Need of the Hour
Madaris, unlike public and private schools, provide their students with not only education but also boarding and lodging facilities as most of the learners have very humble backgrounds. Islam is the essence of the ideology of Pakistan, so in public and private schools, where secular nature of education remains the central pivot, still there is space allotted to Islamic teachings – Islamiyat is still a compulsory subject from primary schooling till the higher secondary level. Parents want their children to be cognisant of the importance of both secular and religious learning. However, the Pakistani public is still largely divided on the issue whether madaris should be moderated or should they remain purely religious.
Madaris structure in Pakistan
In Pakistan, the network of madaris is differentiated on the basis of sect as almost every sect has its own Wafaq or, in other words, specific Boards. These boards are assigned the duty to conduct exams annually and award degrees that are equivalent to university certifications, depending on the level of curriculum students complete. These boards include Wafaq ul-Madaris al-Shia, Wafaq ul-Madaris al-Arabia, Wafaq al-Madaris al-Salafia, Rabtatul Madaris AlIslamia and Tanzeem-ul-Madaris.
Pakistan has been often considered a security-ridden state and its madaris the centres of propagating such literature that makes their students intolerant, stubborn and violent. Though governments make efforts to reform the madaris system, desired results are yet to be achieved as due to a rigid stance of these boards, any reforms initiative is seen as an attempt to add impurity to the religious beliefs. Also, there is a persistent deadlock among the stakeholders on the point that the needy students should not be deprived of necessary skills that would help them in attaining respectable earnings.
Why only madaris are targeted?
Madaris have earned the reputation of being the custodians of Islam and this label has immobilised the dream of having and fostering unity with diversity. Though Madaris students remain inactive in domestic politics, they are highly inclined towards religio-political parties of their concerned sects. This is what makes them extremist and their physical manifestation to be taken in negative perspectives. They observe the current status of political and economic affairs with suspicion.
Capability for modernization
Generally, madaris students do not adhere to the modern principles of statehood; therefore, they are hostile towards the evolving nature of the world that urges the peoples of all countries to become useful to, and comply with the demands of, globalisation. Due to stifled nature of knowledge, students are hesitant to assimilate to the concepts of gender equality, pluralism and the writ of the state. Their self-righteousness has made them unyielding to the state.
Myths about madaris students
A famous myth about madaris students is that they are philistine and thick-headed. However, the reality is far different. They are like us and we belong to the same society. So, they, too, can compete with secular students in formal education. For example, three madrassa students from Bait-ul-Salam, Talagang, qualified for the final round of TEKNOFEST 2020 that was held in Istanbul, Turkey. The team had applied in the category ‘Technology for Humanity Social-Innovation’ and it topped the category with 87 points out of 100. An important thing to note here is that this was not the first time the students from this madrassa won; in 2019, they won the Robofiesta – a robotic competition held at HITEC University in Taxila – and in the process, these students won the championship by defeating students of more than 20 universities.
They have many other feathers in their cap and, more importantly, they are an inspiration for other madrassa students. So, if students are provided with equal opportunities, they will surely deliver to the best of their potential.
Recommendations for reconciliation
The foremost priority of the state should be to nourish intellectual and updated discourse among religious scholars. Measures should be taken to keep them aware of the latest happenings around the world in all domains. The capacity of madrassah teachers in this regard should be enhanced.
There are no silver bullets to address any social problem; it needs collective efforts. So, bureaucrats must take Wafaq Boards in confidence before formulating any reform on paper. It would be wise to add senior ulema in reforms committee.
Madrasah students should not be discriminated against for making their services useful for government administration. They should be provided with ample opportunities to take competitive exams.
Madaris students should have opportunities to follow the curriculum of their choice. For that purpose, libraries having both modern and traditional literature should be established.
Madaris authorities should be bound to propagate positive, modern and state-centric values.
Madaris curriculum should be amended to highlight pluralistic nature of Islam. Controversial literature should not be promoted in lectures. The areas of jurisprudence should be discussed in common sessions.
Madaris should be given an influential role in bringing harmony and peace in the society. Effective credibility of Madaris can be ensured through improved monitoring mechanisms established under public-private partnerships.
Dialogue among different segments of society should be a consistent practice.
The impacts of Madaris on Pakistani society are huge and indelible. If they remain vulnerable to conflicts, state’s efforts to maintain peace and calm in the society would not materialize. It is also not true that all madaris are protectionists. However, the main problem is with the literature popping out from madaris. The menace of instability has already eclipsed the reputation of Islam in Pakistan. Now, there is an urgent need for reforming the madaris; they should conform to the principles of the modern world while preserving our religious and cultural values at the same time.
The writer is currently serving in Punjab Police. He can be reached at: email@example.com