and only 13 per cent through the madressa channel.

In Pakistan today, there are four kinds of madressas: large sized maktabs, mid-sized madressas, large elite madressas, and hybrid madressa schools. These are different from the historical institution; in fact, the madressa is undergoing transformation even today, with the institution now also catering to the middle and upper-middle class.
In another study of 50 jihadis by Pakistani scholar Masooda Bano, it was claimed that 60 per cent of the sample was from relatively affluent social backgrounds and 30 per cent had even studied abroad.

This led to the perception that perhaps there was more hype about religious seminaries than was deserved. The political leadership is divided on the issue, with many supporting the conclusion that since madressas are not linked with terrorism, they should not be examined or brought under any kind of accountability net.

Lately, the madressa is considered as a necessity for the poor. Since the state has failed to provide education for everyone, particularly the poor, parents find it convenient to send their children to madressas. A senior officer of the Punjab police I spoke to even suggested that religious seminaries performed social welfare activity, i.e. they provide free food, shelter and activity for the dispossessed. A Pakistani academic even claimed that seminaries contribute positively to socioeconomic development.

Such arguments are linear and static, and tend to not notice the structuraland intellectual dynamism of the madressa,. In the words of Tajik scholar Sarfaroz Niyozov: “…though Islamic teaching has remained static, institutions through which it is carried out has undergone dynamic change”.

Madressas as manufacturing systems

The best way to understand the madressa phenomenon is comparing it with the Japanese Kanban (Just-in-Time) manufacturing system, which comprises an extremely efficient supply chain to sustain production.

Religious seminaries are not significant due to the number of jihadis they produce but are central to the production of the ideology that feeds the jihadi, even if said jihadi is in fact educated in public schools and universities. The madressa denotes an essential power base that contributes ideology and the sustained supply of a narrative into society, which in turn, feeds both radicalism and militancy in Pakistan.

Madressas are where ideological indoctrination rejecting all opposing ideas is born. Sectarian violence, therefore, is one by-product of this manufacture of ideology and indoctrination.

In Punjab, for example, the provincial government has had access to information and data regarding the sharp sectarian divide in the madressa sector for a long time. Much of this information is ignored primarily because of the state’s attitude towards sectarian tension and militancy. When police officers are questioned about the dynamics of sectarian killings, most retort that “this is sectarian violence and not terrorism” — almost as if the former is more organic.

Religious seminaries are not significant due to the number of jihadis they contribute but are central to the production of the ideology that feeds the jihadi, even if said jihadi is in fact educated in public schools and universities.
Madressas are an instrument for the ghettoisation of Islam to build a power centre within society which can challenge the legitimacy of the state or other competing societal stakeholders. Intra-society competition is normal except that in this case one group claims to have divine sanction. The issue here is not of militancy but the legitimising of radicalism through institutional means. Madressas cannot be seen individually but as a network used for ideological transmission.

Islamabad, 2005: Girls from a madressa display posters during a protest against raids on seminaries in Islamabad. These protests were held in connection with the London blasts that year —Reuters file photo
In fact, the post-1947 madressa in Pakistan has built ghettos within a ghetto — these emphasise a sectarian divide. Every sectarian group and its madressa aim for maximising power. In more recent years, this has translated into the increased propensity for all sects to use violence to negotiate with the state, for which legitimacy is sought through religion and textual interpretation.

Therefore, the individual jihadi may not have come from a madressa but their guide and teacher, the one who radicalised them, often does.

The radicalisation process goes and stays deeper; it is separate from recruitment for jihad, the patterns for which have undergone some change in the past decade or more.

Pakistan-based jihadi organisations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), and a few others have become more selective in their recruitment process. They now prefer better-educated militants. The JeM, for example, has long been recruiting from public sector schools. Most militant groups have also set a foothold in public sector universities to draw the more literate segment of the youth into their fold.

Some of the bigger seminaries also develop literature that is extremely lethal, encouraging a constant conflict with the “other” until the latter is vanquished. According to this apocalyptic worldview, no other culture and civilisation will survive at the end of times but their own.
None of this makes madressas less relevant.

Madressas still serve as ideological power centres used to gain legitimacy for an ideological-militant group and build a community around it. The Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) madressas in Muridke, Lahore and Karachi thus resemble a central nervous system.

Drawing power from creating an ideal

Seminaries are a source of political power for its leadership, through their ability to bring hundreds of committed youth onto the street. These are dedicated beings who would not challenge the teacher or their organisational hierarchy. They believe that they have the formula for an ideal society and are fighting evil in pursuance of this ideal.

Put another way, the girls and young women at Jamia Hafsa believed that Maulana Aziz’s 2007 agitation was to target corrupt and inefficient governments, and to bring society in line with the tenets of Islam. The women couldn’t care less about the consequences of their rebellion, nor did their passion dissipate even after the military operation.

Scholar Masooda Bano categorised these madressa pupils as “rational believers” who added up the benefits of the life hereafter, possibly subtracted the perils of the material world and found that they ended up with a net gain. The in-charge of logistics at Bahria Town Rawalpindi, where these girls were kept after the operation, described them as restless and angry.

If follows, therefore, that it is not for nothing that big madressas are now found at the entry points to just about every big and small town and city in Punjab and Sindh. Imagine the tremendous capacity to block a communication channel that main roads represent. If madressas were not an important part of this supply-chain, their mushrooming in a province like Sindh —reputed for its multi-culturalism and plurality — would not take place. Eventually, these religious seminaries in Sindh will contribute tremendously to transforming the socio-political culture of Sindh, as has happened years ago in southern Punjab. It certainly has captured the imagination of the upcoming middle class. Not surprisingly, tension vis-à-vis religious minorities or instances of Eid Miladun Nabi festivals being forcibly stopped have increased.

The vagueness regarding political placement of religion in the new state of Pakistan meant that while political leadership remained largely secular, religion was left to ulema and pirs. The state engaged with both with different consequences. The ulema, in particular, adopted power maximization strategy to silence any alternative voice by labelling it apostate and anti-Islamic. They also became a source of political legitimisation for the rulers.
The concentration of LeT/JuD schools along the border with India in Sindh, or in areas with Hindu population, or Deobandi madressas opened with funding from the Gulf across upper Sindh, all become contributory factors in the process of social conversion.

Kotri, 2007: Police personnel seize posters and literature from a madressa—Reuters file photo
Therefore, it is flawed to measure the influence of religious seminaries in quantitative terms based on the number of students. The impact of these is widespread as a child going to a seminary has an impact on the thinking of other members of the family. People would be familiar with, for instance, a daughter going to an Al-Huda madressa changing the mother and eventually the entire household. This dynamic is mirrored in more traditional seminaries as well.

Four generations of madressas

A common and often misplaced understanding is that madressas represent historical cultural traditions. In fact, the madressa structure is dynamic and has evolved historically to become the behemoth that it is today. The contemporary madressa in Pakistan and a lot of other Muslim countries does not compare with the madressa born at the end of the 10th and beginning of the 11th century.

The first formal madressa in Nishapur, Khorasan or others like Al-Azhar in Egypt or Nizamiyah in Baghdad were based on a different concept from the seminaries that exist today. Educational systems in Islam were first developed by the Ummayads and later evolved by the Abbasids.

Rulers would provide patronage to ulema, who were associated with one seminary or the other, to seek political legitimacy. More importantly, these were centres of learning that not only excelled in religion but also other subjects.

Typically, these madressas taught “Quranic” sciences, hadith, methods of fiqh, but also rational sciences like arithmetic, sciences and literature. This was revolutionary as it established institutionalised education, something that was not seen in Europe until the 13th century.

Religious studies normally reflected particular jurisprudence and propagated certain ideological narratives. An important feature of this system was that these were personalised institutions, operationally and financially. These depended on waqf from the social elite, while the quality of learning depended on association with the teacher or the sheikh.

A fourth generation madressa — the hybrid-madressa — seems to have evolved during the mid-1990s and expanded after the mid-2000s. These teach secular subjects, have English as the medium of instruction and function almost like a regular school. Many even offer GCSE O’ and A’ levels, and have uniforms that make them hard to distinguish them from secular schools.
This pattern was later followed in India as well. Barring Akbar, most Mughal rulers were mindful of the ulema for reasons of political legitimacy. This meant creating waqf, or properties attached to madressas for their upkeep. These madressas were attached with mosques and taught subjects such as geometry, mathematics, civil engineering and others.

These were first generation madressas, which enjoyed a functional relationship with society at large. Some of the 137 madressas that Pakistan inherited in 1947 included this type of seminary, which were attached with a particular ideological school or shrine. Almost all shrines had maktabs or madressas, an instrument that was gradually abandoned by pirs and sajjada nashins.

The second generation of madressas began with Deoband, which was established in 1867, a few years after the first war of independence in 1857. This was also the beginning of a process of formalisation of the madressa structure in the Indian Subcontinent. Although Deobandi ideology is considered as revisionist, the genesis of the madressa and the underlying concept was reformist and modern.

It was a deviation from the pattern of older established madressas such as Farangi Mahal that was run on waqf. Deoband established a more independent pattern of financing in which they were dependent on contributions from the public rather than the state or the elite. They taught Dars-e-Nizami which was developed in madressa Farangi Mahal.

But Deoband was different in more than one way. It was a more bureaucratic structure than other madressas at that time, almost on the British educational pattern. However, Deoband’s reformism unfortunately confined itself to religion; prominent ulema like Rashid Gangohi considered teaching other subjects, including traditional medicine or tibb, as a diversion from the main focus of the institution. Thus the teaching of hadith was developed as its main forte. It was this tradition which was carried on in which rational sciences were almost totally abandoned.

Barbara Metcalf, who is known for her work on Deoband, believes that this was to protect Muslim identity and was a reaction to British colonialism. Arshad Alam, who also blames the British for the evolution of this kind of dedicated madressas, is of the view that the colonial policy of separating religion from education meant that religion developed a definite space and the Muslim religious clergy engaged in a ‘hegemonic representation of masses’. The inspiration, of course, was Shah Waliullah who wanted ulema to play a distinctive role in the development of Muslim identity. Other reformist movements also followed this pattern of religious education.

The vagueness regarding political placement of religion in the new state of Pakistan meant that while political leadership remained largely secular, religion was left to ulema and pirs. The state engaged with both with different consequences. The ulema, in particular, adopted a power maximization strategy to silence any alternative voice by labelling it apostate and anti-Islamic. They also became a source of political legitimisation for the rulers.

In this socio-political background, madaris became centres to maintain the purity of Islam. According to a prominent Sindhi Barelvi cleric and mufti, Abul Khair Muhammad Zubair: “Madressas save people from a life of sin, by advising them according to the Qur’an and Sunnah”.

In an urge to enhance the power of revivalist movements such as those of the Deobandi and Barelvi, the madressa system was turned static, and rational sciences were excluded. Unlike older madressas that taught philosophy and logic these madressas were restricted in their imagination. They certainly cannot transform into the ‘Oxford and Cambridge’ of the future as Bano has argued in her work mainly because of an inherent dislike for rational sciences. This even applies to cases where non-religious subjects are included.

Unlike Oxford or Cambridge, where rational sciences were important in debating matters of faith, these madressas do not encourage any deviation from the core religious explanation adopted by its management. The teaching of English or computers is mainly to increase employability. Today, madressa trained teachers have greater absorption capacity due to ‘Arabization’ of Islamic studies in schools. An increase in the Arabic component of the text and inclusion of Arabic in the curriculum by several private schools opens up job opportunities for madressa-trained people. Obviously, they also take their ideology along even to the schools.

Logic, for instance, was taught only in reference to the various kinds of hadith or with regard to the interpretation of the Quran. This continues to be the case. The teaching process does not consider the need to nourish pupils intellectually, socially, and physically. Due to the centrality of this education system for the maintenance of the ulema’s power, they tend to protect it against any introspection or reform by using the argument of “tradition.” Institutional power was further consolidated with the creation of the four wafaqs (boards) in 1958/59 on sectarian basis.

But many believe that what empowered both the ulema and the madressas was the State’s alignment with these to gain geo-strategic advantages.

Approximately 5,000 madressas were established after 1982 during the period of US-Pak strategic alignment. This compares with the figure of 150 new seminaries that were added between 1977 and 1979. Before that, there was controlled proliferation. From 1960-71, for instance, only 482 new madressas were established. The numbers increased to 852 new ones during the 1970s.

It was during the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto regime that agreements were signed with some Arab states for the promotion of Arabic, as a result of which madressas were set up in South Punjab. However, some suggest that a real shift insofar as madressas in southern Punjab go came after Mirza Aslam Beg’s appointment as GoC Okara. Not surprisingly, many commanders of the armies of Afghan mujahideen and later warlords were drawn from southern Punjab. These people were ideologically motivated and trained in madressas.

During the Zia period, madressas became powerful centres for different ideological groups. There were two other significant things which happened during this period. First, the Halepoto report on madressa reform recommended improving economic conditions of the madressas. The government began providing financial help by diverting zakat funds. It was believed that the ulema were poorly paid and that students were in poor condition.

According to a report in the early 1990s regarding Bahawalpur, the government knew exactly the sectarian divide that existed in madressas and knew which madressas were engaged in fanning sectarian hatred. This formula was later replicated across Punjab. Despite this, funds were never discontinued until Benazir Bhutto’s government came to power.

Second, the Zia regime developed a system of educational equivalence that recognised madressa qualification as equivalent to secular education. The idea was to modernise religious seminaries and encourage them to teach non-religious subjects.

Thus was born the 3rd generation of madressas, which were a merger of traditional and modern. The bigger or elite madressas offered Ph.D., M.A, B.A, and secondary certificates. Many madressas also teach English and computer sciences.

Due to internal adjustments, three different kinds of madressas emerged: the elite, which also taught secular subjects; the traditional, which only taught the Quran and hadith; and then the lowest, the maktab-madressa.

The 1990s and 2000s saw both a vertical and horizontal expansion of madressas. From distant geographical areas to middle class and elite, or women, madressas expanded in all directions. The elite madressas were critical in producing teachers that then went and opened their own madressas.

Thus, this became an umbrella-like structure with each ideological system breeding its own nursery of madressas and maktabs. The issue is not of what subjects or books are taught but the manner in which the minds of students who would later become teachers themselves are trained. These madressas were further modernised with the introduction of a pre-requisite for admission being matriculation and/or intermediate, which also means some integration with the non-religious schooling system.

In any case, Pakistan’s public and even private sector schooling is today far more integrated with the madressa system. There is a provision that allows students to leave school in third grade for hifz (memorising Quran) and rejoin after three years in grade 5. Serious educators say that the absence from school leaves a gap that often doesn’t get filled.

A fourth generation madressa — the hybrid-madressa — seems to have evolved during the mid-1990s and expanded after the mid-2000s. These teach secular subjects, have English as the medium of instruction and function almost like a regular school. Many even offer GCSE O’ and A’ levels, and have uniforms that make them hard to distinguish them from secular schools. Superficially, a minor distinguishing mark is their insistence on even kindergarten girls wearing hijab. They also provide facility for hifz. Students opting for this skip regular classes and are gently taught a couple of other subjects but with much less rigour.

Generally, purity of religious teaching is maintained by instruction in the correct recitation of Quran and the teaching of hadith. While describing the Islamic content in teaching, the teacher of one such school explained how they ensure from Montessori that children’s drawings of any living being should not have eyes, ears and mouth — features that “put humans at par with God”.

Many of these are linked with particular militant organisations or related groups. For example, the JuD has about 295 schools and five colleges. There are others that are linked with some Deobandi groups and the Tableeghi Jamaat. Most of these hybrid-madressa schools are concentrated in major urban centres to attract middle-middle and upper-middle class students.

Another significant pattern that has emerged pertains to the development of a madressa network in which some madressa-schools share administration with third generation madressas and their boards. The development of this category coincided with the Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan. This is when religious parties and religious-militant leadership realised the need to produce qualified but ideologically committed human resource.

Whither reform?

The issue here is not the structure, but of reform in the core subjects and values that ulema don’t allow anyone to touch. The state did engage on a reform agenda starting from the 1960s, and as part of the process Jamia Islamia Bahawalpur was established in 1963 to harmonise modern and traditional education. The Jamia would award degrees and bring madressas under its training umbrella. However, the programme eventually fell prey to bureaucratic inertia.

Another effort was made in 1970 to establish an ulema academy to train and educate imams and khateebs. The program was abruptly discontinued in 1982 due to internal ideological rivalry.

Although no scheme for reform was launched during the 1990s, Benazir Bhutto’s government changed some rules, such as banning foreign students from studying in Pakistani madressas without obtaining a no-objection certificate. She also discontinued the investment of zakat in seminaries.

The Musharraf government seemed keen on madressa reforms, for which a Pakistan Madressa Education Board (PMEB) was set up in 2001.

However, the process focused mainly on peripheral subjects and improving technological infrastructure, for which money was also available from foreign donors. The British and the Americans were enthused by the idea of engaging with madressas, but the process again fell short of touching core subjects.

Every time modernisation of madressas is mentioned, it is limited to peripheral activities. But as pointed out in the report on madressas by the International Crisis Group (ICG), “the madressa problem is beyond militancy. This is about kids being indoctrinated with a limited worldview.”

Far from teaching Islamic history, the little that is taught at these seminaries reaffirms notions of lost grandeur and creates a worldview of constant conflict with other civilisations. Some of the bigger seminaries also develop literature that is extremely lethal, encouraging a constant conflict with the “other” until the latter is vanquished. According to this apocalyptic worldview, no other culture and civilisation will survive at the end of times but their own.

A friend heading an NGO once suggested undertaking a project of teaching children how to make computer presentations. During the process, she argued, they would gently insert new ideas and push children to explore new concepts. She didn’t seem to realise that clerics jealously guard this turf because it is fundamental to their power. They will allow English, science and computers but no intrusion into the core subjects that build their ideological base.

The ideal recipe, however, is not closing down madressas altogether mainly because the government lacks the infrastructure, and perhaps the commitment, to replace seminaries with something else. There is a need for reforming the syllabi, but that is not possible without a system of accountability of religious seminaries and engaging them in a dialogue first.

This may not happen without revamping the entire education system, especially bringing private schools under the state’s regulatory purview. There has to be a single formula for all, else all efforts at regulation will collapse.



Dr Ayesha Siddiqa is an independent scholar, author of Military Inc, and is currently working on a new book on the sociology of militancy. Connect with her on Twitter @iamthedrifter or email: ayesha.ibd@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, March 1st, 2015