Madrassa Militancy and Reforms

Students at the Darul Uloom Rahmaniya Madrassa in Dera Ghazi Khan.

The radicalization of a section of the madrassa system is a profoundly destabilizing phenomenon with its roots in the Afghan jihad. Millennia old system of education designed to educate the intellectual elite in Muslim societies, the madrassa system in Pakistan has changed drastically in substance and context in the past two decades. Madrassas in Pakistan are estimated to have more than doubled since 1988 due to host of complex internal and external factors. They have stepped into take up the vacuum left by the Pakistan’s failed educational system. Pakistan spends a mere 1.8 percent of GNP on education.

The problem of madrassa education has two distinct aspects. First, the quality of madrassa education in equipping students with basic tools to earn a living, and the second is the relationship between certain madrassas and radical militant groups that recruit them to fight internationally, or in sectarian struggles. These are two distinct problems with different solutions. Nothing in the institution of madrassa is inherently prone to militancy. While the curriculum is overwhelmingly outdated and stereotyped, madrassas are often the only schooling option for poorer Pakistanis. It is pertinent to note that the madrassa system today provides a vital social service, not only teaching basic reading and writing, but providing food, shelter and other basic necessities and services. It is estimated that mosques affiliated with madrassas collect over 1.2 billion U.S dollars in charitable donations from Pakistanis residents.

The vast majority of madrassas is dedicated to religious education and is not practically involved on politics. While these institutions are stumbling blocks to progress and need to be reformed, they are not a vital security threat for anybody. Though it is hard to get concrete data, most estimates indicate that only about 10-15 percent of Pakistan’s madrassas are affiliated with radical militant groups. These extremist setups propagate a culture of hatred and violence, both domestically and internationally. To distinguish this minority with vast majority of peaceful maddaris is one of the most difficult problems for the authorities. The Maddaris Ordinance 2002, which attempts to regulate madrassas by getting them to register with the education board, is particularly ineffective when it comes to dealing with extremist maddaris as it relies overwhelmingly on the voluntary submission of data. Madrassa militancy is a complex subject as different factors promote militancy depending on socio-economic, ethnic and sectarian patterns and local power structures.

Another reason for failure behind madrassa reforms is the perception that Islam is being attacked by the authorities on the dictates of western (read USA) powers. It is an issue that unites religious parties and extremist groups, who in turn can manipulate the religious rhetoric to win popular support. To deal with the issue effectively, the civilian government needs to refine its approach and try to build genuine consensus for reform. But at this point, it remains unclear if the government even has the organizational capacity and will to regulate madrassas effectively, given its poor track record with public education.


jason said... [Reply]

A very provocative writeup my friend! I liked the way you expressed your thoughts on this subject. Social environment basically defines perceptions which are just figments of our imagination on how things should be...

wayne said... [Reply]

very analytical...great write

mazhar said... [Reply]

I agree madrassas must get registration. The case should not be handled voluntarily but with strict implementation and determination. And those madrassas which are in minority but have the potential to cause unimaginable mayhem must be banned and demolished.

Asim said... [Reply]

Musharraf was doing a good job initially by banning violent madarasas but then came Lal Masjid and everything changed. Madarasa reforms seem like a distant dream in present political scenario.

ReeBz said... [Reply]

well, there should be a big check and balance on madarsas, no doubt. nut i think check and balance should not only be limited to madrsas..If madarsaas are making one militant, then some normal schools are also the reason of diverting the innocent brains from islam. you just go and check the syllabus of any school running under Agha khan board and you will see, how they are polluting the brains of our children..
well i m not in the favor of madarssaas.I agree that most of the poor population looks forward to madarsa as they can afford it easily and are also provided with food shelter and clothing. I think it should be made compulsory to give woRldly education as well in the madrsaas and not only the religious ones..
But anyhow i dunh agree that madarsaas turn anyone into a terrorist or they make their own militancy parties and bla bla..
If its the case, then nothing is different on the other way round.. what do you think our universities are making ?? If you live in karachi, then just for a minute think about the biggest one and only govt university of khi and you will guess, what m talking about...

floydian said... [Reply]


I hope you are doing fine. I am glad that you did a candid analysis of my take on the issue. I like the way you put forward your points.

"The first thing created by God was the intellect". Quran says, "One learned man is harder on the devil than a thousand ignorant worshippers".

You see traditionally our education sector has been divided broadly into three parallel systems...government run schools, private schools and madarassas. Each follows its own curriculum, teaching methods and examination processes. The government run schools inability to respond to the country's educational needs has benefited the madarassas and private schools alike. Madarassas have mostly provided a very obedient manpower to the mullahs far more than it has produced scholars, critical thinkers, researchers or mujtahids. In some cases it has been proved beyond the shadow of doubt that some madarassas have produced militants. Publishing and distributing hate literature is also a common practice which in some cases has incited violence and killings. Sodomy and torture is also prevalent in many madarassas of rural Pakistan.
But yet there are madarassas where "worldly education" is also imparted and that have computer laboratories. But both, militant madarassas and progressive madarassas are in minute minority and both are teaching unchecked, unregistered or non-verified syllabus.
On the other hand majority of private educational institutions select their own curriculum and textbooks which are not in conformity with public schools. Just like madarassas, many private schools are unregistered and have their own criteria for selection of books, teachers and provision of facilities. Whereas, the government run schools have totally outdated and biased curriculum that only depends on rote learning. In any case, critical thinking, unbiased approach towards learning and non-awareness is rampant. Yes many here in Karachi have apprehensions about Agha Khan Board and their ideological liberalism. I don't really mind such liberalism as long as it is not imposed. It must be optional. Including Agha Khan, more than two dozen educational boards govern our educational sector. It’s a jungle where everything is jumbled and mumbled.

Anyhow, the crux of the matter is that there is increased schism in the society caused by different schooling systems in the country. The overall picture shows that the country would not only lag in development due to low and below par education standards but would be faced with social disharmony and non-tolerable conflicting perceptions which would be highly destabilizing for this country (it has already been proved actually).

About Karachi University, I would say that things are not ideal there either but this institution has produced scholars, researchers, civil servants, engineers, doctors, teachers and poets far more than all other private universities combined in Karachi. But if we really want to reach the bottom of the issue then let me say that we'll have to seriously review our constitutional structure and the prevailing intolerant theocratic system.

Best Regards.

ReeBz said... [Reply]

I agree with whatever you said. but i mind the agha khan board, i feel it is an attack over my moral and religious values. i once got a chance to read their text books of primary classes and well i was like huh?>? drenched in embarrassment fully! I dunno how the teachers are teaching that stuff aloud in the classes. No doubt that our next generation will be free from all limitations and we will be suffering from a great collapse of the family-bond.
This is known as westernization.. We think that being western is being modern.But in real both the terms have no similarity!

About khi Uni I m a student of KU and so i keep getting to know different news.. you know.. I agree it has played an important role in producing engineers,doctors etc but at the same time its also responsible for turning their students into militants as no check and balance. Once our head of the department was beaten brutally by some militant-students of KU!
so you see, either mullah madrasaas or scholar's university, both are a reason of pur destruction... i just wanna say that poora ka poora pakistan ab khatam honey wala hey bus!!

floydian said... [Reply]