Madressah reforms

Mohammad Ali Babakhel

IN the National Action Plan (NAP), points 10 and 18 convey the state’s resolve to register and regulate madressahs and eradicate sectarian terrorism. Both actions fall primarily within the preview of the criminal justice system but we are still far from achieving these objectives. We need to undertake a forensic analysis of the madressah landscape in Pakistan before we can move forward.

The commonalities and differences bet­ween formal education and madressahs can be identified through a diagnostic approach whose terms of reference should include the following: what percentage of school dropouts is attracted by madressahs? Is there any established link of madressah curriculums with militancy and terrorism? Are madressahs really spreading sectarianism and extremism? Is integration of madressahs into the formal education system a viable option?

Would it be appropriate to reform madressahs in isolation or should such reforms be part of broader educational reforms? What are the hurdles in communication between government and madressahs? What is the actual number of madressahs and their students?

Where schools are absent, madressahs are an alternate educational facility. Our madressahs have multi-dimensional characteristics, including political, sectarian and foreign leanings. According to the report The Madressah Conundrum, there are approximately 35,000 seminaries in Pakistan. Organised under five boards of different ideologies, most of them are of Deobandi and Barelvi persuasion and, according to media reports, are imparting religious education to approximately 3.5 million students.

There has been a mushroom growth in the number of women’s madressahs, and the reasons for this should be explored. Although a clear breakdown of male and female madressahs is unavailable, it is estimated that girl students constitute 30pc of the total strength.

Foreign students in madressahs are not really an issue. Over the years, strict government regulations as well as the obsolete curriculums taught at madressahs, have led to a 74pc reduction in foreign students’ enrolment. In 2006, there were 10,117 foreign students from 45 countries enrolled in Pakistani madressahs; currently, the figure is down to 2,673 from 37 countries.

Religious leaders too have been the target of militancy.

A total of 182 suspect madressahs have been closed since NAP was announced. Of these, two were in Punjab, 167 in Sindh and 13 in KP. A research-based study can determine how many graduates of madressahs have been involved in militancy or criminal activities. Has anyone devised a programme to integrate madressahs into the formal education system? How about examining the ways in which the clergy can be used to counter extremism?

Section 21 of The Societies Registration Act, 1860, which was inserted in 2006, requires registration of madressahs within one year. Originally the act was meant to cover the registration of literary, scientific and charitable societies in colonial times. As per Section 21, madressahs must submit annual reports of their educational activities and audited accounts to the registrar’s office. Section 21(4) clearly states that such institutions shall neither teach militancy nor spread hatred.

Seminaries are generally regarded as traditional educational facilities not compatible with modern educational values. However, such perceptions need to be objectively evaluated. For their part, madressahs, which tend to believe that curriculum and management are their exclusive jurisdiction — in the process of which they neglect curriculum development and teacher training — must cooperate with the state and prove they are not in conflict with it.

Without a partnership between academic institutions, madressahs, the National Counter Terrorism Authority, investigation and intelligence agencies, it will be difficult to determine the exact linkages between madressahs and militancy.

Reforms cannot be effective until the reasons for mistrust between the clergy and state are understood. For the majority of the clergy, madressah reforms are an initiative driven by an external agenda with foreign funding.

After 9/11, and more recently following the announcement of NAP, madressah reforms once again are in the forefront. However, reforms without the clergy’s participation prove futile. Although registration is a legal requirement, madressahs do not want to surrender their autonomy. To equip the faculty with modern teaching skills, it is imperative to establish teacher training colleges for mohtamims at provincial levels. They should be trained in human rights, religious tolerance, interfaith harmony and computers.

One should not forget that madressahs too have been the target of militancy. Religious leaders like Maulana Hassan Jan and Maulana Sarfaraz Naeemi lost their lives at the hands of extremists against whose tactics they spoke out.

Madressahs should not be seen as an adversarial educational system but rather as an alternative. But it is the state’s responsibility to regulate them.

The writer is a police officer.

Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2015

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