Do we need madrassas in Pakistan?

Published: April 2, 2014
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This unmonitored and uncontrolled madrassa culture has created a religiously intolerant and prejudiced population and as a result the country is suffering a decline in arts, literature and social behaviour. PHOTO: AFP

Pakistan has undoubtedly become a difficult place to live in with death penalties for the weakest of the weak while terrorists and thugs are acquitted and walk free. 

It is quite true that those who believe in absurdities are the ones who commit atrocities. Blasphemy or what ‘they’ term blasphemous is one such absurd idea that provides the basis for committing atrocious acts in Pakistan. The death sentence given to a young Christian man, Sawan Masih, is a great example of such an atrocity committed in the name of ‘blasphemy’ under Pakistan’s rigorous blasphemy law.

Sawan Masih, a cleaner, was arrested last year in March in Lahore when his childhood friend accused him of ‘blasphemous’ remarks about the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) during an argument. This ‘blasphemy’ case sparked riots and Joseph Colony – a Christian enclave in Lahore – was rampaged by the Muslim rioters. Homes and churches were ransacked and torched while the inhabitants fled for their lives with their children in tow. The city’s police force was warned of the imminent attack but failed to take the necessary measures to prevent it.

Section 295, better known as the blasphemy law, was imposed by the vicious General, Ziaul Haq, through a constitutional amendment during his reign. The law includes a death penalty for criticising Prophet Muhammad and life imprisonment for defiling of the Quran.

However, this law has mostly been used for the miscarriage of justice. It has been ruthlessly exploited by fanatics to settle scores with rivals and by fascist religio-political parties to gain political leverage over administrative apparatuses. It seems like the ‘pious’ Muslim majority know how to abuse the law to its full extent and also to take the law into their own hands.

There have been incidents in the past when mobs would lynch those accused of blasphemy even if the court had acquitted them. Sawan Masih might face the same fate. It’s very likely that he will either be killed in jail or will be forced to convert to Islam. End of story.

The Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was shot dead by one of his bodyguards in Islamabad in January 2011 because he appealed for the pardon of Aasia Bibi, another Christian victim of the blasphemy law. In a broadcast on TV, his murderer, Mumtaz Qadri, said that Mr Taseer was a blasphemer and thus, he was murdered. And now the majority of the country’s population justifies Qadri’s heinous crime and considers him a hero.

This culture of religious intolerance and sectarian bigotry in our society has to be stemmed somewhere! It is astonishing to see that towns and villages have countless mosques and madrassas but no schools and hospitals. According to sources, Pakistan has more madrassas than state-run high schools. These madrassas provide religious education, boarding and lodging free-of-cost and are essentially schools for the poor.

In 2005, over one and a half million children attended madrassas in the country. These children are sent to these institutions by parents who cannot afford food and clothing for them. However, these madrassas are not only the front-liners in producing an absurd world view, religious bigotry and sectarian intolerance, they have also undoubtedly been involved in fostering militancy and religious extremism within the country and internationally. They have been involved in supplying recruits for sectarian terrorist groups and to Taliban organisations in both, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pakistan has an established education system which is monitored by the government. Then, why have these institutions been allowed not only to exist but to increase in number? In the past, madrassas and religious organisations strongly resisted any attempt to secularise and modernise their education system and curriculum although the government offered them some perks including salaries for their teachers. The fact that they are not monitored by the education system is worrisome because if they want to teach and are convinced that their teachings are legal, then why don’t they continue under a monitored education system that exists already?

Although the government banned some religious organisations, they never stopped running their schools and producing militant literature. New madrassas are mushrooming in every nook and corner of the country. The fact is that the madrassa system has become a state within the Pakistani state and it is growing more powerful with every passing day.

This unmonitored and uncontrolled madrassa culture has created a religiously intolerant and prejudiced population and as a result the country is suffering a decline in arts, literature and social behaviour. Price hikes, poverty, unemployment, disease, misery and deprivation further worsen the situation.

There is no doubt that the Pakistani society needs to undergo a political and social revolution. If the secular-progressive and left-political elements do not break their silence and start a struggle to bring change, the situation will get even worse than it already is and soon the most brutal of the lot might take over and then the entire population can enjoy seventh century Arabia. We will only mourn what we ourselves reaped.

Talib Bashardost

Talib Bashardost

A Pakistan-born Australian interested in global politics, especially in the Af-Pak region. He is a critic, an observer and a freelance writer who occasionally appears on the local Australian radio to discuss Australia's policy on refugee/asylum-seekers and Af-Pak issues and occasionally writes for local newspapers. He tweets as @Quettagee (twitter.com/Quettagee)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.