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Opinion

January 17, 2015

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Regulating madressahs

The 20-point National Action Plan announced by the government also envisages registration and regulation of all madressahs in the country. Besides military courts, this is perhaps the most important ingredient of the plan because the country is confronted with terrorism, which has very strong and proven links with some of the madressahs that have mushroomed in the country since the early eighties in the wake of the officially sponsored jihad in Afghanistan.
One doesn’t need to go into the details of what followed after this jihad movement. Suffice to say that whatever Pakistan was going through was a sequel to the wrong and short-sighted policies of the military dictators. Our present reality was that Pakistan was about to burst at its seams and the biggest existentialist threat came from terrorism and religious extremism. These seminaries have been providing manpower to the proscribed militant and jihadi outfits.
The most painful and sordid aspect of this threat was that it was being enacted in the name of religion, though a distorted perception of it. What happened at Jamia Hafsa in Islamabad in 2007, the recent release of a video by female students of the Jamia in support of TTP and Daish and its endorsement by Maulana Abdul Aziz should be enough evidence for every apologist and sympathiser of terrorists, more so Maulana Fazlur Rehman and the ameer of the Jamaat-e-Islami who after having supported and approved the plan backtracked from their commitment and started criticising the government for mentioning religion in the war against terror.
The TTP has a declared agenda to impose its own brand of Islam in Pakistan. It is indeed regrettable to note that some religious scholars and leaders of religious parties still find it convenient to deny this reality and claim that madressahs have not been involved in any terrorist activities.
Nobody is saying that all madressahs are involved or have had links with terrorists and sectarian groups. That makes

it even more necessary to register and regulate madressahs so that we can make a distinction between those who are really serving the cause of religion and those who are abetting and siding with those out to destroy Pakistan. Registration of any organisation or party that is organised for any purpose and aim, even otherwise, is a legal requirement in almost all the countries of the world including Pakistan and the government is responsible for making sure that those entities function within the ambit of the law and do not preach or practise divisive ideologies that could harm national unity or pose a threat to the integrity of the country.
The initiative to register and regulate seminaries is not out of this world and the institutions that are not linked with any terrorist or sectarian militant organisation do not need to fear the process of scrutiny. There is a national consensus on elimination of terrorism from the country at all costs. It is, therefore, obligatory on all political and religious entities to work collectively to achieve this objective and not try to create dissent among society or sabotage the national consensus on the issue.
Madressahs have a long history in the Subcontinent as tools of education and have produced eminent religious scholars. They have been playing a sterling role in imparting religious knowledge to the youth and also guiding the society on religious matters. Some of them are exceptional non-governmental entities engaged in providing food and shelter to students from poorer sections of society whose parents cannot afford expensive education in the private educational institutions or public run school and colleges. In the Islamic Republic of Pakistan it is hard to contest their need and effectiveness not only in promoting religious values but also countering philosophies that contradict basic Islamic teachings.
The major concern is about those madressahs that are disseminating a culture of hate and religious extremism based on rejection of other beliefs, cultivation of intolerant and violent religious attitudes and radicalisation of society. These philosophies are contrary to Quranic injunctions and therefore cannot be allowed to take roots in an Islamic Republic. According to official sources there are at least 22,052 registered madressahs in Pakistan and the number of unregistered madressahs could well be more than the registered ones. There are 633 madressahs in Islamabad alone, out of which 446 are unregistered; they outnumber the government schools in the capital. What these institutions are capable of doing or are engaged in doing is quite evident from the activities of Jamia Hafsa.
Another phenomenon that has emerged with the mushroom growth of these religious schools is the ‘religious land mafia’. Most of these unregistered schools throughout the country are mostly built on government lands without permission or allotment of the land for the purpose. In Islamabad most of these madressahs have been constructed on green belts in defiance of aesthetic and environmental concerns, besides being illegal. This culture of defying state laws and taking matters in their own hands is a manifestation of their contempt for the law and the instinctive streak of violence; a conduct very much in breach of our religious tenets. While the government needs to take a tough stance on this issue, these religious institutions also need to rethink their actions.
The foregoing realities are indeed very painful. While the government is absolutely right in thinking that if the phenomenon of terrorism is to be eliminated it is essential and inevitable to bring these religious institutions under the watchful eyes of the government, it needs to take due care in handling the issue because of its sensitivity.
It would be advisable to keep the religious scholars on board while devising strategies for the registration and regulation of madressahs. Similarly, keeping the Wafaqul Madaris in the loop could also help ward off likely controversies on the issue. Those madressahs that are not linked with any terrorist or extremist group could well be made part of the effort to develop a counter-narrative to that of the terrorists and the extremists.
The writer is a freelance contributor.
Email: [email protected]

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