Pak seminaries’ role in preparing jehadis

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By S.M. Hali
Since 9/11, the U.S. has been stressing that Pakistan to curb the freedom of madaris (religious seminaries) and regulate them. President Musharraf took some half hearted measures in this regard, which bore marginal results. Two laws were passed: one to create state-controlled madaris; the other to register and control them. The former had moderate success, while the second was resisted by the madrassas. Although the government placed restrictions on the access of foreign students to the madaris education system, yet it failed to follow through. Resultantly, militancy continues to prevail while madaris are perceived to be breeding grounds for terrorists.

ISLAMABAD: Following the deadly Peshawar school suicide attack in 2014, government decided to collect the data of all students learning in seminaries. Picture shows police officials taking details of student. Pakistani authorities sealed altogether 182 in a countrywide crackdown on religious seminaries allegedly involved in extremism, a media report said. The madarassas were closed in Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa because of their involvement in promoting extremism and other suspicious activities, the Associated Press of Pakistan news agency reported.

Briefly examining current state of affairs, it can be discerned that the word ‘madrassah’ is implied as a place for Islamic learning. History tells us that the first madrassah was located in Makkah, where the Holy Prophet (PBUH) himself was the teacher and the students were some of his followers. After Hijrah (migration) the madrassah of “Suffa” was established in Medina on the east side of the Al-Masjid-e-Nabawi (Prophet’s Mosque). The curriculum of the madrassah comprised teachings of The Qur’an, The Hadith, fara’iz, tajweed, genealogy and first aid. Keeping in view the defence of the citadel of Islam, the institution also imparted training in horse-riding, warfare tactics, athletics and combat.
Formal madrassas were established in the 9th and 10th Centuries AD along with the first known Islamic Universities or “Jamia” of the time. Muslim scientists of the era, of the ilk of Al-Farabi, Ibn-e-Sina, Al-Bairuni, Al-Khwarizmi et-al, products of the madaris and Jamia were at least a hundred years ahead of their European contemporaries and are revered in science, medicine, astronomy, mathematics and other disciplines of learning. The advent of madaris in the Indian sub-continent produced outstanding academics and literature but the arrival of the British and their English schools resulted in the degradation of the traditional madrassah system. After independence, religious seminaries imparted training in learning the Quran and Islamic studies. They became an alternate system to the formal schools and were preferred by either those parents who wanted their children to memorize the Quran by heart or those who could not afford to send their children to formal schools. The madaris thrived on donations from the opulent but provided boarding, lodging and meals, thus they were welcomed by the lower class. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the US decided to stop its arch enemy in its tracks and found Pakistan to be a willing ally. The CIA procured jihadi literature researched, collated and printed by American universities. Through its partner in Pakistan, the ISI, it established base camps in selected madaris to impart training to volunteers from Pakistan and numerous other Muslim countries for jihad against the Soviet invaders in Afghanistan. Funds, training in guerrilla warfare, arms and jihadi literature were provided to the jihadists who were launched into Afghanistan. After nearly a decade of struggle, the Red Army withdrew from Afghanistan. Considering its task done, the CIA too departed hastily. The only authority left in this power vacuum were well armed, highly motivated jihadists, yearning for more targets. Al-Qaeda morphed into a terror outfit and its new enemy was the US itself, which remained oblivious to the threat posed by them till 9/11. Pakistan again became a U.S. ally in its invasion of Afghanistan.
Many madaris in Pakistan continue to be used to recruit and train jihadists, who were now on the wrong side of the war. The emergence of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in 2007 exposed Pakistan to terror attacks. By this time Saudi donations for Sunni madaris and Iranian financing for Shia seminaries further sullied the waters and Pakistan became a theatre of a Shia-Sunni proxy war. The deadly attack on the Army Public School at Peshawar on December 16 2014 woke Pakistan from its slumber and the National Action Plan was adopted to combat terrorism. Madaris reforms are on NAP’s 20 point agenda.
The Royal Danish Defence College (RDDC), in collaboration with the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) recently launched a new book “The Role of Madrasas” that provides critical insights on mainstreaming madaris in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It features research from CRSS and Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS), as well as Afghanistan-based Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies (CAPS). The Federal Minister for interior as well as the National Security Advisor would like to blame external forces for the current state of madaris, but give hope for the adoption of reforms.
The fact is that mainstreaming madaris will not be an easy feat. Instead of continuing to blame external forces, we have to look inwards to stem the rot and bring back our own children into the mainstream and dissuade political and politico-religious groups from exploiting madaris to churn out terror mongers.
(The writer is a retired PAF Group Captain. He is a columnist, analyst and TV Talk show host, who has authored six books on current affairs, including three on China.)