Madaris reforms stuck in limbo

LAHORE  -   The government and the body governing religious seminaries have failed to reach any conclusion over issue of Madaris reforms even after passage of more than two months of talks between the two sides.

The stalemate puts a question mark over the implementation of much ambitious agenda of the National Action Plan (NAP) and Prime Minister Imran Khan’s vision to bring the seminaries in national mainstream.

The prime minister had presided over a meeting on madaris reforms in Islamabad in October and expressed his commitment to resolving the lingering issue of madaris reforms – a pledge the PM had also made in his first address to the nation.

But a member of the Ittehad Tanzeemul Madaris (ITM) — a conglomerate of five boards (Wafaq) of religious seminaries — who attended the meeting denied any progress on the issue so far. He said the ITM members had informed the government of their concerns and both sides agreed to move ahead. But, he added, they were not informed about any government plan after it.

The member said the PTI government like the previous regimes did not appear serious in addressing the madaris reforms issue.

Federal Minister of Education Shafqat Mehmood was repeatedly called to get the government’s point of view on the matter but he did not take the call.

According to some estimates, more than 3.5 million students are receiving religious education in the five Wafaqs.

Wafaqul Madaris al-Arbia of Deobandi school of thought is considered most powerful of them all and controls more than 10,000 seminaries across the country. The other four are: Tanzeemul Madaris Ehle-Sunnat (Brelvi school of thought), Wafaqul Madaris Al-Salfia (Ehle-Hadith), Wafaqul Madaris (Al-Shia) and Rabtatul Madaris which runs under the banner of Jamaat-e-Islami.

Since the government has announced to introduce uniform curriculum in educational institutions including religious schools, Madris boards are also expected to show tough resistance to government move.

“We won’t be able to comment on govt curriculum until we see it,” said the ITM member.

The PML-N government and madaris had reached an agreement in 2016 over longstanding issues of registration and curriculum. The former government had proposed a new data form for collecting information about the religious seminaries. The Madaris were asked to introduce compulsory subjects like Pakistan Studies, English and Mathematics in their curriculums with outlines suggested by the government. The Madaris students were required to appear before the Federal Boards of Intermediate and Secondary Education for receiving Matriculation and Intermediate certificates.

However, no progress was seen on the subject after the agreement.

West and some quarters in Pakistan claim students of the Madaris have been involved in terror activities and they are brainwashed to be violent and extremist during their studies, something contradicted by the religious circles who have been bitterly opposed to state interference in their business.

The ITM member said the Madaris will not accept PTI government’s any ‘unjustified proposal related to curriculum and registration issue’.

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