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Madarassahs hub of terrorism?

24,52,012 students enrolled in 29,538 registered seminaries in Pakistan

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Iran and UAE giving financial aid: Baligur Rehman

By Muhammad Ittefaq and Javairia Shafiq

LAHORE: There are 24,52,012 seminary students – in the five registered boards – currently studying in the country, while there are 29,538 Madarassahs registered with the five oversight boards. On the other hand, the government has no reliable data on total seminaries and students studying in this system of education.

After the terrorist attack on Army Public School (APS) Pehsawar, Madrassahs in the country have been under scrutiny and being debated in the Senate, National Assembly, national and international media. Some call for reform in the seminary system, while others want no government intervention and still there are those who want to abolish foreign funding to the seminaries. But still voices from seminaries are not given prominence while discussing their future course.

The situation of Madrassahs in the country is further complicated as there is no reliable data regarding number of seminaries and students available. The Educationist spoke to all five major seminary boards of the country and asked them about the number of seminaries, students, funding and measures to avoid links with terrorist outfits.

There are five Wafaqs (oversight boards) which manage the curricula and direction of their affiliated Madrassahs based on various sects in the country: the Wafaqul Madaras Al Arabia (Deobandi) has 18,677 Madrassahs, Tanzeemul Madaras Al Arabia (Sunni) has 8,000, Wafaqul Madaras As Salafi (Ahle Hadith) 1,500, Wafaqul Madaras Ash Shia (Shia) 423, Rabattul Madaras (Jamaat e Islami) 938.

State Minister for Interior Baligur Rehman informed the Senate that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Iran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were giving financial aid to religious seminaries in three provinces of the country. The information presented before the Senate was compiled on the basis of provincial Inspector Generals (IGs) report.  According to the report, a total of 23 seminaries were receiving foreign assistance. Out of these 23 seminaries, five belong to the Shia sect and are located in Balochistan.

Earlier, Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan said that 90 percent seminaries in the country had nothing to do with terrorism. However, after much criticism he clarified that he never said 10 percent seminaries were involved in terror. He later gave a written reply in the Senate saying that some Madrassahs were receiving foreign funding but such transactions were difficult to trace. He said that laws pertaining to Madrassahs had been devolved to the provinces under the 18th Amendment, putting the responsibility on provincial governments.

According to the largest seminary board, Wafaqul Madarris Al Arabia Pakistan (WMAP) Nazim Qari Hanif Muhammad Jalandhri, two and a half million seminary students are currently enrolled in the affiliated Madarris of WMAP in Pakistan. He said the total numbers of seminary schools affiliated with WMAP were 18,677. The number of employees in their Madrassahs is more than 100,000. Since 1960 only a million people had been awarded degrees, including 150,028 female candidates from their Madarssahs, he added. He further said that in the department of Hifz (learning Quran by heart) almost 925,192 students had been awarded degrees.

Qari Hanif also said that the often quoted numbers of Madarassahs in terrorism was greatly exaggerated, and he further added that if any seminary was involved in terrorism, the government should make their names public and if asked WMAP would itself take action against those involved in terrorism.
Hafiz Ibtisam Elahi Zaheer said mostly poor people were studying in seminary schools. Mostly, he said, people preferred school system instead of seminaries because it had economic value, thus it was only for economic gains and not for knowledge. Hafiz Ibtisam said seminary schools had been playing the role of NGOs, but they were operating on self-help having limited resources. He said seminaries were playing a positive role in the society and they were educating and reforming criminals and beggars. Replying to a question, he said government was responsible for this situation and it must take steps and allocate budget for seminary schools.

Hafiz Ibtisam was of the view that it was necessary for the government to allocate budget that was required to run these NGOs (Madarassahs). He said only Madarris administration alone could not tackle the current situation. He said seminary teachers were poverty-stricken and the government should play a positive role to change this situation. He said the government had no right to criticise Madarassahs because it does not provide any assistance to seminaries.

Replying to a question, he said suppose 10 Madrassahs were taking funds from other countries, but that does not mean that all Pakistani seminary were getting funds from abroad. He said except for engineering and medical education there was no scope of school and university education now in Pakistan. He said the government always used seminaries as a scapegoat.

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