Religious Education Institutions (REIs): Present Situation and the Future Strategy


Religious Education Institutions (REIs): Present Situation and the Future Strategy

Madaris have been the focus of Western media in general and the intelligentsia’s attention in particular since the last over three decades. This focus has intensified after 9/11. Madaris are now openly linked to terrorism and reforms are thus demanded as the only viable option if these institutions are there to stay.


Madaris have been the focus of Western media in general and the intelligentsia’s attention in particular since the last over three decades. This focus has intensified after 9/11. Madaris are now openly linked to terrorism and reforms are thus demanded as the only viable option if these institutions are there to stay. Pakistan government has prior to 9/11 been engaged in reforms but the outcome has never been encouraging. On the other hand, the religious institutions eye government measures with suspicion terming the measures as western onslaught on Muslim culture and civilization, and the government of Pakistan as Western stooge. The approaches of the West and those at the helm of affairs at Madaris are thus poles apart. This study is an effort to bridge the gulf. At first, it analyzes western apprehensions towards the role of madaris in breeding terrorism. Secondly, government of Pakistan’s reform efforts have been discussed with a view to know the overall impact of these reforms on madaris and their reaction towards these measures. At the end, the study gives viable policy guidelines and specific recommendations not only to alleviate the posed threat (if any) but also to integrate the religious education with mainstream systems thus raising the standard of education as a whole.

The Background

The Western policy makers, intellectuals and scholars have focused the Religious Education Institutions (REIs) of Pakistan since the last over three decades. This is the same period that witnessed major developments on the international political horizon that always had something to do with the REIs in Pakistan. First, it was the Soviet threat in 1980s. The strategy prepared by the Western policy makers to counter the emerging challenge of Communist expansionism revolved among others, round the REIsstudents in Afghanistan and adjoining areas. The REIs had already started resisting Soviets, viewing them a threat not only to their independence but also to their ideology. The Western policy-makers were aware of these students’ love for Islam, their spirit of Jihad and determination to fight against the forces of evil. It was, therefore, decided to lend support to the Mujahideen and the Taliban (REIs students).1


Soon after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989 the United States started looking at Mujahideen as a threatand withdrew its support. US approach towards Taliban government in Afghanistan and the present US pressure on Pakistan to crackdown on madaris can also be viewed in the same context. In fact, it started to pressurize Islamabad in this regard even well before the incident of September 11, 2001. According to Jessica Stern of the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University: “The United States has asked Pakistan to crack down on the militant groups and to close certain Madressas, but America must do more than just scold. After all, the United States, along with Saudi Arabia, helped create the first international ‘jihad’ to fight the Soviet Union during the Afghan war.”2


Then follows the incident of September 11, 2001 which is viewed as one of the most horrific events in the US history. Usama Bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda Organization are held responsible for this tragedy because of his call for Jihad against US and the Western countries and their eviction from the holy land of Saudi Arabia. With this perspective, all acts of terror in the world are being viewed today in the religious context and the Muslims and their concept of Jihad are being held responsible for the growing anti-US and anti-West sentiments.3 As to the causes for the phenomenal rise in anti-American and anti-West sentiments, the accusing fingers rose at once towards the REIsof the Muslim countries, whose basic objectives remain promotion of religious learning. 4


In the same context, the targets of the US attack of Oct. 7, 2001 on Afghanistan as part of its International War against Terrorism were defined as to launch direct military action against Islamic Militants and Jihadi Organizations to decimate them once for all, and simultaneously put pressure on the Muslim countries through a policy of carrot and stick to close REIsnoted for their anti-US character. These REIswere seen as centers of military training where the students were brain-washed to fight as Jihadis.5

Interest in Academic Reforms


Finding it impossible to totally eliminate the institutions of religious learning spread throughout the length and breadth of the Muslim World, it was stressed to introduce far-reaching reforms in their operation. The purpose was to alter the education system in such a way that the REIs may remain neither religious nor ‘extremist’ in character, but become modern, liberal and secular. That is how it was decided to forestall the growing anti-US and anti-West threat.


Apparently, the principal objectives of these reforms were: 1) to modernize the Muslim societies in a way that these no more remain a threat to the West and the Western systems 2) to bring the West and the Muslims closer, and eventually 3) to assimilate them into the Western culture in such a way that, according to some Orientalists, the ‘Civilizing Mission’ of the West may be achieved.

This reforms’ strategy was put in action on two levels. Firstly, to pay special attention to help strengthen Pakistan Government’s educational system on secular grounds and set up new schools. And secondly, to make efforts to deal with religious extremism and introduce reforms in Madaris through government as well as non-government intervention. At the same time, efforts are being made to make it impossible for any financial, administrative, manpower and ideological support from Madaris to reach the Muslim resistance groups.6 In addition, various donor agencies are making large sums available for educational reforms in REIs.7

Recommended Reforms Program


As to the demands for reforms in REIs, the International Crisis Group’s 8 Asia Report No. 36 may be of special interest. For any real transformation and its desired results, the report submits its recommendations and demands calling upon the Government of Pakistan, international donor agencies, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Gulf States, G-8 countries and the US to take practical steps. The ICG recommendations are given separately as recipes for the government of Pakistan, for the international donors, to the Middle Eastern countries and to the G-8 countries, especially the UK and the USA.


For the Government of Pakistan, the set of suggestions briefly included: establishing a madrasa regulatory authority to be headed by the interior minister; Instituting curriculum reforms for REIs within six months; immediately closing down REIs affiliated with banned militant organizations and prosecuting their leaders if involved in incitement; Requiring all REIs at the time of registration to come up with their annual income, expenditure and audit reports while declaring their assets and sources of funding; creating a nation-wide Financial Intelligence Unit to prevent money laundering; keeping strict tabs on foreign instruments to seek admission in Pakistani Madrasas; ensuring that Madrasa Reform is not confined to urban areas but also covers small towns and villages.


The recommendation for the International donors were to hold the Pakistani Government to its commitments to Madrasa Reform; to provide financial assistance to help Pakistan upgrade its secular education sector at all levels; to provide financial assistance to government Programs to reform the madrasa education sector only if the government closes madrasas affiliated with banned groups; training new Madrasa teachers to teach a wide range of secular subjects; producing Madrasa textbooks for modern subjects; and supporting civil society monitoring of document performance in madrasa reform and on other education issues.


To the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States, the ICG proposal was to publicly identify charities and NGOs suspected of links with militants. The G-8 countries, especially the United Kingdom and United States were asked to implement fully the eight special anti-terrorist financial recommendations of the internal governmental Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on Money Laundering and urge Pakistan to adopt legislation that meets these standards. They were advised to launch, with the help of domestic Islamic Organizations, a public awareness campaign to dissuade expatriate Muslims from funding Jihadi Madrasas and to dispel misperceptions that Islamic Education per se is a target of the anti-terror financing laws.9


The tone and tenor of these recommendations and the nature of the desired steps reveal how the West is looking at Madaris in Pakistan and the exact nature of their concerns. They are keen to ensure that the Government of Pakistan should be put under so much pressure as to make its approach towards these Madaris as rigid and hard as they would like it to be.


The situation demands looking deeper into the root causes and the main factors behind such Western apprehensions. Such a review is needed not merely in the context of the current political developments, but also in the overall historic and civilizational perspective.

Western Apprehensions: Causes and Concerns


Apart from the apparent cause of the alleged involvement of REIsin terrorism, as also extremism, any attempt to understand the West’s apprehensions in a wider perspective, leads in discovering three major causes. The first is the basic difference between the Islamists and the secularists in their concept and vision towards life.


Islamists seek guidance for their objectives in life and overall conduct from their religion, which they regard not merely as a set of rituals, but also a way of life. According to this approach, no sphere of life, both individual and collective, is free from the Islamic guidance. Religious education has, therefore, been an obligatory requirement for their society in which intervention of any sort, especially from external quarters, at once becomes an extremely sensitive matter. It seeks to define the role of man in the context of his relationship with his Lord the Creator.


On the other hand, religion occupies a secondary place in the largely secular Western society. The life has been divided into two separate compartments; the individual and the community, and the role that religion has to play, if at all, has remained confined to personal spheres of the individual. This Western approach towards religion has its roots in the Europe of Middle Ages10 when the religion in the form of Papacy emerged as a strong institution and in collusion with the feudal system of the day tried to promote coercion, suppression and extremism in the society. In reaction to this, various strong movements arose in Europe, somewhere in the name of ‘Renaissance’, at another place as ‘Reformation’, and somewhere else as ‘Modernism.’ The religion and its role in human society and for the human potentials were regarded as ‘deadly.’ According to the men of learning and intellectuals in the West, God has long been dead 11 and if any society or a nation talked of remolding their lives and the lives of the coming generations in the light of religious injunctions and the Divine Guidance, it posed a grave threat to the future of the world and the humanity, and it has to be countered either by waging war or reforming that particular society and the nation.


The second reason is the deeply rooted concept among the Western mindset that the gulf between the East and the West cannot be bridged. This concept further got its ideological nutrients from the latest theory of “The Clash of Civilizations?”12 The US historian and scholar Samuel Huntington in his famous treatise has declared Islam as a jingoistic philosophy and civilization. According to him, Muslims whether in Islamic countries or elsewhere are the cause of conflicts with the non-Muslims. Following the demise of Communism, Islam is being viewed as the modern day’s greatest challenge, posing a threat of a ‘civilizational world war’ between Islam and the West, for which the West will have to be ready with its strategy to meet that threat.


Huntington’s theory has influenced a large segment of thinking minds and the governments both in the West and the East and the people have started talking in terms of the hypothetical clash of civilizations. The 9/11 Commission Report has also noted: “The enemy is not just the common evil like terrorism, but the actual threat is from the Islamic terrorism.” 13


A number of Western intellectuals are of the view that: “The religion has the central role in this conflict.”14 Thus, if Islam is a threat, it becomes a logical requirement and an inevitable priority to do away with all those institutions, which promote Islamic learning, or at least reform them in a manner as to change their mission and character.

The third cause of concern for the West with regard to the Islamic religious education is the political and economic interests of the Western countries in the Muslim world. These interests cannot be met adequately without promoting a ‘Global Culture’ based on the Western way of life and philosophy. The biggest hurdle in its way is the Islamic ideology and civilization, according to which Muslims are encouraged to retain their civilizational and cultural identity and consider the Western concept of life and their influence over their societies as a danger to their identity. In order to meet this threat, the strategy to reform the institutions of Islamic learning and promote modernism becomes the prime target.

The REIsStandpoint


The foregoing analysis show how the REIsand other stakeholders in the country perceive and identify the causes and basic motives of the Western concerns. Appreciation of this should help in evolving a balanced vision about reforms in these institutions. The need for change is felt among all quarters. But this too remains a fact that no change can be lasting and fruitful under pressure, nor any refusal to accept the need for change just in reaction can produce positive results. There is a general consensus particularly among religious scholars that the apprehensions being expressed by the US and the Western Governments have no foundation and these are due mainly to either the non-availability of facts, or their willful misinterpretation. The reservations of REIsconcerning the reforms and the motives behind these cannot possibly be overlooked altogether.


The scholars representing Madaris nevertheless, acknowledged that in spite of rendering important service for the society from the religious and educational perspective, the REIseducation system suffers from the shortcomings which have made it difficult for them to produce the desired manpower. This, they believed, due mainly to the persistence of some historic factors of the colonial era, Madaris’ indifference towards modern arts and sciences and the lack of resources. The Madressa system, it is also acknowledged, gave rise to the sectarian biases and narrow-mindedness and neither the students nor the teachers of these institutions had a proper awareness about the academic, social, political and cultural needs and demands of the contemporary times. Moreover, they are also of the view that the present state of affairs might rightly be a source of concern for the Muslim societies, but the West had no reason to deem it as a threat for its cultural identity. 15

REIs and Terrorism


According to the ICG’ above-mentioned Report, 10-15% of Madaris in Pakistan are considered to be involved in sectarian violence or in acts of international terrorism.16 The report also cites the Government’s admission that it does not have the complete authentic data, the absence of which is a great hurdle in the introduction of reforms. As far the involvement of Madaris in terrorism, or terrorism being part of their curricula, the hypothesis is based entirely on the media reports that Taliban were mostly the students of Pakistani Madaris.


While it is a fact that many students from Afghanistan have traditionally been graduating from the religious seminaries of the neighboring Pakistan, this is also a well known fact that all the freedom movements of the world, past and present, have always had their roots in their national aspirations, quest for self-identification, the right of self-determination or their national or factional interests. It would, therefore, be too simplistic to take the education in Madaris as the motivating force behind the ‘Taliban Movement’, or the complex issue of international terrorism.


Religious scholars and the REIs representatives, who took part in IPS’ series of Seminars, were quite categorical in their condemnation of terrorism in all its forms. Their stance against sectarian violence and militancy was equally firm. While expressing their desire and keenness for reforms, they however, voiced their disappointment over the extremely distorted image that is being projected about REIs. Dr. Sarfaraz Naeemi , President, Tanzeem Al-Madaris, speaking at the Islamabad Seminar proposed the following strategy to dispel the wrong notions about the madaris:
As part of our strategy, we may invite specially those who are based in Europe and are involved in making policies and plans for the future without actually knowing how the institutions of Islamic learning function and what they stand for. They should personally visit the Madaris and see by themselves what was being taught there … Three years hence, the US Ambassador in Pakistan Chamberlain paid a visit to Jamia Naeemia, Lahore. She was also of the impression that Madaris were sanctuaries of terrorism.


Ambassador Chamberlain went round the Jamia Campus. She saw the students attending classes, reviewed the system of education, visited the computer lab and also noticed how small children were taking lessons in reading and committing to memory the Holy Quran. She was so impressed by whatever she observed that her spontaneous reaction was that whatever she had been told and whatever she herself saw were two entirely different things.17

Reforms in REIs: An Appraisal of Government Measures


One can hardly undermine the importance of reforms in REIs of Pakistan. Yet, it is neither fair to link the efforts to reform merely with the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001 in the USA or to consider them the consequence of the global pressures, nor it is correct to change the character of these religious institutions just because of this incident. It may be noted that in the sub-continent during the last three hundred years many of the voices calling for Madressa reforms and appropriate changes in its syllabi were raised from within the Madressa itself.

Historical Background


Within a few years of the establishment of Deoband (one of the pioneering and mother REI in the Sub-continent) in 1866 several Muslim religious scholars started realizing the need to introduce modern disciplines along with specializations in traditional religious sciences. Voices were raised to enable these institutions to produce scholars combining sound religious learning, practical knowledge of the contemporary world and high linguistic proficiency that would enable them to communicate effectively the teachings of Islam. 18

After the creation of Pakistan, the need for such an educational structure was strongly felt both at public and private levels.


Precisely speaking, the history of the efforts for Madressa education reforms in Pakistan can be traced back to the period of Ayub Khan (1958-69). The subsequent governments also followed the process with similar measures that were initiated by Ayub Khan.


Without going further into the details of the historical background of reforms in religious education in Pakistani Madaris, it may suffice to point out here, that the educational policy of 1979 had explicitly recommended, for the first time, to establish religious institutions where modern subjects be taught together with specialization in religious disciplines. In order to materialize this recommendation, the then President of Pakistan appointed a Madressa Reform Commission19 under the chairmanship of (late) Dr. Halepota with distinguished educationists and religious scholars from representative boards of Madaris (Wifaqs) as its members. The Commission, in its comprehensive report, proposed a number of changes in the curriculum of the religious institutions. Some of these institutions (Madaris) at that time not only welcomed the proposed changes but also practically adopted them20 .


Similarly, the draft ninth five-year plan 21 includes a special chapter on Madressa education in which the financial, administrative and educational aspects including the matters related to the award of degrees by Madressa were elaborately discussed. Likewise, the education policy of 1998 contains recommendations for establishing Model Madaris where students would receive instruction in some modern disciplines together with specialized studies of the traditional subjects. To implement this, the Ministry of Education appointed, in collaboration with the Ministry of Religious Affairs, a committee in 1998 under the chairmanship of Dr. S. M. Zaman (later served as Chairman, Council of Islamic Ideology). The Committee submitted its report to the government in early 1999. This report contains comprehensive outline of such a model curriculum, which was jointly prepared by Ulama and leading educationists of the country with vision and insight into contemporary problems. However, the process discontinued after the dismissal of government by Gen. Pervez Musharraf in October 1999.

Model Madressa and Pakistan Madressa Board


In compliance with the recommendations of the Working Group appointed by the National Security Council established by Gen. Musharraf in 1999, the Cabinet decided on March 21, 2001 to establish one model Madressa each in Karachi, Sukkur and Islamabad, which can serve as model for other similar Madaris in the country. And to oversee and regulate these Madaris, “Pakistan Madressa Education Board’ 22 came into existence through an ordinance issued on Aug. 18, 2001. A grant of thirty million rupees was also allocated for this purpose. The Board has its offices in Islamabad and all the four provinces. Thus, the impression as given by certain quarters, that the idea of a model Madressa emerged as a result of external pressure by foreign countries or that it has any connection whatsoever with the events of September 11, 2001 is erroneous and contrary to facts.


However, when the leading Ulema were consulted on the question of model Madaris, they expressed three major concerns over this initiative: First, freedom and autonomy of the Madaris should not be compromised and that no government official should be allowed to interfere on any pretext into their internal affairs. Secondly, revision of syllabi and curricula are purely professional subjects and must be left to the relevant experts and teachers and should at no cost be influenced by temporary interests of the government. Thirdly, that private Madaris should not be compelled to affiliate with the said Madressa Education Board.


The government officials agreed in principle to these observations. They gave assurances and the ordinance promulgated later, has taken into consideration all these observations.23

On November 3, 2001, the Board finalized the curriculum of model Madressa and proposed that all the Wifaqs of Madaris (Boards) be invited to affiliate with this Board and adopt this curriculum. The curriculum proposed that the students shall study, in addition to Islamic disciplines, English, Mathematics, Social Sciences, Pakistan Studies and General Sciences at primary and secondary levels; and Computer Sciences, Economics, Political Science, Law and Pakistan Studies at intermediate level. The government expressed its hope that by accepting these changes, Madaris will usher into a new world. The government also devised a formula for the grant of university status to some major Madaris, who will be entitled to hold examinations and award degrees. While these developments were in progress, the catastrophe of September 11 changed the environment. Tension and general mistrust about various government moves lead to doubts and apprehensions about the intentions of the government behind these measures.


Notwithstanding the reservations expressed by the Madaris on these proposals, three model Madaris have already been established in Karachi, Sukkur and Islamabad under the Model Madressa ordinance and teaching has also started there since December 2003. Classes up to secondary level have been initiated while the planning is in progress to launch the higher secondary (11th and 12th) classes from the next academic year. As regards the affiliation with the Board, applications were invited from interested institutions through an advertisement published in national dailies in July 2003. The Application Form comprising 33 questions seeks information on various aspects of the institutions. According to the Madressa Board, it has received so far (May 2004) 492 applications, of which 105 Madaris have already been awarded affiliation. According to the ordinance, all these institutions offer education at least up to middle level. The details are as follows:

Madaris affiliated with Pakistan Madressa Education Board

Classification by education level

Classification by Area

Middle (Muttawasita)




Secondary Level (Sanwiya Aama)




Higher Secondary Level (Sanwiya Khassa)




Graduation Level (Aalia)




Master Level (Shahadat ul Almia)


Azad Kashmir



Total number of students enrolled in these (105) affiliated institutions, is 24784. Of these 4900 students are enrolled at post-graduate (M.A) level. While granting affiliation to religious institutions, no discrimination is made on the basis of sectarian background or leaning. The affiliated institutions are entitled to maintain simultaneously their affiliation with the respective boards. The students, however, are required to take examinations conducted by the Pakistan Madressa Board, after qualifying which the Board shall award them the degrees that would be recognizable all over the country. 24

Registration and Regulation Ordinance 2002


On June 19, 2002, draft Deeni Madressa Registration and Regulation Ordinance 2002 was issued to elicit public opinion and discussion. The aim was to persuade and convince the religious institutions to register voluntarily with the government. According to this ordinance, no new Madressa could be opened without prior permission of the district administration while the existing ones were being asked to register voluntarily. The ordinance became controversial as the government and international agencies were of the view that registration should be mandatory and not voluntary, while the religious institutions were opposing mandatory registration and also the financial audit. Madaris maintained that such official interference is contrary to their autonomy.


As regards the background of the proposed registration law, it may be pointed out that religious institutions at the moment are registered under various laws and for quite sometimes there was virtual ban on the registration of new institutions in the country. In this background, when the Ministry of Religious Affairs raised, after persistent demands of the religious circles, the issue of lifting ban on registration, the government came with the proposal to enact a new registration law that would cover all important issues related to registration on the principle that all institutions should be registered under the same law. But while drafting the proposed law, the authority encountered three questions on which consensus could not be reached. These were: (a) should the institutions already registered under previous law/s be asked to register once again? The government was of the view that they should while religious scholars opposed it. (b) Will the registration authority be entitled to refuse registration? And if so, what will be the status of the institution that is refused registration? Will it be closed down? This was a sensitive issue of which no satisfactory solution could be worked out. (c) How should the financial assistance received from foreign donors – whether individuals, organizations or governments be regulated? There were divergent views on this question also. Due to these differences, the finalization of the said law has been lying in abeyance.25

Upgrading Madaris as university


Another proposal put forward by the Ministry of Religious Affairs in the recent past was concerning upgrading such Madaris as fulfilling the requisite conditions of the Higher Education Commission to private universities. Some initial progress in this regard was made on the basic requisites of the charter such as minimum number of students, sources of income, financial status, management etc. but the process was also disconnected in the middle.26

Official Assistance/ Privileges for Madaris


An objection that was raised by the madaris on the question of introducing the teaching of modern sciences in the curriculum was about the use of their funds on teaching of disciplines other then Qur’an and Sunnah. They maintained that they could not divert the funds collected through public donations in the name of teaching of the Qur’an and Hadith to spending on other disciplines. To this, the government proposed, with the agreement of the Ministries of Education and Religious Affairs, in April 2002 that financial assistance would be provided by the government to Madaris for the payment of the salaries of computer sciences’ and modern disciplines’ teachers as well as for the purchase of the text-books. It was also agreed that no institution would be compelled to accept such financial assistance and that it will be granted only to the interested ones applying for such grant.


As regards the appointment of teachers for computer and other disciplines, it was also observed that the religious institutions are very sensitive about their particular school (Maslak) and that they would not accept any teacher not subscribing to their religious views. It was, therefore, agreed in principle that the government should not have any role in the appointment of such teachers except ensuring that only such teachers are appointed who fulfill the requisite professional qualifications and standard. The issue of salaries of such teachers also came under discussion and it was agreed that it would be in the range of 5-7 thousand rupees (approximately $90-120) per month to ensure that the gap between the salaries of religious and modern subjects’ teachers is not too conspicuous. In this background, the Ministry of Education has chalked out a Program of Rs. 5.759 billion to persuade the Madaris to adopt the new curriculum and register with the government Madressa Board.27

The implementation aspect


The government measures, though appear to be attractive and alluring, have not produced the required results so far. This is partly due to the world scenario which emerged as the aftermath of the 9/11, leading to general apprehension and mistrust in the sincerity of these government initiatives. Then there is lack of coordinated and all-round efforts on the part of the government. This has further strengthened the impression that the government measures were merely the result of external pressures and temporary political expediency. Consequently, the reform program has not been successful in narrowing down the gap between the government and Madressa.


Similarly, at the time of preparing the financial aid package for Madressa reforms the Government ignored the factor of sectarian division, their relative strength and capacity and importance and needs of such assistance – a factor that further augmented the difficulties of implementing this Program.


Besides, at the operational level there is considerable ambiguity and overlapping between various ministries and departments in the implementation of the reform initiatives. The Ministries of Education, Religious Affairs and Interior are simultaneously engaged in various activities related to the Madressa. Autonomous organizations such as National Commission for Human Development (NCHD) are also taking initiatives and participating in this reform process. This is in addition to the activities of law and order agencies and their contacts with Madaris. There is not a single central agency to coordinate the activities of various departments after defining their exact jurisdiction, powers and area of activities – which only can end confusion and ensure smooth implementation of reforms.


There is even ambiguity and overlapping regarding the role of the Ministries of Education and Religious Affairs on the issues of registration and curricula. The provincial Auqaf department, which is supposed to be responsible for the registration of mosques and Madaris and ‘keep the record of their income’, seems completely unaware of what is going on in this regard. Unless such ambiguity and lack of coordination is removed and true representatives of Madaris are taken fully into confidence in developing and implementing an integrated reform policy, one can hardly expect any real change or improvement in the situation.

Future Approach: Suggestions and Recommendations


The suggestions and recommendations can be divided into two parts. First, those which are dealing with the principles and key initiatives that are important to appreciate the on-going debate on Madressa reform in its true perspective and evolve a viable reform policy. Second, those which focus on specific practical measures to improve the existing Madressa educational system.

Policy-making: Guiding Principles

Evolving a balanced strategy: There is need to clearly understand and analyze the thinking that is being presented by the West, particularly the USA and to formulate a balanced strategy to respond to it. It is one of the basic rights of every human being and every nation to protect and defend its national and cultural identity. This requires not being apologetic to anyone. Apologetic approach has neither been of any help in the past nor will it be so in future. At the same time it should be borne in mind that it is neither realistic nor pragmatic nor expedient to treat all ‘others’ as enemies. Any one who has a message no doubt makes distinction between friends and foes, but avoids confrontation in order to seek an opportunity to call them to the Truth and appeal their mind. One should not, therefore, miss any opportunity for constructive dialogue as and when it is offered while continuing efforts to preserve one’s identity. With this approach, one should also be vigilant about one’s internal weaknesses and should think how to bring own house to order and in this should not be swayed by prejudice.

  • Alleviating the misapprehensions: For the international community it is important that instead of seeing Islam as a threat and its educational institutions as the nourishing grounds of hatred and terrorism, it should reconsider its attitude and see whether or not their behaviors amount to the clash of civilization. If so, it is necessary in the interest of the world peace that the policies about other nations should be made without considering parochial political interest and ideological prejudices. It is not the right approach to see that all the communities of the world have identical views and should draw same conclusions on all global issues. Every individual (and society) is equally entitled to have its own independent views, to live and acquire education in keeping with the philosophy of life he chooses with due regard to others’ fundamental rights.
  • Adopting Consent rather than the Coercion: Muslim countries and rulers should not be subjected to political, economic and military pressures and coerced to adopt ideologies/views that are not in keeping with the norms and values of their societies; as this may open the door to a large-scale confrontation and clash of global magnitude. Instead of insisting on the self-styled program of reform in Madressa, resources should be allocated according to their local needs and requirements.
  • Incorporating justice and fair-play: The religious educational system of the Muslims should be seen in the wider perspective of other similar systems of the world. For instance, importance is not accorded to modern sciences even in many Religious Studies’ institutions in the Christian world where they teach only traditional religious subjects. Similarly, it is not correct to label Muslim religious institutions as the breeding grounds of hatred against the West as is generally alleged. However, they are certainly the places from where the strong voices of protest are raised against the discriminatory policies at the global level. One can hardly justify linking such expressions of resentment with terrorism. The situation would significantly improve from both sides if the West and the USA realize this and address the element of hatred and enmity towards Islam and the Muslims emanating from their policies. This is supported by the fact that the European countries with policies not reflecting imperialistic ambitions such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark etc. do not evoke any criticism and opposition in the Muslim world despite their sharing the same race and culture. They simply oppose western and American policies directed, in their view, against the interest of Islam and Muslims. So long these policies and/or perceptions are not changed; merely changing the syllabi/ curricula of Madaris will not bring any significant change in the thinking and behaviour of the Madaris.
  • Updating Aims of REIs: Madaris need to realize that development of a balanced and an all-rounded personality who can boldly face the challenges of life should be the primary objective of their education and not simply production of khatibs and imams. The traditional approach is to limit the goal to the production of imams and khatibs; and while insisting on this view, Madressa is not willing to change its curricula which were particularly prepared to protect the cultural and religious identity of the Sub-continent’s Muslims during the colonial period. The need therefore is to identify and develop a consensus on the aims and objectives of such education. In the past Muslim scholars produced commendable work on Greek sciences and learning from which the world is immensely benefiting. Islamic teachings also cover all aspects of human life and provide a comprehensive code of human conduct. In view of this, in every age of Muslims’ political rise, the educational curriculum was aimed at thoroughly acquainting the youth with all the necessary sciences and arts keeping in view the requirements of that age in order to enable them to play their role efficiently and with confidence.
  • Integrated Education System: It should also be kept in mind that the entire educational system of Pakistan needs overhauling. The present condition in the country is highly alarming. Division of educational system leads to the division of the nation itself. Consequently, this division has not simply created different classes in the country but is gradually widening the gulf between them. To bring unity and cohesion into the nation, integrated efforts at all levels and in all streams of education are required. While developing a viable program of educational reforms, the government may allow such educational institutions as are necessary to cater the divergent educational needs of the country on modern lines. However, they should be linked with a comprehensive national system to avoid emergence of class distinction and to develop a common national perception and identity. It is proposed that no educational institution up to matriculation/intermediate level be allowed to have affiliation with any foreign or private agency. Religious Sciences be made a discipline up to this level. Beyond this, private institutions may be allowed to operate at graduate and post-graduate levels leading to specialization. Similar efforts should be made to introduce religious sciences in modern educational institutions. In such a case matriculation should be the requisite qualification for admission to Dars-e-Nizami. If this is implemented, there would be no need to introduce modern subjects separately in the curriculum.

Keeping the demand and supply phenomenon in view, the need of Madaris shall not parish, since religious education is high on demand. The only option is to integrate the REIs and improve their conditions.

Specific Measures

As to the specific measures and initiatives to improve the religious education institutions in Pakistan following suggestions are noteworthy:

  1. Evolving a representative body: Presently, the religious institutions are affiliated with five different private boards called Wifaqs representing various schools of thought. These are simply examination bodies and by and large have no role in the administrative and internal affairs of the affiliated institutions. There is no single broad-based agency at the federal level representing all the Wifaqs to hold talks with government on their behalf and can act as a Syndicate as well to oversee and coordinate their activities. For mutual consultation among the different Wifaqs and effective implementation of the educational reforms, it is essential to establish an independent Syndicate fully empowered to hold talks with both the government and private organizations so that all the concerned parties accept its decision without any hesitation. The issues of registration and financial assistance can also be solved in coordination with this Syndicate.
  2. Institution of a curricula board: Most of the Madaris are convinced of the need for reforms and revision in their curricula and syllabi. Some of the institutions have already introduced modern and social sciences in their syllabi, while some others have made special arrangement for their students to appear privately in the Matriculation, Intermediate and B.A examinations so that they do not lag behind in the contemporary learning and can keep pace with time. Almost all Wifaqs have such affiliated institutions who are offering coaching in modern disciplines to enable their students to appear in various examinations. Nevertheless, such efforts are in most of the cases purely on individual levels and where they are being made at Wifaq level they are without any consistent and coordinated Program. There is, no authority or mechanism empowered to undertake the revision of Madressah curriculum at the national level which can come up with a consensus curricula acceptable by all Madaris of the country.

    There is an imperative need to eliminate the present sectarian approach in the Madressah curriculum without prejudice to the various schools of thought in Pakistan. However, it needs to be emphasized that difference of opinion in itself is not harmful. It is a useful phenomenon and an evidence of intellectual life and therefore needs to be encouraged. It is the intolerance and hatred based on the differences that needs to be checked.

    An important suggestion made in the IPS seminars was concerning the teaching of major books on Fiqh related to various legal schools in senior classes of all Madaris. Even in the present condition, the syllabi of the five boards are very much similar and do not depict any real difference. The only difference is in Fiqh. It is here that Madaris are required to show flexibility and broadness of vision. As regards introduction of modern subjects, it may be noted that Islam being a religion equally concerned with the welfare of mundane life cannot ignore the fact of modern sciences. Madaris are also conscious of this fact. The only thing needed is a proper procedure and mechanism to realise this goal.

    Constitution of a broad-based curricula board can help achieve the aim of preparing a unified curriculum in the light of the Qur’an and Sunnah. The Board should consist of distinguished educationists representing all schools of thought, conversant with the problems of traditional and modern curricula and endowed with vision and practical insight. The curriculum so drafted and approved would be acceptable to all and could be enforced in all the institutions of the country. In the preparation of the curriculum, following guidelines should be kept in view:

    1. Six Dimensions of Life: Drafting of any comprehensive curriculum should take cognizance of the following six dimensions of life:
      1. The universe
      2. International community and society
      3. Nation
      4. Community
      5. Family
      6. Individual
    2. Basic Elements of the Curriculum: An important conclusion on the evolution of curricula was that based on the needs and requirement of every age there has always been corresponding changes in syllabi. Education demands dynamism rather than stagnation. Yet, such evolution always takes place under the basic elements of the curriculum. The more the knowledge shall expand, the more will be the need to amend the curriculum so as to make it fulfil the new demands. Some of these elements are vitally important and of permanent value such as the Qur’an, Hadith and Fiqh. They form the nucleus of any religious syllabus and since they are founded on revelation, they cannot be changed. But other sciences derived from human experiences and intellect are bound to change, expansion and evolution and, therefore, need revision form time to time. An analysis of curricula remained in operation during different Muslim periods reveals that following elements have remained integrated parts of the curricula in every age:
      1. Faith/belief (they form the basis of human personality )
      2. Acquisition of Arts
      3. Literature
      4. Logic
      5. Sciences (physical and social)
      6. Skills
      7. Morality and Character-building
      8. The three basic sciences: the Qur’an, Hadith and Fiqh
    3. Teaching of Modern Languages: Teaching of various international languages and review of their literary heritage and richness are not simply academic requirements. They are indispensable for creating a broad and moderate outlook. Languages, being the repositories of sciences, arts, civilizations, cultures and specific approaches to life of the respective communities are extremely useful means to know and understand their national characters, interests, priorities, preferences, weaknesses etc. and help in ascertaining one’s own place in the comity of nations. The religious institutions do not give importance to the learning of foreign languages, not to speak of reviewing their literary work.
    4. It is however a matter of satisfaction that many religious institutions are now offering teaching of English in addition to Arabic and Urdu. There is however, a need of improving the teaching standard of these languages including Arabic and introducing the teaching of some more languages such as German and French in different classes. Need was also stressed for providing adequate resources to religious institutions for realizing these objectives. Departments of modern European and oriental languages may be opened in some major religious institutions for which necessary teaching staff and funds may be provided with the help of the government and the international agencies. Establishment of a special institute of languages on the pattern of NUML (National University of Modern Languages) for training in specific languages for Madaris students is also proposed.

    5. The West and Western Thought: Arrangement should be made to study West and Western thought and establish special department of Occidental studies in religious institutions on the pattern of the Departmental of Oriental Studies in the West. The comparative study of the world religions has always been a subject of the Muslim intellectuals. This tradition must be revived with due attention to the tolerance and pluralism aspects that would initiate cultural contact and religious and ideological dialogue among various communities of the world.
    6. Technical Education: Muslims traditionally classify sciences into ‘Aleeyah (lofty and elevated) and Aliyah (instrumental). This second type is what is now called technical education. Historically, this has enjoyed an important place in the Madaris curriculum. Unfortunately, technical education is almost non-existent in the present curricula of religious institutions. It needs to be emphasized that every individual is endowed by nature with special talent, bent of mind and capabilities. It is not necessary that if a student does not show much progress in a particular legal, social or physical science, he is also incapable of making progress in learning a trade or an art in technical fields. What is needed is simple: to recognize and spot talents and educate and train them in the fields of their aptitude.

      Due to negligence in imparting the technical education, Madressa students have very limited scope in their practical life. If they are provided training in some technical skill or trade after completing certain stage of their religious education, they would not only be able to play more constructive role in social development but will also be better equipped to face emergencies and support their families. Once it becomes part of the curricula arrangement of mutual transfer of students from colleges and universities and religious institutions to each other (for religious and technical education) would become possible. This shall minimize existing gulf between them and society’s needs for both modern and religious knowledge will be fulfilled

    7. Ijtihad and Iqbaliat: The present repetition in the curriculum needs to be removed and contents are to be included (along with improved teaching methodology) to revive, inculcate and develop an spirit and ability of Ijtihad – independent opinion on various legal matters. It is with this view that Iqbaliat should also constitute part of the curriculum. In this context the teaching methods and training of teachers also need serious attention. Madressa teachers should be enlightened on the modern techniques of teaching, and research and provided facilities and training in the use of electronic media and information technology. For this purpose, special workshops and orientation courses may be arranged on a regular basis.
    8. Revision: Being a living reality, curriculum requires revision and improvement with the passage of time. In almost every country, the curriculum is revised at a regular interval. The syllabi of the religious institutions should also be reviewed and revised by the proposed curricula board at fixed interval preferably after every five years.
    9. Standardization and facilities: There is no well-defined system of grading students in most of the religious institutions – a matter which is directly related with the question of curriculum. Similarly there is no uniform system of entry and exit of students from such institutions. A single teacher looks after students of several grades simultaneously and student may leave an institution and join other merely at his whims. To achieve uniformity and standardization in education a well-defined gradation and entry-exit system is essential. No student leaving an institution should be allowed entry into another unless he/she produces some kind of NOC and educational certificate form the relevant Wifaq.

      Attention should also be paid to providing better boarding facilities and quality food with focus on neat and hygienic atmosphere. Students need to be provided playing grounds and sports facility to promote co-curricular activities among them.

    10. Any effort to improve the syllabi should take into account the above elements.

  3. Institutional development for specialization, Research and Ijtihad: There are various forms of research and academic activities currently in vogue in Madaris. The most important of these is Dar al-Ifta – a unit which is available in almost every major Madressa. The function of this unit is preparing fatwa, formal legal opinions on queries received form public. The objective is to seek guidance on how to implement a legal injunction of the Qur’an or Sunnah in the contemporary perspective.

    Translation of the Qur’an, Hadith collections and other useful literature from Arabic to Urdu and regional languages; writing commentaries on textbooks and classical works; conducting research on different aspects of Islam, publication of informative books on rituals, morality, social laws; and production of light informative literature to enlighten and educate the common man and publication of magazines and journals are also part of regular activities pursued by religious scholars. Letters and memoirs of distinguished personalities are also compiled and published with necessary commentaries on regular basis. A considerable amount of academic works of high standard have been produced by the graduates of these Madaris in connection with their M.A, M.Phil and Ph.D. degrees form local and foreign universities. Nevertheless, apart form these individual efforts, most of the Madaris do not have congenial academic environment required for creative research work and independent Ijtihad to meet the challenges of the modern age.

    Besides, devotion to one’s legal school and personality-cult dominate whatever little research activities are performed. It seems as if the objective of such academic exercise is not to develop understanding but only to gain victory over the rivals. Lack of adequate knowledge of contemporary languages is an important factor that prevents them from benefiting from the modern research methodologies and findings of researches of the international institutions. Another important factor that obstructs their academic development is the self-conceited belief of their intellectual superiority to the rest of the world. Consequently, instead of benefiting from the valuable academic and research works done in both the western and other parts of the Muslim world, scholars take shelter into a policy of reservation and withdrawal.

    To achieve the objectives of improving the teaching methods of the Madaris, developing various sciences and promoting the general academic atmosphere, it is necessary to change the present attitude of academic superiority and to instill a genuine desire for serious academic pursuit on contemporary problems and issues. For this purpose, special departments and units may be opened in major institutions to carry out specialized studies in different fields. This will also facilitate the process of Ijtihad on important contemporary issues. These units may also serve as forums where young Madressa graduates may be trained in research methodology and writing research works while seniors may be asked to contribute original writings. At another level, autonomous and independent research institutions focusing on specialized fields may be established under these Madaris.

    There is need to carry out original research on different aspects of the western thought and sciences. However, non-availability of sufficient funds to meet the expenses of research on the one hand and lack of competent academic staff to supervise students in carrying out research are major hurdles in starting any regular research program in Madaris. It should be noted thatlike universities, the Madaris are not authorised to issue higher education degrees. In the absence of such a program, the research is bound to become purely optional. Nevertheless with a consistent and coordinated research program, efforts may be made to mobilize funds from both government and private quarters in this regard.

    It is also complained that though a good number of Madressa graduates are enrolled for Ph.D. Programs in different Pakistani universities, they loose interest because of the lack of serious research sprit, environment and commitment in most of the universities. This happens at every stage of their work; from the selection of topics till its final completion. As a remedy, it needs to be emphasized that the experts from Social Sciences, Islamic Studies, Comparative Religion, Culture and other relevant fields be included in the Board of Studies of different universities to propose new topics for research. Similarly assistance may be sought from various Islamic institutions such as Council of Islamic Ideology, Federal Shari’ah Court, Banking Council, Zakat Foundation, Bait al-Mal, etc., for suggesting practical problems and issues on which these students may be required to do research and write their M.Phil and Ph.D. papers. This will open the door for problem-oriented research in which the researcher enjoys necessary funds and guidance for his research from the sponsor. On completion of research, the successful candidate may also be absorbed in the sponsoring institution. He will probably be able to also get his research published with the financial assistant of the sponsor. In the West, social and financial institutions sponsor research candidates to work on their selected topics by providing necessary financial assistance. It is time to think and move in this direction.

  4. Libraries: Libraries play important role in creating a congenial academic environment and developing reading habit among the teachers, staff and students. Although all the big religious institutions have their own libraries, they encounter two major problems; selection of appropriate books and paucity of funds. Selection of the books is generally motivated by the sectarian bias and theological preferences. One will hardly find in such a library books and reading materials written from the perspectives of other religions and other schools of thought. This is partly because little attention is paid to research and as such reference and latest research works are rarely required; and partly because of the paucity of funds.
  5. Lack of necessary knowledge and skill of library science is another major problem. Libraries in Madressa not only require expansion but also re-organization on modern lines. For this purpose, the services of trained librarians shall be required at least in the initial phases of reforms. Besides, the principals of library science should also be included in the Madressa curriculum. During the zenith of Muslim history, the collection, preservation and management of books in libraries had reached such perfection that elicited admiration from the whole world. Knowledge seekers flocked from all around the world to these libraries to benefit form their rare collection and the Muslim scholars as well. Contemporary Muslim scholars need to do their best to revive this old academic tradition and on the other hand utilize internet, CDs and other IT related facilities for research and educational purposes. However, this should be borne in mind that Madaris cannot do such work with their limited resources; other interested individuals and organizations should come forward to help achieve this goal.

  6. Religious Journalism: Launching of a high quality Journal: Religious journalism include besides religious magazines special editions or reserve space in the dailies, magazines and journals for the publication of articles on religious subjects. Besides some major institutions have launched their websites containing information and question-answer series on Islam. However, a serious problem that needs to be addressed is the kind of widespread misperceptions about Madaris throughout the world including in their own circles.

    In a way Madaris are themselves to blame for this situation. There are hundreds of magazines coming out from various Madaris with content that has little relevance to common man or pressing contemporary political, social and intellectual problems. They seem to mean only to further divide the society and hardened the sectarian differences. This has led to the rigidity of thought and lack of toleration and creation of a wrong image in the world. The result is the prevailing image of Madaris which accounts for the circulation of false impressions about Islam and Muslims also. Those responsible for the management of Madaris and publication of such magazines should bear in mind that whatever they publish is considered to reflect the position of Islam.

    An important proposal is about the constitution of a Council of the editors and writers of religious magazines. The Council should be responsible for training and orientation of editors and writers in the principles and modern day techniques of journalism and media. This is to enable them to bring out their publications including journals in a presentable form and in keeping with the modern trends so as to make them more attractive and useful for the readers.

    The Council can also undertake publication of a representative research journal to present its official view, improve global image of religious institutions and publish academic and research articles on contemporary topics and problems. It should make efforts to remove many of the misperceptions spread in the Western media about Madaris and their views. The magazine should also strive to create accord and harmony among the network of Madaris with different affiliations throughout Pakistan. In addition to the publication of comprehensive reports on Madressa system and its problems, the journal may also serve as a forum for achieving consensus of opinion among religious scholars on important issues and having dialogue on both national and international levels. This will also go a long way in promoting proper research and academic atmosphere. Needless to say that such a journal be published both in English and Urdu simultaneously right form its inception.

    In spite of what has been said earlier, one should not hesitate in admitting that there are a number of religious journals currently being published that are looked with great esteem in academic circles. By inclusion of articles on science and technology, culture and problems of common interest and by making them more interactive these magazines may be further improved. Besides attracting common readers, this will enlighten and educate the scholars of these Madaris and will also broaden their academic and intellectual outlook.

    The poor quality of production, sub-standard language, expression and style also need immediate attention. Those responsible should focus on measures to improve these aspects as well.

  7. Female Education: Islam enjoins acquisition of knowledge on both man and woman. The Prophet (pbuh) laid great stress on female education in his numerous Traditions. The Prophet (pbuh) had personally reserved one day a week for the education and training of women. This is the reason why one finds a legacy of female scholars and teachers right from the inception of Islam. During the first few centuries, great focus was on the education of female child and equipping them with gems of knowledge in literature.

    In view of the widespread illiteracy, education of Muslim women has assumed greater importance today. It is, however, pleasant to note the progress in this direction as numerous female religious Madressas have been opened and are being opened in different parts of the country . In additions to these institutions, many groups and circles are offering female education on purely private level in Islamic and modern disciplines. Nevertheless, there is still much to be done in this neglected sector.

    With the increased focus on female institutions, the proposed curricula Board will have to take measures for developing a special curriculum for female students so that such important subjects as social and family values, ethics and morality, health and hygiene, child education and psychology may be added at various stages of their education. Additionally, this would require to include Arts and skills such as sewing, embroidery, cottage agriculture, marketing of home products etc in consonance with the aptitude and needs of women and the indigenous culture. Even the government has to change its attitude and take initiatives to attract women towards education and establish separate female madaris to cater the needs of religious education of women in the country. It needs not to mention that such institutions will also be helpful in accelerating literacy in the country.

To cope with the contemporary challenges in a befitting manner, madaris have to introduce certain reforms in their syllabi and teaching methodology. This is very much in their own interest if they really intend to play an important role in the socio-political development and religious upbringing of the masses in Pakistan. These reforms, however, should not be foreign imposed at all. Such reforms are neither desirable nor long lasting. In stead, they should be home-driven and backed by different stakeholders in general and madaris in particular. It has to be realized fully that the true believers never cease the struggle for betterment since they have already been cautioned by the holy Prophet (pbuh) that ‘ruined is he whose today is not better than yesterday.”

While introducing different reforms, the government must also take into account the sensitivities and autonomy of the madaris. A benevolent government can help madaris introduce certain reforms in their internal system to shift the focus from sectarian education to the teachings of Islam in a broader framework. Similarly, it can equip them with the skill and techniques to prepare a lot well-versed in religious education as well as the mundane affairs. Further more, reforms are long over-due to bridge the widening gulf between different kinds of education systems prevalent in the country. Last but not the least, Madaris must also realize that rejecting all government proposals for reforms out of nothing is never desirable. They need to judge things on merit before accepting or rejecting them. In the same vein, the government has to make it clear by its words and deeds that the real objective behind these reforms is not to appease foreign and domestic critics but to introduce an integrated education system in the country.


Armanios, Febe. “Islamic Religious Schools, Madaris: Background.” CRS Report for Congress, Oct. 29, 2003, p.2. The Report reads: “In the 1980s madrasas in Afghanistan and Pakistan were allegedly boosted by an increase in financial support from the United States, European Governments, and Saudi Arabia, all of whom reportedly viewed these schools as recruiting grounds for the anti-Soviet Mujahedin fighters.”

Stern, Jessica. “Pakistan’s Jihad Culture.” Foreign Affairs, Nov.-Dec. 2000

Zakria, Fareed. “The World’s Most Dangerous Ideas.” Foreign Policy, Sep-Oct., 2004. The writer says: “In this post-ideological age, anti-Americanism fills the void left by defunct belief systems. It has become a powerful trend in international politics today—and perhaps the most dangerous. In 2000, for example, 75 per cent of Indonesians identified themselves as pro-Americans. Today, more than 80 per cent are hostile to Uncle Sam.”

Barber, Ben. “Pakistan’s Jihad Factories.” The World & I, Dec. 2001. p.68. The story reads: “Thus the system of Madressas has become a hatchery for tens of thousands of Islamic militants who have spread conflict around the world. Incidents in the Philippines, Indonesia, Russia, Central Asia, and at New York’s World Trade Center have always been linked to graduates of the Madressas. Indeed, Pakistan is terrorism’s fertile garden.”

Op. cit. Armanios, Febe. “Islamic Religious Schools …” The report says: “… some argue that a small group of radicalized madrasas, specially located on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, are spawning a militant form of Islam and calling on Muslims to fight nonbelievers and stand against what they see as the moral depravity of the west …”

“Madrassas breeding terrorists, says Powell.” Daily Times, March 12, 2004. The report reads: “US Secretary of State Colin Powell has denounced madrassas in Pakistan and several other countries as breeding grounds for “fundamentalists and terrorists”. Mr Powell was responding to a statement by Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur in the House Appropriations Subcommittee that unless modern education is imparted in these institutions, they would cause multiple cloning of militants throughout the region…We have talked to the countries that were the principal source of funding for madrassas – such as Saudi Arabia and others – and their support for these madrassa programmes that do nothing but prepare youngsters to be fundamentalists and to be terrorists, and are not preparing them with an education that would be useful.” Also, Dawn, Islamabad, Aug. 19 2004 – Special Report from Washington reads: “Thomas Kean, Chairman of the 9/11 Commission told the Special Session of the House Committee on Homeland Security, on 17th August 2004, that the war against terrorism can not be won by killing terrorists and the US was required to review its policy to counterterrorism. He regretted that Pakistan’s aid package for Madaris reforms contained a very meager amount of thirty million US dollars only …” The same report says: “Referring to the Madressas, Lee Hamilton, Vice Chairman of the 9/11 Commission, similarly told the Congress Committee that $30 million given to Pakistan for Madressa reforms were “like a drop in the bucket”. He felt that it was “in their own national interests” for Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to reform their (religious) school systems. He added: “… if the two governments decide not to make those reforms, then United States should let them know ‘that their life is pretty miserable. If they do not begin to deal with those problems, they are not going to be in charge over the long-term …” See also: USAID issue paper no. 2, “Strengthening Education in the Muslim World.” June 2003 which says: “Supporters of a state educational system have argued that the improvement of existing schools or the building of new ones could offer a viable alternative to the religious-based madrasas. Others maintain that reforms should be institutionalized primarily within Islamic madrasas in order to ensure a well-rounded curriculum at these popular institutions”. The report goes on to express the apprehension that “access to quality education alone cannot dissuade all vulnerable youth from joining terrorist groups …”

According to CRS Report RS21457, “The Middle East Partnership Initiative: An Overview,” by Jeremy Sharp: “The USAID in September 2002 committed $100 million assistance over five years for education reform in Pakistan. The Research Triangle Institute (RTI), a US-based, not for Profit Corporation, has received a USAID contract for $60 million of this aid to implement the Education Sector Reform Assistance (ESRA) project in Pakistan. The United States has also committed additional resources through the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), which received $29 million in 2002 and $90 million in 2003.” The Middle East Partnership Initiative Programming Guide, USAID/Asia & Near East Bureau and Department of State/Near East Affairs, June 2003 says: “One of MEPI’s goals is to encourage improvements in secular education throughout the Arab world. It has also expressed concern over the growing trend in the Muslim World of the rising enrollment in Islamic schools (madaris).” Also; CRS Report for Congress, October 29, 2003, “The Bush Administration requested $145 million for MEPI in 2004. The House Committee on Appropriations recommended $45 million for MEPI and for the “Islamic Outreach” Program in 2004 Foreign Operations Bill. The Committee cited the “importance of education, training and exchanges” but stated that “these funds must be apportioned more equitably between Arab Muslim and non-Arab Muslim nations.”

International Crisis Group is a private international organization that issues research papers and analytical reports and recommendations on the major conflicts and crisis in the world. Its Chairman is Finland’s Former President Martti Ahtisaari and its President/CEO former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans. Headquartered in Brussels with offices in Washington DC, New York, Paris and London, it has around 11 local offices in around 30 countries of the four Continents, engaged in conflicts.

ICG Asia Report No. 36. “Pakistan, Madrassas, extremism and the military.” July 29, 2002

Ramadan, Tariq. (2001). Islam, the West and the Challenge of Modernity. Leicester: The Islamic Foundation. p.3. The author says: “The hold of religious power, the unjust traditional order of feudal society and the numbness of thought are a few ideas which will serve to characterize the European Middle Ages.”

Hofmann, Murad Wilfried. Dr. (2001). Modern Islamic Polity in the Making. Islamabad: Institute of Policy Studies. p.18. The author says: “After Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud and Friedrich Nietzsche, religion was relegated to the realm of myth, legend, superstition—something for the less than intelligent–to fade away as humanity progresses in its successful quest to unravel the last mysteries of our existence. By the end of the 19th Century, Nietzsche was able to declare God dead!”

Huntington, Samuel P. “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs, Summer-1993

Dresher, Rod. “Religions role is Central to this Conflict.” The Dallas Morning News, Aug. 3, 2004. The story reads: “The enemy is not just terrorism, some generic evil,” says the 9-11 Commission Report, “It is the threat posed by Islamist terrorism.”


A comment from Hafiz Muhammad Salafi of Jamiah Sattariyah Islamiah of Karachi at an IPS Karachi Seminar on “Deeni Madaris: Towards Formulation of a National Policy,” held on July 29, 2004: “Life means change. If the curricula fall short of fulfilling the spiritual and material needs of the time, it would all be in vain. The change in curricula, obviously in line with its basic moorings, is the need of the hour. This important process can be accelerated if the government functionaries and the educationists and those responsible in various boards of religious education cooperate with each other in all sincerity and earnestness.” It may be of interest to add that Hafiz Muhammad Salafi represents the Salafi Board of Religious Education and it is the same school of thought which to the West has all along appeared as the extremist, reactionary and militant because of its ‘Wahhabi’ approach. Similarly, at the IPS Lahore Seminar on “The Role of Deeni Madaris in Research Work and Journalism,” held on July 21, 2004, another eminent religious scholar and director of Shariah Academy, Gujranwala, Maulana Zahid Al-Rashidi in his paper said: “The first thing in this context is the psychological environment of intellectual and ideological superiority which has erected insurmountable hindrances around the teachers and students of Madaris. We will have to move out of this environment and realistically acknowledge that there are others as well in this world who are equally endowed with intellect and knowledge. We have the right to differ from their standpoint but we have no right to deny their existence.”

Op. cit. ICG Asia Report No. 36

Address by Dr. Mohammad Sarfaraz Naeemi, President, Tanzeem Al Madaris Board, Pakistan, Lahore (IPS Seminar, 06 May 2004).

Stressing the need of integrating the two streams of education, Allama Shibli Numani (1857-1914), a Muslim scholar of repute, had remarked that our religious scholars “need exquisite linguistic proficiency as much as they need high academic scholarship.” It is with this aim that Nadvat al-Ulama was founded in 1893. This was the first serious attempt by religious scholars of the Sub-continent to make the traditional religious educational system more meaningful and compatible with the requirements of the modern age. Since the establishment of Nadvat al Ulama, a number of similar experiments were made with the primary aim of evolving an educational system and curricula that would ensure that religious experts also acquire fairly good knowledge of modern disciplines. The establishment of Jamia Abbasia (University) at the then state of Bahawalpur in 1925, with the active participation of prominent Ulama of the Sub-continent, was the first attempt of its kind in the areas now forming parts of Pakistan. The aim of this institution was to produce religious scholars specialized in their fields of interest as well as fully conversant with the pressing problems and issues of the contemporary age. However, a yet more primary objective of such efforts in the past was to preserve the cultural identity of the Muslims and prevent the western influence on Muslim civilization.

National Education Policy and Implementation Programs, Govt. of Pakistan, Ministry of Education, Islamabad, 1979, p.50

Dr. Mahmud Ghazi’s speech delivered at IPS seminar held on May 6, 2004.

Dr. Rafiq Ahmad referred this in IPS seminar held on July 21, 2004 at Lahore. However this ninth five year plan could not be implemented as the new government made a new twelve year plan in 1998.

National Education Policy: 1998-2010, Govt. of Pakistan, Ministry of Education, Islamabad, p.21.

The Board comprises the following distinguished members: Secretary to the Ministry of Education ii) Secretary, Ministry of Religious Affairs iii) Chairman, University Grants Commission (now Higher Education Commission) vi) two members of the Council of Islamic Ideology to be nominated by its Chairman v) Director General, Da’wah Academy vi) Secretaries to four Provincial Ministries of Education vii) Directors of Wifaq al-Madaris, Tanzim al-Madaris and Rabita al-Madarir.

Dr. Mian Mohammad Siddiqui’s Speech delivered at IPS Seminar held on May 6, 2004, Islamabad

Dr. Mahmud Ghazi’s Speech delivered at IPS Seminar held on May 6, 2004


Mr. Sibghatullah, Deputy Education Advisor. GoP in his paper presented at IPS seminar in Karachi referred: “The Program has two parts. Under the program, during a period of 3 years, the Ministry would provide lump sum grant for the purchase of textbooks on Islamic Studies and other disciplines and ten almarahs for library books. The second part deals with the appointment and financing of the teachers of modern subjects, payment of their salaries, purchase of five computers with printers for each Madressa and teachers’ training. Under this Program, the Ministry will appoint 16,000 teachers in 4,000 Madaris at primary level for an initial period of three years and provide salaries of 12,000 teachers in 3,000 Madaris at middle and secondary level. Besides, the Ministry will appoint and pay for 3,000 teachers in 1,000 Madaris of intermediate level for teaching contemporary disciplines.

The participants of IPS seminars while fully agreeing to the need of reforms in Madaris educational system and curricula have unanimously laid stress on introducing uniform and integrated educational system throughout the country.

In his paper presented in an IPS seminar at Islamabad, Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi mentioned that the number of female religious institutions registered only with Wifaq al-Madaris reaches 1720. Maulana himself is the executive head of a female madressah at Islamabad where over 3,000 students are enrolled and some 175 female teachers are engaged.

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