Students study at the Haqqania Seminary, one of the largest madrassas in the world, about 90 km. west of Islamabad. (Courtesy)

Pakistan Announces Plans to Integrate Islamic Seminaries into State Education System

Madrassas often leave students unprepared for the work force, but also have been seen as hotbeds for extremism

[Islamabad] Pakistan has announced it will take control of about 30,000 madrassas, or Islamic seminaries, and bring them into the country’s broader school system.

“We have allocated 2 billion rupees to bring these madrassas into the mainstream education system, and one billion annually to operate them,” Maj.-Gen. Asif Ghafoor, head of the Pakistan Armed Forces Media Wing, said at a news conference in Rawalpindi on Monday.

Contemporary subjects will be included in the curriculum, and all of the madrassas will be administered by the Ministry of Education.

“Madrassas offer eight years of studies in Shari’a law and related subjects, but when [students] come out of these madrassas, what job opportunities await them?” Ghafoor asked. “That is why we are trying to turn these seminaries into reformed institutes so that children studying there have the opportunity to become doctors and engineers, just like the children studying in mainstream schools.”

There is also the matter of extremism.

Muhammed Shahid Masood, a prominent lawyer and member of Awami Tehreek, a political party aiming to strengthen democracy in Pakistan, told The Media Line that the introduction of secular courses in madrassas would only be of “slight value unless there were major changes in the religious curriculum to end the promotion of violent sectarianism and self-proclaimed jihad.”

Ghafoor, however, claimed that of the 30,000 madrassas, fewer than 100 were found to be pushing their students toward extremism. What’s more, he claimed that the armed forces had broken up the country’s militant outfits.

“I can now say with confidence that there is no terrorist organization in Pakistan anymore. We have proscribed violent extremist organizations and we have been working to curb terrorism in Pakistan,” he said.

As such, he continued, some of the funding necessary for the overhaul will come from budgets that had been earmarked for the fight against terror. He added that Prime Minister Imran Khan had formed a committee with the coordination of the Interior and Education ministries to come up with a syllabus in which religious education will continue, but without hate speech.

Molana Fazal Rehman, head of the right-wing Jamiat ul Ulema Islam party and a former opposition leader, told The Media Line that changing curriculums “could not be imposed on the madrassas,” although he agreed that “action should be taken against seminaries involved in sectarian and extremist activities, including shutting them down.”

Liaquat Baluch, a former senator and deputy chief of the Jamat e Islami party, told The Media Line that the country’s current education system would be unable to run or administer Islamic schools.

“Our students are more loyal and patriotic when compared to other [students],” Baluch added.

Qazi Abrar ul Haque, a senior official in the Education Ministry, told The Media Line it was a “bitter reality that our current education system is derived from the British colonial era,” explaining that the system was divided into three categories: Urdu, English and the madrassas.

“These children have no choice but to take the version imposed on them without even having the chance of thinking otherwise,” Haque said. “Thus, we sow the seeds of division right from the birth of the child.”

Dr. Muhammed Sajjad Sajid, a prominent Sunni scholar, told The Media Line that madrassas in Pakistan had become symbols of sectarianism, extremism and terrorism, although they also provide free education and meals to millions of poor children.

By bringing them in the mainstream education system, every teacher and every student will be registered with the government, making it easier to monitor their activities.

“Madrassas should not be seen as an adversarial educational system, but rather as an alternative,” Sajid said. “But it is the state’s responsibility to regulate them.”

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