Zia Ur Rehman

Jan 5, 2012


KARACHI – Following the December 12 rescue of 56 shackled students from the basement of the Madrassa al Arabia al Uloom, near Afghan Basti in Karachi, the Pakistani government plans to take strict action against unregistered madrassas.

A report regarding madrassas in Karachi prepared by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in January 2011 revealed that 736 unregistered madrassas were operating in the city, Dawn reported December 14.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik declared in Islamabad December 19 that madrassas not registered with any of the governing bodies of religious seminaries by January 1 would be considered illegal.

Pakistan has five major governing bodies of madrassas for the various Islamic schools of thought: Wafaq-ul-Madaras (Deobandi), Tanzim-ul-Madaras (Brelvi), Wafaq-ul-Madaras (Ahle Hadith), Wafaq-ul-Madaras (Shia) and Rabita-ul-Madaras (Jammat-e-Islami), said Mufti Zia ul Islam, a Karachi-based religious scholar. Ittehad Tanzimat Madaris-e-Deeniya is a federation of the five wafaqs in Pakistan, Islam said.

The Madrassa al Arabia, where the students were detained, lacks any registration, said Qari Muhammad Hanif Jalandhari, an official at Wafaq-ul-Madaras (Deobandi).

“Our organisation has more than 14,000 registered madrassas across the country, which are under complete checks and they have a proper code of conduct of teaching and schooling,” said Jalandhari. Seminaries under the four other bodies also follow proper codes, he said.

The Sindh Assembly on December 16 condemned the torture of students and demanded monitoring of seminary activities.

Police have orders to investigate the madrassa accused of torturing students, Provincial Home Minister Manzoor Wasan told the assembly. The investigation committee includes the chiefs of the Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Gadap and Sohrab Goth police stations, he said.

Mufti Dawood, the administrator of the seminary, escaped and is still at large, Wasan said.

Police will look for unregistered schools and will investigate whether any other religious schools are involved in such unlawful activity, Wasan said.

Seven of the 56 rescued children have been sent to the Edhi Foundation, a charity that looks after poor children, Wasan said. The other freed students have returned to their homes.

Civil Society Worried

Civil society and child rights organisations are concerned over the growth of unregistered madrassas in Sindh and have been urging the government to curb violence against children, especially in seminaries.

No accurate count of unregistered seminaries exists, but Sindh has more than 500, Abdul Waheed, head of the Bright Educational Society, a Karachi NGO working on education-related issues, told Central Asia Online.

“The Karachi madrassa incident highlights both the failure of madrassa reform and the need to restart the process of registering and monitoring these religious schools,” Waheed said.

The parents paid the seminary to “treat their children through a system of Islamic instruction,” Waheed, who interviewed parents of 10 youths, said, adding that generally the parents enrolled the students in the madrassa without the children’s consent.

PIPS Initiative

The Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based advocacy think tank, has started offering training for students and teachers of religious seminaries.

“Our key objective is to explore and enhance the role of Ulema scholars and students in promotion of peace and harmony in society,” said Muhammad Amir Rana, director of PIPS.

PIPS, with the help of a 13-member Ulema Advisory Board of religious scholars representing all wafaqs in Pakistan, started offering a variety of educational activities September 19 and has worked with religious scholars, editors of religious publications, and madrassa students and teachers in Islamabad, Rana told Central Asia Online.

“Our engagement with religious scholars found that they are eager to play their role at the national and regional level to work for peace and harmony in society,” he said, adding that they agree that discouraging all manner of violent tendencies in the society is a collective responsibility.

More than 300 madrassa students attended a one-day workshop October 24 in Karachi to introduce them to a modern state and its institutions, the role of the education system and media, and the importance of civil education, democracy and religious harmony.

“The key purpose of such educational activities is … to investigate what could be the causes of anarchy and terrorism in the country and how religious scholars can play their due role in eliminating it,” Mufti-Munib ur Rehman, a religious scholar, told Central Asia Online.

“Instead of blaming the West, we should try to focus on our weaknesses and we should re-think our fragile strategies,” said Rehman, who also chairs the central moon-sighting Roet-e-Hilal Committee. “Religious scholars could discourage ethnic and racial division and terrorism and should tell the people that all are equal in Islam, which is a religion of peace and love.”

Students attending the seminar listened to lectures and participated in question-and-answer sessions where religious scholars tried to remove their misconceptions about religious harmony, peace and terrorism, said Rehman.

“There is a little interaction among the different religious sects that causes mutual misperception and hostility to grow,” said Qari Hazrat Ali, a student of Jamia Banoria Al-Alamia, a religious school that teaches Deobandi thought.

“This training provided an opportunity to madrassa students belonging to different religious sects to sit together and talk on different issues, which has indeed clarified much confusion found among the students,” said Umair Qadri, a student of a madrassa that teaches Brelvi thought.