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Pakistan launches campaign to modernise madrassa curriculum
 

  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
 Afghanistan.
 
 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
 War.
 
 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
 war.
 
 That success further emboldened young fanatics to believe that their
 faith was stronger than the military might of any superpower. -Internews

 

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