Tuesday July 05, 2022

Reforming madressahs

February 17, 2017

Pakistan’s terrorism quagmire is multipronged. It involves violent non-state actors operating under religious outfits. It has crime and terror syndicates and finally sectarian outfits that are serving as a breeding ground for radicalisation and terrorism in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s counterterrorism doctrine can be lauded for its operational preparedness – although it remained counterproductive in curbing the roots of terrorism. Radical extremism and violent terrorism, while interrelated, are misleadingly clubbed together in the equation of Pakistan’s counterterrorism strategy.

Under the national counterterrorism plan, the government declared it would launch a decisive crackdown against sectarian hate-mongers and all those madressahs that refuse to register under the new registration policy announced by the government to regulate and regularise madressahs in Pakistan.

A coalition comprising five bodies of religious seminaries belonging to different schools of thought had assured the government that its madressahs would register under the new policy within three months. It had also agreed to modernise curricula and a committee was to be formed to review courses taught in madressahs.

To date, the above tasks have not materialised. “Madressahs are universities of ignorance”. This statement by former information minister Pervaiz Rashid in the past had resulted in a furious backlash from those who vehemently justify madressahs.

The prevalent global discourse on terrorism is primarily focused on the interpretation of religious doctrine. Post 9/11 the revamped global scenario and a redefined contextualisation has put the issue of religious radicalisation vis-à-vis religious indoctrination right in the limelight. The overriding of the Western liberal political order and extreme reaction from the volatile Muslim world have further sharpened the rifts. The existing polarisation, coupled with the blurred lines of integration, has resulted in a hybrid structure.

Talk on reforming the curricula of madressahs has been on for quite some time now – without much having been achieved though.

Madressahs have always been seen as an antidote to modernity whether during the colonial rule or afterwards. The setting up of Darul Uloom Deoband in 1866 by the religious clerics of that time was a reaction to the seeping process of modernity initiated by the British Raj. With a defined mindset, an anti-modernity and retrogressive discourse was instilled. All this was happening in the backdrop of the technological changes and industrial avant-garde that had reshaped the traditional modes of means of communication and led to the rise of the middle class.

Madressahs were part of the resistance against the colonial rule. Deoband, Jamiat ur Raza and Nidwatul Ulema are a few examples of such madressahs. The curricula of madressahs have always been considered the sole jurisdiction of the set of jurisprudence that madressahs subscribe to. Even the British could not transform madressah education in the Subcontinent.

Madressah education is an inward-looking strategy and any effort to reform madressah education and curriculum is taken as a conspiracy. The strength and success of madressahs is due to this strategy of looking inward. It resists the outward influences and marks them as a conspiracy of non-believers against the teachings and the scriptures of Islam.

Under this mindset, reforming madressahs is not an easy task. Violent religious political outfits are also attempting to make inroads into the political setup. The recent election win of Mirza Masroor Jhangvi from Jhang highlights this phenomenon. Political parties like the JUI-F, doing real politik at the name of saving madressahs, are also a major impediment in madressah reforms.

At this critical juncture, Pakistan needs a clear and decisive policy roadmap. Mere lip service to the National Action Plan will not guarantee a solution. A comprehensive policy in this regard, one that is aimed at imparting a rationalised discourse on madressahs, and a mechanism of effective monitoring are direly needed to tackle the problem of radical extremism turning into violent extremism in the country.


The writer is a faculty member at
Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.