Madrassah Education in Pakistan

Children belonging to Rohingya Muslim community read Koran at a madrasa, or a religious school, at a makeshift settlement, on the outskirts of Jammu, May 6, 2017. Picture taken on May 6, 2017. REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta

Madrassah Education in Pakistan

Mainstreaming and reform is the way forward

Muhammad Atif Sheikh

International Literacy Day is observed around the world on 8th September every year. The basic purpose behind observing this day, on the one hand, is to reiterate the strong resolve to make all-out efforts to promote education while also analyzing, on the other, the efforts made in the past and successes and failures they met with. Since independence, almost all successive governments have made tall promises for the promotion of education but the largely proved hollow as our policymakers fail to take into consideration the ground realities while drawing up policies. They hardly learn from mistakes made in the past and keep on clinging with old methods. This flawed attitude has resulted in making Pakistan the country with the highest number of out-of-school children and adolescents. According to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) report, in 2017, nearly 22.84 million children of school-going age at middle, high and higher secondary level were out of school whereas this number of children falling in primary school age bracket was 5.324 million – the biggest number in the world. The world body found that 40.8 percent of children between the age of five and 16 have never gone to school – 4th worst ratio in the world. Similarly, Pakistan is the 16th largest country in terms of children discontinuing their education as 22.7 percent of children enrolled at primary schools do not complete this level of education.

The figures quoted above have been prepared by an international organization. If analyse them in the light of the official statistics, although they seem closer to reality, yet they paint a bleak picture of the prevailing state of affairs. For instance, as per “Pakistan Education Statistics 2016 -17,” (hereinafter PES) an annual publication of National Education Management Information System of the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training, 22.84 million children between the ages of 5 and 16 years are out of school. Gender-wise, more girls are out of school than the boys. In the primary to the higher secondary school level, 49 per cent of the population or 12.16 million children do not go to schools. By comparison, 40 per cent of the boys, around 10.68 million boys, do not go to school. The report highlights that the worst situation is in Balochistan whose 70 percent child population falling in this age group is not in classrooms – 78% of girls and 64% of boys.

57189f9a3e2eaQuoting these figures here doesn’t, at all, mean to create any sort of despair or pessimism; rather it is aimed at stimulating the process for finding flaws and lacunae in our past educational policies and strategies so that we, who have been able to raise the literacy rate to 62.3% in last 72 years, may not take another 72 to increase it up to cent percent. And, for that, it is imperative that we make optimum use of resources available to us to increase literacy in our country.

Seminaries (Deeni Madaris) make one such rich source. By bringing them into the national mainstream, we can make great strides in our efforts for the promotion of education in the country. The significance of untapped potential of deeni madaris to increasing the country’s overall literacy rate can be gauged from the figures reported in PES which says that by 2016-17, the number of deeni madaris working in Pakistan was 34137. The total enrolment in them of children, adolescents and youth, was 2.177 million while 74600 teachers were employed to impart education to them. If we compare the number of deeni madaris and the institutes of formal education, we find that the number of all formal education institutions, from primary level to university level, in the country was 237958 in 2016-17. It, in other words, means that the number of deeni madaris is equal to about 14% of that, that is, one madrassah against 7 institutions of formal education. Likewise, in the same year, the total number of students enrolled at all institution of education in Pakistan stood at 42.991 million. The number of madrassah students was 5.1% of their counterparts in formal education institutions – a ratio of 1:19.7. Similarly, a comparison of the number of teachers reveals that madarissa teachers were equal to 4.5% of 1.675 million teachers in institutions of formal education – a ration of 1:22.4.

Besides, a comparison of growth in the number of deeni madaris and institutions of formal education between 1947-48 and 2016-17 suggests that during the said period, the former rose from 245 to 34137 (a 13834% increase) while the latter grew from 11099 to 237958 (a 2044% increase). At present, 39.3% of seminaries are males only while 14.3% are exclusively for females, whereas 46.4% provide education to students of both sexes. The highest ratio of madaris offering education to both males and females is in Azad Jammu and Kashmir with a ratio of 74%. The highest ratio of females-only madaris, that is 22% of all madaris there, is in tribal areas (erstwhile FATA) while most males-only madaris are in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (81%).

As per an analysis of figures reported in PES, Punjab hosts 40.4% of the country’s total deeni madaris, followed by Sindh (29.4%), KP (13.7%), Balochistan (8.7%), AJK (4.1%), Tribal areas (2.2%), Islamabad Capital Territory (1%) and Gilgit-Baltisan (0.4%). During the last decade, the biggest increase in the number of deeni madaris was recorded in ICT (471%). It was followed by Sindh (439%), Balochistan (333%), Punjab (154%), KP (78%), Gilgit-Baltisan (58%), tribal areas (53%) and AJK (19%). Overall the number of seminaries in Pakistan rose by 174%.

As much as 3% of all the madaris functioning in Pakistan are in public sector whereas the remaining 97% are in private sector. Private-sector madaris function under 5 wafaqs (boards) which are responsible for registration, examinations and preparation of curricula to be taught there. These boards represent four different schools of thought: Rabita-ul-Madaris Al-Islamia, Lahore, was established by Jammat-e-Islami in 1983 and it accepts madaris from all schools of thought. Tanzeem-ul-Madaris was established in 1960 in Lahore and it represents sunni sect. Wafaq-ul-Madaris Shia was set up in 1959 in Lahore. Similarly, Wafaq-ul-Madaris was established in 1959 in Multan and it represents Deobandi school of thought. Wafaq-ul-Madaris Salafia, Faisalabad was established in 1995 for Ahl-Hadith sect. All of these 5 boards are members of Ittehad-e-Tanzeemat-e-Madaris; the governing body of deeni madaris was established in 2003. Currently, nearly 30% of all madaris in Pakistan is functioning under the aegis of Wafaq-ul-Madaris, 21.4% under Tanzeem-ul-Madaris Ahle Sunat Pakistan, 7.4% under Rabita-ul-Madaris Al-Islamia and 7.3% fall under the category Other Bodies. However, 28% are not affiliated to any wafaq or board.

63.8% of all the students currently studying in madaris consists of males while the remaining 36.2% of females. The highest number of female madrassah students is in Islamabad (58.3%) while that of males is in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (87.3%). On the national level, of all madrassah students, 47.2% is found in Punjab, 21.4% in Sindh, 10.9% in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 7.9% in tribal areas, 6.3% in AJK, 4.6% in Balochistan, 0.9% in Gilgit-Baltistan and 0.7% in ICT. Moreover, the number of students enrolled at deeni madaris has increased by 36% between 2006-07 and 2016-17, with the biggest increase recorded in tribal areas (269%). But, the number has declined by 33% in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

As for the number of teachers in deeni madaris, 43.6% of them are in Punjab, followed by Sindh (20%), KP (19.4%), AJK (5.7%), Balochistan (5.2%), tribal areas (4.3%) and Islamabad (1.1%) while 0.8% is in Gilgit-Baltistan. Currently, 76.4% of total teachers in country’s deeni madaris consists of males while females account for 23.6%. The highest number of female teachers is in ICT (53.2%) while that of males is in Gilgit-Baltistan (97%). Similarly, the increase in the number of such teachers during the abovementioned decade was 34% with the biggest increase in tribal areas (61.5%) and the lowest in KP (22%).

Atif Sheikh-madrasa reform overview

A fleeting look at the history of madaris reveals that they are the remnants of a long history representing the brilliant tradition in the field of Islamic and scientific studies. Especially between the seventh and the eleventh centuries, these madaris produced towering personalities like Al-Beruni, Ibn Sina, Al-Khawarizmi, Jabir bin Hayyan and Ibn Khaldun. These very madaris played a central role in the subsequent development of European logic during the Renaissance. Indeed, throughout the Middle Ages, Christian scholars travelled to the Islamic world to study the advanced learning available in the madarisas. The first college in Europe was, in fact, founded by Jocius de Londoniis, a pilgrim newly returned to Paris from the Middle East. For several hundred years, Islamic educational institutions, including madarisas, mosques, and universities, realized many notable accomplishments. Madaris from Andalusia (the southern region of Spain) to the Indian subcontinent trained many great thinkers in science, math, philosophy, and medicine while maintaining a firm religious base.

Islamic rule overtook the Indian subcontinent when the Arab warrior Muhammad bin Qasim (695-715) captured the Sindh region of modern-day Pakistan. Small madaris began to appear, and in the early thirteenth century, Sultan Qutubuddin Aibek established a number of mosques to provide religious as well as modern education. This system gradually developed into formal madaris during the Mughal rule. It is said that during the reign of Muhammad bin Tughlaqh (1324-1351) there were close to 1,000 madaris in Delhi alone. During the Mughal period, madaris attracted people from all walks of life because they were designed to educate people for state employment as well as to prepare future religious scholars. At that time, there was no set curriculum, and different teachers used different textbooks.  According to a research paper titled ‘Madarissa Education in the Sub-Continent: Myths and Realities’, madarissa education initially comprised of ten subjects, taught via seventeen books. In the 18th century, Mullah Nizamuddin Sehalvi of Madarissa Firangi Mahal (Lucknow) formalized the foundations of contemporary madaris by establishing the Dars-i-Nizami curriculum, which included some contemporary fields of knowledge along with the religious subjects.

Science.TheWideAngle.Hero_The madaris of South Asia saw the British colonial presence as the greatest threat to their religious identity because the British they introduced the Western type of education and replaced Persian with English which effected a paradigm shift in educational role of madaris in the subcontinent and they were rendered irrelevant to state and economy. In this situation, the madaris removed the “secular” subjects from their curriculums in order to focus solely on Islamic education. The purely religion-based curriculum was aimed at producing religious leaders and scholars who could teach religion to the masses and strengthen the people’s connection to Islam. Many madaris adopted a form of the Dars-e-Nizami curriculum and established a system of free education, boarding, and lodging. In order to maintain their independent status, madaris refused any sort of state funding or supervision, a practice that has continued to this day. However, amelioration of this state of affairs in line with the modern-day demands is indispensable so as to make the most of the potential of our madaris in improving educational standards of the country.

Reform of madaris is not a novel idea in itself as this has been a continual process in Muslim countries, especially during the last one and a half century. For instance, Muhammad Abduh introduced comprehensive reforms in Al-Azhar University; Indonesian fighters for independence introduced those on the pattern of Al-Azhar; Sheikh Tahir Jalaludin and Sheikh Ahmad Al-Hadi initiated reforms in Malaysian madaris; and in 1979, Bangladesh finalized its madarisa reforms. The core of all the madaris reforms throughout the Muslim world was to ensure that religious education becomes strong enough to cope with the modern-day challenges.

The great Muslim scholar Imam Ghazali has divided his curriculum into two parts:

Obligatory as the mandatory which includes the education on Quran, hadith, Islamic jurisprudence and Islamic history whereas Optional subjects or education may include all those related to social and natural sciences. He further says that if the knowledge gained through optional subjects helps in respectable survival, they must be learned along with the Islamic subjects. Likewise, Maulana Shibli Numani, a prominent religious scholar of the Subcontinent, has talked about an amalgamation of the new curriculum with the one that is centuries-old. This sufficiently proves that reform and review of the syllabus taught at the deeni madaris is a pressing need of the hour.

A typical madrassah offers two types of courses: (1) Hafiz-e-Quran Course; and (2) Alim Course. In the former, students are trained in memorization of the text of the Quran while the latter is designed to produce more learned Islamic scholars. The curriculum usually includes the Arabic language, “tafseer” (Quranic interpretation), Shariah (divine/Islamic law), hadith (the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Mohammed), “fiqh” (jurisprudence), “mantaq” (logic), and Islamic history. Graduates of these courses often become teachers at various religious as well as secular schools.

From Ayub Khan to Pervez Musharraf, almost every government has tried to introduce reforms in madrassah education in Pakistan. The core element of all these efforts was to link madrassah education with formal education system of the country so as to bring madrassah graduates into the national mainstream. However, no tangible result has been seen yet, owing, mainly, to a prevailing trust deficit. Here arises a pertinent question: is the extant system of madrassah education helping in meeting the modern-day challenges? Answers is a no, because the curriculum taught in most deeni madaris in Pakistan doesn’t include contemporary fields of study like English, mathematics, science, Pakistan Studies and computer and only Dars-i-Nizami, with some alterations and modifications, is the prevalent curriculum. Yet another challenge is the registration of madaris, audit of their income sources, teacher training and establishment of a regulatory authority.

In this state of affairs, it is a primary responsibility of Pakistani state and society to take serious steps, of course after due consultation with all stakeholders, to resolve the problems faced by madaris and bring them into the national mainstream. On the other hand, madaris must also transform themselves into their predecessors that served as a source of inspiration for the world and by following which the West became what it is today. It is also inevitable if we want to earn a respectable place in the global comity of nations.

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