Madrassas in Pakistan - II: Breedinground for Islamic Militants?

25 Jan, 2000    ·   315

D. Suba Chandran argues against the contention that madrasas preach jihad and produce militants

Madrassas in Pakistan are fundamentalist institutions; they are breeding grounds for Islamic terrorists to wage jihad in Kashmir and other parts of the world; they provide weapons and training to the jihadis and are independent of Pakistani government control. These are the general perceptions of madrassas in India and in the West. But, are these assumptions correct?



It is wrong to assume that all these madrassas preach “jihad” and convert the students into “jihadis”. There are madrassas which teach secular subjects including Computer Science and have women students. 



The main reason for parents sending their children to these madrassas is not that they want their children to become jihadis or Islamic scholars, but due to their economic inability to send them to private schools and due to the government’s failure to provide necessary infrastructure, in terms of primary and secondary schools, and competent teachers. The Pakistan government spends around two percent of its GNP on education. Even this meager amount does not reach because of the prevalent corruption and mal-administration. Though the number of primary schools has increased from 12,000 in 1947 to more than 1,60,000 at present, their contribution of government schools in this sector is not effective. Most of the government run schools are without teachers, as a result many of them remain useless, worse buildings occupied by the local politicians. Whereas the upper class and to a certain extent the middle class parents can afford to send their children to the private schools, the lower middle class and the lower class parents have no other option, but to send their children to these madrassas. These madrassas provide accommodation, food and scholarship. The children are sent at the age of six and stay there at madrassas till 18.



When the students finish their studies, some of them voluntarily undergo military training in select centers to become “holy warriors”. Military training is given separately in a different place and is not a part of the curriculum of the madrassas. Of course, those madrassas that impart jehadi have their own contacts both inside and outside Pakistan , especially in Afghanistan where training in weapons are given in certain camps. The majority of those who are willing to become the jehadis prefer that option out of economic compulsions. Severe unemployment crises in Pakistan force many of the madrassa-educated students to join the jehad. In fact, unemployment is the main factor that force even graduates who had secular education in government and private institutions to join the jehad. 



The government in Pakistan does not have control over these madrassas, as most of these madrassas have independent source of income. Besides, the ulama, who run these madrassas are against any control by the government as these madrassas provide them a power base. The ulama refuse any attempt by the government to integrate the courses that are taught in the madrassas with other educational institutions. Besides, the political and ideological differences among these madrassas make it impossible for the government to bring them under one roof. 



The Pakistani government seems to be alarmed at the conduct of many of these madrassas, as the Special Branch reported that “students are recruited to provide a strong base of religious parties with political and sectarian ambitions”. The report also advised the government to establish a regulatory body to supervise these madrassas. The Education policy 1998-2010 of Pakistan also aim to “evolve an integrated system of national education by bringing Deeni Madaris and modern schools closer to each stream in curriculum and the contents of Education”. However, given the reluctance of the ulama, it would be extremely difficult for the government to bring the madrassas and their curriculum under its control.



It is essential not only for Pakistan , but also for India that these madrassas are brought under some governmental control, especially to deal with the “jihadi” aspect of it. Notably in the post Kargil environment, where the moral and physical support to the jihadis seem to be on the increase, those madrassas that indulge in jihadi propaganda should be regulated. India should also emphasis this point in its talks with Pakistan , whenever it takes place.