It is the duty of the government to ‘find and crush’ madrassas that preach violence – Mufti Sarfaraz Naeemi

A benign role for the madrassa?

Mufti Sarfaraz Naeemi of Jamia Naeemia in Lahore has been quoted by an American newspaper as saying, “The actions of a small minority have given a bad name to Islam and to a centuries-old educational system that can interface with a modern world”. He added, “It is the duty of the government to ‘find and crush’ madrassas that preach violence”. Jamia Naeemia is a not a nursery of militants but a training centre whose students are good for every field of life, he explained, “they can become engineers or imams”.

If true, this is very good news for Pakistan where people are becoming more and more scared of the madrassas for manufacturing religious extremists. The madrassas are now reacting to the popular fear by increasingly speaking out against terrorism conducted in the name of Islam. A much larger-than-before assembly of clerics has recently denounced the killings of fellow-Muslims through suicide-bombing. In the year 2008, it is the consensus in Pakistan that suicide-bombing is not allowed under Islam, and those who do it are not good or true Muslims.

The past has been different though, thanks to the perverse patronage of the state that used madrassa students as cannon fodder in the jihad in Afghanistan and Kashmir. The past has also seen a rise in sectarianism and no one who favours madrassa education will deny that some of our great madrassa leaders were killed by other “believers” on the basis of sect rivalry and the trend of declaring each other non-Muslim. Other factors have added to the problem. Recently when the police went looking for “foreigners” in the madrassas of Gujranwala, it found, first, that the number of madrassas in the city was not 105 but 251; and, second, that most of the seminarians were Afghans who ran away before the police reached there.

There is no use in saying that Pakistan has 15,000-20,000 madrassas because some areas can’t be accessed for a census. For instance, when Maulvi Fazlullah was ruling the Valley of Swat he had opened scores of madrassas which were seen on TV but not counted officially. If Gujranwala can have more than double the number posted by the government, it must be true of all cities, including Islamabad where the figure keeps hovering around 80 to 100. As never before, the mosques are affiliated to the madrassas mostly for reasons of security in these days of intense sectarian feelings. An Islamabad doctor who has studied hundreds of jihad returnees in jails concludes that most of them were picked up from mosques.

Yet the truth is that there are numerous institutions like Jamia Naeemia of Lahore who stick to their traditional modes of imparting religious knowledge. Some of them even add modern subjects to enable their graduates to enter the job market instead of simply building another illegal mosque to give themselves something to do. The news from Islamabad is that illegal mosques are cropping up at great speed and that the government still doesn’t have a firm policy against these encroachments on public property. Even the good madrassas feel they have to be independent of state scrutiny and that introduces complications into the state obligation of maintaining normal accountability under law.

It is not exactly true that madrassas impart terrorist education. What makes the pupil vulnerable to indoctrination by some bad elements is the madrassa’s ability — through boarding and lodging — to isolate the seminarian from his parents and society at large. The confessional videos left behind by suicide-bombers give ample evidence of this sequestration from normal life and insulation from a comprehension of life in society. This is what is dangerous. There is little that is lethal in the syllabi taught at the madrassas. Researchers from Europe and America have found that out after visiting our madrassas.

Three men responsible for the Bali bombings in Indonesia in 2002 have been executed. Because the 202 people they killed in the bombing of a holiday resort also included innocent Indonesians, there is very little sympathy for the executed men, barring the cries of defiance on the part of the religious party to which they belonged. In Pakistan, too, terrorism in the name of Islam is losing public sympathy. The wave of extremism that had engulfed Pakistan, thanks to the role played by the state in jihad, may now be turning, as evidenced by the statement made by Mufti Naeemi who is no softie when it comes to upholding the true edicts of Islam. (Daily Times)