By Zia Ur Rehman

December 13, 2011


KARACHI – Police late December 12 raided a suburban madrassa and rescued 56 chained boys and men from its basement, officials said.

“Police had received a tip that one Mufti Dawood, the custodian of the Madrassa al Arabia al Uloom, had been keeping a number of students chained in the basement of the madrassa and also was subjecting them to torture and sexual abuse,” Mukhtar Khaskheli, a senior police officer in Gadap, told Central Asia Online.

”]Police raided the madrassa in Afghan Basti and rescued the captives, who are temporarily at a police station, he said. Police arrested Qari Muhammad Usman, but Dawood escaped, he said.

The seminary had claimed to provide rehabilitation services for drug addicts, he said.

The captives were between the ages of 12 and 50, and they were mainly Pashtuns from Afghanistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Punjab, Malik Altaf Awan, another senior police officer, said.

A few of them were drug addicts or were mentally ill, he said.

Police have registered cases against five suspects, including Dawood and Usman. The madrassa and the adjacent mosque, Jamia Masjid Zakariya, have been sealed, Khaskhel said, adding that a high-level investigation will include inquiries about the madrassa’s possible links to militant organisations.

”]Muhammad Asghar, 12, an Afghan student rescued from the seminary, said he was enrolled in it against his will and that teachers tortured him.

Parents were unaware of the conditions their children were kept in, as madrassa management did not allow parents of some students to meet their children, Amjad, a relative of a student, said.

Talking to reporters, Usman denied torturing the students or having any knowledge of torture.

”]Only Dawood knew why the boys and men were detained, said Usman, a native of Battagram District, KP, who moved to Karachi two months ago. He said families voluntarily enrolled their children and relatives at the madrassa to rid them of evil spirits.

Sindh Governor Dr. Ishratul Ebad took strict notice of the alleged torture and abuse of children in the seminary and ordered an immediate inquiry into the matter.

Ebad has ordered the Sindh inspector general of police to act promptly against elements involved in the incident, an official statement said, and he appealed to religious scholars to co-operate in the matter.

Pakistan has thousands of unregistered madrassas educating, feeding and lodging poor children for free, civil society activists say. However, reports of abuse occasionally surface in the media.

Rights violations and torture are common in madrassas, contended Abdul Waheed, an Ashoka Fellow who runs an educational charity in Karachi.

“The students were enrolled in the madrassas by their parents to be religiously trained but against their own will,” he told Central Asia Online, adding that seminary teachers were brainwashing the students through severe torture for unknown aims.

“Free will and choice of education are a fundamental right of every student, but in religious seminaries, the students always are deprived of their basic rights,” he said, suggesting the government should launch a comprehensive operation against such madrassas.

Some madrassas linked with banned militant organisations are not imparting religious education but rather are transforming the ideologies of students and preaching hatred and violence, security analysts said.

Serious concerns have arisen over militant-run seminaries in Sindh, especially in Karachi, because they stir up fear of Talibanisation, said Raees Ahmed, a political analyst.

The banned sectarian groups organise public gatherings in which many of the participants are young madrassa students, he said, citing media reports, adding that the banned groups also circulate militant literature among the students in an effort to steer their thought processes.

Any long-term solution to extremism must include regulation of madrassas, especially those that preach religious and cultural intolerance, Ahmed suggested.

Some defended the institution in question.

“The seminary (Madrassa al Arabia al Uloom) was not registered with Wafaq-ul-Madaris Al-Arabia (WMA), and it was, in fact, a rehabilitation centre offering services to drug addicts,” said Mufti Muhammad Naeem, an official at WMA, the largest federation of Islamic seminaries in Pakistan.

“The seminaries associated with WMA are not involved in any negative activities, and the conditions for obtaining registrations from the federation are very strict,” Naeem said.