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#314, 25 January 2000
Madrassas in Pakistan –I: Madrassas: A brief overview
D Suba Chandran
Research Officer, IPCS

What is a madrassa? What is its history? What role does it play in Pakistani society and polity? What is taught in its curriculum? How many madrassas are there in Pakistan ? How are they funded? Do they constitute a monolithic entity? These are important questions that need to be answered to understand the role played by them in Pakistan .



Madrassas were established as institutions of higher studies, where law, Islamic sciences and philosophy were taught. Initially a part of the mosque and closely linked to it, madrassas, later emerged as seperate institutions. During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, madrassas specialised in law and jurisprudence. It was only after the introduction of western education under colonial rule; that their curriculum underwent a change.



It is estimated - there are no offical figures - that there are more than 15,000 madrassas in Pakistan . From a mere 1745 madrassas in 1979, they have proliferated to their present number, with 2,19,000 students in Punjab alone. The Zia regime in Pakistan and his Islamisation policies to gain legitimacy, the Iranian revolution, the entry of Soviet troops into Afghanistan and the subsequent Afghan “jihad” against Soviet troops, and Pakistan ’s involvement in the Afghan war, were factors that contributed to the sudden growth of madrassas in Pakistan . The students in these madrassas come not only from Pakistan , but also from other countries, especially, Afghanistan .



The general perception is that these madrassas have jihadi literature in their curriculum, teach and preach jihad with the main objective of producing “holy warriors”. This is true, but only some of these madrassas have jihadi and these madrassas, once the course is over, send the students to other places to get training in the use of weapons and guerilla warfare. According to the report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan about one third of these schools provide military training to their students and some madrassas send their students for training and participation in the Afghan civil war, without the knowledge of their parents. There was an instance, where a 13 year old child from Karachi was sent to Afghanistan without the knowledge of its parents, and the father had to petition in the court, which issued notices to the head of the institution, the police and concerned ministries to bring the child back. 



When the Afghan civil war was at its peak, many madrassas were closed, since the Afghan students studying in them were sent to Afghanistan to strengthen the Taliban hand. For example, the Darul Uloom Haqqania, one of the biggest madrassa in Pakistan, situated near Peshawar was closed down in August last year, when Mulla Mohammad Omar, the Taliban leader asked the students from these madrassas to return to Afghanistan to fight Ahmad Shah Masood, leader of the Northern Alliance.



Where do these madrassas get the funds to pay salaries to the faculty, provide food and shelter to their students and maintain day-to-day activities? Most of the madrassas have permanent sources of income such as land, buildings and other of property that produce regular returns. Invariably every madrassa is run by a waqf that take care of the financial aspects. Besides, many of these madrassas receive funds from outside Pakistan . Individuals, States and institutions outside Pakistan send huge donations to these madrassas. According to a Special Branch analysis, reported in The News, 74 percent of the funding for these madrassas come from foreign sources, in Pakistani Punjab alone, while only 34 percent come from the Zakat funding.



The madrassas adhere to different faiths such as Deobandi, Brelvi, Ahle hadith, Ahle tashi etc. For example in Punjab alone, there are around 970 Deobandi, 1200 Brelvi, 100 Ahle tashi and 170 Ahle Hadith madrassas. Besides the faith, the madrassas have their own political leanings. For example, most of the religious scholars belong to both the factions (Maulana Fazlur Rahman and Maulana Samiul Haq) of the Jammat-e-Ulama-e-Islam (JUI). The Shia-Sunni divide, adherence to different faiths and the divergence in political support and patronage prevent these madrassas from becoming a monolithic entity.




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