Thursday, July 28, 2005

The bias against Madressahs

I found this BBC article very interesting as it tries to give an insider's view on what some madressahs are really about - although, I wish they had interviewed some women (unless unavailable) and I do think that religious education is not enough and needs to be balanced with education from all the sectors of life - something Islam strongly recommends as indicated by various verses from the Holy Qur'an and the sayings of the Holy Prophet & his family. I went to a Shia madressah in Dubai for about 10 years and think I turned out pretty ok! I'm not saying that there aren't any out there that teach very extremist views, but not all of them should be branded as evil. It was funny but I have been expressing some interest in attending Al-Mahdi Institute - an Islamic academic learning center in Birmingham, UK, that focuses on high level Islamic education with a Shia focus. When I mentioned this to one of my dorm mates, she looked at me and said something like, "That's great as long as you don't become a fanatic or anything!"

From BBC Online:

Attention has fallen on the role of madrassas, or Islamic religious schools, following evidence that one of the London bombers may have attended one.

Five young Muslims attending madrassas in Pakistan and Kashmir spoke to BBC Urdu Interactive about studying in the religious institutions and how they compare to secular education.

HAFIZ RAHMANULLAH, Shamshtoo refugee camp, Peshawar

I am Afghan but have been living at Shamshtoo refugee camp for the last 18 years.

When former USSR forces invaded Afghanistan, our family migrated to Pakistan and stayed at Shamshtoo camp, about 30km east of Peshawar City.

I recently completed Hiffaz [learnt the Koran by heart].

The seminary I attend was founded by famous Jihadi leader Maulvi Younas Khalis, the chief of Hizb-i-Islami, many years ago. More than 200 students, all Afghans, are studying with us.

Besides Hiffaz, the madrassa offers other Islamic subjects such as Islamiyat, Arabic grammar [surf wa nahoo], Usool-e-Fiqa, Hadith, Usool Hadith, Muntaq [logic], mathematics and English.

All these subjects are studied at a detailed level but English and mathematics are only learnt partly.

The religious seminaries in Pakistan are accused of being centres of terrorist activities and producing anti-Western and anti-American clerics.

But these accusations are totally baseless, unfounded and highly exaggerated.

There is no truth in these reports. We have even no time to spend on these useless things.

I have been in Hijrat madrassa for eight years and I swear that I have never noticed any special sermon or other activities against the West or America.

MUHAMMAD HASHIM, Madrassa Tajweedul Quran, Hangu

I am 13 years old. I come from Bagato village a few kilometres away from Hangu city. I was admitted to the Madrassa Tajweedual Quran two years ago.

The Holy Koran is comprised of 30 chapters and I have learnt seven chapters by heart so far.

My father is a mullah and he wants me to become a mullah like him.

I have a religious background. My grandfather was a mullah of Bagato village. He taught my father religious education and he is now the imam of a mosque in our village.

Our family is made up of three brothers and two sisters. My older brothers are studying in regular schools but my father has taught them the basics of an Islamic education.

I have also learnt about computers which is a very useful thing but unfortunately there is no computer in our madrassa.

I want to become a computer expert.

My father says that school education is now becoming necessary for madrassa students because the world is rapidly progressing and Muslims are far behind in some present-day subjects.

We have to answer for all our actions before God, so we should lead a peaceful life and obey orders of Allah Almighty and teachings of the last Prophet Muhammad.

Muslims will remain in decline if they do not stand together on one platform.

SHAKIRUR RAHMAN, Daraul Uloom-e-Islamia Hunfia, Peshawar

In the world today Muslims are being targeted everywhere. Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq are the places where innocent Muslims are being massacred and defamed.

I do not support the terrorist attacks.

Just take the example of Guantanamo Bay. A few copies of the Koran were put in the toilet.

I think desecration of any holy book whether it is of Christians, Jews or Muslims is an act to be greatly condemned.

I lived in the Eastern Ningarhar province, Afghanistan. Our family has four bothers and three sisters. My father is a government official at Jalalabad.

Learning the Koran by heart was my desire. My father is not a cleric but he is a religious-minded man and he supported me when I expressed a wish to be religiously educated.

Now restrictions are being imposed on religious seminaries. No one will oppose these changes if the outdated system is replaced with a new and modern one.

Seminaries should be required to register and a regulatory authority should set up to monitor their work.

But will any government assure that America and other Western powers refrain from anti-Muslim activities?

ABDUL BASEER, Leepa Valley, Kashmir

I quit the regular school in Class Nine. I believe my life at regular school was without any aim.

There was no respect for others.

I had even given up showing respect for my parents.

However, after joining this seminary, Islam gave me a lot. Here, I learnt to respect humanity, to respect my parents and other elders.

I believe that the seminary students have a far more positive attitude towards their country and humanity compared to the students of regular schools.

I am learning the Koran, Hadith [teachings of the Prophet of Islam other than the Koran], Fiqqah [study of Islamic jurisprudence] and many other Islamic subjects. I also regularly play sport.

I am in the fourth stage here and have to study for four more years before getting a degree.

This seminary is dearer to me than my own home - I have my friends here.

I would like to get a degree in law from the International Islamic University in Islamabad after completing my education here. Then I will go back home.

I come from a very backward area and the people do not know much about religion. I will try to introduce a system of learning in my village which caters for both religious and secular education.

We, the students of religious schools, have a positive attitude towards world affairs.

Just because I do not watch television does not mean I do not know anything about global events.

Our seminary has newspapers, computers and the internet and the students all discuss world affairs.


I had a regular education up to the fifth class. Then I quit that school and learnt the Holy Koran by heart.

I felt that the education system in our country was very outdated and not capable of creating good human beings. The system could make a man literate but not a good human being.

I joined a religious school to become a good human being.

After completing my education here, I want to introduce a similar education system where my family comes from so students can receive both religious and general education.

We are learning different subjects here - the more important being the study of the Koran and Hadith.

Our seminary also teaches computer studies and I have learnt the basics of computer science.

You might have come across newspaper reports saying that graduates commit suicide because of unemployment. But you would never hear that about a seminary graduate. This is because God helps them and they are never reduced to starvation.

All our politicians and political leaders are highly educated but they have given nothing to the country - most of them are involved in corruption.

However, if they had been trained as religious scholars those people would not act in a corrupt manner.

I can explain the Koran to the world in a very effective way.

This education has given me confidence.

My present course lasts for eight years and I have to study for three more years to complete it.

The type of education we are getting here is not meant to give us a big post. Rather, it is aimed to make us capable of serving the people.

I will set up my own institute to educate poor children.