PESHAWAR, Jan 4 (Internews): Over the
past decade, thousands of
graduates have gone forth from Pakistan's estimated 5,000 madrassas, or
seminaries, armed with some of the narrowest interpretations of Islam.
Some went as teachers to rally the fervour of Islam, others to fight in
Now with the United States-led war on terrorism in its fourth month, the
madrassas have become a source of concern to the Pakistani government.
The Pervez Musharraf government has this month launched a campaign to
broaden their curricula to include history, languages and science so
graduates become educated men dedicated to national development, and not
just religious zealots.
The 700-student Darul Uloom Sarhad madrassa in Peshawar is no exception.
Principal Sahibzada Ahmad's father founded it over 50 years ago. Then,
as now, graduates who left the school after three or four years of free
education would have learned to recite all 77,934 words of the Quran by
heart. The recitation in Arabic takes about 10 hours.
Now, the madrassas, stung by a national crackdown on extremism, have
agreed to offer a more well rounded education - somewhat reluctantly.
"We teach only the goodness of Islam and don't teach hate against any
nation or other religion," Ahmad says. "We never encourage or give
incentives to students to become mujahideen. Of course, if they make
that choice on their own, it is out of our hands."
Undeniably, however, government officials point out, anti-Western
sentiments are nurtured.
The madrassas do not offer military training, but what they do offer is
such an unworldly and narrow view of life that students invariably
consider anything non-Muslim as anti-Islam and godless. This leads to
cries for jihad.
Although the word has ominous overtones in the West, jihad merely means
to struggle for Islam. One can wage a jihad against poverty or
illiteracy. Only in its extreme does it refer to war.
"Religious fanatics sit idly in the mosques and madrassas," says Abul
Hasan, a retired journalist. "They don't have jobs. They're influenced,
even brainwashed. The fact is, they really don't know what they're
doing. The mullah says, 'Do this, do that,' and they do it. But this
isn't the Islam the vast majority of us believe in or practice."
"There were volunteers from every madrassa in Pakistan who went to fight
against the Soviets and later for the Taliban," said one mullah, Maulana
Hali Jan. "Some used to spend their summer vacations fighting. Then
they'd go back to school."
One irony in the increasing prominence of the madrassas is that their
growth was, to a large degree, the result of CIA efforts during the Cold
The CIA saw Islam as an important force against the Soviets, and with
its backing, the madrassas became the training ground for the fighters
who defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan in 1989 after nearly a decade of
That success further emboldened young fanatics to believe that their
faith was stronger than the military might of any superpower. -Internews