Under pressure from the international community, the Pakistan government is making efforts to regulate madrassas (Islamic institutions). Various reports highlight that some madrassas, especially those associated with Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), have been promoting radical ideologies.
The Pakistani government is working towards bringing these institutions under its control. In April, the military spokesman Major-General Asif Ghafoor said over 30,000 madrassas will be brought into the ‘mainstream’ fold and overseen by the ministry of education.
The Major-General said while there are no restrictions on Islamic education, a curb has been placed on hate speech. This is not the first time that the Pakistani government is monitoring and trying to control madrassas. However, the authorities are also mindful that millions of children from economically poor communities seek education from such institutions because they cannot afford.
In March, an official statement by the Pakistani Interior Ministry said provincial governments have taken in their control management and administration of 182 seminaries (religious schools).
A researcher and author of ‘Madrassa Mirage: A Contemporary History of Islamic Schools in Pakistan’, Azmat Abbas said authorities and the international community need to think beyond terrorism-based reforms. Abbas didn’t hesitate to say that many issues of concerns, knotted to the madrassas are based on politics rather than any facets inherent in the system.
“Factors such as free education, respect for Islamic knowledge and teachers, active role in community life, preservation of tradition and the use of charity make the madrassas unique institutions.”
Abbas didn’t deny the fact that madrassas have always faced criticism from sticking to old concepts and having links with terror groups and offering differing world views, limited economic and academic opportunities. He also pointed out at the growing popularity of madrassas. “They are seen as institutions of upward mobility to the poorest of the poor and orphans, as most madrassas offer free education, food and shelter.”
A Karachi-based analyst and former head of the Pakistan Madrassa Education Board (PMEB), Amir Tuaseen said successive Pakistani governments (both civilian and military) had attempted to reform madrassas but each time ended up surrendering more authority.
Reports highlight that there are over four million students enrolled in several thousands of religious institutions throughout Pakistan. And the majority of the institutions are privately funded and fall outside the government’s control.