Madrassas need to be closed down immediately

Madrassas of old were centres which preserved old thoughts and came up with new ideas. Modern-day madrassas have been reduced as mouthpieces to the Wahabbi cults of the House of al-Saud

The madrassas of yesteryear are gone. Gone are the makhtabs - the learning centres which used to be hubs of knowledge, research, scientific discoveries, and inventions. If you see the documentaries and movies on the lives of medieval geniuses like Ibn Sina, Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Rushd, and others, you tend to think twice and shake your head about the glory that will never be reclaimed again.

Madrassas or Universities of old were centres which preserved old thoughts and came up with new ideas. That something of a Mutazalite strain wherein primacy of reason not text was allowed to flourish and take root is still pretty amazing for me. No doubt it was under the patronage of Caliph Mamoun, but that libraries and academies flourished with this theme is nothing short of an Islamic miracle to me.

Fast forward to the current state of affairs and all lines, roads, research, facts, and evidence led to the burgeoning madrassas which have been reduced as mouthpieces to the Wahabbi cults of the House of al-Saud. The biggest benefactor of these madrassas is Pakistan and as the current scenario shows the country has a huge problem at hand, one which it let thrive unchecked for decades and is now imploding in its civil society's face.

A typical curriculum of a madrassa is the brain-zonking recitation of the Quran with emphasis on correct pronunciation, for hours. There is no understanding of the text which is in the classical Arabic language, and translations or their memorization are often not encouraged. In the event that someone goes for further religious studies and starts understanding and critically thinking about the conflicting passages, they are immediately shunned, warned, threatened and finally browbeaten into 'submission' often with ties to family members being held hostage.

The abuse of children at the early age of memorization of the Quran (hifz) is another matter altogether. Accounts of children being beaten, whipped, thrashed while hung upside down, made to go without food and water for days, etc are all ways of brainwashing. Often it’s the already vulnerable population of orphans, poor children, from low-income backgrounds, runaways, neglected kids who are subjected to this abuse. A madrassa provides decent meals, shelter and some fraternity or companionship for vulnerable young minds who want to belong and be loved and cared for.

There is no scientific or mathematical curriculum. In the event that computers or technology are installed the kids are just taught on a need to know basis and directed immediately to jihadi and Quranic sites. With YouTube being banned for years in Pakistan and never in Kashmir, the impact of all that 'dumbing down' can be seen in the attitudes and values of the respective societies. That Pakistan's 'Shadow War' has not been able to make much inroads into the general ethos of 'Kashmiriyat' is indicative of the fact that after 1995, cable TV, mobile phones, the Internet and the advent of social networking sites has relatively checked the rise of Islamo-fascism.

Yes, an entire generation has fallen for the rhetoric of the self-styled Salahudin's because the percentage of Kashmiri population which uses smartphones and has access to the Internet is very small. But the statistics are slowly and painfully shifting. What needs to be done is the immediate shutting down of these terror-producing factories who prey on the vulnerable to forward their agenda of a pan-Islamic state and are funded by some of the most brutal and repressive regimes and theocracies of the modern world.

This has to be the top priority of both countries and needs to be put forward on the next track 2 diplomacy talks between India and Pakistan. I hope the US foreign office takes cognizance of this.

Arshia Malik is a Srinagar-based writer and social commentator with focus on women issues and conflict in Kashmir. She makes her living as a school teacher and is an avid collector of literature. She is currently writing a book about her life as a female in Kashmiri Muslim society

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