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Sunday, March 8, 2015

"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