Madrassas should be overhauled

Much is going on now that Pakistan has decided to take action against terrorists. The newly obtained resolve can be seen everywhere, from the government and establishment, to even the media. There is talk of ensuring that terrorists are no more able to use the country as a safe haven. After years of seeing minorities being killed by Islamic fundamentalists, there is also a desire to eliminate hate speech against them.

There is even discussion of madrassa reform. Although I am not exactly sure how this will be brought about. But just the idea of reforming religious schools compelled Maulana Fazlur Rehman of JUI to unequivocally show his reservations. He maintained that madrassas are education networks and not terrorist nurseries.

Perhaps most of them are. Perhaps most do impart some education to the hordes of (generally) poor students who form their cohort. The question is: is the kind of education being given by these schools going to enable their students to take part in shaping the 21st century? Or will they be bystanders as the world progresses, still reveling in the glory days of Islam?

What is being taught in madrassas does not prepare these Pakistanis to compete with the rest of the world. What is taught there is still promoting jihad and the supremacy of Islam. There is a distilled ideology that mostly does not go beyond Islamic doctrine.

So in a way I agree with the Maulana; there is no need to reform madrassas. The need is to completely overhaul them. By all means they should remain institutions of religious knowledge, but this should be accompanied by a curriculum that includes science, math, world history and technical education. There should be religious scholars who teach about Islam and its glory, but there should also be those who are knowledgeable in other subjects. And the doctrine of armed jihad should be completely expunged from their teaching. Sadly Pakistan has gone in the opposite direction, and now we are including jihad in the public school curriculum. This is the time to rectify this huge error.

The students from these 'education networks' come out with only one agenda: Islamic supremacy. Humanity seems to get lost somewhere on the way. And when that is the only thing you know, when you have not been given the chance to learn other things and to question what is being taught, the end result, more often than not, is what we see happening in the country right now.

I am sure there will be many who will say that I have no idea what I am talking about and that madrassas do teach other subjects. I say again, perhaps they do. My question remains though: will their graduates be able to compete or even join the rest of the world in the 21st century? I think not. And if they cannot, then we are going to continue to wallow in self-pity and victimhood, wondering why we have not progressed as a nation, while blaming someone else.

There is a very nice campaign going on right now to ‘Reclaim our Mosques’, the first step of which is to arrest Mullah Abdul Aziz, the self-confessed ally of ISIS. I support this. It is a good first step. But it should not end here. If we want to ensure that extremism and fundamentalism is relegated to the annals of history, we must face the fact that we have to start with the madrassas. Reclaiming your mosques should include reclaiming what is being taught there as well.

For not doing so and still talk about taking action against extremism and fundamentalism, is like trying to bail a sinking boat with a teaspoon, without plugging the leak.

Saima Baig is a Karachi-based environmental economist, climate change consultant and a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter

Saima Baig is a Karachi-based environmental economist, climate change consultant and a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt