Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Pakistani Madrasses: Islam's Fortresses

"the incubator of personalities that later lead Muslim society to extremism and violence."

Islam's Fortresses
Reprinted from MEMRI


In early July 2008, Asif Zardari, leader of the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP), delivered a keynote speech to the 23rd International Socialist Congress in Athens, Greece, in which he noted that the madrassas in Afghanistan and in Pakistan's tribal districts and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) are turning out to be strongholds of Islamic fundamentalism and religious politics. Zardari made these statements against the backdrop of the fact that campaigns for the February elections had taken place in mosques and madrassas in the NWFP.

In the speech, he added that his party's government would review the curricula of madrassas in Pakistan and that any content preaching extremism and violence would be removed. Madrassas, of which there are some 20,000 in Pakistan, are Islamic seminaries, usually established by a cleric of some importance who also manages the madrassa's resources, which come from voluntary contributions. Madrassas owe their allegiance to various Islamic schools such as Sunni and Shia. Sunni madrassas also adhere to different doctrines, such as those of the Deobandi, Ahle Hadith and Brelvi schools of thought. Depending on their doctrinal leanings, individual madrassas are aligned with different federations, the most prominent of which are Wafaq-ul-Madaris al-Arabia, Tanzeem-ul-Madaris Ahle Sunnat, Wafaq-ul-Madaris Shia, and Rabiat-ul-Madaris al-Islamia. Wafaq-ul-Madaris represents the Deobandi school of thought, and has the largest number, an estimated 10,000, of Pakistani madrassas under its control.

The number of madrassas in Pakistan grew rapidly during the 1980s, and their alumni, the Taliban, fought the Soviet "infidels" in Afghanistan. However, since 9/11, the role of Pakistani madrassas has come under international criticism, especially for their enrolling foreign Muslim students and for their training of a new breed of Taliban that is destabilizing the democratic government in Afghanistan and providing safe havens to Islamist militants. The madrassas' ideological role in producing extremist worldviews in Pakistan has worried many, especially after the suicide bombers in the July 2005 London bombing are reported to have attended Pakistani madrassas. An editorial by a leading Pakistani newspaper described madrassas as "the incubator of personalities that later lead Muslim society to extremism and violence."

Over the years, successive Pakistani governments have tried to introduce curricular reform in the madrassas. The only forum for the government to negotiate with the privately run madrassas is the Ittehad Tanzeemat-e-Madaris Deenia, an alliance of different federations of madrassas. It was through this forum that the government of outgoing Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf tried to get the madrassas registered with the government. However, this drive for madrassa registration did not get far; although several thousands did register, the government still had no control over them.

The role of the madrassas was highlighted again in July 2007, after the female students of Jamia Hafsa and male students of Jamia Faridia madrassas – both controlled by Islamabad's Red Mosque clerics Maulana Abdul Aziz and Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi – occupied a government building for several months in Islamabad, directly challenging the authority of the Pakistani government. The stand-off led to a military operation in which Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi and dozens of madrassa students were killed. However, this did not diminish the role of the madrassas. Madrassas have continued to function autonomously across Pakistan, unregulated by the government despite Musharraf's promises to reform them.

The Madrassas are the Guardians of Pakistan's Ideological Borders
Asif Zardari's Athens speech was severely criticized by religious groups in Pakistan, many of which operate also as political parties. Qazi Hussein Ahmad, the Emir of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan, said that Zardari's speech mirrored President Musharraf's speeches of the past few years, in which the Pakistani president tried to court the West. Ahmad said that Zardari and other Pakistani leaders should stop hurling abuse at madrassas and cease their attempts to term Pakistan the land of terrorists. He also accused Zardari of adopting President Musharraf's pro-U.S. ''thought, tongue and agenda.''

Hasan Hammad, the Karachi unit head of Islami Jamiat Tulaba (Organization of Islamic Students), which is the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan, said that the government was planning to change the madrassa curricula at the behest of the U.S. He said that any attempt to reform the madrassa curricula will not be tolerated, as the madrassas are Islam's fortresses.

Dr. Mumtaz Ali Memon, deputy emir of Jamaat-e-Islami in the Sindh province, warned that before initiating action against the madrassas, Zardari should learn from the fate of past Pakistani leaders, that were never successful. He said that the madrassas are the guardians of Pakistan's ideological borders. Similar responses to Zardari's criticism of madrassas were voiced also by religious and political leaders, representing a dominant theme in Pakistani thinking.

Inter-Madrassa Cricket Tournament Condemned as Anti-Madrassa Conspiracy

Long before Zardari's Athens speech, the role of madrassas in Pakistan had already been debated inside Pakistan and internationally. Pakistani responses to the international criticism stem from anti-Western feelings and from a popular commitment to the ideology of Islam as the basis of Pakistan's foundation. Thus, even a sport like cricket is seen as a conspiracy by those opposed to madrassa reform. In early 2008, an attempt to organize an inter-madrassa cricket tournament was condemned by the Wafaq-ul-Madaris al-Arabia as a conspiracy against the madrassas.

The madrassas are seen as defining the contours of Pakistani society and nation. Qari Muhammad Hanif Jalandhari, Secretary-General of Wafaq-ul-Madaris al-Arabia, joined the debate on the madrassas, stating that both students and ulema have a role in defending the ideological and geographical borders of Pakistan. A few days after making this statement, Jalandhari called a press conference in Karachi where he criticized Asif Zardari for his Athens speech, accusing him of engaging in propaganda and threats against the madrassas. He also asked the government of Pakistan not to blacklist the foreign students enrolled in the madrassas. He added that at this time the geographical integrity of Pakistan was in danger and that the military, religious and political leaderships should unite to defend Pakistan instead of creating divisions by talk of changes in madrassa curricula.

Former Pakistani prime minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain stated that the madrassas are the ideological military camps of Pakistan. He added: ''There is no teaching of any type of extremism and terrorism in madrassas. None of these baseless allegations aimed at defaming the religious madrassas have proved to be true.'' Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, whose Pakistan Muslim League (Q) party has supported President Pervez Musharraf for almost a decade, added that the madrassas are the world's biggest non-governmental organizations, with an enrolment of over two million male and female students from the poorer sections of society. Terrorist Threats Emerging from Madrassas in Sindh, Punjab Provinces

The growth of Taliban-led militancy and the series of suicide attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan have drawn international attention to the role of the madrassas in Pakistan's tribal region, on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, in the North West Frontier Province and in the tribal districts, or the federally administered tribal areas (FATAs). However, reports have also mentioned ''Punjabi Taliban,'' namely, madrassa students from the province of Punjab going to the tribal districts and to Afghanistan to fight U.S. and NATO forces. Around the time when the Jamaat-e-Islami leaders were criticizing Zardari's speech, the Minister of Law and Parliamentary Affairs in Pakistan's Sindh province, Ayaz Soomro, noted that several madrassas in Sindh were involved in terrorism.

The madrassas' role was a statement made by Maulana Siraj-ul-Haq, the Emir of Jamaat-e-Islami in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) on August 11, 2008, in which he threatened to engage in jihad from Karachi, the capital of the Sindh province, to Chitral in the NWFP if the U.S. launched an attack on the tribal districts and put its ''unpious feet'' inside Pakistan. Significantly, Maulana Siraj-ul-Haq made the statement during an annual session of Jamiat-e-Tulaba Arabia, an organization of madrassa students, located in the town of Mardan in the NWFP. Recently, there has been growing concern over the Talibanization of Karachi, the capital of the Sindh province. In an address to a conference of madrassa students and ulema in Karachi, prominent Sunni scholar and leader of Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat Allama Ali Sher Haideri underlined the role of ulema , saying: ''It is the duty of the ulema to put their lives in danger in order to preach and propagate Islam.'

Responding to this concern, Sindh's Home Minister Dr. Zulfiqar Mirza noted in mid-July 2008 that many new madrassas are established in the province and the government is in a state of alert. In the Punjab province, the government is also aware of the threats originating from the madrassas. It reviewed the role of the individual madrassas and their connections with the Taliban this year. In July 2008, it declared 80 madrassas in the province to be dangerous, and has now ordered regular monitoring of extremist activities in them. The 80 madrassas identified by the province government as having the potential to challenge the government's authority like the Islamabad Jamia Hafsa and Red Mosque madrassas are located in the districts of the province as follows: 12 in Lahore, one in Sheikhupura, one in Gujranwala, two in Sialkot, 14 in Rawalpindi (twin city of Islamabad), seven in Attock, one in Chakwal, four in Faisalabad, four in Jhang, one in Toba Tek Singh, three in Multan, three in Sahiwal, one in Vehari, [seven] in Khanewal, one in Lodhran, six in Bahawalpur, eight in Rahimyar Khan, and four in Bahawal Nagar.

Inspector General of Police in Punjab province Shaukat Javed stated that Um-e-Hasan, the wife of the Red Mosque cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz, is training girls enrolled at her Jamia Hafsa madrassa in Islamabad to be suicide bombers. In the NWFP's Swat district, at least 26 madrassa students disappeared recently, and are believed to haven't been taken by the Taliban to train as suicide bombers.

*Tufail Ahmad is the director of MEMRI's Urdu-Pashtu Media Project.

A note from Radarsite: What the United States and its allies can actually do about the growing number of dangerous madrasses in Pakistan is at best problematic, and depends on circumstances over which we may have limited control. But we must do what we can to support those who want to see them severely restricted and governed, or done away with completely.

However, what we can do here on our own shore is quite a different matter. We must -- absolutely must stop the proliferation of Muslim culture in America. This means curtailing the building of any new mosques, or the forming of any more madrasses. Furthermore, we must either closely monitor all of the Muslim activity in these seditious beehives or, better yet, close them down immediately. Need we point out yet again that Islam is a Political Movement in the guise of a sacred religion. We have already allowed them to infiltrate our vulnerable free society to an alarming degree, and someday if we don't wake up in time we will pay dearly for this gullibility.

Of course, a good half of this sorely conflicted nation of ours will try their best to make defensive measures such as these all but impossible. Under the banner of free speech and tolerance we -- that is, our liberal leftists -- are allowing our enemies to gain a precious foothold in American society. We are growing the next generation of jihadists right under our noses, here in Boston and New Jersey, and Dearborn; and we are not just permitting this to happen, we are actively promoting it.

If we truly cannot see the danger in our midst, if we continue down this deadly road of denial and delusion, then perhaps we justly deserve our awful fate.- rg

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  1. As long as Jamaat-e-Islami has a voice in the government in Pakistan, the Madrasses will stay open. And until the Pakistani government cleans out the Taliban infested areas of the nation, Jamaat-e-Islami will gain seats. Sooner or later Jamaat-e-Islami will defeat the Pakistani People's Party and then watch out. They have already stated that they will wage war on first India then the West in order to bring everyone into Islamic rule.

    Islam's Diabolical Plan According to Pakistan's Jamat-e-Islami Party.

    A scary bit of work they are planning, especially if they get control of Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

  2. While there's talk about Musharaff keeping control of a dangerous situation, and he was the best we could do - Pakistan is a definite threat to Democracy. They're just waiting their time.

    Maggie's Notebook

  3. And again Roger we hear the cry of victimhood in IftikharA post. We are bullied so we demand Shar'ia and special privileges.

    Many children are bullied in school IftikharA. Every new child is bullied in one form or another. Every fat child is bullied. Every Jewish child is bullied. Every child that is different from the majority of children are bullied. That doesn't entitle them to special privileges.

    What it means that the schools are failing to stop the bullying. That what it means. What it means is the parents are failing to put the schools on notice about the bullying.

    You are wrong IftikharA. A school that is funded by the state, belongs to the state not the parents. If the parents want a religious school, they should fund it themselves. Here in America there are many private schools funded by parents that give a religious education. The state does not and cannot by law give them any funds. Thus these schools can teach their faith their own way. The state can step in and insist on certain non-religious subjects to be taught, but they cannot control the content of the religious education.

    Here in the United States there is a wall of separation between the State and all Religions. No one religion is given special rights and it will remain that way.