‘Madrassah students are tied to sectarian thinking’, says report  

  • PIPS study on madrassah students finds indigenous scholarship in madrassah sector missing

ISLAMABAD: Experts at a report launch on Wednesday noted that madrassah students are tied to sectarian thinking as the parties they like, the magazines they read, and the personalities they idealise are all sectarian titled.

These views were expressed at the launch ceremony of a report on thinking of madrassah students titled, “After Study Hours: Exploring the Madrassah Mindset”, and organised by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) here. The report was based on a survey conducted with 135 students from around 43 seminaries of 17 districts all over the country and was released by PIPS – an Islamabad-based think tank.

The discussion was moderated by columnist Khursheed Nadeem.

The experts were unanimous on the conclusion that attempts at mainstreaming madrassahs should go in tandem with the broader priorities of state and society, especially in education sector. Seminary students, who often fall for a sectarian worldview, should open up with nuanced perspectives.

Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) Chairman Dr Qibla Ayaz said many of today’s international and national developments are somehow linked to madrassahs. He added that not much knowledge is available about madrassahs, and suggested that “madrassah studies” should be introduced in the universities.

PIPS Director Amir Rana, however, contested the idea, saying that madrassah graduates have already been stepping in the mainstream educational sector.

Dr Ayaz also added that the recently-released Paigham-e-Pakistan (message of Pakistan), which denounced militancy in Pakistan, is a major step forward, calling to study if the thinking of students had changed.

The study also called for developing the interest of students in logic and philosophy, which will help in enhancing their critical enquiry. These subjects are already in the curriculum of seminaries, and therefore, will find many supporters.

Field researchers Sabookh Syed, Mujtaba Rathore and Muhammad Younus said that it is often difficult to engage with seminary students because of mistrust and absence of the culture of enquiry. The study noted that as in the past, the government may mainstream madrassahs by introducing mathematics and science in 2018.

While these subjects are important, students should be taught about the meaning of what they are learning, including in mathematics, and engaged with nuanced analysis. Similarly, students’ interest in the subject of ‘history’ should be explored further, it was said.

Participants wondered why sectarianism, even though the curriculum is the same. One reason could be that seminaries are supposed to be affiliated with one of the several sect-based boards.

Religious scholar Amanat Rasool argued that student consult exegesis of the scholars of their own sects, thus developing sectarian tendencies from the onset.

At the same time, the study also noted, much of the thinking of the madrassah students is in line with the broader society. The parties they choose are ultimately from the choices provided outside of the seminary.

The problem, columnist Harris Khalique said, comes from society at large. He said that madrassah system should be viewed in the context of broader education reforms, which includes 28 systems at this point in time. Experts suggested the thinking of madrassah students should be compared with those of public-sector students.

Amir Rana said that a key debate around madrassahs is that they are not part of the economy in the way students of other sectors are.

Harris Khalique said that unfortunately, madrassahs have been misused in the war economy. If the war continues, the problem will persist.

CII Chairman Khalid Masud reasoned that madrassah education is a professional, not mass education, which is a relatively modern concept.